Urgent Need to Promote Scientific Temper in Today's India: Science Congress
Journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, and activist Erendro Leichombam were arrested and charged under the National Securities Act (NSA) in May 2021 by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Manipur government. Their crime was that they posted on social media against cow dung and cow urine being propagated as a cure for COVID-19.
These posts condoled the death of Manipur BJP president Saikhom Tikendra Singh who succumbed to COVID-19, while also criticising some of the saffron party leaders’ advocacy of cow urine and cow dung to treat COVID-19. Leichombam had posted that “The cure for Corona is not cow dung & cow urine. The cure is science & common sense."
At the recently concluded 17th All India People’s Science Congress in Bhopal, one of the sub-plenaries on 'Science Popularisation and Scientific Temper' discussed the importance of scientific temperament in the present times. The speakers included journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, professors D. Indumathi, and Mayank Vahiya, and scientist and activist Gauhar Raza and Vivek Monteiro.
The 17th AIPSC with the theme - The Idea of India @75 – spanned over four days from June 6 to June 9, 2022 in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Over these four days, the AIPSC saw nine sub-plenaries and 22 workshops on some of the important issues such as scientific temper, education and New Education Policy 2020, health, self-reliance, gender and social justice, environment, livelihoods and privatisation of public sector units. The workshops saw participation and experience sharing from several grassroots activists from states, scientists and other subject experts.
Narrating his experience in Manipur, Wangkhem said, “Science journalism is progressively developing, but a lot needs to be done to take science and scientific temper to every nook and corner of the country. India has vast areas where science has not reached. Here comes the role of journalists to help spread science and scientific temper. But journalism also has its limitations whereby it cannot penetrate much among the population which is not literate. Here is the role of science activists. The two will have to work together."
Appealing to the journalist fraternity to have courage and not come under state’s pressure, Wangkhem emphasised, "Today, the space for scientific coverage is minimal in mainstream media. There is so much mandir and masjid that enough space is not given to scientific temper. Moreover, mainstream media is largely corporate media which does not prioritise science coverage. On the other hand, small media houses cannot afford to have an exclusive science journalist."
Gauhar Raza, renowned poet, activist and scientist, recalled the times of the Independence struggle when Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about scientific temper in 1946. This became the basis of the Scientific Policy Resolution, which was passed in Parliament in 1958. Raza narrated how “in Parliament, Nehru insisted on reading each and every word of the resolution as it is important for the future of the country.”
D. Arunabha Misra of Paschimbanga Vigyan Mancha reiterated Raza’s appreciation of Nehru’s leadership and emphasis on the scientific approach. He said, “Scientific temper, the term explained and used widely by Jawaharlal Nehru, is at present facing a serious concern of our country. Ambedkar advocated for both laws and ethical values to keep the country united. He urged for destroying all religious scriptures and argued to abide only by the preamble of the Indian constitution to nurture ethical values."
Reminding everyone about Article 51 A (h) of the Indian Constitution, Misra said, “It talks about developing scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and humanism as our primary duty. But the state itself does not play any role in creating a conducive environment for its citizens so that they become encouraged to perform the aforesaid duty with due diligence”.
“It is fashionable today to make irrational and exaggerated claims of our past achievements. By making false claims, we only bring ridicule to ourselves and negate the credibility of our genuine achievements," said Prof. Mayank Vahia, Faculty, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.
“When a Prime Minister says something, a message goes through the entire domestic structure of the country. Nehru worked towards the SPR 1958, and it had an impact on the next 60 years in promoting scientific knowledge and scientific temper. Today, when PM Modi says that India had knowledge of plastic surgery or tea can be made from the gas obtained from a ditch or that there is no global warming but just that the old people feel the extreme temperatures more, then it becomes dangerous. If a common man with no education says this, it is not a cause of worry. But it is worrisome when the PM of a country says such things”.
Expressing serious concern over the prevailing crisis of scientific temper, Raza said, “There is a difference between taking scientific knowledge to people and promoting or inculcating scientific temper among people. Promoting scientific temper is a political project. To promote scientific temper in the country all forces will have to come together”.
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