The All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN) observed Friday, August 20 as National Scientific Temper Day in memory of late Dr. Narendra Dabholkar who was killed on the same day in 2013. The organisation objected to IGNOU starting an MA-Jyotish course from the current academic year and also called for "promoting scientific temper in these challenging times and to raise our voices against the brutal killing of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh and condemn the threatening of intellectuals for their writings or holding seminars."
In a statement issued on Saturday, the AIPSN – made up of 40 member organisations – said that National Scientific Temper Day was observed across about 200 districts on Friday with webinars, outdoor programmes, poster rallies on social media and mass meetings (in abeyance of COVID-19 regulations) were conducted.
A campaign was also organised on Twitter with the hashtags #NSTD2021 and #LongLiveDabholkar
alonside two all-India webinars. The campaign collected over 1,500 signatures and was organiised in eight languages in nearly 20 states.
On August 20, 2013, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead. Dr. Dabholkar was part of a movement to propagate scientific temper and reason, which stood against the current regime's tendencies. Founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, a group committed to fighting superstition and black magic, Dabholkar’s ideas spoke against superstition, caste-based division and fanaticism.
In its statement, the AIPSN also condemned the Indira Gandhi National Open University's (IGNOU) decision to institute a Master of Arts (JYOTISH) programme from the upcoming academic year. "We also note similar courses have been running in at least a handful more public funded universities. We note that authorities in these universities are defending such courses by claiming that these courses fulfill the NEP 2020 recommendation of introduction of ‘Indian Knowledge Systems’ in curriculum at all stages," the AIPSN said.
It added that India had traditional knowledge in many fields, including astronomy, mathematics, metallurgy and philosophy. "Some of the Indian contributions to this collective knowledge are undeniably significant and they will occupy a crucial part in any wholesome learning of science," it said.
However, it added that astrological predictions "have been invariably shown to fail in any controlled statistical test. There is no scientific basis for believing that planets have any meaningful effect on the human body. The astrological principle that the effect of planets would vary based on your birth chart even defies plain logic. Introducing such an unproven and illogical field as a teaching course by IGNOU is promoting superstition by governmental effort."
It mentioned that the move also violated Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution, which says that it was the duty of every citizen to adhere to scientific temper. Hence, it said that the move required opposition as it was indulging in "the promotion of pseudoscience, especially by governmental bodies".
The organisation also registered its concern with regard to the "encouragement and promotion of fake data, pseudoscience and irresponsible decisions by the Central and some state governments, on the one hand which have contributed to the spread of the pandemic, and the neglect of a planned response based on scientific policy on the other".
The AIPSN said that fighting COVID-19 could only be done with honest data and the "effective implementation of a national policy for universal free vaccination on a crash basis". It added that media organisations reporting on COVID-19 were being "systematically targeted" and that the "government itself is promoting fake data and actively trying to suppress the truth".
In conclusion, the organisation raised a set of six demands, which are as follows:
Astrology (i.e. predictive part of Jyotishastra) related courses should be discontinued from every public funded university. Instead of that we demand the introduction of Astronomy in Indian universities.
Reversal of privatization policies and restoration of scientific policy for ensuring good quality public health care as a universal right.
The government stops its attacks on media reporting honestly on the Covid situation.
Respect be shown to our constitutional article 51a(h) for actively promoting scientific temper at a mass level in order to effectively combat and defeat the Covid pandemic.
An atmosphere of tolerance, debate and dissent which helps science and scientific temper to flourish.
Culprits involved in the assassination of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh are punished.