About ten years ago when we started talking about PPST our focus was on questions concerning modern science and technology in India. We were worried that in spite of our best efforts modern S & T did not seem to be taking root in the Indian society, and much of our activity in this direction was turning out to be rather non-functional, uncreative, and largely irrelevant to our needs of the time. We noticed that what we did as scientists and technologists did not make any sense to our people. They did not understand our idiom and we did not know theirs. But what was perhaps worse, our activities here did not seem to make much dent in the international community of scientists and technologists either. We felt that as scientists and technologist we were irrelevant to the world and to ourselves. In spite to being individually brilliant, collectively we seemed unable to generate the creative leap that would either make the world stand up and take note, or make the problems of India seem less pressing and more manageable.
These were the questions that bothered us. And when we started analyzing the reasons for this state of affairs we felt that the root of the problem lay in the fact that the S & T we were engaged in was not our science and technology. This specific type of S & T had evolved in an alien cultural set up to fulfill the seeking and aspirations of an alien civilization. We felt that an immediate consequence of working with this alien S & T was that we, the practitioners of modern S & T in India, got completely cut off from our own civilization resources. We lost all access to the store1 of accumulated scientific and technological knowledge enshrined in our classical literature and folklore connected with these matters, and also to the scientific and technical skills available with the people of India.
In such a situation creativity becomes impossible. Creativity after all is an attribute of the individual in a vibrant social milieu. We do try to remain active and functional by making desperate attempts to become part of the international community of S & T.J But that can hardly take us very far, unless we have a strong Indian community of our own, and have something of our own to do in our own way.
In our search for the causes of the Indian situation, we noticed that since Independence we had made attempts to enlarge the base of our S & T institutions, to bring in more people and more activities within the sphere of modern S & T, and to create at least a few centers of excellence. But notwithstanding the third largest scientific and technological workforce that we had built over the years, the large majority of technologically sensitive people of India remained outside the ambit of our modern S & T institutions. Much of the technologically relevant activity of India also remained outside our contact and comprehension. Conversely, most of our activities as scientists and technologists remained irrelevant to the larger reality of India.
We did notice that what is true about S & T is also equally true about much else that is going on in the modern section of India. In academics, in industry, in administration, and to a large extent in politics, we seem to be indulging in ritual repetition of some dead routines learnt from the colonial past. We ourselves do not seem to have much faith in the efficacy of these routines in delivering anything substantial. The people of India at large of course do not understand even the meaning of these routines, except as irritating incursions into their ordinary lives, or as examples of criminal wastefulness in a milieu where austerity is a primary condition of existence. As a consequence much of what we do remains largely purposeless and dysfunctional.
While realizing the larger dysfunctionality of our society we felt that somehow the key to a solution of the problem lay in the questions concerning S & T. It seemed to us that modern science and technology provides the justifications for continuing with colonial routines and keeps on holding out the untenable hope that at some stage there shall appear a scientistic and technological solution to the problems of India.
With this understanding of the situation of India, we decided to closely look at the questions concerning S & T. It was necessary first of all to understand the concepts of universality of modern science and technology. It happens to be the received view that modern science is a body of universally valid truths about the world, and modern technology arising out of modern science consequently is the universally optimal means of dealing with the world. We realized that if one starts with this position about S & T there is no way anyone can break away from the hegemony of the West and try to creatively look afresh at the world from one's own perspective. In fact the idea of universal validity and efficacy of modern S & T insures that others must copy the West not only in its S & T but also in its social, cultural, economic and political ways; a civilization through which the ultimate truths about the world got revealed in the form of modern science seems eminently worth emulating in its entirety, even if such emulation and copying means mortgaging ones identity and creativity forever.
We soon found that the concept of universal validity and efficacy of modern science and technology is nothing more than a superstition. The idea was assiduously cultivated at a certain stage of the development of Western civilization, and it provided the justification for Western dominance over the cultures and ways of other peoples of the world. It has no rationally consistent basis in fact or in theory. And the current Western scholarship on science itself is veering around to the view that it is not really possible to sustain the fiction that Western science is in some sense a uniquely true transcription of reality, and that modern Western technology is the universally efficacious way of dealing with this reality. It is another matter that having arrived at this view on science. Western scholars have then started searching for other ways of establishing the unique validity of Western civilization as the only mode of legitimate human existence (l).
