Thursday, December 28, 2006

Decline of Science in India II

Science is on the decline in India. I have collected some of the signals in the previous article.

These are only few messages- but enough to suggest that Science is on the decline in India. The broader impact of such decline is far more serious than what is stated in these messages. Though we do have many technology institutes- where science is applied, the pursuit of science as a career or as temperament is on the decline. While the first (decline in pursuit of science as career) is clearly seen from different statistics, the decline in scientific temperament can only be sensed or perceived with no hard evidence (as yet).

Decline of Scientific Temperament in India

India’s history is fraught with superstitions, occultism, ritualistic practices, alchemy-like sciences, where irrational and illogical practices were legitimized through religion, tradition and culture. One could not distinguish between philosophy and a ritual. We did have small rational movements in the past which took us on a path of rational thought. Many of those rational movements are also intertwined with our Independence movement, as is common to many such people’s movements in Europe

Our highpoint in scientific temperament and rational thought came about during early 1900s and continued till about 1970s after which there has been a steady decline. Before we could invest in creating solid institutions around that rational thought we are already facing rejection of such rational and scientific thoughts following similar trends elsewhere in the post-modern world. While the West’s reaction is to tone down the excesses of such rational and scientific thought which brought with it neo-liberal forces, India did not even cross the threshold of moving away from superstition to rational thinking and it has already gleefully embraced post-modern ideology and its outright rejection of modern values. 

Herbal medicine, Yoga, nature cure, Vedic sciences, and all other hobbies are now touted at alternate sciences. And what more, this rejection of scientific thought is championed by technologists, academicians, doctors, and literate. Spearheaded by the very people who were supposed to deliver us from ritualistic and superstitious way of life, this post-modern rejection of scientific thought, dubbed as ‘negative western influence’, is now followed by embracement of ancient Indian ways by positioning them as alternative sciences. 

Many technologists and academicians in India are abandoning the scientific temperament. This trend may not reflect in statistics, but can be perceived indirectly. Vaastu Shastra is in fashion- more and more engineers, doctors, professors, educated, well-to-do families, seem to take this up while they construct their house or an office. An entrepreneur from Hyderabad on his blog suggests how Vaastu has helped him in his startup. According to a famous architect in Hyderabad, while less than 20% of the clients asked for Vaastu alignment in 1980s, more than 90% of the clients seek this alignment these days. Buildings are demolished because they are not Vaastu aligned. Many properties are unoccupied- including the mammoth Vikas Soudha in Bangalore, all because of bad Vaastu.

Numerology is on the increase too. Many people change their names (add an extra ‘r’ or extra ‘k’) coming up with such funny names as ‘Hrrithik’; people look for the ‘right number’ for their car or house- I was told that a number should add up to 9, and there are books written on why and how the number 9 is the most sacred entity.  

Astrology is on the rise too- politicians consult astrologers to choose the right date and time to start an event. Many educated and literate people refer to horoscope to choose their partners, and seek an astrologer to plan the wedding, or for that matter any ‘auspicious’ event. We are not talking of illiterate or ignorant people here. All these people have been to top schools of India and graduated in technology, business, medicine, etc. Scientific temperament is out of the door, irrationality, superstition is the in-thing. Hobbies and crafts are now touted as legitimate science!

Importance of Science in progress of mankind

Science is an essential ingredient for human civilization and and its progress. Medieval Europe could unshackle itself from age-old religious orthodoxy, which blanketed it in Dark Ages for centuries, only through embracement of Science. Age of Reason, Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, and many other great movements of the world that shaped the modern world are rooted in progress of science. These movements gave us the universal values- liberty and freedom to a citizen, equal opportunity, justice to all, etc. Every philosophical and people’s movements in the recent times is founded in an advent of science- be it Theory of Gravity, or Theory of Evolution.  

India has not even instilled those modern institutions completely and has already embarked on the post-modern rejection of such institutions. Indians were confused. Indians did not know if they should go the way Europe has gone few centuries ago by allowing Science to prosper and dominate or take up the recent post-modern rejection by the West of such excesses of Science (which comes out not as complete rejection, but as toning down its influence- more as a reaction). 

