New Delhi: Over 150 scientists from around the country and working in various fields have signed a statement asking India’s citizens to “weigh arguments and evidence critically, “to remember our constitutional commitment to scientific temper” and “to vote against inequality, intimidation, discrimination, and unreason”.
The Lok Sabha polls will begin from April 11 and will be held in seven phases around the country, with over 900 million voters registered.
The statement’s signatories include many of the who’s who of the country’s research community, including Amitabh Joshi, Gagandeep Kang, Naresh Dadhich, Prajval Shastri, Rama Govindarajan, Satyajit Mayor and Subhash Lakhotia, among others.
The statement appeals to voters to uphold their constitutional rights, and dovetails to previous appeals from scientists to “reject those who lynch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region,” and to “reject those who encourage such practices”. It also calls out violence against those fighting superstition and, finally, asks the people to remember science as a means to “democratic empowerment” instead of thinking about it solely as a “commercial enterprise”.
In the last two or three years, scientists have identified a clump of issues during the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule at the Centre that have affected them. Chief among them is underspending on research and development, and on education. Others include an apparent bias against fundamental research, low pay for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows (read our reports here and here), bureaucratic intervention in universities, passive abetment of unscientific beliefs, revision of scholarships such that they include fewer students in need, privatisation of higher education and keeping scientists from speaking to journalists.
In 2015, the Inter-Academy Panel on Ethics in Science issued a statement to then President Pranab Mukherjee to punish “trespassers of reason”. Another statement issued by a different group of scientists at the same time appealed to the government “to act swiftly to stop [the] 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.”
The next year, Naresh Dadhich, former director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, wrote for The Wire:
Voices of protest … are against the fear and anxiety causing the anguish and discomfort. And in this environment, neither is the government doing enough (at least visibly) to send a clear signal nor are the people, many of whom are complicit in having created this unhealthy and disturbing situation. We scientists stand against all this and not specifically to any action and event.
In 2017, thousands of Indian scientists and students participated in the country’s first ‘March for Science’ on August 9, following a similar international event in April. One participant, Subham Rath, a PhD scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, wrote for The Wire, “The hope of scientists labouring in these circumstances is that the ‘March for Science’ will have been a slap in the face of those attitudes that trivialise modern scientific pursuits with the excuse that ‘everything is already in the Vedas’.” Scientists undertook a similar march in 2018.
All of these appeals have included words from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear‘.
The unchanged text of the statement signed by 150+ scientists is presented below. It was originally published on Indian Cultural Forum and has been made available on a Creative Commons license.
The upcoming election is a crucial one. It asks for a re-affirmation of the most fundamental guarantees our Constitution gives us: equal rights to faith or lack thereof; culture; language; association; personal liberty and freedom of expression. These rights, even as they accrue to each of us individually, can only exist if they accrue to all Indian citizens — without partiality or discrimination.
To defend these rights, we must reject those who lynch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region. Again, we must reject those who encourage such practices. We cannot endorse a politics that divides us, creates fears, and marginalises a large fraction of our society – women, Dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, the persons with disabilities or the poor. Diversity is our democracy’s greatest strength; discrimination and non-inclusivity strike at its very foundation.
An atmosphere in which scientists, activists and rationalists are hounded, harassed, intimidated, censored, jailed, or worse, murdered, is not the future our country deserves. It is not the future we want to give our youth. We want them to awaken to a country that sees science as a means of democratic empowerment through sceptical, open-minded questioning, rather than just a commercial enterprise. We must put an end to the denigration of rational, evidence-based public discourse; only then can we create better resources and opportunities for jobs, education and research.
We appeal to all citizens to vote wisely, weighing arguments and evidence critically. We appeal to all citizens to remember our constitutional commitment to scientific temper. We appeal to you to vote against inequality, intimidation, discrimination, and unreason. These are inimical to the values of our Constitution, whose promise is best reflected in Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous words:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
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, my Father, let my country awake.”