WHAT IS THE ROLE OF SCIENCE (AND SCIENTISTS) IN OUR PEOPLE'S MOVEMENTS?


The question 'What is the role of science and scientists in our people's movements has become important to-day in view of the growing interest in people's science movements, activities all over the country. Much of the earlier debate on this question can be found in the volume Towards a People's Science Movement' (here after abbreviated TPSM), Ed. K. P. Kannan, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, 1979, and also in some articles published in 'Science Today' in the last few year's. We shall here mainly comment on the views presented in a recent article ' Between Question and Clarity (here after abbreviated BQC), by Dr. Anil Sadgopal which appeared in the October 1981 issue of Science Today.

The starling point of all these debates is the realization that what is presently taught and practiced as S and T in this country is 'to the exclusive advantage of certain privileged sections of society' and is concerned with problems which have no relevance to the life and death problems of the majority of the people' (Editor's introduction, TPSM p.1). The article by Sadgopal also starts with several examples which clearly bring out how the whole exercise of developmental planning in this country has failed to yield any positive results. It notes the complete lack of interest of our national experts (set to review the S and T component of education in the sixth plan) to analyse the past experiences before making quick suggestions. It also shows how the National Malaria Eradication Programme stuck to the programme of spraying DDT (with the blessings of WHO) even though the disastrous consequences (such as the emergence of resistant mosquitos) were pointed out in 1968 itself. More than all this, the examples of Sadgopal show how our national experts and the international agencies have repeatedly recommended and supported programmes whose end result is a national wastage of energy and diversion of valuable resources and also an increase in 'the gap between the rich and the poor.

One broad conclusion that follows is that if our S and T community wants to make a meaningful effort towards the solution of the social and economic problems of our people, then it should work for the mobilization and participation of the people for their own development as distinguished from the kind of "development" handed out to them, (Editor's Introduction TPSM p. I)or that 'The process of socially relevant planning is one in which the planners work with the oppressed people. Without establishing such a process, the dichotomy between today's development and social change programmes, on the one hand, and the lives of the oppressed people on the other hand, will never be bridged . Thus, it is generally agreed that the main focus of the debate on the role of science and scientists in people's movements will have to be on their role in how the above process of mobilization and participation of the people for their own development' could be made possible, and how it would work.

At the outset it should be clear that such a change in our planning process and the
path of development is not possible unless a radical social change takes place. But in the meantime dentists? Who are aware of the misdirect of and irrelevant research, have an important Vole to play in breaking the total isolation of the 'establishments from the people For this' purpose it is "necessary" 'above' all for scientists to reject the elitist idea that they can solve people's problems from "outside" and instead be prepared to learn from the people and from their perception of the problems, (Review of All India Convention of People's Science Movements, TPSM p. 9emphasis ours.. We shall comment on this later).

It (it is thus clear that for our S and T, community to undertake any socially relevant work it is a necessary precondition that it should get seriously involved with the problems of our people and actively participate in various people's movements. But then do our and ,personnel have any special role to play as practitioners t of modern S and It is generally granted that the 'special' knowledge that our S and T personnel have (be it in the field of natural sciences, engineering or in social sciences) is not of much relevance to our people today (enough has been said on the irrelevance of today's Sand T). However, it is often suggested that our S and T personnel have the (privileged) role of developing a scientific attitude among the people so as to ensure effective participation of the people in the process of development (Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, TPSM p.53), or of generating a scientific attitude and culture of scientific inquiry among "the masses, so that they can move from sensory perceptions of their socially experience ,to conceptions arid analytic frames and from fatalistic prejudices to a realization of their power to change reality in their favor adopt systematic methods of investigations of, their problems. learn to synthesize experience and consider alternatives systematically (Md. Anisur Rahaman, TPSM p.127). This also happens to be the central thesis of Sadgopal.

The primary role of science is in enabling the people to comprehend the. sociopolitical reality of their environment through the scientific method so that their struggles for justice and development can be planned on the basis of reliable data and logical thinking. The process of education is thus defined as the process of spreading, the method of science among the people to enable them to understand the obstacles which prevent their development and successfully plan their struggle's for justice(BQCp.29).

Unlike (many, of our national experts, Sadgopal is clear that the potential for scientific process is not confined to the elite and the educated sections of our society. Such potential exists amongst the oppressed and the uneducated people and can be further enriched through training and experience But, having said all this, he still somehow falls victim to the usual misconception (that is common among our present day intelligentsia) that scientific thinking is something new or alien to the majority of our people. It is this relief which has led Sadgopal, to identify the following 'five major obstacles' to the spread of scientific method among our oppressed people viz., information gap, the tendency to follow traditions, fatalism, fear of reprisals by the vested interests, and the inability for abstraction.

We would like to emphasize the fact that the generally held belief that scientific thinking is something new or alien to the majority of our people, is merely a reflection of the utter confusion that prevails (amongst our present day science and technology practitioners) regarding science and scientific method, and even more so regarding the relation between science, technology and society. After all, scientific method, as defined by Sadgopal himself (Desire to know or inquisitiveness, observation, data collection, analysis and inference (BQC p. 29), is not a recent discovery of mankind, and is definitely not unique to the modern science and technology of the West. In fact, scientific method happens to be the basis also of the traditions of knowledge, techniques and practices that are still prevalent among our people. It so happens that our science and technology personnel, who have been trained solely in the tradition of the modern science and technology of the West, do not realize that the non-Western traditions of science and technology are different, not because they are unscientific or primitive, but because these non-Western traditions are based upon entirely different values, and have arisen in a different historical and cultural context. Another important feature of the non-Western traditions of science and technology is that they do not share the same world-view that is characteristic of the modern capitalist industrialized society of the West. Unfortunately, it is this particular world-view (of the modern capitalist industrialized society) which is often passed off as ' the scientific attitude ' or the scientific temper not only by the Western imperialists, but also by our own intellectuals who are totally alienated from our people and their traditions. It is our people's refusal to accept the same world-view (as the only possible 'scientific' attitude), which has led to all of their traditions and practices being dubbed 'unscientific','out dated' or even anti-scientific.

