The PPST Bulletin has been evoking a fair range of responses from various people. Most of them believe the kind of debate the Bulletin is attempting to initiate to be quite relevant, and in some ways quite significant, even though there may be differences in regard to specific questions raised in the debate. However, there exists a certain view-point that holds these debates as being diversionary, in the sense that it diverts our attention from debating the central questions concerning our people and our country. Such a view-point has been best expressed in the article 'WESTERN' VERSUS 'INDIGENOUS' SCIENCE by Dr. Narendra Singh that appeared in the CFTRI (Mysore) S. W. A. Bulletin Vol. 12, No 1, Jan, Feb. 1982. Since the article is brief and takes clear positions on some questions positions that are representative of a rather widely held view-point we thought it best to reprint the whole article here along with our response to it. We shall take this opportunity to respond also to several related questions, often raised, regarding the relevance of the issues raised in the PPST debate.


A technological change is being imposed in India and elsewhere in the Third World, displacing people from their traditional occupations and causing pauperization among them in increasing numbers. In reaction to this development there appears to be an urge growing specially among the scientists to defend the traditional systems and develop them as alternatives. Recognition of adverse implications of the new technologies on the local people is to be welcome among those who constitute the manpower responsible for putting such technologies into practice. However, the diversion into a debate on the "Western" versus "indigenous" science and appearance of a growing concern with the vanishing traditional technologies do not reflect healthy trends. There appear to be, on one hand, bemoaning a historical process and a wish "had it not occurred" and, on the other, a view as if the traditional technologies are by themselves superior to the new ones. This diversion and the tendency need amends.

It must be recognized that a change, technological or other, is a characteristic of a articular social system and is imposed by, and in the interest of, the politico-economic forces dominant during a period. Such a change is a historical fact, a consequence of the historical process, and cannot just be wished away. Our main concern should be with "how to prevent and reverse such a change". For that, the first question would be "who are the beneficiaries of the change which is forced on the people". In India, we know them to be the few rich feudal, industrialists and elite bureaucrats. However, the new technologies have been developed in the West and they are under the. control of the industrial and financial interests thereof. These technologies and the accompanying' change are being imposed on the Indian people, dictated by the world dominant vested interests through their local agents and allies in India. Instead of making the technologies as targets of attack, therefore, the correct approach, obviously is to identify, expose and struggle against the local and foreign vested interests who are imposing the technologies and the change unconcerned with the adverse effects on the life of the common people. The main objective has to be real politico-economic independence for freedom from the rule of such forces and for promoting a change with people's conscious participation in it. There is evidently no alternative but for ail, including the scientists concerned with the adverse implications of the new technologies and the imposed change, to join in common struggle for real politico-economic independence.

In the prevalent social context, efforts to develop the traditional systems as alternative technologies are of no practical value. These systems vanish just because they fail to serve the interests of the ruling forces. Even if facilities occur to develop them, they would be mere diversions. The instances abound. They have no "scope for productive use and they would always remain mere ornaments. Productive use means real effective proliferation in economy for social production. It must also be deaf that such technologies can never be alternative to solve the problems of poverty and deprivation. Those problems are politico-economic in origin and nature, not amenable to technological approaches, and for real solution needing actions and measures leading to social transformation.

Counterpoising the traditional .systems versus new Western technologies is not correct. No doubt, new technologies are products of intensely promoted technological development under the capitalist economies to serve the aims of accentuating consumerism and maximizing profits by ruthless exploitation of human and material resources. Even within the industrial world, they have given rise to ecological and environmental disruption, and social and human problems. When liberated and diverted from those aims, these technologies can be real boons even for the common people in the industrial world. In the Third World countries, the adversities from the use of new technologies get compounded. They are being imposed and transplanted on to a non-technological socio-economic base of the countries which have not undergone even the historical social transformation of capitalist development and industrial revolution. Once the Third World countries achieve politico-economic independence, unvitiated by capitalist aims, they would have a tremendous potential of using the new technologies in conjunction with the traditional systems. Not as alternatives, but what has been rightly called "walking on two legs", as in China. It is only after real politico-independence, with freedom from foreign imposition and interference, the traditional systems can also be further developed. Not as alternatives, but to put them on scientific basis and change them into reliable and effective approaches to serve the interests of people and society at large. This again brings us down to the basic issue of politico-economic independence,

There is a need for scientists and others not to fall victims to the diversionary emphasis on traditional systems as alternatives to new technologies. Their aspirations can find fulfillment, and their concern amelioration, only in real politico-independence. That alone can provide the really effective basis for developing traditional systems along scientific lines and for walking on two legs of traditional plus modern technologies. For any progress in that direction, they must join others in common struggle against foreign interests and their local allies for real politico-economic independence of the country.


