Time was when our intelligentsia writers, artists, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers judges, scientists etc. bothered themselves but seldom with the problems and lives of the masses of our" people. It was only the politicians and some economists if at all, who spoke of such matters, and that too in a most reassuring manner. It was most radical, and at times even dangerous, to even point out that our entire social fabric is crisis-ridden and that the problems of our people cannot be solved without a revolutionary restructuring of our entire social order. Matters have changed much since then. The crisis seems to have become so acute that increasing numbers of people from varied walks of life are expressing themselves on the questions affecting the lives of the masses of our people. Simultaneously, increasing numbers of our intellectuals are beginning to state openly that, no developmental activity is going to bear fruit unless a thorough going social transformation is brought about. The ' Statement on Scientific Temper ' brought out by some top scientists and .technologists and intellectuals of our country is demonstrative of this trend, and is particularly noteworthy in that it is perhaps the first time that the leaders of our science and technology community and the planners of our science and technology activity are expressing themselves on the broader questions of our society and our people.
The Statement makes the following pertinent observation:While we rank high among the' industrialized countries in the world and are the third largest country in the world in regard to the stock of man-power trained in science and technology, we are close to the bottom of the list in terms of per capita food consumption, longevity, health care and general quality of life. We have all the technology available right now within the country to give water, food, shelter and basic health care to our millions, and yet we do not. Something has gone wrong It is the purpose of the Statement to understand what has gone wrong and to suggest what needs to be done to set things right. Attempting to understand the failure of our developmental process in a historical perspective, the Statement arrives at the understanding that it is the grossly in egalitarian socio-economic structure of our society—' the deep rooted structures of an ancient society with superimposed colonial structures '—that is preventing the benefits of science and techno¬logy from reaching our people. It discovers that the basis of our planning and the logic of our socio-economic structure are at variance . Our cultural environment, socio-economic conditions and institutional structures are seen to be inhospitable to the growth and development of science and technology which is why all developmental activity has met with failures. The Statement goes on to point out the alarming consequences that this failure is having on our people the accelerating pace of our retreat from reason, the steady erosion of our confidence in our capacity to mould our destiny, increasing tendency to escape into magical beliefs and instantaneous solutions, unquestioning reliance on all authority etc. Scientific attitudes and approaches are being increasingly replaced by superstitious and obscurantist practices and beliefs, and god-men and miracle-makers thrive.
In the light of the above, the signatories to the Statement believe the prime-most task of today to be that of instilling and nurturing Scientific Temper amongst our people so that we may enable them to objectively and rationally perceive the realities and the forces at work. After detailing the characteristics and attributes of such a Scientific Temper, the Statement ends with a call to our intelligentsia to come forward to combat the evils of superstition, obscurantism, unscientific thinking etc., and to spread the Scientific Temper amongst our masses on a priority basis.
The Statement is noteworthy for one thing that it does not repeat the usual arguments that overpopulation, mismanagement, corruption, bureaucratic interference _ etc., are the reasons for the failures of our developmental activities. It sees the problems to be far more deep-rooted and demanding of a more serious and thoroughgoing attacks at a very fundamental level a position we understand to be correct and sound. We are also one with the signatories to the Statement in appealing to the members of our science and technology community to be concerned with the lives of our downtrodden, to strive towards a social transformation that will cure our society of its varied ills, to expose before our people the naked dominance of the irrational, and to help them combat the unjust and oppressive beliefs and practices.
