Bhargava has a very fundamental (and doctrinaire) concern about
the prevalence of non-scientific beliefs, which he feels should
be countered by all educational, communicational and legal
means. Whereas many (say, Drs. Raja Ramanna and M.G.K. Menon) do
not see ST as being opposed to religious and spiritual values,
others like P.N. Haksar regard the rise of religious
‘obscurantism’, belief in ‘god-men’ and astrology, etc. as the
ultimate negation of ST. Again, there are ideologues like Mohit
Sen and Dr. Bipin Chandra, who would apparently like to use ST
for propagating their own (leftist) way of looking at history,
as well as pragmatists like Dr. Dinesh Mohan, who emphasize the
need to ‘catch up’ with the rest of the world.
varied concerns and ideological positions are reflected in the
above-mentioned Statement (or the Manifesto, as we shall refer
to it). It underlines the importance of propagating ST among the
masses in making a resurgent India. It makes a strong plea for
inculcating a spirit of enquiry and questioning of the existing
order. It also points out that a systematic and planned
utilization of our technological capabilities (and human
faculties in general) to solve our national problems is not
possible in the absence of ST. It explains that ST is not just
knowledge of scientific facts nor rationalism but an outlook and
process leading to an ordered understanding of man and his
environment. However, when it lays down four attributes of ST,
the above broad and universal approach to ST gives way to an
exclusive emphasis on a particular knowledge-system, viz. the
method of science.
it proclaims the doctrine that one must question whatever is
incompatible with science-generated knowledge. Further, values
like equality of human beings and distributive justice are
somehow sought to be made parts of ST. Elements of western
ideologies are also imported into the Manifesto when it sees the
human being solely as the ‘maker of destiny’ (underplaying the
No attempt is
made to reconcile ST with Indian traditions and social
structures; instead, ST is seen as "beleaguered and besieged" by
these. Moreover, science is pitted against religion: " .....
While science is universal, established religions and religious
dogmas are divisive". It ends by not only condemning
superstitions and irrational ways of making decisions, but also
lamenting havans and yajnas, ‘irrational health
practices’ and ‘food fads’.
discussion, in the form of articles and letters in response to
the Manifesto, soon turns into a largely adversarial debate in
the book. There are several ‘protagonists’ of the Manifesto. The
‘antagonists’ include two distinct categories. On the one hand,
there are Drs. Ashis Nandy and Vandana Shiva, who question the
superiority of the method of science as against the ‘collective
wisdom’ of Indian people. On the other hand, we find leftists
like Deepak Dhawan who see the Manifesto as an alibi on part of
the highly-placed signatories to escape responsibility for
perpetuating an inegalitarian order, and who would like ST to
explicitly include a commitment to a socialist revolution.
Then there is
H.K. Chaturvedi calling upon scientists to set their own house
in order first. The pitch of the argument is raised so high that
Sethi and Mohan are constrained to observe, "Assertions,
counter-assertions and hysterical accusations become more
important than the issues involved."
At one point,
Nandy’s sharp criticism of the Manifesto itself becomes the
centre of the debate. He examines each line of the Manifesto
(and reads between the lines) and brings out hidden connotations
rather loudly (and uncharitably). He appears reasonable when he
asserts that, in social matters and even in material ones, the
scientist’s decision may not be unquestionable. But then he goes
further and associates science with war and destruction. He even
charges that the Manifesto’s plea "for the fullest use of
science in everyday life and in every aspect of human behaviour
from ethics to politics and economics ....." is a call for the
destruction of all spontaneity, rebellion and wisdom. This may
appear like "crying wolf", as it does to Dr. Boudhayan
Chattopadhyay and others.
subsequent injunctions issued by Subbaram and several others, to
worship science like a god that can never be questioned except
by the method of science itself, appear to justify Nandy’s
skepticism to an extent.
with most articles, starting with parts of the Manifesto itself,
is a kind of fundamentalism, particularly a generous use of
blanket statements. If the scientific spirit and curiosity is
one wonderful human faculty, the Manifesto appears to belittle,
even deride, other faculties. To many supporters of ST,
including Subbaram, the reviewer, any knowledge-system other
than science is no more than witchcraft. To the Nandys and
Shivas, on the other hand, science and technology can cause only
war, destruction and misery.
interesting how historical and other facts are either blissfully
ignored or seen through coloured glasses of ideologies. Thus,
the Manifesto wishfully sees the scientific spirit as the moving
force behind the national struggle for freedom, dismissing any
inspiration drawn from the glory of ancient India as an
The debate is
not without its use, though: many partial truths and mutually
conflicting viewpoints are thrown about, which the reader can
try to join together and make a wholesome picture.
throw a good deal of mud at religion, rituals, ‘obscurantism’
and ‘god-men’. Significantly, the issue is not joined on behalf
of religion and faith by anyone except by the much-criticized
Nandy. Interestingly, the attack on religion comes with
reference to the good old Galileo episode. The relevance for us
of Galileo’s tiff with the fundamentalist Christian church of
medieval Europe is not clear, considering that there was never
any such persecution or inquisition in Hindu India.
Nevertheless, the Manifesto appears to hold the "deep-rooted
structures of (our) ancient society" as the chief obstacle to
the propagation of ST in India. This is repeated by other
luminaries like Purushottam Agarwal et al.,
Subbaram, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Gautam Adhikari. This prompts
one to wonder whether the debate is not being made a vehicle for
ideologies that have little to do with science.
It is also hard
to accept at face value the Manifesto signatories’ claim to
fight on behalf of common people against the establishment. Many
of them have been in the top rungs of the establishment. They
are worried about ‘wasteful’ havans and yajnas of
commoners, but not about whole arrays of useless and destructive
items (e.g. soft drinks, racing cars, armaments) being produced
by the world of science and technology.
Bhargava, who, in a separate article, proposes a large number of
measures for propagation of ST, is strangely silent about the
disastrous role of English medium in children’s early education
in stifling all inquiry, discussion and creativity. He does
advocate many steps to propagate the "conceptual framework (of
science)", but none to encourage, recognize and nurture
down-to-earth innovation and creativity among common people.
This gives a chance to skeptics to wonder whether ST is not
being made another instrument for perpetuating the hegemony of
the westernized elite and technocrats over common people.
The review of
each article by Subbaram is a mixed bag. He is quite sharp,
hilarious at times and virulent at others. His baseline for
criticism is his unshakable faith in science, the scientific
method and western liberal human values, coupled with a
compulsive scorn for religion, particularly of the Hindu
variety. He sharply attacks virtually all Indian scientists for
having "spirit (spirituality) in their veins instead of science"
and bemoans "the tragic fact" that Bhabha chose such scientists
as his associates. He ends by calling for a purge of all such
scientists from the ranks of the ST movement.
There are many
vital questions concerning ST not touched upon in the book.
First, what is the method by which pre-scientific communities
gain knowledge of nature, and how is it to be interfaced with
the method of science? In particular, what situations in the
contemporary day-to-day life in India demand the use of the
method of science and other methods respectively? Second, if
science education in India is not succeeding in inculcating ST
among students at large (and even among scientists), why not? Is
it the fault of functionaries alone, or are there basic flaws in
the education policy? Third, can ST become an instrument for
criticizing and checking the reckless onslaught of the
science-technology-industry-commerce-advertisement complex on
our individual and collective lives? How?
The author is grateful
to Prof. Dharmendra Kumar and Dr. K. L. Mehra for reading
the manuscript and offering critical comments.
could have easily passed as a book review but the subject has
enough substance and relevance to be offered to the readers for
their views in this new column ‘Debate’. - Editor