A word about the terminology . The article is critical of a new trend that is characterized by :

  1. talking in terms of a 'Western Science' and an 'Indigenous Science'

  2. Expressing a growing concern with the vanishing traditional Technologies. The rest of the article is a critique of the latter of these two trends and is silent on the former aspect. From the way the second aspect is dealt with, it is our surmise that the article will be equally, if not more vehemently, opposed to any talk of non-neutrality and non-uniqueness of modern Western Science also. Thus we have taken the article's criticism to encompass both the 'Science' and 'Technology, aspect of our view-points.

At the very outset, there is much in the article that we are in agreement with and which provides us the common ground from which a dialogue can be initiated. These are mentioned below briefly :

  1. The author's understanding of what the so called 'process of development' in our country has amounted to 'viz' that it has been a change imposed on our people by the world dominant vested interests with the help of their local agents and allies here. The sole purpose of this has been to serve the interests of these alien forces and their local collaborators. As for our people, the result has been one of increasing impoverishment and pauperization. To this understanding we would also add that the same process has also led to an ever-increasing compromise on our national independence and self-reliance.

  2. The author's understanding of what needs to be done to prevent and reverse such a process viz, that a thorough-going, socio-economic and political transformation is the only solution and that any thing short of this will not be able to bring about any improvement in the conditions of our people.

  3. The author's understanding of the futility of looking for purely technological solutions. In the prevalent social context, one cannot hope to replace the modern Science and Technology systems by developing traditional systems, no matter however much one may 'prove' the oppressive and anti people nature of the former as well as the viability and superiority of the latter the matter is simply not one of making any unbiased rational choice. The modern Science and Technology is being imposed on us in this manner for the simple reason that it benefits the dominant interests that rule over us it is the viable and superior choice for them. The issue of nuclear energy is a glaring example: there exists no rational basis what-so-ever for the decision to propose and push it as a viable source of energy for us no basis, save that it is lucrative for certain interests concerned). Thus we agree that, in the present social order, the traditional technologies cannot be the 'ready-made’ solutions.

We however, believe that all possible attempts should be made to study, document
popularize defend and develop the traditional technologies and practices for the
following reasons:

  1. The aggressive pace at which modern Science and Technology is being pushed has brought a situation wherein many a traditional Technology and practice has been wiped out without any trace and many more are disappearing every day, to join the ranks of the many 'myths and superstitions of our people. Medicine and health-care agricultural practices, forestry etc., are glaring instances. Unless serious attempts are made and made rather soon, the accumulated wealth and wisdom of countless generations may soon be totally lost all sacrificed at the altar of the 'historical process'. Then, of course the debate as to whether traditional systems can be developed as viable technological alternatives would indeed be over

  2. A considerable proportion of our people still happen to depend upon traditional Technologies and practices (in whatever form they survive to-day), while modern Technology is only depriving them of their resources. Studying the traditional Technologies and understanding their rational basis (without being in a rush to put them on 'Scientific basis' and helping to defend and develop them in whatever manner possible, could still have some significance to the lives of these people even to-day.

  3. Serious investigations into the theory and practice of traditional systems (their contents per se, as well as their integration into social practice) might help us greatly, in ridding ourselves of the many myths and superstitions that we harbor regarding modern Science and Technology as well as the Western notions of development and progress on the one hand, and about the 'obscurantism', 'superstition' and 'primitiveness' of our people on the other. This is a theme that we have stressed in the earlier issues of this Bulletin and hence is not being elaborated here.