The learned leaders of our science and technology establishment issuing such a passionate call to work for the masses of our people should ordinarily have been a most inspiring moment for all of us. However, a closer look at the Statement — the axioms and assumptions underlying it, the biases and prejudices it carries (albeit concealed, at times), the understanding and perspective it displays, the interests and the ideologies it so cleverly defends and espouses; a closer look at what it is really saying as much as what it has chosen not to say, reveals quite a different picture,
(1) The Characterization of Present-day Science: The Statement's characterization of science, its social position and the role it plays vis-à-vis other social institutions, is grossly suspect and questionable. It is talking of science and technology and their social role in much the same way the pioneers of modern science would have done in the -17th and 18th century Europe; modern science, in the 17th century Europe, was portrayed as a weapon on the side of the oppressed, and religion, as a tool in the hands of the oppressors; the struggle of modern science against its enemies (religion, in particular) Could them form a part of the struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. Granting all this, it"is certainly not self-evident that the same' be always and everywhere so that the historical processes of the rest of the humankind be merely a reflection, a delayed repetition, of that of Europe. The case of modern science is particularly significant: even within Europe (and West in general) modern science and echnology, today, is definitely not on the side of the vast masses of the people ; it has long since become one of the main pillars propping up the rulers and the establishment no longer a liberating and. revolutionary agent, but rather the most powerful tool in enslaving and exploiting the masses. The. Rulers in the West are today relying on modern science and technology much the same way as their, predecessors supposedly did., on religion. And, as far as the third world is concerned, modern Western Science (which, incidentally, is what the Statement understands by, the word ' Science) has played, from the very beginning, a role that,- is .fundamentally different from that it did in Europe.' It was introduced into the colonies explicitly for the purpose of aiding in our subjugation, enslavement and exploitation. Our own sciences and technologies had to be ruthlessly put down and made mostly unviable -before the Western science and technology could be introduced here and ever since, its superiority has been endlessly extolled to convince us of the complete superiority of the colonial masters in every aspect of their civilization. Thus, from the very moment of its forced entry into the third world, modern Western science has been far from being, a liberating and revolutionary force as far as the people of the third-world war concerned. It has since then been playing an increasingly greater role, in the-plunder and destruction of the third world economies and cultures. If it does 'still have a hidden ideology that is claimed to be revolutionary and pro-people, the masses of the third world countries are yet to see it. This being so, trying to champion the case for modern science in today's third world using slogans and banners borrowed from 17th century Europe well, it no doubt requires an enviable imperviousness to history and realities But then, this would not be exactly same as claiming to champion the cause of reason and enlightenment, of course.
(2) The Temper of Our Scientific Institutions : The Statement bewails that, despite all the advancements made by science and technology in our country, despite alt encouragements (given to it, 1 Scientific Temper' is somehow refusing to take root here. Its diagnosis of this .is our .'failure to give mass dimensions and appropriate institutional forms to Scientific Temper '. There is, quite obviously, a close relationship between the growth and spread of ' Scientific Temper' and the character of institutions that are charged with spreading such a Temper among the people. For example, in politics; If a party-wants to spread democratic values, its structure, and practice must, embody
democratic values ; otherwise the values it will succeed in spreading, will be those not of democracy: but its' opposite—no matter how much it, may preach democracy. In religion ! if the objective is to spread the message of love, then the religious institutions, structures and practices must embody love and so on. This is true" of science also. In order to spread this ' Scientific Temper ' it is imperative that scientific institutions and practices" actuality antibody such a sentiment. This being so, all those who are wondering today why ' Scientific Temper1 has not spread here, ought only to take a critical look at the nature of science and technology institutions in our country. Given a minimum of honesty, they will have no difficulty in seeing that the practice and practitioners of science and technology here have indeed been rather far from being the embodiment of the various attributes that ' Scientific Temper ' is presumed to possess— such as a spirit of enquiry, challenge of all authority, a democratic and egalitarian out look, and so on. In fact they will then actually see that practice of modern science and technology here has indeed been spreading a certain Temper perfectly in tune with its social role and function—one of utter callousness, unscrupulous opportunism and unquestioning acceptance of all authority As you sow, so you reap
If the signatories to the Statement are unwilling to undertake such an exercise but would rather heap the blame on our people, if they are stoutly providing a mute defense of the institutions and practices of modern science and technology here may be they have good reasons for doing so. Is it that they themselves are the people responsible for planning and running our science and technology establishments? This incidentally is what makes the Statement such a repulsive exercise in cynicism and hypocrisy.
(3) The Characterization of Our Traditions: In their had against superstition, obscurantism and irrationality, the signatories-to the Statement find only modern, science on their side; everything else religion, traditional practices, customs and beliefs, everything—becomes a foe to be engaged in a combat until death. Apparently they find nothing in the entire history of our culture and our people to be cherished and upheld they would rather have us forget the entire episode of our civilization as some sort of an unspeakable blunder of history ! They are giving us the vision of a future which incorporates only the products (material, spiritual, emotional, ethical, aesthetic etc.) of the West of the last 300 years. Surely they would excuse us if we remind them that this is precisely the ' vision ' our colonial masters wanted us to share, the very same ' vision ' they used in rationalizing their plunder and destruction of our land and our culture And that serving up the same ' vision 1 today in the name of reason and rationality is only serving the interests of imperialism ?
