India has a great army of scientists and technologists. We happen to have the third largest number of persons trained in modern science and technology. We have also succeeded in making use of this large task force of specialists. We employ nearly the latest techniques employed anywhere in the world in areas such as Space science. Atomic energy Electronics, Transport and Defense though it may be true that the benefits of these technologies are, perhaps, limited to a very small fraction of people in this country.
However we have not been able to make any major innovation or contribution to international science or technology. We have merely become good buyers and consumers of all this, but not creators. The chief evidence for this is the fact that nobody really reads or considers worthy the Indian scientific periodicals where accounts of our research in science and technology are published - neither within our country nor abroad. Indian scientific periodicals, even the good ones among them have a circulation of only 600-700 and this includes the complimentary copies sent to various officials which may number to more than half of the total circulation. The papers in these periodicals are indeed not expected to be cited in any important scientific context.
Perhaps it is with a clear understanding of this state of Indian scientific periodicals, that our scientists are eager to send their research papers abroad for publication. Any piece of work that an Indian scientist feels is of some quality, he would like it to be published only abroad. However, it is not the case that his work would have' any special standing outside India. But because the slightly better works of the Indian scientists are published abroad, the state of the Indian scientific periodicals has become even more pitiable. Everybody feels that what is published in them is of limited value. It is indeed another matter that in the eyes of the world the entire output of Indian scientists and technologists may itself be viewed as of limited value.
Recently there was a meeting held at IIT Madras to discuss the state of Indian Scientific Periodicals. This meeting was organized by the PPST Foundation which is seriously concerned with the absence .of creativity in Indian science and technology. From the declarations of this meeting it was clear that the state of our scientific periodicals should cause grave concern. India, it was stated, publishes nearly 2000 periodicals in science and technology. However it was agreed that only about 500 of these need to be reckoned as scientific periodicals which publish research findings. Every year about 20,000 - 25,000 research articles are published in these periodicals. This number is about half the entire scientific output of the so called Third World. However there research publications do not seem to have made any impact on the world of science. The international indexing and citation agencies consider only 30 periodicals out of the 500 published from India as of any significance and the impact of even these 30 Indian scientific periodicals stands nowhere in comparison to the impact factors of the scientific periodicals of the West.
It is indeed true that what the scientists of the West say on our science or to what extent they cite our work cannot be a proper indicator of whether our work is good or bad. After all like all professionals in the world, scientists are also divided into various "clubs" and by and large they pay attention to the work of their own colleagues and also cite their work only. This is but natural. Everyone has to pay greater attention to his own social milieu. The scientists of the West will pay serious attention to work done elsewhere only when it becomes essential to do so, for their own work. Such a situation does not arise in the normal course and so we cannot arrive at any major conclusion from the way the scientists of the world treat our work.
What appears to be the case, then, is that we ourselves do not pay any attention to the work of our colleagues in this country. This seems to be the reason why our scientific periodicals do not have much of a circulation even within our country. If all Indian Universities and Post-Graduate Colleges and other institutions had subscribed to our scientific periodicals, their state would surely have been much better than now. Even the renowned Indian scientific periodicals seem to have no buyers in the country.
The real problem is indeed that no Indian scientist would like to publish his good piece of research work in an Indian journal. Whether we grant any serious significance to the evaluation of our science by foreigners, our endeavor is still directed to win their appreciation. For this reason it is indeed not possible for Indian scientists to publish their better research work in Indian journals. In the Madras meeting much was talked about this point. It was the junior scientists point of view that if they publish their research findings in Indian journals they will reach nowhere, nobody would give them a job in this country and they would not be known outside also. The senior scientists stated that if they publish in Indian journals there would be no recognition for their work. Some scientists argued that the Indian journals published such low quality stuff that if good Indian scientists start publishing in them even their excellent work would get submerged in the mire of mediocrity.
An appeal was sought to be made in the Madras meeting to the senior scientists that for the next five years they send all research findings to Indian journals for publication. Since the Indian journals are in a bad state this could1 help in making them better; and it is the case that the senior scientists have already established their reputation, so they lose nothing by making such a commitment. However, a majority of the scientists who had gathered in Madras were not prepared to commit themselves to publishing in Indian journals. It appeared that neither money nor any sense of responsibility for the country would induce them to agree to such a commitment. They seemed to fear that once they start publishing in India, their credentials as respected scientists would disappear in no time. Ultimately the credentials of an Indian scientist are established from the fact that he publishes abroad, gets invitation to conferences abroad and sometimes his work is even cited by scientists abroad.