While agreeing that these are by themselves insufficient in bringing about a social change, we do not see them in any manner as being unrelated to the question of social change.

do not agree that the 'Western vs. Indigenous Science and Technology debate is merely an expression of a wish, 'had it not occurred', and is merely attempting to assert the superiority of traditional Technologies. It, no doubt, is focusing on the historical question—and quite correctly so. For, it should be understood that, speaking quite generally, an attempt to reinterpret their past in their own terms and a refusal to accept the interpretation handed down to them, is a process that always precedes any attempt on the part of a colonized people to stand up and take their destiny into their own hands. This is a very crucial aspect of any thorough going, anti imperialist struggler, the deepest hold any imperialism maintains on a colonized people, is by providing them with an interpretation of their history which 'proves to them their inferiority in all aspects : their culture, civilization and history. However, according to the author, the primary question to be asked is, Who were the beneficiaries of the change that occurred during the colonial period]?'. Now, this assumes that we are all clear about the nature of the change itself the usual impatient assertion, 'We all know what happened'. The new debate is refusing to accept such a position it is insisting that the matter be gone into afresh and in depth. Focusing only on the question of who were the beneficiaries of the change, without correctly ' comprehending what, the change itself was, is fraught with the danger that, even if one is able to overcome the present beneficiaries, there is nothing to stop another set of beneficiaries from taking over tomorrow. Why a certain change made it possible for a small minority to benefit at the expense of the vast majority, can be and hasto be, in our opinion, traced to ,the very content of the change involved—and, unless that content is identified and eliminated, one is always open to a repetition of the same process.

Moreover, a correct understanding of the nature of the change brought about by colonialism is crucial for the question, 'How to prevent and reverse such a change ?'. It becomes crucial for the comprehension of the nature and content of the social change that one should strive to bring about, the origin and nature of the forces that are defending and perpetuating today's social order, the sections of our people who are being the worst affected today and whose interests can be sewed only by changing this social order, etc. In essence! while insisting that the historical question be taken up afresh, the hew debate is asserting that a comprehension of the content of the change brought about by colonialism is very relevant, not only for arriving at a clearer vision of the social order that one should aim for, but also for understanding how one may begin the process by which such a change could be realized.

What, after all, is understood by the position 'We all know what happened', when one is discussing the. 'changes' in Science and Technology introduced in our country at the time of colonization Broadly, we understand it to be the following: Even though there was a certain Science and Technology here at the time of colonization, it was inferior to the Science and Technology of the West, and hence had to give way to it. This was a process that was bound to happen anyway i.e., the 'nascent forms' of the indigenous Science and Technology, if left undisturbed, would have slowly evolved and ultimately developed into the modern Western Science and Technology in any case. The process of colonization merely cut this 'painful' process short and at one shot transplanted its superior Science and Technology here. Considering that we would have anyway, evolved such Science and Technology, this was not an altogether bad thing to happen as a matter of fact, gifting their more advanced Science and Technology to us may be considered one of the beneficial effects of colonization. It is such a view that seems to be passing off under We all know what happened. We may add here that a similar view is also held regarding all our indigenous institutions that fell at the imperialist onslaught.

The new debate on ‘Western vs. Indigenous Science and Technology' is questioning the above view on various grounds. It is asking for proofs for such a position it is putting forward alternate views and hypotheses and is producing new historical data and evidence that makes the 'old' position questionable. It is trying to deny that all Sciences and Technologies, everywhere, left to themselves, I would have anyway evolved to the current Western Science, and Technology in other words, it is denying its uniqueness. It is suggesting that different cities could evolve different Sciences and Technologies in keeping with the objectives they deem as desirable and worth striving for, and that the modern Science and technology is merely that given rise to, by the Western society, to realize to objectives made 'universal' by courtesy of world-wide colonization. It is denying that the modern Science and Technology has assimilated into itself all that was correct and useful in the various knowledge systems of the world. Instead, it is suggesting that whenever the West did borrow from other societies, it has borrowed only those things which could be fitted into its scheme of things or could be made to fit into it after necessary modification. The West had rejected and then destroyed all that which did not fit into its scheme, not because they were incorrect or inferior, but because, they were of no use in furthering its objectives, and sometimes they were also the major obstacles to fulfilling those objectives. The new debate is basically insisting that the 'We all know what happened' position be subjected to critical analysis in the face of other suggested views, and not merely accepted as a matter of faith. Such a demand surely cannot be termed illegitimate, not in the least by those who champion the cause of ‘Scientific attitude’.

It may be argued that, even though there may be some justification for such a demand, the whole thing is anyway only of 'academic interest' today. It has nothing to do with the burning realities of our present plight, which is one of our nation getting increasingly enslaved to imperialist interests and our people getting increasingly pauperized and oppressed. White our sole concern at the moment must be with how to change this state of affairs, all such debates and discussions are merely diversionary and should be opposed which is precisely the author's position.

