Patriotic Indian Science0

Kapil Hari Paranjape

The question we ask ourselves is ``Why do people do science in India?'' Certainly, a lot of negative reasons could be cited such as family commitments, inertia or even empire building. But let us be clear (and such is the calibre of people that I am talking about) that the inability to obtain a position elsewhere is certainly not one of these reasons. Any of the mathematicians1 like Professors M. S. Raghunathan, S. Ramanan, S. G. Dani, C. S. Seshadri , K. R. Parthasarathy and others could have got a faculty position at some of the top academic centres such as Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, you-name-it. Yet they and others like them stayed on.

It is my belief that they stayed on because of the reasons given below. They believed in the dream (as embodied by the institutes set up by Raman, Mahalanobis, Bhabha, Saha and others) of a modern India that would lead the world in rational scientific thought. They were sure that the India they lived in would foster education and research. They wanted to demonstrate (to fellow Indians and to those outside) that it is possible to do professional academic research of the highest quality in India. In later years as many of the emerging nations fell towards anarchy and obscurantist thought, they were in a position to say ``We are not like that.'' Indeed when the USA (under Reagan) tried to introduce obscurantism (as in ``Creation Science vs. Evolution'') they were in a position to say ``We are not like that either.'' As they became senior academics they were able to assist the growth of science not just at the research level but at even earlier levels such as undergraduate and high school levels.

To my mind these reasons are incontrovertible proof of the commitment of these people to science in India--indeed to the people of India and to its constitution. To use a much-maligned word this is real patriotism.

Yet, today these same people are being ignored in an important matter dealing with science education in this country. Ignored by people who say that their goal is a more ``patriotic'' development of science in India. A pseudo-patriotism that is against scientific temper and against science itself. Specifically, the government's desire to introduce ``Vedic'' science, astrology and mathematics has been opposed by these and other eminent people--but the government obstinately persists!

What message does it send to those (such as the author) who came after them, or more importantly to the younger generations who wish to pursue a career in science. One obvious one is ``Flee! Your country does not wish to live up to scientific temper and other twentieth century ideals that have been written into our constitution. Go to another one which tries to live up to these ideals. Or go to another where material wealth would make up the difference.''

But that is defeatist and a trap that we should avoid. The greatest monetary support for these regressive forces (not only in India but elsewhere in the Third World) comes from a ``scientific'' diaspora (the ``brain drain''). Some in this diaspora have so deeply lost touch with their country and its people, that they feel that supporting the VHP and similar forces is a way of ``returning to their roots''.

We must stay on and fight this fight. The fight for logical, rational and scientific thinking and an objective professional approach to our work is a most challenging and enjoyable one. As also the fight for the right to inculcate this attitude among the young people we see around us--so that any high school student (not mention a professor of physics) should recognise the difference between science and nonsense.


I talk only about mathematics since that is something I know about. The situation is similar in other areas in science and other disciplines.
... mathematicians1
Though it is considered bad taste to name names, I shall do so so that readers can verify from independent sources the worth of the people I am talking about.

Kapil Hari Paranjape