This is indeed a strange situation that the role objective of this large class Indian scientists and tech-nologists is to acquire recognition from their peers abroad. It is of course impossible for this entire group to get membership into any 'club' abroad. Only one or two scientists from reputed institutes in India can hope to become honorable members of such 'clubs'. The rest of our scientists merely engage in indifferent work and produce nearly 20-25 thousand papers for our Indian periodicals which nobody reads here or abroad. And no creative or significant results can be hoped from indifferent work.
Nor can we expect creative or significant work from those senior scientists who have been granted admittance to the leading international 'clubs' in various specializations. No 'club' would admit an outsider who does not comply with its regulations or would like to change the basic direction or objectives of the club. Outsiders are granted admittance only after ensuring that they do not affect the fundamental rules of the 'club' and will only serve in taking its objectives forward. To a large ex-tent, Indian scientists find their recognition in international science only under such conditions; in an area where the lines of investigation are already clearly determined, they can provide useful cooperation, but the task of finding or opening new lines of investigations is always the prerogative of the founding members of the 'club'.
Now what is the great use of this large number of scientists, who on their own are unable to take any meaningful step in any direction, whose majority of members is engaged in meaningless exercises and whose leaders are away following various platoons of the international task force of scientists? This is indeed a sorry arid shameful state of affairs for India. If we cannot do anything substantial, then why are we supporting such a large number of scientists ? "
The fundamental objective of science and technology consists in careful observation of one’s surroundings, a clear awareness of one’s own circumstances, and a desire to organize ones surroundings in a suitable way. However we have got lost in the supposed internationalism of science and technology to such an extent that we do not even feel the need for paying any attention to or understand our own surroundings.
It appears to us that the findings of science and technology are true at all places for all times, we and that only need to buy for ourselves the latest wonders of modern science and technology. With the help of these magic inventions, our problems would get solved by themselves and one day we will find ourselves to be on par with advanced countries. Whether the country will progress this way or not, surely no creative science will get done in the process. After all even school children understand that the primary condition for science is the capacity to pay attention to ones surroundings.
However it appears to our scientists that competence really consists in being completely oblivious of once surroundings. Let us take the example of agricultural science in India. The basic fact about Indian agriculture is that 70% of our people live on agriculture. On the other hand in the West less than 5% of the families are engaged in agriculture. Any agricultural scientist who has gone around the world with his eyes open would not forget to see this basic difference.. It should be obvious to him that there is no way of getting the 70% engaged in agriculture in India reduced to 5%. Thus very little of the agricultural science and technology of the West would be of relevance here at the outset. While the advanced agricultural techniques of the West - the modem chemical fertilizers, .biotechnology and genetics - are based on basic scientific facts which are as much valid in India as they would be in the West, they can have no great relevance for today's Indian agricultural scientist who is even marginally aware of our context.
However, in the 60's when Indian scientists raised the bogey of improving our agriculture, they merely went abroad and brought the technology from there - seeds, insecticides, chemical fertilizers. The methods of distributing them were imported as well and the main object of Indian agricultural scientists became one of popularizing and spreading the technology that they had learnt abroad. It does not seem to have occurred to them that agriculture has been (and is) a way of life of 70% of our population.
One consequence of importing such techniques and applying these in the Indian situation was that the farmers who adopted these techniques had to cease being farmers but become entrepreneurs of industrial society. They had to take loans from the bank and invest their capital. However, producing vegetables and food-grains did not prove to be profitable as producing corn-flakes, potato-chips or pepsi-cola from agricultural produce; the farmers who became new entrepreneurs only ended up as debtors who had to repay large loans. May well-to-do farmers become debtors overnight by getting into new agricultural technology? This is also natural. Only when the land passes out of the farmer’s hands to reach the hands of the banks or those of the industrialists, the large population of farmers will come down, and the way is clear for proper industrialized agriculture. In those areas where the farmers did not have the capacity to adopt new techniques, the effect of the new techniques was still felt. Water, fertilizer, grazing land and many other accessories to agriculture became scarce resources and the value of their (farmers') labor lessened. It is for this reason that even landholders in Bihar and U.P. have to come now a days to Punjab's agricultural lands as laborers.
If the Indian agricultural scientists had kept in mind the basic facts behind Indian agriculture they would not have been eager to popularize those techniques which would decrease the productivity of 70% of our people. On the other hand they would have started looking for such technology which would increase the productivity of our large agricultural base. They would have started looking for such seeds as would give them good crops without needing too many inputs except for hard word. They would have searched for fertilizers which could be made available easily in our villages or produced from things grown. To protect crops, they would have considered techniques that would utilize trees and biological agents in the Indian landscape.
