Promises to Keep: Science and Scientific Temper in India


(To appear as a contribution to an edited volume — detailed reference will be provided when ready for publication)

Two political projects have characterised the India of the last two and a half decades. The first is the advance of Hindutva, India’s own particular brand of religious majoritarianism, with elements of fundamentalism and obscurantism, linked to a revanchist view of the origins of the Indian state. The second is the neo-liberal turn in the economic policy of the Indian state, often described more benignly as economic reform. Both emerged on the national stage in rather rapid fashion in the early 90s, strikingly similar in their common charactertistic of a radical departure from the ideals that in the previous nearly half a century were taken for granted as underpinning the idea of India. Even after almost two decades and a half since their emergence as significant features of national life, both appear to be projects that are still underway, especially in the view of their most active proponents, who consider that their gains have not yet been consolidated in stable form. Despite the apparently irreversible changes that have been made to the economy and economic policy-making in the country by so-called “reform”, the constant clamour for further advance still continues. As for the proponents of Hindutva, in view of their agenda of rewriting the entire ideological basis of contemporary India in the pursuit of their majoritarian vision of the future, it is evident that they must constantly seek new avenues and arenas of confrontation with the secular, pluralistic and inclusive trends in Indian society.

To those who have viewed the emergence of these projects with concern and even alarm, both appear to have indeed made significant advances, giving rise to the danger of a dual polarization of Indian society. Economic reform on the one hand, can be argued to have significantly contributed to widening inequality in society, with persistent large-scale deprivation coexisting with the creation of a relatively narrow stratum of beneficiaries, even within whose ranks, apart from a section of the super-rich, the increase in incomes is accompanied by greater insecurity. On the other hand, the Hindutva project threatens a long-term polarization along religious divides, while also intensifying divisions along the fault lines of caste, setting aside even the modest gains obtained over the decades towards the making of a democratic and inclusive economic, social and political order.

Both these projects strike at other core elements of what one may call a “national” vision that for a few decades after independence was taken for granted. Perhaps their most chilling effect has been on the building of science and scientific temper, arguably among the most positive aspects of the perspective that characterised India’s path of development for the first few decades after independence. This is not to suggest that science or scientific temper in India prior to the nineties was not beset with many difficulties. But it was a period when, it could be argued, there was increasing clarity on what needed to be done to overcome these and some hope that the configuration of social and political forces required for realizing these goals could eventually be successfully mobilized. One of the positive features that gave hope for such a mobilization was the increasing realization, though often not well or fully articulated, of the close connection between the actual practice of science with the larger social and economic conditions that made for a scientific temper.

But post the nineties, not only do the prospects for such a mobilization appear to have retreated, but a variety of new challenges have risen from new and unexpected quarters. In part, due to these challenges, the setbacks to science in this country due to the two-pronged attack from both reform and Hindutva have not received their due consideration. These new challenges to be more precise derailed in particular the emerging effort at understanding the relationship between science and the social, economic and political conditions of its advance.

It is the contention of this note that science and scientific temper in India are on the threshold of a crisis and that they face a situation that is unparalleled in its seriousness. In elaborating and critically understanding the origins of this crisis, we will do so in an impressionistic account, based in part on the author’s own personal experience and learnings from his involvement with science and science movements in the country. Even if this account does not entirely satisfy the more analytically minded reader, we trust that she would consider this as a series of working hypotheses awaiting further detailed study (or studies) that we do not attempt here.

Early strengths:

If we are to have a measure of the contemporary challenge to science in the country, it is worth reminding ourselves how propitious the conditions seemed for its rapid growth and advance at the time of independence. And how, even if scientific temper was really only an ideal, often not matched by the reality of social practices and everyday life, it nevertheless commanded respect as one of the desired goals of progressive nation building.

At the helm of affairs of the newly independent nation was of course Jawaharlal Nehru, striking, even among the many leaders of the national liberation movements of his time, and in the decades to follow, for his concern for science and his vision of a secular society, a society that would set aside scriptural injunction, rituals and blind belief for a rational view of the world fashioned through scientific enquiry. Nehru drew attention, perhaps most eloquently in his Discovery of India, to both the instrumental significance of science, as a necessity for a modern industrial nation, as well as the significance of the scientific attitude as it were, to the understanding and transformation of society.1 It was not a naive vision, for Nehru was very aware of the burden of the past in Indian society, but his vision of science and scientific temper was one conceived as the only possible response to casting off this burden and moving forward.

India’s first prime minister would have known that building science in newly independent India was not a matter of starting on a blank slate. Enviably, in the record of nations newly liberated from colonial rule in the 20th century, India was perhaps the only one that possessed something akin to a rudimentary scientific infrastructure. British colonial rule, albeit in halting fashion, had developed a range of institutions, which though hardly adequate in scale, nevertheless provided the skeleton which could be extended and fleshed out in the years to come. Of these, the survey institutions and the development of research in agriculture were perhaps the most developed examples.

India, at the time of independence, had already won a Nobel in science through C. V. Raman, an inspiration to many, alongside the already legendary figure of Srinivasan Ramanujan, both testimony to the capacities of home-grown scientists in a colonial state. The young Homi Bhabha, who would emerge as a visionary leader in the years to come, was in the wings, while his older colleague, Meghnad Saha, was already associated in the planning for a modern industrial state, through the work of the National Planning Committee. India’s entrepreneurial class, or at least some section of it, had a burgeoning awareness of the need for science of which the enthusiasm of the house of Tatas in founding institutions of scientific research was perhaps the most outstanding example.2 The university system was to display early on the many symptoms of dysfunctionality in promoting research,3 that were to become more pronounced as the years went by, but despite that it sheltered scientists of substantial calibre who drew around them small schools of dedicated and well-trained scientific workers4.

