Even as India is witnessing a sharp rise in the promotion of obscurantism, pseudo-science and superstition by state institutions, political leaders including the PM himself and organisations linked to the ruling RSS-BJP, the state of Kerala is going to witness a massive campaign and popular programmes in November in support of science.
The 'Kerala Rally For Science' is being organised by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment, the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) and the State Library Council, as they observe November 7 to 14 as Scientific Temper Week.
7 November 2017 marks the 150th birthday of the pioneering physicist-chemist Marie Curie, and coincides with the birthday of the great Indian scientist CV Raman. November 14 is the birthday of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who worked to lead India on the path of scientific progress and to spread scientific temper in society.
A large number of programmes have been planned in connection with the event, including classes, symposia, debates, and a one year-long Campus Science Festival which aims to reach 500 campuses across the state.
Programmes include 'Science Window' in which scientists working in the major science research institutions would explain their work to the common people. There will be classes, exhibitions and multimedia presentations on 'The Cosmos, Life and Climate Change', while the 'Women in Science' symposium has women scientists, the obstacles they have faced and the ways to overcome the problems as the theme.
Popular debates aimed to counter the anti-vaccination propaganda that has become a serious problem in recent times, and debates on scientific agriculture have been planned as part of 'Science Debates'. 'Science Tours' and cancer awareness classes will also form part of the Scientific Temper Week.
The Campus Science Festival, which would be inaugurated at the Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur on November 7, aims to connect academic disciplines with an awareness of social realities, and to improve scientific temper and democratic culture in colleges. The event is planned in such a manner that each college could have a one-week long programme involving classes, exhibitions, cultural programmes, debates, discussions, competitions and experiments. Gender, scientific temper and students' movements would be the themes of the Campus Science Festival.
The programmes on scientific temper aims to turn science as the common sense in society rather than a mere subject of study. The programmes on gender intend to discuss attitudes on gender relations and gender-related problems in campuses. The sessions on campus movements are aimed to introduce students to the student and youth movements worldwide in order to further democratic consciousness in campuses.
The Campus Science Festival, titled ‘Festival of Truth’, would be organised in cooperation with various Department Associations, Students Unions, clubs and teachers' associations in the colleges.
Earlier on 22 April this year, hundreds of scientists and supporters had taken to the streets in over 600 towns and cities across the world, in protest against cuts to public spending on scientific research and research institutions, and against the rising threat to science-based public policy formulation. Similarly on 9 August, scientists, researchers and students in India hit the streets in more than 30 cities for the India March for Science, voicing their concern about cuts in research funding and the propagation of pseudo-scientific ideas in the country.
Sreejith CS, Assistant Professor of Physics at St Mary’s College, Sulthan Bathery, told Newsclick: "Science has made huge strides in the last quarter century. This is also a time when inequalities have risen tremendously. So this should have been a time when the politics which leads to the benefits of scientific progress being shared very unequally should have been the point of discussion. But the very recent times have seen a situation where even the basic premises of science are being questioned. Completely unscientific ideas are being propagated as the truth.” Sreejith is a State Committee member of the KSSP, the largest popular science organisation in India. KSSP is one of the organisers of the Rally for Science.
"In normal circumstances, it should have been quite obvious that people or society support science. Having to assert this is an indication of the seriousness of the right-wing attacks India is facing today,” Sreejith said.
The worldwide March for Science was triggered by the decisions of the Trump administration in the US, which included executive orders by Trump which rescinded scientific reports which underpinned major environmental and public health measures such as relating to automobile fuel efficiency, curbs on coal mining, protection of water bodies from pollution etc. Trump had openly denied climate change which he repeatedly termed a “fraud”.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is on record claiming that genetic science and plastic surgery existed in ancient India, giving examples from mythology to bolster the claims. Unnat Bharat Abhiyan, a central government programme with IIT Delhi as its coordinating institution, is examining nearly 40 proposals to fund claims - which have been slammed as absurd - about the supposed benefits of cow urine and cow dung. A BJP minister in Maharashtra had said that doctors prescribing "allopathic" medicine are anti-nationals, while another BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh had proposed that astrology and vaastu experts should give health advice to the sick.
Sreejith slammed the postmodernists as well for creating an atmosphere conducive for anti-science campaigns: "The atmosphere created by postmodernists in India have to be read along with the attacks unleashed by the right wing. A big campaign has been built up with the claim that "science is just another narrative". The influence gained by this campaign in the academia, and its impact on the common people as these ideas seep into general society, has created an atmosphere where religious fundamentalist groups are denying scientific facts. This has led to groups such as those opposing vaccination to gain ground. The Kerala Rally For Science aims to counter all these anti-science trends."
The campaign for the Kerala Rally for Science has already taken off in the social media, with witty posters countering pseudo-scientific and superstitious claims, and users adding the Kerala Rally for Science badge in their Facebook profile pictures.
The Scientific Temper Week will conclude on November 7 with rallies and public meetings at all District Headquarters. The State-level valedictory programme will be inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.