Of scientists and scientific temper in India

Amulya Ganguli

In all these years, only one Indian scientist has received the Nobel Prize. He was Sir C.V. Raman who won it in 1930. There hasn’t been anyone else from India since then although Indians living and working abroad like Hargobind Khorana, Subramanyam Chandrashekhar and Venkataraman Ramakrishnan have won the prize.
The reason is obviously the indifferent quality of the education which is imparted in Indian schools, colleges and universities. But there is probably another explanation. It is the absence of what is called the “scientific temper”, a phrase associated with Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is now a part of the constitution, which Narendra Modi looks upon as a holy book. But just as his party doesn’t like Nehru, holding him responsible for all of India’s ills ranging from Kashmir to the Hindu rate of growth, it is also not enamoured of science – at least not of the kind associated with the West.
The science which the BJP admires is of the Indian variety, which, according to the saffron brotherhood, enabled the country to invent in the golden age of Hindu dominance all that the West has invented in the last few centuries, such as aero planes, television and, to quote Modi, organ transplant as when Lord Ganesh acquired an elephant’s head.
It is another matter that these claims have been dismissed as poppycock by Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, who declared that the airing of such views had turned the Indian science congresses into a “circus”. But such criticism hasn’t deterred the saffron camp from pressing ahead with assertions about what Hindu “scientists” discovered eons ago.
The latest revelation about their findings is about the celibacy of the peacock – India’s national bird – which is said to impregnate its female counterpart, the peahen, with its tears, presumably of joy. Considering that this “scientific” insight was announced by a judge of the Rajasthan high court, it speaks volumes about the judicial system, the state of Rajasthan and the standards of education.
To start with the judiciary, the fact that the Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant against a high court judge, preceded by a suggestion that he should undergo a psychiatric assessment, suggests that all is not well with a system which is generally well regarded.
But the case of the judge who is currently evading incarceration, and of the judge with a high opinion of the peacock’s ethics suggest that the faith of the people in the robed eminences may be misplaced. So is faith in the educational system. That a grown-up man can hold such views does not speak well of the schools and colleges which he attended. And, what about his relatives, teachers and friends? Do they agree with him?
It is not about imparting sex education about which there has been a prolonged and inconclusive debate which is the issue, for the peacock’s admirer is aware of the fact of copulation. It is only his distinctive idea relating to the process which induces it which is noteworthy. In a way, the idea is a variation of the old fairy tale of the stork ferrying babies to wombs.
What does the judge’s pronouncements say about Rajasthan? To many, it may seem apt that he should end his judicial tenure in a state which is run by the BJP, for he expounded not only on peacocks and peahens, but also cows – the Sangh Parivar’s favourite animal. In doing so, he reiterated the standard homilies about the cow for which the Parivar is known.
The holiness of the cow stems, according to this school of thought, from the fact that it both inhales and exhales oxygen, its urine – which the judge compared with amrit (divine nectar) - kills germs, strengthens the mind and the heart while stopping the process of ageing, and all this presumably because it absorbs cosmic energy through its horns.
He mentioned the names of several foreigners who have been associated with these discoveries. No doubt, they will enlighten – regale? – those attending future science congresses just as other white saffronites – David Frawley aka Vamdev Shastri, Koenraad Elst – dispense with their wisdom on their version of Hinduism at conferences on the humanities.
Rajasthan is one of the BIMARU or sick states. The acronym refers to Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP and is mainly about their economic backwardness. However, Rajasthan’s social scene also is not forward-looking as is evident from the latest figures about the marriage of minor girls, in which it has the dubious distinction of topping the list. The judiciary, too, did not cover itself with glory when the high court acquitted all the accused in 2004 in the case of Roop Kanwar’s sati in 1987.
Evidently, neither scientific temper nor humanitarian vision is the driving force in the state or elsewhere in the country where scholars and rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare are killed in cold blood. It will take a great deal of change in the social and educational scene before Indian scientists, and not NRIs, can win Nobel prizes. (IPA)

Friday, 16 June, 2017