Nehru’s association with scientists was closer than simply knowing of science in the country. He was the first president of the Indian Science Congress, a remarkable institution that brought together scientists from all over the country, as well as lay persons interested in science, to regular gatherings. Thus began an association between Nehru and the Science Congress that was to continue even after independence, inaugurating their bi-annual meetings as prime minister, a tradition that other prime ministers have continued to this day.5

Nehru’s vision of a society imbued with a scientific temper was also by no means an isolated one. A wide spectrum of leadership in the freedom struggle shared his desire to promote a rational, modern view of the social world, even if Nehru was perhaps unique in the link that he drew with science, and with perhaps even greater emphasis than others on a rational view of the social world. Rabindranath Tagore set this vision in verse, and the lines of his celebrated poem, written some time at the very beginning of the twentieth century and published for the first time in 1901, are remarkable for their articulation of what can be well described as the anthem of the Indian Enlightenment.6 Tagore was not uninterested in science itself, though from a philosophical perspective, as his encounter with Einstein in 1930 demonstrated.7

Ambedkar represented another strain of the scientific temper, taking Nehru’s desire for a rational view of the social world farther than Nehru himself ever achieved, in his unsparing critique of the caste system and the need for a thorough-going social transformation that was essential to annihilate it. Ambedkar’s connection to science per se appears to have been primarily through economics rather than the natural sciences. But he had clearly much in common with Nehru on the subject, as his unsparing and acerbic critique of Gandhi’s romantic views on technology demonstrated.8 But what is significant about Ambedkar’s views was that his insistence on the need for the eradication of social oppression, especially caste discrimination in the form of untouchability in particularly, was not taken up in earnest by the mainstream of the nationalist movement. That this was to prove disastrous for science and scientific temper is one of the main points of this account of science in post-independence India. But we will return to this in more detail shortly.

India also had its small band of rationalists, and across the country there were a number of notable figures among whom E. V. Ramasamy Naicker, known as “Periyar” was perhaps the one whose message had the farthest and widest political and social reach. Last but not the least, was the communist movement in the larger ambit of what may be called a Left movement that was firmly anchored to a scientific and rational worldview. This segment of Indian political and social thought had an intellectual influence that extended well beyond its political following on the ground that was significant only in some parts of the country. This intellectual following pursued on Indian soil a version of the study of science and society that drew initially from the Marxist tradition, rooted in the larger anti-imperialist struggles of that time. In later years they were to take forward the Bernalian tradition in the Indian context, especially in the so-called people’s science movements of which we shall speak of shortly.

Gandhi alone among the highest level of leadership of the freedom struggle, struck a different note. He was highly critical of modern technology, and critical too of science though not perhaps in as explicit a fashion.9 But Gandhi nevertheless was neither insular in the sources that fashioned his world-views nor did he promote an overtly anti-rational stance in negotiating contemporary political questions. Gandhi certainly belonged, in a limited sense, to the Enlightenment viewpoint in his political thought. But as independence came and Gandhi’s views increasingly appeared to be not of overwhelming import to the business of the governing the independent nation, there perhaps was little need to fear that Gandhian ideals would stand in the way of getting ahead with science and technology in the country. In retrospect, perhaps this was not true and the Gandhian perspective was to contribute to the resurgence of anti-scientific perspectives in later years, as we will note later.

Science in a developing economy:

The period from the passage of the Science Policy Resolution in 1958 till the end of the 80s or perhaps even the early part of the 90s was perhaps the best and most hopeful time for Indian science. Scientific institutions burgeoned all over the country, a number of advanced research groups began to operate in many universities, entirely new scientific departments notably atomic energy and space were formed and began to function actively, and an active leadership emerged in many disciplines of science and technology. This network of scientific institutions was to grow substantially over the years though the relative levels of achievement tended to vary, both across sectors and with respect to institutions within sectors. The extent to which different scientific departments and institutions managed to integrate high-quality science with the country’s developmental needs though was a different matter.10 Agricultural research was certainly way and ahead the most successful in this regard and space began to follow suit a few years later, but other sectors were not always so well-connected to developmental needs, industrial and defence research being particular examples.

As the Indian state encountered periodic economic crises, support for science tended to decrease in such phases. Perhaps the most consistently successful period of expansion began in the 80s, a phase that lasted well into the first half of the 90s. After the immediate post-independence generation the second generation of scientists came to assume greater power in the scientific community assuring the country of a stratum of scientific managers who had some acquaintance with current trends in science and the management of institutions. New fields came into prominence, among them being molecular biology and environmental science.

Especially after the formal inauguration of the era of public sector led development from the Second Five-Year Plan in 1958, self-reliance was the slogan that guided India’s science and technology policy. The appeal of this slogan to the generation that had experienced colonial rule and the generation of Indians who were coming of age in the immediate aftermath of independence is not to be underestimated. The slogan also commanded a wide consensus across the political spectrum, leading to the scientific, engineering and medical professions being held in high regard as part of the frontline of India’s efforts at development. In practice though, in retrospect, self-reliance was to be fairly limited in actual practice, limited to sectors where there was active denial of technology by the advanced industrialised nation (or the imposition of onerous conditionalities in terms of high royalty payments, denial of actual transfer of know-how or restrictions on overseas marketing of the products of such investment). In practice in many sectors, self-reliance was ignored, especially by the private sector, and an integral part of the public discourse on technology was a series of heated debates on the relative merits of different technologies that were to be imported11.

The initial Nehruvian enthusiasm for scientific temper, did not find much resonance in the public arena in the initial decades after independence. But in the late 60s in the wake of the wave of radical thought that swept the globe, a renewed enthusiasm for the study of science and society in this context had its influence on Indian intellectuals as well. As this influence merged with various currents of radical and Left politics in India, the 70s saw the rise of both the direct involvement of scientists in questions of science and society, as well as the rise of popular science movements, most notably in Kerala, through the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad. These currents also met with sympathetic interest among a section of science administrators in the country, who in the 70s had begun to sense that there needed to be greater investment in popularising science as well as greater effort at improving the quality of science education.

The second half of the 70s and the 80s saw therefore a loose coalition of research scientists from laboratories and universities, science teachers and students and popular science movements that worked fairly systematically at science popularisation and science education. This coalition had a strong interest in issues of science and society and the slogan of scientific temper was one of their key rallying slogans.12 The other rallying slogan of this coalition was self-reliance, interpreted, to their credit, not in any parochial or cultural relativist sense but very much in the spirit of economic independence, which would inspire Indian scientists and technologists to develop their own capacities without slipping back into a neo-colonial style copycat dependence.

One must of course be careful not to overstate the reach and influence of this coalition. The media rarely paid attention to their work, apart from the exceptional case of Kerala, where it was truly a mass movement.13 In the intervening years the original example that Nehru had set with his owner personal life was to be diluted in the time of his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi, who were known to visit heads of Hindu religious cults and sects and assorted mystics, known in India collectively as “god-men”. In the brief tenure of the coalition government headed by the Janata Party after the Emergency ended in 1977, an exhibition on science and scientific temper set up by the molecular biologist P. M. Bhargava was dismantled by the government, an act widely believed to have been instigated by the Hindutva lobby, (a term was still to acquire currency in the English media at that time) which was a part of the Janata Party at that time.14 The first attack on the writings of so-called “left” historians also began in this period, with objections being raised to the new textbooks being prepared for the Central government administered board of secondary education school syllabus.15

But that these were portents of more intensified attacks to follow in the future was hardly anticipated at that time. This was not entirely unjustified. In 1976, the 42nd amendment to the Constitution of India was passed, including in Article 51A the injunction: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform.”16 This was no doubt a positive development even if it was implemented in the period of the Emergency.