It is beyond doubt that all debates and activities which are not related to the main question of the day viz, how to bring about a social transformation that will ensure our people better living conditions and greater freedom are certainly diversionary and should be opposed. But it is not at all obvious to us as to how:

  1. An attempt at critically evaluating the modern Science and Technology in regard to its nature and process of evolution from the point of view of the peoples of the Third World,

  2. An attempt at understanding the role the modern Science and Technology is playing in strengthening and maintaining to-day's unjust order (international and domestic),

  3. An attempt at studying and defending the traditional Technologies and practices and trying to develop them as alternatives how all this can be dismissed as being not relevant to the central question of a social transformation

If it is being suggested that:

  1. The wealth and progress of the West may not be a result of the inherent superiority of its Science and Technology and enlightenment, but rather a consequence primarily of world-wide colonization which destroyed entire civilizations to provide market, resources and labor for it

  2. Since the people of the Third World to-day have no one to exploit even if they want to, they may be unable to repeat a similar 'success story' with the help of modern Science and Technology

  3. There may ,be inherent features in the theory and practice of modern Science and Technology which makes its use incompatible with the notions of egalitarianism, democracy and ecology and hence, a non-exploitative, democratic and environment preserving social order may not be possible to be built using modern Science and Technology

  4. There may be elements in the traditional knowledge systems of non-Western civilizations that are more in tune with notions of egalitarianism, democracy and ecology and hence these systems have to be understood and developed so as to make them viable bases for an alternative social order

  5. An attempt by the people to defend, develop and rely on the knowledge and practices they possess, as opposed to the modern notions and practices that are being violently imposed on them, may constitute an important element in their struggle against exploitation

how can all this be dismissed as being irrelevant to the central question?

As is well-known, the vision one has of what the future should be like, greatly
influences the way one tackles the present. In other words, the vision one has of what the alternative society should be like,1 largely suggests ways by which one may attempt to set in motion a1 process of social transformation that is aimed at realizing that vision. Concretely, if one wants to build a social order based on modern Science and Technology and its associated notions, values and institutions, it suggests ways in which one may proceed to realize it. If one has a different idea in mind, one goes about it differently. Quite simply, it is a manifestation of the relationship between the ends and the means. Seen in this light, the 'Western versus Indigenous Science and Technology' debate is very much central to the question of social transformation to day it is a political debate. It becomes diversionary only when one has made up one's mind politically. If one has made up one's mind in favor of a capital and energy intensive social order based on the latest modern Science and Technology, a social order characterized by a few giant industrialized urban centers, a highly mechanized, chemical based and energy intensive agriculture and the concomitant requirement of a high degree of| centralization of all social institutions including the state structure then such a choice can only claim to be simply a matter of personal preference and faith, and not one arrived at after considering all the alternatives possible and desirable tows. When attempts are made to point out the weaknesses and dangers involved in such a choice, and when it is suggested that, in the light of the experiences of the peoples the world over, it may be possible as well as necessary to explore alternative paths of development, is it not wrong then to dismiss all this as diversionary and dangerous talk ? Is it not against the professed spirit and temper of Science no matter Western or otherwise Dr. Singh is against counter posing the traditional Technologies against modern Western ones. He believes that any attempt to develop the former will be meaningful only after a genuine politico-economic independence has been achieved and even then, their role will be not as alternatives to modern Technologies, but such as to be used in conjunction or complementarily with them. As regards the capitalistic aims that the modern Technologies seem to be manifesting, it is his belief that they (the Technologies can be liberated from and divested of such aims. Presumably, it is his faith in such a possibility that makes him speak against the need to find alternatives to them. We would like to point out that such a faith is just that a faith and nothing more. No evidence exists to show that such a faith is in any sense well-founded. In fact, the instances of attempting to build alternative social orders based on modern Western Science and Technology, and what has been their success so far, ought to make a most interesting study into this aspect of modern Science and Technology. We are not saying that the matter has been settled either way perhaps not. But these experiments have certainly thrown up enough data to make the question a most legitimate one, and if one may add, a most urgent one too, especially for those who are concerned with creating an alternate social order.

