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Why thousands of Indian scientists marched across 26 cities

People across 26 cities join scientists in demanding more funding for research and promotion of scientific temper.

Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath

Scientists demanded that the government allocated three percent of the country’s GDP to scientific and technological research [Sanjay Kumar/Al Jazeera]

Thousands of scientists and their supporters have marched across India to promote their work and demand that the government invest more in the field.

Inspired by the global March for Science earlier this year, rallies were held in more than 25 cities across the country on Wednesday.

“The march is not a protest,” Meena Kharamtal, one of the organisers of the rally in Mumbai told Al Jazeera.

“This is a march for science,” she said.

Kharamtal, along with the thousands who have rallied across the country, demanded that the government increase the funding for scientific and technological research.

“Funding for basic science in India is facing a grave situation,” Anindita Brahma, a research associate at the Indian Institute of Science, told Al Jazeera.

Among the demands of Wednesday’s rallies was the allocation at least three percent of the GDP to scientific and technological research and 10 percent towards education, a statement by the march organisers said.

 Scientists demanded that the government allocated three percent of the country's GDP to scientific and technological research [Sanjay Kumar/Al Jazeera]
Rallies were held in more than 25 cities across the country [Sanjay Kumar/Al Jazeera]

In January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the importance of scientific research at the Indian Science Congress.

“If we want science to deliver, we must not constrain it,” he said, adding that “by 2030, India will be among the top three countries in science and technology”.

While many welcomed Modi’s comments, those who attended the rallies on Wednesday said the government has not translated them into action.

“Although the government expects us to achieve groundbreaking discoveries, it fails to realise that the basic necessity is infrastructure, which requires sufficient funding,” Brahma told Al Jazeera after attending the march in Bangalore.

 

According to the World Bank, India’s expenditure on research and development has remained stagnant at about 0.8 percent of the GDP over the last few years.

This is “way smaller than anything needed to make any kind of breakthrough in science”, Deepak Modi, a scientist from Mumbai, told Al Jazeera.

China, for example, invested more than two percent of its GDP in research and development in 2014.

“Further, there is a significant push to generate money from science being done,” Deepak Modi said.

“We wish to tell the government that science cannot be compared to business. Science is a creative activity and it may take many years before research yields any practical value and the government must support science.”

At the time of publication, the Indian government had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

 
At least 1,500 people rallied at the march in Bangalore [Courtesy of Souvik Mandal]

In addition to funding, the organisers called for the end to “propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance”, as well as better adherence to Article 51A of the Constitution, which states that it is the duty of every citizen to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.

Souvik Mandal, an ecologist who also marched in Bangalore, said he was worried “about the ignorance of public and government bodies, and their denial of scientific facts”.

“The intensity in which pseudoscience and superstition are currently propagated in India and throughout the world is alarming,” he said.

Gargya of the Indian Science Forum of New Delhi added that he believed “that in the last few years, many Indian policies that are coming are based in beliefs, which are not actually true”.

‘Science must be a priority’

India’s March for Science grew out of the global march that took place on Earth Day in April.

Thousands from more than 600 cities worldwide rallied to “defend the role of science in policy and society”, especially in the wake of what they called a growing number of attacks on the field.

“It was heartening to see [the global march],” Amol Amodkar, a student from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, told Al Jazeera.

“It gave us confidence that the scientific community can and will stand together for what we believe in,” he said before the rally in Chandigarh.

“Science must be a priority for a growing nation like India.”

 

Mandal agreed, adding that he is optimistic about the future of science in India.

“We have seen a wonderful, and unexpected, number of participants from the younger generation,” at the marches, he said.

This “gives us hope of a future where the public may prefer a government which abides by the scientific thinking and makes decisions, including policies, through scientific knowledge”.

 

Sule is one of the people leading the Mumbai march which would begin at 4pm from August Kranti Maidan to Wilson College. He confirmed that more than 500 scientists, teachers, students, “rationalists” and general supporters of science will march in Mumbai on Wednesday. The march was  open to all. A Facebook page has been created for those with further enquiries.

 

Five-year-old Irabati Ghose and 93-year-old Shantabai Ranade were among over 600 students, scientists and social activists, who marched on the streets of Pune for science. As scheduled, the ‘March for Science’ started on time, as the Pune police was finding it hard to manage the 200 participants, who had already gathered near the Gandhi statue, outside Pune railway station on Wednesday evening.

The hour-long march saw participation mostly from scientists and students associated with the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Inter University Centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), among other prominent institutes, several NGOs and social groups in the city.

Amid light rain, participants were seen marching on the streets holding placards, shouting slogans and singing songs. Scientists have been demanding better budgetary allocations for scientific activities and policies that support research work.

Science activist Vivek Monterio, meanwhile, questioned the” rising fundamentalism in the name of religion and caste” in the country. “The syllabus of science and other subjects is being revised without expert advise, completely making it irrational. Students must be taught to reason and question…,” said Monterio.

Participants also expressed concerns about the way science was being taught in schools and colleges. Noted Immunologist Vineeta Bal said, “This is just the beginning, we still have a long way to go before our demands are met.”

 

 

In the Wardha district of Maharashtra, Alok Bang, a scientist working with farmers in Vidarbha, will lead the march to the district collector’s office with about 100 students, NGO representatives and individuals. “Scientific articles addressing each demand in detail will be circulated to the general public,” says Bang.

In Gangtok, a lecture program iwas conducted at Sikkim University where professors spoke about the demands in detail. “After the lecture, 500 students joined  the march,” says Shanker Sharma, an M.Sc. (Physics) student at Sikkim University.

Over 1,500 people in Bengaluru responded to the call on a weekday, during office hours, reflecting their commitment to upholding the scientific temper. The march began at the Town Hall, near the city’s centre, and went up to the Senate Hall 4 km away. Students, researchers, scientists, professors from institutes like the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Applied Scientific Research, the Indian Institute of Science, the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, St. Joseph’s college, the National Institute of Advanced Studies, etc. were among the participants. Hundreds of school students also joined the march and with pledges to carry forward the legacy of Narendra Dabholkar, U.R. RaoYash Pal and Puspha Mittra Bhargava, and persevere against beliefs in superstitions, black magic, religious propaganda, etc.

Credit: Subham Rath

IE. Livemint, aljazeera

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Comment (1)

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The march for science is important at a time when scientific values are being undermined. The government must allot sufficient budget for scientific research

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