But overall, by the late 1980s India had, it appeared, notwithstanding the many gaps, all the attributes of a scientific power in the making. All that was needed was perhaps greater investment and expansion, a greater link to industry and productive activity, greater attention to quality especially in human resources and greater attention to the expansion of both the quantity and quality of scientific research in the universities. But each one of these, that superficially seemed to be operational problems, actually hid a reality that constantly reproduced major structural problems for Indian science that could not be easily overcome.

Structural issues for Indian science:

One of the most significant barriers for Indian science has of course been the slow advance of literary and universal school education, and the failure to achieve even a majority, let alone a consensus, in favour of compulsory education. In the earlier decades after independence even universal literacy was not paid attention, a situation that changed in the 80s, but the reality is still to be fully matched with the rhetoric. In striking contrast to South-East and East Asia, South Asia is the well-known laggard in education. As a consequence, Indian science drew its talent only from a fairly narrow stratum of Indian society. Within the overall poor performance in education, the investment in higher education has also been below global norms, with the gross enrolment ratio in higher education in India, for instance, remaining below the developing country average.17 Much of this story is of course well-known.

But there are other aspects to education that perhaps have not been remarked upon in the context of the development of science. The quality of science education, for instance, has remained persistently below the increasing demand for better science education which could keep pace with the general trend of scientific advance. This is no doubt a problem that affects many education systems, even in developed countries, but the gap in India is striking. The second aspect, that is perhaps the more insidious, is the general influence of the slow pace of modernisation on the penetration of scientific knowledge in the population at large and in particular through the education system. While it may be difficult to trace the actual causal processes by which this influence becomes manifest, there is much anecdotal evidence for such a connection.

On a number of occasions those trained in science, have been found wanting in a scientific or rational attitude when some particular wave of irrationality manifests itself on occasion. In the past, the occurrence of total solar eclipses were occasions when a collective wave of irrationality seemed to grip Indian society at large. A couple of decades ago, the entire country was gripped by the account of idols of Ganesha “drinking” milk, surprisingly echoed by similar reports from the Indian diaspora in the United States. Television media, in particular, provided uncritical accounts of the phenonemenon. On such occasions, it has proven difficult to find a counter-statement from educated sections of society, that would counsel against the breathless, bordering on the hysterical, acceptance of all manner of superstitious and obscurantist readings of what was taking place. Astrology still retains a remarkable hold on Indian society, with its penetration into the ranks of the scientifically educated remaining significant. A recent survey found that a majority of students of the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai still retain faith in astrological practices and advice18, though some do present the excuse that it is their family that insists on such practices. Notably the adherence to astrology in these cases is not restricted to its entertainment value, as is often the case in developed countries, but an integral part of decision-making in significant, life-changing situations19. Scientists of some standing, or notable figures in science-based professions such as medicine or engineering, are on occasion found to be ardent devotees of some particular god-men or are believers in active religious cults. The sociological significance of such adherence notwithstanding, that is undoubtedly worthy of serious study, it is nevertheless a telling comment on the continuing hold of the unscientific and irrational on the Indian intellectual class.

Alongside the hold of obscurantism rooted in tradition, is the general attitude of reverence to received wisdom at the expense of critical assimilation. The scientific community has often noted this sharply20. It is well known to teachers of science, for instance, that students often tend to be passive recipients of lectures in classrooms. A good deal of current pedagogical research in India tends to focus on teacher-student transactions in the classroom. But clearly this is one-sided and ignores the elementary fact that teachers labour under the most difficult social and economic conditions affecting both educational system in particular and society in general. Students too bear the brunt of the pressure of family aspirations for upward social and economic mobility in a milieu marked by insufficient employment generation that would guarantee a minimum of income security. Reform of science education, especially in its more intangible aspects, has been an uphill task in this milieu.

In the background as it were, is the enormous deprivation in access to knowledge, especially in rural India that is home to 69% of India’s population of approximately 1.2 billion. The virtually sole universal medium of knowledge in any form is television, covering approximately 76 million rural households, though the urban-rural divide is clear with more than 77 million urban households owning a television set. But television has been a sore disappointment in its educational function, more so with respect to science, while its entertainment function, typically pandering to existing social and cultural mores without a transformational agenda, has dominated. What knowledge delivery exists, is restricted very much to instrumental purposes such as agricultural extension. The result has been that more than two-thirds of India has no more than a cursory engagement with the enterprise of science in any form whatsoever. Small wonder then, that this social milieu constantly reproduces and sustains both in ideology and practice the most backward forms of social oppression and retrogressive practices associated with caste, class and gender.

Another aspect of science in India, both at the level of education and research, has been the lag between experiment and theory. Theoretical work appears to attract a disproportionate number of successful students, and striking examples of high-quality experimental work appear to be less frequent in Indian science than outstanding theoretical work. While no doubt C. V. Raman’s Nobel-winning work was experimental, it illustrates precisely this point, since subsequently, the bulk of the achievements have tended to be theoretical. Two subsequent Nobel awards to scientists of Indian origin, though based on experimental work, relate to work that has been done entirely outside the country. Part of this no doubt is due to the expenditure that is entailed in setting up laboratories and the consequent paucity of experimental science institutions, especially in a developing country. But even after several decades of investment in chains of scientific institutions, focused on various branches of experimental science, from pure or applied science to technology, the returns on investment in terms of forging ahead in experimental work appear to be quite meagre.

The gap between experiment and theory is perhaps merely the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Science and technology development in India clearly also suffers from a huge gap between research and teaching and industrial production. Agricultural science and technology has perhaps achieved some success in narrowing this gap. Particular sectors like space have managed to maintain some success in converting knowledge into successful delivery in tangible benefits within the scope of their mandate. Overall, though, from the poor footprint that India has in the realm of patents, copyright and royalties, it is amply clear that innovation in India lags far behind that of the scientifically advanced countries. This is also true from data on India’s share in high-technology product exports.21 In the earlier public sector dominated era, some sectors such as agriculture undoubtedly achieved some success in innovation, even if much of it was not patented, partly because agricultural research, by its very nature, cannot be transferred to production, without considerable innovation to adapt to local conditions. However the links between science and productive activity as a whole has always remained weak.