If Indian scientists had paid this kind of attention to Indian agriculture they would of necessity have observed and understood our trees, soil, land, climate, as well as the techniques largely used by our farmers. In trying to observe and understand all these and in trying to increase the productivity of the Indian farmers our agricultural scientists would have discovered new principles and laws in chemistry, biology, genetics, engineering and so on. Or they would have arrived at certain newer dimensions of the principles evolved in modern Western science. The world would have showed interest in this kind of research and then whatever are the journals in which our scientists published their findings the scientists around the world would have searched for these journals to get to know our work.
If we start paying attention to our own circumstances, capacities and surroundings, in not merely agriculture, but in almost all other fields we would make fundamental improvements in Indian technology. New path-ways in science would have been accessible to us this way If we start working on house-building, keeping in mind the Indian way of life, the Indian climate and the materials available in India, we would have developed not only new technologies of house building, but also new vistas in architecture, mathematics and material science. The truths discovered in the context of investigating problems peculiar to India would be as true and relevant in the international context as the scientific truths which are today discovered in the advanced countries.
However, it is almost a belief with us that whatever is being discovered in the .West in the name of science today, constitute not only the absolute truth but also the complete truth. There is indeed no quest in any new direction to look for something new and find new aspects of truth for ourselves. To hold such limited ideas on truth is indeed an insult to the diversity and infinitude of Nature and God. It cannot be mat at any one time the effort of any one group can exhaust all aspects of truth and there is nothing left to unravel. However we have become so bedazzled by the feats of modern Western science and technology that we do not even understand these facts of common sense; and we dare not take any step in any new direction on our own.
One of the great advantages of entering into this new world would be that, we the privileged educated professionals of this country, would again develop links with the ordinary people of this country. Right now our scientists and technologists proceed on the assumption that in agriculture, house-building, political organization etc., whatever understanding still lies with our people is all wrong or outdated. We have to learn everything afresh and in this the traditional knowledge that still lies with our people is of no use; thus there is no scope for a dialogue between our scientists and the ordinary people. The scientist has been really the losers in all this. The enormous treasure of traditional knowledge is thus completely lost to our scientists.
The knowledge base and the capacities of our ordinary people to innovate are indeed remarkable; only we do not recognize them. Evidence for their capacity is all round us to be seen. Let us take an example: In the roads of Punjab and Haryana now-a-days a new kind of vehicle is being seen. The people call it Maruta. This vehicle, made even in small artisan establishments, is indeed the Maruti of our villages. Our artisans put together some old water-Lifting diesel engines and add to it the chassis of any old truck or tractor or jeep; in the same way they procure clutch, gears etc., from diverse sources, and make an open body like the age old bullock-cart, and thus Maruta is assembled. To be able to make a running vehicle out of old and discarded engines and materials indeed requires a high level of technical knowledge and our village artisans, without any training, must have learnt all these by observing various engines and vehicles. For their technological capacities one does not need any greater evidence.
However, we have become blind to the technological capacities of our uneducated people. When the attention of some news paper correspondents was drawn to these Maruta vehicles they were presented as a major hazard on our roads. Our officials started wondering as to which category they will classify this peculiar vehicle. Nobody even thought of trying to understand the technological competence behind the construction of these vehicles. We have no confidence in the technological competence of our ordinary people or perhaps we are afraid that if we enter into the problems and ideas of these people, this would weaken the linkages which we have carefully forged with the Western world and we may be left out of the spectacular benefits of the advance in science and technology. In fact our scientists are afraid not just of mixing with our ordinary people; they would not have much to do with many of our moffusil and town-based college and university teachers and students. A common refrain of our scientist in advanced research institutes is that these moffusil scientists just do not understand anything. How do we interact with them?
The cumulative achievement of the few selected scientists and technologists who work in our advanced research institutes can only be very limited. If they refuse to strive to join the other non-elite scientists (let alone wanting to join the ordinary people of the country) how can we expect any significant work from them? Being alienated from our people this way, they can only aim to become members of international 'clubs'.
Actually by keeping our science and technology totally dissociated from our ordinary people we have done a great disservice to our science and technology. All our scientific personnel today and drawn from two crores of our people - the educated classes. In this situation even if we do very good work, our impact on the world would only be that of a country with a two crore population. Therefore if our work does not attract any great attention in the world of science this is not much to be wondered at. Once we return to our own context and our own people, we will make our mark in the world. There is no great pride in being second class members of others 'dub's; whereas nobody can ignore a scientific community which can confidently move in a direction of its own.
Author:Dr. J.K. Bajaj