Through our bulletin we have looked at various aspects of this question of universality. We have analyzed the philosophical roots of the Western idea of unique validity and efficacy of their science and technology. We have also looked at the consequence of introduction of modern technologies in the actual situation of India, from the point of view of their claimed efficiency. We have found that in every case where modern technology was introduced into any sector of Indian economy it had very little impact on the productive efficiency of that sector. Such introduction of modern technology on the other hand resulted only in large scale redistribution of productive resources (2).
Thus we have noticed that modern forestry practices had little to do with better care of the forests of India, Their introduction seemed to be aimed at facilitating the British policy of divesting the local communities from their control over the forests, and delivering the forest wealth of India into the hands of the state (3). The state through its modern forestry techniques actually mined the forest wealth, which over a time drastically reduced the productivity of the forests of India. Similarly, we have noticed, that introduction of modern agricultural practices in India had little to do with increasing the productivity of agricultural land and labour, but was in fact aimed at opening up Indian agriculture for commercial ex-ploitation. Even our own Green Revolution it seems had less to do with increasing the overall productivity of Indian agriculture and was concerned more with redistributing productive resources in a way that about 20 million tons of surplus grains every year could be assured for the state kitty(4).
At a slightly different level we have noticed that the building of a city like New Delhi had nothing to do with introducing more efficient architectural technologies in India, but was aimed mainly at overawing the Indian people with the grandeur and power of the Imperial state (5). Similarly building of Chandigarh was not aimed at evolving more functional ways of building houses and towns but was meant to be demonstration for the bush shirt and trouser wearing Indians, of the European ways of organizing the living space(6). In none of the cases we analyzed we could see modern techniques arriving as a means of generating more efficient ways of living. In every case modern technology only seemed to be a carrier of cultural, social and political preferences of the West and of modernity (7).
Then there was the related question of dealing with the prevalent Indian view which insisted that before the coming of the British in India there was simply no systematic body of scientific and technological knowledge available here. The received wisdom is that Indians were just not interested in the material world, and all their ingenuity was spent in trying to find ways of escaping from the world. To .dispel this impression we have studied, and to some extent documented the widespread Indian technologies of irrigation, agriculture, architecture and medicine etc. Through our studies we seem to have arrived at some understanding of the special nature of Indian sciences and technologies, and the way these sciences and technologies meshed in with the larger seeking and urges of the Indian civilization.
Understanding of the special nature of Indian S & T naturally led to an attempt to understand the society in which this S & T flourished. We have groped to get an idea of the various facets of Indian society and civilization. During the last two years we have begun to have some conception of what are the basic seekings and urges of the Indian society, and how these seekings and urges have found expression in its various organizations and institutions, including those concerned with sciences and technologies. This understanding of India is necessarily tentative, and it seems that a fuller understanding of Indian civilization can emerge only when understanding everything and every phenomenon of the world from an Indian perspective becomes the norm of Indian academic and intellectual functioning. We shall fully understand ourselves only when we come back into our own and start' thinking and working in our own way, in the way of self-respecting and self-confident Indians.
Our task now of course should be to help in creating the atmosphere in which being and behaving like an Indian becomes respectable again. That task can hardly be performed by any single group of people. It needs the concerted efforts of all of us. And it requires the creation of a climate in which all of India shall be fired by the zeal to come into herself, and all of us shall get into the task of national self-discovery and regeneration with a burning passion, and a cool and clear headed understanding of our present situation and of the world around us.
(all articles are from the PPST Bulletin)
1. Bajaj, J.K. "The roots of modern science : an appraisal of the philosophy of Francis
Bacon", vol.4 no.2, May 1985, 72-96: reprinted in Ashis Nandy (ed) Science,
Hegemony and Viloence, Delhi 1988,24-67.
2. Bombay Group "Inquiry into the status of traditional and modern energy resources in
India" vol.2 No.l March 1982, 32-44.
3. Madras Group "The story of scientific forestry in India: some highlights" vol3 No.l
May 1983, 31-67
4. Bajaj, J.K. "Green Revolution: an historical perspective" vol.2 No.2 November 1982, 87-113.
5. Madras Group "The debate on the building of New Delhi: a report on Indian architecture and architects seventy years ago" vol.3 No.2 November 1983, 48-74.
6. Madras Group "By traditions unfettered: Chandigarh - a study of modern architecture in the Third World Context" vol.3 No.2 November 1983, 75-95.
7. See, for instance, Bajaj, J.K. "Impact of modernization on milk and oilseeds" - Part I: Sl.No.10, April 1987,15-58: Part II SI.No.ll, July 1987, 20-43.