In this context, what we would like to emphasize is that our present day specialists in the modern Western science and technology are in no position to understand the scientific or(in ordinary language, the rationality) of our people's traditions and practices, largely because their competence is totally restricted to the modern science and technology of the West, and even more so because they have been trained to hold on to the superstition that only modern science and technology is based upon, or is consistent with, scientific thinking. Lest there be any confusion on this point, we would like to emphasize that we fully recognize the importance of scientific method, its relevance in all the efforts of our people in comprehending their socio-political environment and in altering it, as also the need today for further spreading scientific thinking amongst all our oppressed people. But what we would like to seriously question is the understanding our science and technology community itself has of science, its method and also of the basic relation between science, technology and society. We would therefore see the main task before the science and technology practitioners of today, as one where they first overcome the prejudice that all knowledge and practices outside of the tradition of modern Western science and technology are unscientific, and go to people as ' learners ' and not as mess talis revealing the new scientific method'

As we have argued, the science and technology practitioners of today are totally equipped to further spread scientific method among our people. Hence, we shall not go into a discussion of the various 'obstacles' outlined by Sadgopal. These should of course be discussed in the context of a more general debate oh ' What are the obstacles to our people's movements today?'. Here we would only like to point out that Sadgopal is being downright disrespectful to the oppressed people of this country when he talks of their inability for abstraction'. Of course he concedes, 'Yet there is evidence that the -potential for abstract thinking does exist among the oppressed people'(BQC .p. 31). But, all that one can infer from the examples given by Sadgopal in this connection is that the abstractions that our social scientists are wont to employ have not so far made much sense to our people as tools in comprehending or altering their socio-political environment.

This brings us to a discussion of the scientific analysis of India's development experience'(BQC p. 28) presented by Sadgopal.'Our brief experience has revealed to us that the rural society is critically divided into two sections a small minority of the 'rich and middle-level farmers which siphons off the benefits of development, programmes and has vested (interest in their continuity and a vast majority of the landless, marginal farmers, and artisans which is excluded from this process and is generally not influenced by what goes on in the planning commission and the agencies or departments concerned with industry,'development, and science and technology. Whenever somebody preaches rural development, we always want to understand whose development is being talked about.Is one referring to development of the money lender or of the rich farmers or of the marginal peasants or of the landless labour When such analysis is negated, it leads to the typical confusion which is reflected in such questionable phrases' as the rural-urban 'gap, or planning from below, or community development, or the Panchayat Raj, or people's participation. Such phrases presume the existence of a homogeneous community or imply that the poor don't exist in cities and the rich do not live in villages'(BQC pp. 27-28).

Firstly, it is incorrect to say that the landless and marginal farmers and artisans are not influenced by what goes on in the planning commission or in other Governmental agencies, especially-when it is common knowledge that the developmental policies recommended by these agencies are responsible for a further impoverishment and deterioration in the quality of life of most of our people. More importantly, how does the fact that most of the rural development programmes have helped the rich in the village and not the poor, or the fact that the poor do exist in our cities, render the very concept i of rural-urban gap questionable after all, we should not lose sight of the fact that the majority of our developmental programmes are not in any sense directed towards rural development. And, even when some of our developmental programmes (such as the
green revolution, or more recently, the white revolution) are presented in the name of rural development, it is the urban industries and of course the multinationals who have benefited the most, by these programmes.

The point at issue is not so much the particular analysis presented by Sadgopal. but that very disturbing fact that many of our even well-meaning intellectuals feel that our modern S and T education is the sole means of learning scientific method or of arriving at the scientific understanding of our socio-political situation. Brought up as our scientists are on the myth of the uniqueness of S and T and the universal and progressive character of modern Western S and T, they feel very confident in denying vehemently the scientificity of our people's thinking Even while .they grant that we should strive for the effective participation of all our oppressed people in determining the path of our development, they come up with the conclusion that such a process should be (or could be) set into motion only after our people imbibe'the scientific attitude'. As we emphasized earlier, this would essentially mean that our people's participation in the developmental process should be (or could be) effected only after they stop opposing the world-view of the modern Western society, and the associated path of development pursued today.

In this whole debate, while much is talked about the fact that modern S and T and the associated developmental activities of today have not helped the majority of our people, one is surprised to find that very little is said about the crucial role that all our S and T personnel and intellectuals can play by exposing how all our S and T activities today are dominated by and serve only the interests of the big industrialists and their foreign partners by demystifying modern S and T and removing the aura surrounding this new gospel and by bringing out the anti-people character of our developmental activities. This would indeed be a very important role that all our-scientists could play in association with our people's movements. Further, if our Sand T community is willing to shed its prejudices and learn the traditions and practices of our people (with respect for their scientific basis and for the humane values behind them), then it could take up the task of further spreading scientific method and could even participate along with our people in developing an alternative to modern S and T which would be patriotic and people-oriented.


—Madras Group.

Note:

* As we shall emphasize later, they have also the important role of exposing and helping our people oppose the misdirected and irrelevant research.

* By this, we do not, in any sense, imply that our science and technology personnel do not employ scientific method in their work, or that they do not comprehend or make legitimate contributions to the modern science and technology in which they are trained.


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