Apart from the science-production linkage, it is worth considering the role of the social-cultural milieu, in a society that is still fundamentally has not overcome the downgrading of productive labour, vis-a-vis purely mental or intellectual labour. And of course, even with respect to the latter, speculative thought, in a variety of forms, including traditional religious teachings, mysticism, or magical speculation, receives as much recognition as scientific enquiry. Modern science and technology owes a great deal to the linkage between science and production that was developed during the period of the scientific and industrial revolutions in Western Europe, and later in the erstwhile Soviet Union and in Japan.22 There is clearly a gap in this regard in India’s trajectory of development. Both the scientific and industrial activity began in this country through the transplanting and eventual assimilation of knowledge and methods of knowledge generation that were already developed elsewhere, ready-made as it were. Unfortunately, as a consequence, it has become much more difficult to grasp the linkage between the two streams, which emerged in different spheres of activity. In practice, industrial knowhow or technology was acquired by an emergent industrial class with little development of such knowledge on their own. In science, to some extent, independent generation of new knowledge, of a quality that was competitive with the best work globally was the ideal. Nevetheless this ideal was also rarely realised in practice, except in a few centres and among a small, limited number of scientific groups.

The gap between science and productive activity is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the Science Policy Resolution23. The text, at the first reading, presents a remarkably inspirational call for the development of science, striking especially in the background of the state of the Indian economy at that time. On the positive side, it locates science as a necessity for India’s development, acknowledging not only the instrumental necessity of science but also its larger role in fashioning a modern world-view. And in the tradition of the nationalist movement for Independence, it saw science and scientific development as essential to the building of a self-reliant modern nation. But in doing so, in retrospect, there are clearly three missing elements in the resolution. First, it has a simplistic, linear view of the relationship between science and technology, seeing technology as somehow a direct product of scientific activity, missing the relative autonomy of technological knowledge, especially in its development. This is evident in the opening paragraph itself which proclaims, “But technology can only grow out of science and its applications.” Second, it does not see any serious obstacle to the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge in the country, whether it be in the realm of education per se, including both the eradication of illiteracy and the spread of formal education, or in the larger socio-cultural milieu. While acknowledging the need for education to enhance the supply of scientific manpower it does not concretely connect the development of science to a programme of universal, compulsory education (which in any case was to lag tremendously in the years to follow). The third was an implicitly uncritical view of the issues relating to traditional knowledge in India’s history, harkening to it as it did in the following words: “It is an inherent obligation of India, with its traditions of scholarship and original thinking and great cultural heritage, to participate fully in the march of science, which is probably mankind’s greatest enterprise today.” Though at first sight thoroughly inspirational in the best traditions of Nehruvian rhetoric, it also betrays, as one may remark in hindsight, an uncritical view that missed what was problematic with this tradition. Nowhere in the resolution is there a call to a more critical view of the past that marked Nehru’s engagement with science and scientific temper in the pre-Independence era.

Science without radical transformation

Even in the 1980s it was evident to many commentators that the fundamental problem for science in India was that it did not develop in the context of a sweeping economic, social and political transformation of Indian society. In contrast to the development of the scientific and industrial revolution in Europe following on the rise of capitalism in the bourgeois revolutions, the development of science in Japan following the Meiji revolution, or the development of science and technology in China following the installation of the People’s Republic in 1948, the driving inspiration for science in India was the freedom struggle. But while acknowledging this influence as we have already noted in the earlier section, the freedom from colonial rule did not mark necessarily a social and economic transformation, directed above all at the transformation of rural society, opening the doors to a thoroughgoing modernisation of Indian society. We will not go into the nature and dimension of this failure here, as this has been extensively written about. But, from the viewpoint of science, the fundamental conditions for its development, namely the creation of the conditions for the rapid development of industrialisation and modern techniques of production were never adequately realised. The most striking contrast perhaps is with the case of China. The gap between India and China in the first four decades after independence perhaps did not seem large, especially after the setbacks that science in China suffered during the Cultural Revolution. But subsequently the substantially different foundations for the development of science and technology in India and China have been brought more sharply.

As a consequence of the absence of radical social transformation, despite the many merits of the Nehruvian view of scientific temper, it clearly avoided a direct confrontation wih the fundamental irrationality of India’s social and economic life, namely the caste system. It is a striking fact that the many votaries of scientific temper, in Nehru’s own lifetime and later did not explicitly link their ideals with the “annihilation” of the caste system. Nehru’s own view of caste missed critically its inherently exploitative aspect, especially in its very construction. The following lines from the Discovery of India, illustrate the depth of Nehru’s apologia for caste: “Caste was a group system based on services and functions. It was meant to be an all-inclusive order without any common dogma and allowing the fullest latitude to each group…[it was] infinitely better than slavery even for those lowest in the scale. Within each caste there was equality and a measure of freedom; each caste was occupational and applied itself to its own particular work. This led to a high degree of specialisation and skill in handicrafts and craftsmanship…[caste] kept up the democratic habit in each group.”24 Elsewhere, caste, in the Nehruvian view, “was an attempt at the social organization of different races, a rationalisation of the facts as they existed at the time.” He goes on to add, “It brought degradation in its train afterwards, and it is still a burden and a curse, but we can hardly judge it from subsequent standards or later developments.”25

Clearly with such a problematic understanding even in the mind of Nehru , it is unsurprising that the scientific temper debate never truly took the phenomenon of caste into account. Scientific temper was certainly counterposed to religious obscurantism, but that the caste system, grounded ideologically in the ultimate sense in Hinduism, was the more deep-rooted manifestation of such obscurantism, and the scriptural, dogmatic aspect more of an epiphenomenon was rarely recognized. Even on the Left of the political spectrum, whose leading figures articulated an opposition to both religious obscurantism and the caste system, the intimate connection between these two form of irrationality in Indian society did not always form the core of their fight against obscurantism.

A rare exception is in the writings of the Indian communist leader, E. M. S. Nambooridipad, who once pointed out, “…one has to abandon all ideas of paying tributes to the ‘age-old’ civilisation and culture of India. One has to realise that the rebuilding of India on modern democratic and secular lines requires an uncompromising struggle against the caste-based Hindu society and its culture. There is no question of secular democracy, not to speak of socialism, unless the very citadel of India’s ‘age-old’ civilisation and culture – the division of society into a hierarchy of castes – is broken. In other words, the struggle for radical democracy and socialism cannot be separated from the struggle against caste society.”

