Voicing concern over incidents of intolerance, including the killing of Kannada thinker M.M. Kalburgi, a group of scientists has petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee, urging him to initiate “suitable actions”. Holding that a highly polarised community is like a nuclear bomb close to criticality, they also appealed to the Centre and state governments to act against “anti-human, anti-civilisational act.”

Simultaneously, the Inter-Academy Panel on Ethics in Science (IAPES) has issued a statement calling out how the country’s scientific temper has been eroded by “several … statements and actions which run counter to this constitutional requirement”. The statement also asked for such “trespassers of reason” to be exemplarily punished.

The petition submitted to the president read: “We, the scientists, are concerned about the recent developments with reference to intolerance, polarisation and spread of communal hatred resulting in the death of innocent people, rationalists”. The petition was signed by scientists and academicians including Naresh Dadich, former Director of Pune-based Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and G. Rajasekaran of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), as well as some from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad.

“We urge you to take serious note of these developments and initiate suitable actions,” it said, addressing the president. In a separate petition to the Centre, state governments and people at large, they appealed to “stop the spread of communal hatred and polarisation in society,” pointing out that India had been a plural country where communities allowed space for each other.

“A highly polarised community is like a nuclear bomb close to criticality. It can explode any time and drive the nation to utter chaos. This is a highly unstable atmosphere and we should do everything in our hands to defuse the disparity, and enlighten society in scientific spirit,” it said.

“This is an appeal to the government to act swiftly to stop this mayhem which is victimising innocent people for eating beef, sensible people for being against superstition, RTI activists or whistle blowers and many more innocent people with human values.”

Referring to many writers returning their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest “against the current events,” the statement said the scientific community, however, seemed to remain “passive.” “But scientists are also part of society and it is times like this that call upon them to be conscientious citizens and voice their concern. This is to start a campaign for scientists in, India to wake up and and make a statement,” the petition.

The IAPES statement was much less explicit in its demands, and simply called for the country’s leadership as well as the people to exercise “rationality, rights and responsibility” in equal measure while referring to the aspirations described in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’. The IAPES panel is constituted by India’s three science academies: the Indian National Science Academy, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. The full text of the statement is appended below.

When we became an independent republic, our founding fathers adopted the Constitution of India which demands that its citizens abide by and uphold reason and scientific temper. Scientific temper encompasses rationality, rights and responsibility in equal measure.

It crystallises what Tagore wanted India to be, namely, a nation

Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom;
let my country awake.

Yet, we note with sadness and growing anxiety several of statements and actions which run counter to this constitutional requirement of every citizen of India. It is important that exemplary punishment be given to such trespassers of reason and rights. We also appeal to all sections of Indian society to raise their voices against such violated acts, so that they are nipped in the bud.