Lest we should be misunderstood, let it be amply clear that we do neither deny the existence of superstition, obscurantism and irrationality in our society, nor defend or justify them. For that matter, there are no societies that are totally free of these and the situation is understandably far more severe in those societies whose internal dynamics has been distorted and destroyed by centuries of colonial subjugation and plunder. It must be realized that most of the traditional institutions and practices could have survived only in a distorted and truncated form, that the rock of their rational basis must have got covered with layers of moss of irrationality and ritualism. But then it should be the task of the ' rational' minds today to attempt to scrape off the moss and discover the rock, rather than dismiss the whole thing as a filthy mound of worthless moss. In other words, we are opposed to the ' modern ' practice of dismissing every aspect of the traditional beliefs and practices of our people as superstition and obscurantism, solely because these have not been comprehended from the Western intellectual framework. All aspects of our culture that do not find a parallel in the Western culture cannot be, dismissed as irrational and unscientific. It must be realized that during its long period of growth and existence, our culture and our people might also have known something
useful about human beings and nature, and that a whole civilization could possibly not have flourished for thousands of years turning out nothing more than rank irrationality and superstitious mumbo jumbo. We must be prepared to accept that many of the beliefs and practices of our people might after all be having a rational basis, and that, as rational human beings, it is our duty to learn from our people and discover this rational basis. Not. to do so, or worse still, to do so with a mind prejudiced with the notion that Western science and culture is .the sole dealer in reason and rationality—that is obscurantism of the worSt sort. And the Statement on Scientific Temper displays something very akin to this.
The Statement points out many impediments that stand in the path our development. For example, it points out how so many god men and miracle-makers' are today thriving | by cashing-in on the prevalent superstitions and myths. While holding absolutely no brief for these evil-doers, one cannot help observing that the tendency to cash-in on prevalent myths and superstitions have not entirely been restricted to these godmen and miracle-makers' what about those learned gentlemen ranking high in our science and technology establishments who are building a most lucrative career for them¬selves by cashing in on the myth (and superstition) that whatever is being done in the name of science and technology in our country is for the good of our country and our people And, fully the anguish of the signatories that 'while millions of our people are living below the poverty-line, vast amounts of wealth is consigned in havanas and yagnas, one cannot help asking: what about those other havanas and yagnas called space exploration, nuclear technology, bio-technology, color television, jumbo-jets etc. etc. For whose moksha are these being performed While not denying the divisive tendencies being spread in the name of religion, one cannot help asking : what about the division into the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed, the scientific and the unscientific, being brought about in the name of science, technology and development
The Statement becomes mischievous by trying to show that the main obstacle to our progress is the religious and traditional beliefs and practices of our people, by trying to sell the following logic : we arc not developing because science and technology is not spreading science and technology is not spreading because there is no Scientific Temper there is no Scientific Temper because the people are obscurantist and superstitious ! It becomes mischievous by serving up the wrong diagnosis for our problems by hiding the real enemies and obstacles to our development, by justifying by its silence the unjust and irrational role being played; by modern science and technology in our society; by trying to white-wash the grossly i inhuman dimensions of modern science and technology by talking about its exciting discoveries and achievements ; and finally by trying to make
religion and superstition the sole villains of the piece. It is doing nothing more than offering a profound and radical-sounding defense of the anti-people and unpatriotic actions of the powerful leaders of our science and technology establishments.
(4) The Roles of Scientific Temper: The Statement demands that all our actions from ethics to politics and economics' be reduced to a systematic application of the method of science. This attempt' to reduce the varied facets of the personal and social existence of human beings to a systematic, application of the scientific method seems to be causing discomfort to the signatories to the Statement themselves which may be the reason why all imaginable attributes are being ascribed to science and the Scientific Temper? For example, it is claimed to make the people more egalitarian, democratic, secular and universalist in their outlook people in the third world at least will have great difficulty in swallowing this assertion that modern Western science has all these attributes; were not their people and cultures being brutally liquidated by Europe precisely at the time when modern science and its Temper were flowering in these places? Even
today, does not the main threat to the existence and well-being of the majority of humanity come from precisely those centers where this science is flourishing most? And further, does not the scientifically trained elite of today constitute everywhere the main prop for all oppressive authorities? Why then are these gentlemen, their hearts all bleeding for the wretched of our soil, still trying to hoodwink us of the real-character (or characterlessness) of modern science and technology? Why are they erecting a new deity called the Scientific Temper and insisting that we surrender ourselves completely to its mercy ?