Ambedkar, as we have already indicated, had a far superior understanding of the need to eradicate the caste system compared to Nehru, noting as he did on the eve of the inauguration of the republic, the fundamental contradiction between the ideal of political democracy and the oppressive social and economic reality of Indian society. Ambedkar was forthright too in his criticism of Gandhi’s romantic criticism of technology and machine-based industry in particular26, a rare exception at a time when Gandhi’s views appeared to be increasingly beyond criticism to the mainstream of the national movement27. But with Nehru’s ultimately unwavering allegiance to Gandhi and his own role in the leadership of the national movement, it was not on the cards that Ambedkar’s thorough-going commitment to rationality in the nation’s social life would link up with the Nehruvian agenda of scientific temper28. The link between Ambedkar and the struggle to uphold secularism and the scientific temper has been discussed in some detail by Meera Nanda in her work.29 She has also noted the weakness of the mainstream of the national movement in being consistently secular and the several compromises that they made with obscurantism, conflating it with religion, especially Hinduism.

The latter day critics of the Nehruvian view of scientific temper, led by social scientists such as Ashis Nandy and Shiv Viswanathan30, have framed their criticism in the language of cultural relativism, counterposing science as a form of “Western rationality” to an “indigenous” world view, intrinsic to Indian society. However much it is dressed in modern philosophical and sociological jargon, it is clear that such criticism merely recycles the backward looking response to British colonialism that has a long history in Indian intellectual life. Equally, despite their rhetorical celebration of the “subaltern” in such writing, such cultural relativism clearly has little to say on the fundamentally oppressive structures of India’s social fabric inherited from pre-colonial days.

In sum, the long-term challenge to science in India, both in its instrumental sense as part of the development of its productive forces and in its role as part of the intellectual underpinnings of a new vision of Indian society, is to be sought in the failure of agrarian transformation, the key to the eradication of the fundamental contradictions of Indian society that both the Left and Ambedkarite viewpoints have long alluded to. But the failure to address this in adequate fashion in practice it must be recognized has set the stage for the contemporary crisis of science in India that we must now turn to.

Contemporary challenges to science

In the background of the structural problems that science in India continued to face even when the overall development of science seemed to be set on a positive track, the radical shift in the economic development strategy of the Indian state has been nothing short of disastrous for the long-term future of science in India. Much has been written about the consequences of this shift and the manner in which it marked a break from the past which we need not repeat here31. But some specific aspects of this in relation to science are worth noting. First, the general downgrading of public sector investment and the call for the general withdrawal of the state from many sectors of development implied that science would no longer receive the kind of support that it used to have in the earlier period. Second, the few attempts to promote the development of technological self-reliance were to be summarily set aside. Economic reform was to usher in access to advanced technologies from elsewhere in the world (in contrast, to the “license raj” of the preceding era) and “competition” with such advanced technology, so it was claimed, would assist in strengthening technological development in India. Third, science in India was to be part of India’s thrust to join the global “knowledge economy,” implicitly giving up the earlier emphasis in policy between scientific development and the agenda of poverty eradication.

The twenty-five years since the initiation of “reform” have seen the gradual impact of this new agenda32. It would be simplistic to think that impact of this new policy turn was immediate. Public sector investment in science has declined gradually, even as the state’s investment in specific sectors such as atomic energy and space continued to be maintained or even grow in real terms in certain years. But the engagement of the state in scientific activity was increasingly limited to a few “strategic sectors”. The launch of an open and active nuclear weapons programme after the nuclear weapons tests of 1998 was the signal for a decisive shift in the meaning of the term “self-reliance” to a narrow interpretation purely in strategic terms33. Even this has in practice been subverted by the concurrent abandoning of the ideal of non-alignment in favour of an increasing strategic alliance with the United States.

The poster-boy of “reform” in technological terms has undoubtedly been the information technology sector that has registered an impressive growth over the last two decades34. However even here it is worth noting the overwhelming dominance of routine work, obtained through “outsourcing” contracts from the corporations of the advanced industrial nations, the absence of a genuinely indigenous IT hardware industry and the poor footprint that this sector has in actual innovation of new software or new technology products. Overall in the “reform” era, innovation in India has been slow to pick up. India remains an also-ran in the global exports of advanced technology35. The public sector investments of an earlier era in select scientific and technological institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology have made India a global source of high-quality human resources for scientific research but with little of the benefits from these resources accruing to the domestic economy itself, apart from the creation of a narrow high-wage sector in terms of employment in select metropolitan centres. As the research base in the university system continues to shrink (never substantial to begin with), state investment in advanced scientific and technological research and training has increasingly shrunk to a few high-profile institutions36.

While the scientific agenda of the Indian state has considerably shrunk in scope in the last two decades, Hindutva has mounted a parallel attack on scientific temper and rationality in Indian society. We use the term here for the broad political coalition (also referred to as the Sangh Parivar) that includes the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the parliamentary politics wing that is the Bharatiya Janata Party, and an assortment of other organisations that have grown in number over the last three decades. While they maintain formally separate organisations and corresponding organisational structures, their ideological affinities and their close coordination in their activities can easily be identified, despite their protestations to the contrary.

The first spell of Bharatiya Janata Party rule from 1998 to 2004 was the occasion when Hindutva’s agenda began to directly intrude into the science and technology policy agenda of the country. Its most dramatic manifestation was the nuclear weapons tests at Pokhran in 1998 that we have already noted. While the shift in India’s nuclear weapons stance represents an overall shift in the policies of the Indian state, the role of the Hindutva world-view in the immediate process of decision-making that led up to the shift in policy need not be underestimated.

The second spell of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule from New Delhi, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, that has run its course now for close to two years, has begun to see a dramatic slashing of India’s scientific and technological research and higher education budgets. Some of these cuts are as yet only proposals but likely to take effect shortly. While these may as yet be reversed, they are only a sharp accentuation of a trend that has been in effect for a much longer period

Increasingly in the last few years, Hindutva’s attacks on rationality and the scientific temper have assumed a direct and physical dimension exemplified by the assassinations of three prominent advocates of rationality and campaigners against superstition in public life and the scientific study of India’s history, society and polity37. The recent attacks have focused in particular on three isssues. One is the systematic, evidence-based and scientific study of India’s history. The second is the uncritical glorification of the “achievements” of science in ancient India, where mythology in several Sanskrit texts is taken for fact, following which wildly conclusions are drawn.38 The third is an insistence on the “values” of Indian “culture”, where culture is conflated with all manner of rituals and practices, whether religious or social, especially on issues of caste, religion and gender.