What we see now is that India is taking its own path- Indians want to completely skip all these steps to overtake everyone else on the planet by unearthing golden moments and accomplishments from our ancient past. Instead of resorting to hard work and toil, they just want to sit back, relax, and muse over the ancient works to miraculously equate them to the results of the modern Science. Indians are keen on portraying their ancient works as science- according to them, even the hobbies such as astrology, numerology and vaastu shastra are science. 

Bereft of any contemporary achievements, in an overzealous attempt to find our own identity and uniqueness in the modern world, we are doing great damage to ourselves. Instead of taking the hard path of actually inventing, discovering, researching and innovating, we would rather sit under a tree, meditate, and somehow come up with solutions to complex problems of quarks, quantum physics, mathematics, engineering, etc. According to some of us, 'our ancient texts have answers to everything', isn't it? From engineering, aeronautics, to nuclear and atomic physics, and even to the diseases like AIDS!

By shunning the pursuit of science, we are curbing the free thought, creativity, and the ability to question and reason. By treating our ancient texts as alternate science, we are bringing in sanctity, orthodoxy, to justify ignominious rituals and practices of this country. As a post-modern rejection of universal values, we will only pave the way for hijacking of our intelligentsia by those who have vested interests in showcasing Indian hegemony. It will lead to academic and sophisticated justification of caste based discrimination, ill-treatment of women, lack of dignity of work, persecution and ostracism of alien religions, child labor, etc, all under the glorious names of Indian Science, Indian Culture and Indian Philosophy. 

Science and education are the only weapons Indian masses can possess to get themselves out of the stranglehold of casteism, poverty, religious persecution and discrimination. It is the only liberating force for women, underprivileged, and homosexuals. As much as religion is important to different people to carry their personal faith and belief system, science and its pursuit as career and temperament are necessary as the balancing forces. They need to be inculcated and nurtured to combat the forces that tend to bring in irrationality, orthodoxy, and sanctity through the backdoor all in the name of sanctity, tradition and culture.


  1. Very interesting articles but I am wondering whether there are some misprints.
    Second paragraph, lines 7,8: " ...came about in early 1990s and continuedtill about 1970s.."
    Fourth paragraph, last liones:"... After all, our ancient texts have answers to everything...". I assume that this is meant to be ironic, but it is not clear from the way it is said.
    The data about Vatsu: I have been hearing similar things. Is it possible to give a reference? Are there other articles with some data?
    I enjoyed reading this and the previous two articles and I think that there are lot of valid points in these articles.

  2. Dear Gaddeswarup:

    Thanks for correcting me. I have reflected the changes. Yes, it was meant to be ironic. I realize it didn’t come out that way. I have made some changes now. But I am still not satisfied. I hope I will come with a better punch over a period of time.

    I don’t have any access to data on Vaastu. I got these perceptions from talking to an architect in Hyderabad. I couldn’t find any data online. Unless someone puts his head to make survey, such data are hard to come by. For example, there is no data on how much garbage is on the Indian streets. But to know this one only has to step onto Indian streets. It is all pervading. Belief in Vaastu is also all-pervading but may be hidden to an outsider. You only have to poke a bit to elicit a response.

    Vaastu is very much in vogue in the region where I come from- Telangana (Hyderabad and around). From what I hear from friends who hail from different regions of India, it is not much different elsewhere.

    In my blogs, I am intending to talk about certain topics which may or may not have statistics or evidences. These are my opinions and perceptions. I am seeing India through my eyes and critiquing it. I am hoping that either I conduct such surveys in future or hope to inspire someone to take up surveys.

  3. Hi Sujai,

    A lot of valid points here. Blind belief and meaningless rituals have hurt us. I am seeing parallels in good old USA too!! Religious fanaticism has risen to a point in US that nearly a third are branded as fundamentalists. They oppose evolution, believe in myths and hate anything that is outside their own religious fold. Ancient scripts are interpreted literally just like some do it here in India.

    Vaastu is gaining acceptance here just like Feng Shui has gained acceptance in US. The only beneficiaries of Vaastu are the people who make money off of it.

    Yoga was fine as a form of physical, mental and spiritual exercise until people figured out that there is money to be made off of it too. It is an "ancient
    science" now!! It is a "cure all" if you listen to some proponents. If anything, we should scientifically study the effects of practicing yoga on our body and minds. What happened to martial arts of far east has now happened to yoga - crass commercialization.

