On Wednesday, at least 1,000 people, including school and college students, teachers, researchers and senior scientists, took part in the nationwide ‘March for Science’ in Bengaluru, demanding an increase in funding for education and research and a greater effort to instil scientific knowledge.
The march is a continuation of the worldwide movement held on April 22, where more than a million people across 600 cities all over the world held the ‘March for Science’.
The marchers called on the government to allocate at least 3% of GDP to scientific and technological research and 10% to education to propagate scientific ideas and end religious intolerance, and develop scientific temper and a spirit of inquiry following Article 51A of the Constitution; ensure that the education system imparts only ideas that are supported by scientific evidence; and, enact policies based on evidence-based science.
GSD Babu, director of the MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research, said insufficient funding was affecting even the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the University Grants Commission. “Scientific learning is the need of the hour and there is no better time to reiterate what I tell my students: believe in astronomy, not astrology,” Babu said.
Richard Rego, faculty at the St Joseph’s College said science had long been neglected. “We have failed to give science importance, without realising that we cannot progress without new ideas.”
Rego said in most developed countries the outlay for science and education in general was about 6% to 9%. “We must realise that the policies for this will come from the state,” Rego added. “In the west, the private sector does help fund research, but event there the government plays a big role.”
Nagaragere Ramesh, former principal of the National College, Jayanagar, said the march was a political move. “It is political because society has been a victim of the propagation of all manner of superstitions in the name of tradition, which have been promoted by some vested interests,” he said.
Ramesh said there was an attempt to put a stop on the development of science. “Nowadays, people in the country like to highlight the scientific achievements of Indians in the ancient era. Even we agree that there was a lot of scientific research here,” Ramesh said.
Ramesh said the attempt of the central government was to take the country back in time. “It is true that when we talk of science now we refer mostly to western science. But that is no reason to shun it and move in the opposite direction,” Ramesh said, adding that this was not just a local phenomenon. “Across the world there has been a rise in right-wing forces and scientific temper is the first to get affected.”
Ramesh was also unsparing in his criticism of scientists themselves. Ramesh highlighted the former Indian Space Research Organisation chief K Radhakrishnan’s move to offer prayers with a replica of the Mars Orbiter Mission at the temple in Tirupati, saying this had sent out a wrong message.
“There are many scientists now who lack a scientific temper,” Ramesh said. “This is what I call the great Indian tragedy,” he added.
Meanwhile, Beatrice Sequeira, a faculty at the St Joseph’s College said science funding was critical. “We should fund science because otherwise we will stagnate,” she said. “Science is progress and it is sad to not just see a reduction in funding, but also research proposals.”
Sequeira said the number of students pursuing scientific research was low, and it was at this time that institutional support was vital.
Joseph Samuel of the Raman Research Institute said there was a definite regression in scientific temper in Indian society. “There has been a sudden withdrawal of support from the government,” he said. “Education is the only way for real progress to come to this country. This is something the state should be responsible for, rather than outsource it to the private sector,” Joseph added.