While these are the areas of concentration of Hindutva’s ideological efforts, this is not to suggest an entirely coherent campaign of a homogenous character. Many of Hindutva’s efforts are opportunistic in character: it may be an attack on the adoption of modern attire or the adoption of a modern lifestyle by women in Bengaluru or it may be incendiary protests at an event to celebrate the legacy of Tipu Sultan, the legendary ruler of Mysore who was perhaps the last determined opposition to the onward march of colonial British rule. On occassion it could be the claim that “aircraft” that could “fly backward” existed in ancient India or the celebration by a section of the “legacy” of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi. The celebration of the Manusmriti, the arch reactionary exposition of the rules of the caste system, composed of a melange of the most absurd rules of hierarchical social behaviour39 is another Hindutva favourite while the celebration of astrology and its introduction into university curricula as a course of study is a Hindutva success story, achieved under the first spell of rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

These waves of outright obscurantism have met with protests from a wide cross-section of Indian intellectuals, strident media criticism and even expressions of concern and condemnation from sections of India’s managerial class and corporate leaders. But nevertheless, for reasons that I believe we still do not understand entirely, Hindutva’s campaign also strikes a chord in significant sections of Indian society.40 Even from among the sections of society, such as intellectuals, who do protest, there are many others who are sympathetic to Hindutva’s blandishment. And there is a significant section of India’s elite which does not see the prevalence of obscurantism on a wide scale as something reprehensible or as a state of affairs that calls for urgent remediation.

One may argue that this is in effect the other side of the same coin that has led to the Indian elite’s historic disregard of the imperative of mass education. As we have indicated earlier, it would be underestimating the intensity of the problem if we were to try to understand this disregard purely in terms of the “policy” of the Indian state or the “policies” of successive governments in power, though better policies at local, regional or national scale can provide forward movement to some extent. But what such policy expresses or manifests in the ultimate analysis is, arguably, the deep-rooted backwardness of the Indian elite, or ruling classes to put it more accurately, whose world-view does not encompass the need for unleashing the potential of India’s people. It is perhaps even fearful of doing so, wary that such a social and political upsurge would sweep its own dominance away, and hence only promotes modernisation in such moderate doses as does not endanger its own existence. At the same time this elite seeks a seat at the high table in the global political order, and actively pursues the accoutrements of global power status. What else can explain the strange spectacle that some of the leading figures of Indian industry are prepared to gift hundreds of millions of dollars to some of the world’s wealthiest educational institutions in the world’s wealthiest nations, even while maintaining an uncritical silence in the face of mass educational deprivation and rampant obscurantism at home, promoted by governments that they could well influence in the right direction.

A Divided Opposition

Why is it that this crisis of science and scientific temper in India has not been tackled with greater political energy and intellectual vigour? Why has it not received the fulsome opposition that it merits? Apart from the larger political questions that this raises, which we have discussed at some length earlier, there are a number of current intellectual trends that have partially blocked an adequate response to this crisis.

One has been the rise of a general skepticism regarding science and technology among a section of the intellectual class, among whom mainstream social scientists are prominently represented. Two influences have fed into this trend in India. The first of these is a general skepticism of science that has been current and perhaps even dominant among mainstream social scientists globally for more than thirty years now. Among these skeptical tendencies may be included an assortment of viewpoints such as post-modernism (of which of course there are many variants), cultural relativism, political ecology and social constructivism. The starting point of these critiques vary, but they share a broad understanding that all science and technology has “social genes”, that the claims of science to producing objective knowledge of the natural world are suspect, that objectivity itself is an incoherent notion while all truth claims are merely expressions of class or other forms of oppressive ideological domination, and that there is no basis for the notion that science produces any knowledge that is universally valid. These viewpoints have had a significant influence on the Indian academic community.

The second influence is a more up to date and refurbished version of the debate over the so-called Nehruvian versus the Gandhian “model” of development. In this debate, in its original form, the former is presented as a “model” that relies on development through industrialisation (to the neglect of agriculture and rural livelihoods and hence the well-being of the mass of the population) while the latter is presented as one that eschews large-scale industrialisation, focuses on the development of the rural “community”, promotes local industry, especially in craft and artisanal forms and hence is more attuned to ensuring general wellbeing. In its current version, this debate has a more abstract form, over the “development model”, without the specificity of the earlier version. But the striking feature is that both sides to the debate continue to conflate industrialisation and the role of science and technology in development with the socio-economic transformations that are a necessary aspect of development in general, and in particular the need for an agrarian transformation.

Thus it is science that is the source of the problem, rather than science in a society that has not undergone any radical transformation. In the more benign critiques, modern science is at best irrelevant, while in the harsher versions science is seen as indeed the villain in a romantic fable where the stable equilibrium of a pre-capitalist order, portrayed romantically as free of exploitation and oppression has been destabilised as a consequence of a modernity imposed by the West and subsequently continued by the Indian elite. It is evident that such views undercut the significance of scientific temper and in its romanticisation of the past (including the glorification of so-called indigenous knowledge) lays open the door to Hindutva’s obscurantism acquiring some intellectual pretensions41.

A second trend that threatens scientific advance and opens the door to new forms of obscurantism comes from the rise of environmental concerns and environmental movements. While the environmental movements have by and large originated with unexceptionably significant issues such as environmental conservation and protection, prevention of pollution, banning hazardous substances, access to forest resources for those who have traditionally used them and depend on them for livelihoods, they have also been accompanied by romantic anti-scientific views that have increasingly become more vociferous. The crux of the problem with environmentalism as a whole, except for a minority viewpoint, is to see environmental concerns as trumping all other socio-economic and political consideration. Thus all questions of social transformation are set aside or have to be made secondary to immediate environmental action. As a result environmental movements are complicit in glorifying rural “communities”, especially those with low levels of mechanization or modernisation of agriculture, without regard to the deep inequalities and oppression that are characteristic of such communities in general. Caste, in particular, is explained away, as it were, or simply ignored. Shockingly, the socio-biological interpretation of caste, justifying it on grounds of ecological sustainability (with no mention of its oppressive character), by Madhav Gadgil, a noted environmental scientist and activist, has met with little criticism42. It is unsurprising that the committee headed by him that was appointed to enquire into the preservation of the biodiversity of the Western Ghat hill ranges in Western India paid no heed in its sweeping recommendations for environmental conservation to the question of the livelihoods of the millions who inhabit the region43. Environmentalists and environmental activists of note routinely include obscurantist appeals in their appeals44 and even those who are otherwise critical of obscurantism would concede ground if it were linked to environmental concerns.