The faith that modern Science and Technology can serve as the basis for building a social order having different objectives and values, stems from its claim that it is neutral and valueless. Now, the history of its own origin, growth and spread (particularly in situations when it came in contact with other cultures and civilizations having their own Sciences and Technologies) is a source of rich data against which such a claim should be tested. From whatever little that has been done in this direction, it does not at all seem that the claim is going altogether uncontested. A serious study in this direction seems to have hardly begun. When matters are such, is it not unwise to stick to a matter of faith and base all one's views and plans on it

Dr. Singh quotes the most interesting case of China and the idea of 'walking on two legs'. No one can fail to be inspired by the gigantic efforts made by China towards rebuilding itself and, creating a just social order. What is most significant about China is perhaps', the emphasis that it laid on the question of objectives of development, on the question of values its attempts (irrespective of the successes achieved) in insisting that 'development' and 'progress' should not be sought after at the expense of values and ideals that are basic to a humane and just social order. China's refusal to accept certain models of development being thrust on it is well-known. Undoubtedly, we would benefit much by critically studying the philosophy and practice of walking on two legs' as attempted in China. In addition, we should also investigate how such a philosophy led subsequently to the more recent emphasis on the 'modernisation' programmes along with all its attendant implications specifically, whether these recent developments are a logical culmination of the philosophy of 'walking on two legs, or whether they imply an abandonment of that philosophy, and if so, what were the compulsions for doing it. This is an important enough issue for us that needs to be dealt with more thoroughly.

However, we think it incorrect to assume that the 'walking on two legs' principle experimented in China has, for once and all, solved the problems of the Science and Technology paths to be followed by the Third World. Rather, we should treat it as the first instance of a Third World country trying to take its own traditional Technologies and practices seriously instead of rejecting them all as unscientific and superstitious practices, and not as the last word on it Instead of going into the matter at any greater length here, we would merely pose a few general problems concerning the idea of walking on two legs as suggested by Dr. Singh is it possible to walk using two legs (two different technological systems) when each leg is going in its own separate way ? Or, is it the idea that the 'legs' themselves do not have any preferences, and that the 'brain' can make them move in whichever way it decides? Are we then not back at the position that the technologies are themselves neutral and can be employed for any purpose that one chooses ? Extending the analogy, is there not an intimate relationship between the nature of the leg and that of the brain, in the sense that one cannot choose the two arbitrarily?

We are not saying that all modern Science and Technology are evil and should not be used. It is quite possible that much of it may actually be employed in the building up of an alternate social order. Let us concretize our discussion by taking an example say, generation of Electricity as a form of energy. In today's value system, one immediately begins to think in terms of giant hydro-electric protects, super thermal power stations and nuclear power-plants with their attendant concentration and wasteful use of resources, disruption of the ecological balance of entire regions, which in the long-term play havoc with the lives of people over vast areas, cause pollution problems seriously threatening all forms of life, and above all, necessitate a highly centralized form of management administration and Government. And in the case of a Third World country, one must also add the implied heavy dependence on foreign powers. Now, it is not all evident that generation of electric power cannot be done in any other way. If a society with different objectives, notions and values, decides to go in for it as a form of energy, it might do (so in a fundamentally different way. It would perhaps evolve a technology employing a large number of small generating cantres that operate on locally available resources" and can be maintained with a level of technology and management that list within the control of the local population. However, such an approach to a decentralized and self-reliant system of production of electricity necessarily presupposes a decentralized chain of consumption units huge urban centres with giant plants and factories consuming megawatts of power are clearly ruled out. This, in turn, also changes drastically the nature of goods and services that are going to be produced. And so on. Thus electricity, as such, is not thought of as an evil thing. In a similar manner, wherever necessary, it should be possible to retain all those aspects of modern Science and Technology that are amenable for incorporation into an alternate conception of organization of productive activity. This concept of incorporating certain aspects of modern Science and Technology into an alternative scheme of social production the criterion for selection of the technology being fundamentally different from the ones presently employed) is quite different from saying that the social organization be based on, or tailored to suit, modem Science and Technology as it exists, or as it will be developed in future. The difference is a most crucial one and amounts to a choice between different objectives and paths of development, different notions of social organization, different conceptions of the relation between individual and collective, different views on the relationship between man and nature, and so on. Each choice on the Science and Technology question thus involves choices to be made at far wider planes in fact it involves one's entire vision of man, society and nature. Which is what makes the Western versus Indigenous Science and Technology' debate a political one politics of the highest form. A refusal to debate these questions by dismissing them as .diversionary and dangerous talk is, in our opinion, not a very healthy trend.



* We thank Dr. Singh for drawing our attention to his article, as well as for permitting us to reproduce it here. It should he noted that Dr. Singh's article has nowhere identified PPST by name. However, we think there is enough in common between us and the view point that is being criticized, that we thought it fit to respond to it.

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