The calf that the Scientific Temper replace all other dimensions of the human mind .and be the sole basis for reason and rationality has a gravely disconcerting dimension to it. This becomes evident when one realizes who are the sections of our population who have come closest to this new ideal, viz., the modern, anti-religious, anti-traditional urban products of our times; the ones who are mast excited about modern science and technology and its promises and the very same ones who have no moral-ethical scruples save their vulgar urge for aggression and acquisitiveness That they may be perfectly ' scientific 1 in their outlook and attitudes makes little difference for science and the scientific outlook atone can never furnish an adequate moral-ethical basis for regulating one's personal and social existence and conduct. Then to give a call that the Scientific Temper be the only legitimate basis and everything else be banished, is a dangerous one because it is a call to further brutalize our society and do so in a far more effective and thorough-going manner than hitherto attempted. It then becomes a very pertinent question whether our society is not facing far greater threat from these sources today than from the traditional and the religious-minded ones not in the least because they are backed by profound modern scriptures like the ' Statement on Scientific Temper?
(5) Other Distortions and Half-truths: The Statement is replete with suggestions and statements that are in the classical mould of distortions and lies about our history the mould cast by Western historians who came at the heels of their conquering troops and wrote down history that showed these troops to be the liberating angels of the people whom they were destroying. For example, there is a suggestion that the material advancements' made by the West have all been due to the spread of Science and its Temper there, and that our own backwardness has been due to such a thing not happening here. This may amount to a gross distortion of historical facts, such as, that the material advancement of the West has been made possible by the wealth plundered from the colonies and that it is precisely this process which has caused the backwardness of the third world countries a process which, continuing in different forms today, is still the major cause for our backwardness. Then, to accuse these countries today that they are backward because they do not have Scientific Temper, is adding insult to injury. Then there is the assertion that our independence movement drew its inspiration from modern science and its outlook. The veracity of this claim is rather questionable, [and in the light of what has been suggested by Nandy (see his article A Counter-statement on Humanistic Temper' in the 'Sunday Herald, Oct. 18, 1981) it may well be that the pioneers of our independence movement had drawn their inspiration from sources that go deep into the history and culture of our people. Another example would be the statement that modern science and technology has contributed to an increasing capacity of human beings to exercise control over their environmental statement that is only a part of the truth. The other part of the truth, so carefully avoided in the statement, being that the modern science and technology (a) is increasingly depriving the individual of autonomy or control over the forces affecting one's life, (b) is increasingly destroying our environment and nature to a point where continuationof human life] or any life for that matter, on our planet is itself being threatened. One could continue to pick up similar half-truths and debatable propositions in the Statement which it has smugly raised to the level of self-evident axioms. It only leaves one wondering at the nature and intensity of the compulsions that must be driving the signatories to the Statement to such desperate lengths in their attempt to glorify and legitimize the philosophy and practice of modern science and technology in our country Or, is it simply indicative of the fact that the position is getting to be well beyond defense in any reasonable way?
In conclusion we would merely add that the Statement on Scientific Temper does little service to either reason or rationality, leave alone social justice and transformation, by refusing to abandon the outlook and stand-point inherited from the ' colonial masters by refusing to liberate itself from the colonial domination of our minds' that it itself speaks of. Shorn of details, it is an attempt to provide a defence ( of whatever! is being done in the name of science, technology and development over the decades ; defence of: the role being played by the high-priests of our science and technology establishments; a defence of the urban-centered and Western-inspired paths of development being pursued with catastrophic consequences. It manages to do this in the most insidious manner by pointing its accusing finger, all shaking-with 'righteous indignation, at (and only at) what it calk superstition, obscurantism etc. as being the cause of our maladies. Can it be just a coincidence that such a profound defence is being trotted out precisely at a time when the entire Western-inspired, city centered, high technology developmental path, is increasingly coming under fire from farmers' agitations, environmental movements, tribal movements etc.
Finally, it is not our claim that everything is sound and faultless in our traditional institutions, practices, beliefs and outlook. There is much in them that needs to be fought and defeated and Rebuilt and to do this, there is much that has to be learn and accepted from the experiences1 of the peoples world over. And it is precisely this task that can be undertaken only when we are prepared to abandon all tendencies at superficial generalizations, implifications, universalisations and projections of historical situations with no regard to space, time and context. This task can be undertaken success¬fully, and the much-needed renaissance brought about effectively, only when we succeed involving a critique of our situation that is internal to our history, in terms of the categories and idioms that make sense in our context. And this, we believe, is the challenge that we intellectuals should address ourselves to if at all we are seriously concerned with the lives and problems of our people and our country.
Author: Madras Group.
* Far the text of Statement on Scientific Tempersee 'Sunday Herald' Oct. 18,1981. It has also been reprinted in "Main stream(1981)