Environmentalism has also given rise to a new “secular” obscurantism that makes claims against particular technologies (often it would seem whimsically) or particular projects without any evidence, based often on gross misrepresention of scientific facts. A case in point is the opposition to the project to detect and measure the properties of elementary particles known as neutrinos, coming from cosmic rays that was proposed to be set up in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A wild opposition campaign was initiated by environmentalists from the state, who have succeeded in stalling the project with the assistance of some ill-informed judicial pronouncements and discreet political support. The allegations included charges that the neutrinos were capable of causing radiation damage to the population in the surrounding areas. This of course is a piece of laughable nonsense since the neutrinos would have caused no radiation damage, first because they only very “weakly” interact with any other matter, second because these neutrinos are not artificially produced but are the ones occurring naturally in cosmic rays and third because the experiment is proposed to be housed under a few hundred metres of solid rock45. Ironically soon after the project was definitively stalled by the judicial verdict came the announcement of the award of the year’s Nobel Prize in physics, precisely for the study of the kind of phenomena that the proposed experiment was to investigate. These are by no means isolated instances. As in the rest of the world there is rising opposition to the introduction of genetically modified crops, which have stalled further research of potential value to Indian agriculture. While it is true that such “secular” obscurantism is a global phenomenon46, in India it links up with the general prevalence of obscurantism of the traditional kind and the widespread lack of scientific awareness in society to form a formidable reactionary force.

Regrettably, such views have also gained a modicum of adherents among the Left in India. Traditionally among the most trenchant critics of obscurantism and backwardness, sections of the Left have been drawn into empathy for such reactionary views in a somewhat roundabout fashion. While the traditional critique of the Left has focused on the need for equitable access to modern science and technology and social control over technology to mitigate its unexpected consequences, such issues have tended to move to encompass questions of the risk associated with many modern technologies. However while in its initial stages such questions of risk and safety have been linked to the ownership of technology, in later stages the questions of risk and safety acquire a life of their own (intrinsic to the nature of technology itself) while the pre-dominantly socio-economic questions are relegated to the background.

In many instances it even appears that such anti-technology movements are the visible manifestations of the deep-rooted frustration arising from the inability to organise effectively for radical social transformation. The sustained agitation against the completion and start up of a nuclear power plant on the eastern coast, south of the city of Chennai, dominated by the protests of local fisherfolk, appears to express this contradiction clearly. There is something strange in the manner in which the issue of long-term nuclear risk (that is of very low probability but of potentially catastrophic consequence if indeed it occurs) overshadows and pushes aside every other issue, socio-economic or political, that are clearly of greater significance in the short and medium term suggests that the nuclear power plant is not the real focus of the local populations’ ire. It appears to be more the lightning rod that draws to itself the accumulated frustrations of a large number of other issues of greater import in their daily lives that they do not truly believe can be dealt with.47

The Way Ahead?

Our assessment of the current state of science and scientific temper in Indian society is not a positive one. On the other hand to paint a picture that does not do justice to reality is no option at all. Nor can one share the cheery optimism exuded by sections of industry and business and their spokespersons in the business media that sees opportunity everywhere with little thought as to why the similar optimism expressed on earlier occasions has not borne fruit.

A bleak view such as the above does require some qualification. Obviously all science will not come to a grinding halt. A modern state and elite in the twenty first century cannot be without any science at all. And as sectors like agriculture or space have shown, this level of activity need not be insubstantial. Nor is it impossible for high levels of individual scientific achievement to be registered in scientific institutions, departments and research groups across the country. Nor does the current state of affairs preclude a few sectors of high competence, if not innovation, as in the information technology sector.

But there is little guarantee that India’s science in the years to come, continuing along the present course, will reach the levels of adequacy that such a nation both needs and deserves. Nor is it likely, with current trends, to close the currently widening gap between India and the other emerging scientific powers such as Brazil, Korea or China. For the last four to five decades the fortunes of science have altered between potential and hope on the one hand, and crisis and despair on the other. If a few, whether individuals or institutions, did well or even excellently, the state of the rest was always a matter of concern. Among those institutions that have done well, some of course have managed to retain something of their original purpose and elan or or in the best cases improve their standing, even if there is an inescapable sense of fragility about the well-being of these institutions.

More subtly though, the agenda of these scientific institutions and broad sectors of research will continue to change, driven by the increasing imperative of obtaining funds and resources from large private or public institutional donors from outside India, of collaborating with institutions from advanced scientific countries and the demands of large private and institutional players within India itself. This may of course promote substantial scientific activity but one that is in some fundamental sense misaligned to the needs of the country48.

In the short and medium term much can be done to improve science and technology in the country if a succession of governments increase public expenditure for science and technology, provide a more optimistic atmosphere in the way it manages scientific institutions and their needs and ensures that the private sector meets its commitments to the promotion of knowledge generation to some extent. But a return to the dominance of the public sector in the management of the economy seems a difficult prospect given the far-reaching changes of the last two decades and a half, unless a more widespread and thorough shift takes place in economic policy driven by a decisive shift to a more radical dispensation in the politics of the country. But even in such a situation, it is not self-evident that science will receive its due, as the advance of anti-science attitudes on the left of the political spectrum indicate.

For science to regain its rightful place in a positive vision of India’s future, it is perhaps most important to revisit and reemphasise its liberatory role. But in doing so, two issues regarding the received notion of scientific temper need to be confronted head on. The first is the need to revisit the classical notion of secularism as the separation of religion from the public sphere. In India however, the practice of caste has deep roots particularly in the various dogmas and practices that make up what is referred to as the Hindu religion. In this context, the right to the personal practice of the Hindu religion, cannot be allowed to encompass the practice of caste even in the private sphere. The extent to which this is to be dealt with by legal means may be the subject of discussion. But clearly no movement for the secularisation of Indian society or the ensuring of the secular ideal in the economic, social and political life of the country can eschew confronting the practice of caste discrimination, even in the so-called personal sphere49.

The second issue that indeed follows from the first, is that the agenda of promoting secularisation and the scientific temper cannot be restricted to science in the restricted sense of the natural or engineering sciences, but encompass the role of science in social transformation. To be sure, such an emphasis has not been entirely absent, but has often been presented in the abstract as broad appeals to rational thinking and the application of scientific analysis. But today, the limitations of this approach are evident and the agenda of scientific temper cannot move forward without focusing on all the oppressive, exploitative forms of the irrational in the sphere of the social, whose foremost manifestation is the continued existence of criminal forms of Dalit discrimination.

