Published: 30th July 2019
Mahabharata's a great literary piece, but not scientific: Why India will March for Science on August 9
The scientists, students and the scientific community at large will march to stop the propagation of unscientific ideas and develop scientific temper
Scientists, researchers, students and science enthusiasts will get together at various locations across India to march in support of science on August 9. Following the global trend of March For Science, India too had been marching to support scientific initiatives in the country for the past couple of years. The organisers will submit a memorandum to the Governors of their respective states with their demands on the same day.
India has been facing a slew of attempts to undermine well-established scientific theories, such as Darwin's theory of evolution and Einstein's theory of relativity. And this is not just any random MP talking about something he has no knowledge about. These claims are being made even from platforms meant for an evidence-based scientific exchange like the Indian Science Congress. "Fake news is being relied upon, and fake narratives are being spun and propagated by some policymakers at the Centre and at State levels. Unscientific ideas and superstitious beliefs are being spread and, in fact, have been gathering pace ever since Independence, in direct violation of Article 51A of the Constitution," said Dr Nilesh Maiti, Convenor of the Kolkata leg of the event.
Only literature, not science
The organisers of the march recognise that contributions of the Indian subcontinent to philosophy, art, music, literature, astronomy, mathematics and medicine date back to several millennia and are recognised across the world. "But Mahabharata and Ramayana are amazing epics. Brilliant works of literature. But there is no scientific basis to it whatsoever. That is what we are against," said Dr Maiti. "Science is not just there for theory's sake. The policymakers should include the findings and analysis that various studies come up with. But in India we only see irrational policymaking that has no logical basis whatsoever," he added.
The science enthusiasts said that countries that have shown consistent and commendable research output are characterised by significant public investment in R&D and education. "These countries spend around 6 per cent of their GDP on education and 3 per cent in Science and Technology research. India, on the other hand, spends below 3 per cent and 1 per cent in the respective fields and this trend has gradually worsened over the years. As a result, a large section of the country's population remains illiterate or semi-literate; our college and university system is reeling under acute shortages of infrastructure, teaching and non-teaching staff, and of funds for carrying out research," read a statement by the organisers of the India March For Science.
Funds are drying up
"Science-funding agencies like CSIR and DST, pushed into acute fund crisis, are unable to disburse even committed support to students and to research projects. Thus, adequate financial support from the government and equitable distribution of resources between Centres of Excellence, Central Universities and State Universities are a dire need today," added Dr Maiti. "The proposed policy of the Draft NEP does not sound promising as well. Merely changing the name won't help the scientific atmosphere nor will central control over the researchers. Moreover, the proposed policy sounds more like a bid to privatise and monetise education rather than an attempt to improve its quality," he said when asked about the proposed NEP.
It is important, said the scientists involved in the march, that the educational curriculum is driven by content that is supported by scientific evidence to ensure the proper development of a student's knowledge, scientific temper, and an ability for critical thinking. "Hence, the growing trend of including ideas unsupported by scientific evidence in the school curriculum needs to be challenged in the interest of future generations," their statement added.
What They Want
The scientific community of India continues to press for the following demands:
1. Stop propagation of unscientific ideas, and develop the scientific temper, human values and spirit of inquiry in conformity with Article 51A of the Constitution.
2. Allocate at least 10% of the Central Budget and 30% of the State budgets to Education
3. Ensure that at least 3% of the country's GDP is used to support scientific and technological research.
4. Ensure that the education system does not impart ideas that are not based on or contradict scientific evidence.
5. Ensure that public policies are enacted based on scientific evidence.
Where's the Rush
The India March For Science will be organised in all state capitals, said the organisers. Here's a list of a few major cities that are on their list:
Kolkata: Rajabazar Science College (CU) (3PM) to Esplanade, Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 9477514644
Bengaluru: Banappa Park (10 AM) to Mysore Bank Circle, Contact: email@example.com, ph. 9535246513
Delhi: Vishwavidyalaya Metro Stn (12 noon) to Arts Faculty, DU North Campus, Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ph. 9953373074
Siliguri, WB: Baghajatin Park (1 pm) to Siliguri Junction Bus Stand, contact 9832630713, 9083006359
Thiruvananthapuram: Palayam (near public library) (11 AM) to Asan square, Kerala University. Contact: email@example.com, Ph. 9387224226
Bhubaneswar, Odisha: Rammandir Square to Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalay (3 pm), Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ph. 8895267202
Cuttack, Odisha: Ravenshaw University main gate to Ranihat (3 pm), Contact: email@example.com, Ph. 8895267202