A Case for Science-based society

Shiv Nadar School in collaboration with Indian Youth Nuclear Society recently hosted the Energy Boot Camp  to create awareness about the safe use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. I, being a science and technology proud person, was hugely impressed not only by our own domestic achievements in the field but also by what is being attempted in France at ITER – world’s largest fusion-based nuclear energy research facility. What also made me immensely proud was the involvement of our own Indian engineers and scientists in this audacious work in frontline nuclear science. It gave me goosebumps to hear that India has contributed the entire cryostat base and other heavy engineering components for the fusion cylinder. And it set me to thinking what got us there? What put us in the big league of scientific research? Most of us will say – Duh! Our scientists, who else! True, but the answer is actually a little more involved. 

Nehru envisioned and laid the foundations of a science and technology-based society. And we are reaping the benefits of his futuristic vision and efforts now. But for his vision, there would be no premium universities like the IITs, AIIMS, space program like ISRO and atomic and nuclear research programs like BARC, DRDO and its guided missile program and much more, that we take so much pride in today. We won’t even be self-sufficient in food production – green revolution – much less become a nuclear state, had we not made those investments, however meagre, in science education and research early on when we were still a poor, pre-dominantly agrarian, mass-education-deprived young nation. 

We educators and students alike need to ponder over where do we invest our efforts and resources today so that we can expect to get similar or better returns on our investments say, a decade or two and more down the line. If, today, we invest our money in ‘mandirs’ and put our efforts in ‘vedic revival’ what return do we really have in mind?  There would only be retrogressive revisionists singing songs of a glorious heritage without creating even jobs, much less make a mark on the world map of scientific advancements. We are late as it is. When the west was dotting the map with the now much revered and famed universities all over Europe and America, we were busy making mausoleums, palaces, forts and temples. The difference in the return-on-investment is for all to see. 

Two nations with common history, heritage and baggage of colonialism were born the same day in 1947. One nation envisioned a religion-based society that over-obsessed over neighbours and over-spent on military, the other a science-technology based one that spent more on scientific development and strengthening its democratic institutions. The difference in the two nations today is there for all to see. Why do we want to swap our vision with that of a failed neighbour state when we can clearly see and compare the results of the choices they made? 

Nehru and others created institutions that make it possible for democracy and social justice to prevail. He, I concede, wasn’t a perfect man or leader. Who is? Yet, I would like to move ahead with his best ideas, follow his vision and join the scientific community in solving problems facing humanity today, using all the resources we have including our ancient knowledge bank if it has something of value to offer. We have been making claims about how our ‘vedic’ ancestors had knowledge about everything and it is all there in our scriptures. Great! We have a massive head start right there in that case. Let’s put it to use. We had 70 years to pull that rabbit out of the hat, but we have drawn a blank. Nothing of substance has come out to help any kind of frontline scientific research. Heritage is good only if you use that knowledge base as a springboard to make some advancements. Otherwise it’s just a trophy on your shelf, no matter how much you shine it and ask everybody to applaud it, it’s of no real use. We have to really use it in some credible and useful research to serve humanity if we are looking for a feather in our cap. Otherwise, just close this ‘golden heritage and vedic revival’ chapter and open a new book. 

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