Science must be linked, not merely to poverty eradication as in the Nehruvian agenda, but to an agenda of liberation from exploitation and oppression, especially of the pre-modern social oppression that is India’s special burden and the promotion of universal well-being, based in the first instance on the advance of the material basis of such well-being. Whether this will indeed be realised in practice is a matter for the future. But of its necessity, as seen from the experience of the last seventy years, this essay has tried to argue, there can be little doubt.


1Nehru (1989)

2 Lala, (2006)

3Meghnad Saha’s woes as a professor at the University of Allahabad in the 1930s before his move to Kolkata, have quite a contemporary feel to them. They are briefly recounted in Anderson, (2010)

4This is not to deny the increase in the number of departments in several universities or even in some colleges, that produce research work of good or excellent quality, but their relatively meagre numbers in the university system, it can be argued, continues to be a feature of contemporary higher education in India.

5 Mukerji & Bose (1963)

6The poem that begins with the line, “Where the mind is without fear,” was first published in English in 1913 as part of his famous collection of poems Gitanjali, and has been reproduced since on innumerable occasions in print and more recently on the internet. For the poem in full in English and the Bengali original, see

7An account of the original conversation is described in the New York Times, Marianoff (1930). A more detailed description and context of the meeting is provided in a special review of The Kenyon Review- Einstein and Tagore (2001)

8Ambedkar (1946)

9Gandhi (1984)

10 For more see Government of India (1958), Mukhopadhyay (1983)

11For an authoritative account of self-reliance as part of India’s economic policy in the first few decades after Independence, see Nayar (1983)

12 See Vaidyanathan, et al (1979), and Kannan (1990)

13Zachariah and Sooryamoorthy (1994)

14See Business Line (2003) and Bhargava and Chakrabarti (2007)

15Mukherjee and Mukherjee (2001)

16 The Constitution (Forty-Second Ammendment) Act 1976 Retrieved from

17See data from the following reports Government of India (2012; 2014)

18Pathak (2013).

19I am indebted to Shailja Pathak for emphasising this point in numerous discussions.

20Balaram (2010)

21Worldbank data on High-technology exports i.e. with high R&D intensity, such as in aerospace, computers, pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments, and electrical machinery is available at

22There is sometimes the mistaken perception that the Industrial Revolution did not owe very much to the scientific revolution that preceded it. While it is undoubtedly true that the development of technology may proceed in relative autonomy from specifically scientific advance, the close connection historically between the scientific and industrial revolutions has been amply demonstrated by Margaret Jacob in her work. See for instance, Jacob (1997)

23For the text of this seminal document in the evolution of India’s science policy, see

24I am indebted to R. Ramakumar for bringing this to my attention.

25Nehru’s views on the historical origins of caste elsewhere in the volume are remarkable for their sweeping generalizations and historical naivete. It recalls D. D. Kosambi’s excoriation of national leaders who, ill-equipped, spent their time in prison producing “pop” versions of history.

26Ambedkar (1946)

27Gandhi was also capable of justifying his social agenda with a deeply obscurantist argument. An outstanding example of this was Gandhi”s attribution of the Bihar earthquake of 193? to divine retribution to the widespread practice of the sin of untouchability. This drew a sharp response from Rabindranath Tagore, who was shocked by Gandhi’s reasoning. See Bhattaacharya (1997)

28For a critique of Nehru’s Discovery of India, from the viewpoint of its limitation in dealing with caste, see Guru (2016).

29 Nanda (2006)

30Nandy. (1988)

31See Chandrasekhar and Ghosh (2002)

32For a more detailed assessment of the “reform” agenda on science, see .Jayaraman (2009)

33For an early critique of the nuclear weapons programme and its significance, see Ram (1999)

34For an up to date review of the IT sector, see for instance, Mani(2013) See also Chandrasekhar (2006)

35See for instance data on global trade in advanced technology from the successive reports of the US National science board-.National Science Board. (2014;2016)

See also the review of innovation in India in Mani (2009)

36There appears to be little evidence of a concerted effort at advanced scientific research in the new generation of privately funded institutions of higher education.

37Economics and Political Weekly (2015).

38See The Hindu (2015)

39The full text of the Manusmriti merits reading. The critical edition of the Manusmriti is due to Patrick Olivelle, Olivelle (2004).

An easy English translation is available on the web at

40here are very few studies that explore this question adequately. See for instance, Raza and Singh (2004). For some other efforts with which the author himself was associated, see Pathak (2013) and Raj (2016)

41For a recent example of this see this article-Aravindhan (2016)

42For a sampling of Gadgil’s views see for instance, Gadgil and Malhotra (1982;1983;1994). A rare critique is to be found in Guha (2002)

43For a critique of the Western ghat report of the Madhav Gadgil committee see Aravindhan et al(2015)

44For instance, the author has heard Sunderlal Bahuguna, almost 30 years ago, refer to Mt Kailash, a Himalayan peak, in his lectures as the “abode of Siva and Parvati”. While a similar statement by a figure of the Sangh Parivar, referring to Ayodhya as the birthplace of the mythological god Rama of the Ramayana, would have rightfully drawn fire as obscurantist, such statements by environmentalists do not draw similar criticism.

45See Jayaraman (2015) and for some up to date review on the state of the projectsee Ramachandran(2015)

46For a recent account of such views in the West, see the book Science Left Behind, Berezow and Campbell(2012)

47For a discussion of this issue see Aravindhan and Jayaraman (2013).

The paper was based on fieldwork in the area and interviews by Aravindhan Nagarajan for hisM.A. thesis.

48A dramatic example is provided by the health sector, where high-technology hospitals offering world-class treatment enable India to emerge as a medical tourism destination for many developing and developed nations, but yet the majority of the population still lacks adequate basic health care.

49Indeed the natural tendency of Hinduism to conflate so-called religious belief with the practices of everyday social life, is evident in the ban on the production, sale and consumption of beef by non-Hindus in different parts of the country by the forces of Hindutva.


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2 thoughts on “Promises to Keep: Science and Scientific Temper in India

  1. Hi! I came across this piece while searching for ambedkar and how he envisioned science and scientific temper, as I did not find anything substantial on this issue. In fact, at this point I am writing a piece on the passage of scientific temper from Nehru’s early education to the current STI policy document of 2013, and I think it would be great if I could have a chat with you. I have read pieces by academic scholars which have not been as satisfactory as the detailed account that you have provided here.


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