    Finally, your use of the term "post-modern" is controversial. It implies modernity has passed us. It has been used by religious fundamentalists and other anti-modernists to bash secularism and science.

  4. Dear sujai
    Very nice article. You have worded my thoughts very well. The other reason for the loss of scientific temperament in India is becuase of lack of good teachers right from primary schools. In India teachers lack the spirit of teaching. How many science teachers teach "science is knowledge and technology is only application of science". Right from primary school we students are taught to study science only to glorify the technological advancements made by the west. Students take up science in secondary schools only later to graduate in technology studies. That is how science is introduced to students in India. "Have good basics in Maths, you will become a good engineer, you like biology you should aim to become a doctor", is way students are advised both by parents and teachers. So how will scientic temperament grow in India.

    Now with the number of schools and colleges have grown in India, but teaching being seen not even as a secondary profession, we only have part time lecturers in most of the colleges or full time teachers using 10 to 20 years old tattered notes to teach science !! At this rate how do we aim to make good students at all is something I do not understand.
    How many Researchers in Good Institutes and universities go to speak about science in Schools in India ? We need to seriously think of how to make teaching as an attractive profession before we think of why scientific temperament has been lost in india.

  5. I am not very knowledgeable in these matters but off and on I wondered why India had some brilliant scientists before independence, some of them trained themselves in India, and we have not been able to produce scientists of their calibre in India ( there are many who did well abroad) despite many new research institutes and elite universities. It is possible that the age of big ideas and big science are over and it is only small incremental changes that we can make now. But in mathematics, there have been big results like the solutions of Fermat's and Poincare's conjectures in the recent years and so I do not think that the era of big science is over, at least in some areas like mathematics.
    I used to think that the problem might be that institutions after a while start reflecting the atmosphere outside (unless there are a large number of them with some self sustaining ones) and tend to degenerate.
    Why does not outside atmosphere change when it seems to be changing in some countries which were less developed before. Here my wild guess is that India had some brilliant minds long ago who tried to systemize every thing. They probably saw that two things which drive human beings and human conflicts are finding a mate and status. They came up with this caste sytem in which most have an automatic status with some below them and arranged marriages in which males do not have to struggle for a mate. This system proved remarkably resilent at the local level whatever the changes may be in big kingdoms. I think that these are still dogging us. Without some influence of culture how does one explain our performance in sports, science etc in India nearly sixty years after independence. May be urbanization will help a bit but somehow I do not see great changes or India becoming a super power ( though I do not see why one wants India to be a super power. What I would like to see is that nobody anywhere in the world should be hungry with all the technology that we have) as long as these systems last. This is my guess. I hope that I am wrong.

  6. Gone in a total tangent.

    Even a minimal understanding of the history of sciences, shows that modern science is a matter of few centuries, and that the modern science is largely based on the very slowly developed medieval science.

    Scientific approach or objectivity can be understood from the subjects that define those - and till previous century there was no subject that deals with what true objectivity is and what the philosophy of science is.

    So the problem is not that scientific temper is in decline. The problem is that you no more have a system that enables a sustained scientific development. You had one, and as long as you had such a system, there was a continuous development.

    1. The problem today is not that religious approach comes in way of objectivity - if you look at Indian scientists who did wonders, they are very much religious. That is not the point at all. the point is that your education system does not encourage critical thinking. It fills you with information, which is both voluminous and irrelevant.

    2. The second problem is that your universities are filled with political stooges, not scholars. They are hardly competent to think or teach people how to think.

    3. The third problem is that your universities hardly teach anything relevant to the lives of your students, and make the subjects irrelevant as well as uninteresting. No political science student has a decent idea of Indian polity, no economics student has a decent idea of Indian economy. This is what ails your system. Let us not even talk of history. Your "scholars" cannot cater to your country's needs.

    No need to talk of sciences, since people do not even know what branches of sciences exist.

    4. There are no subjects studied in India that establish the crucial link between science and society.

    5. There are no subjects studied in India that are much needed for the development of science - the philosophy of science and history of science.

    6. You have institutions like TIFR and IISc, and they are dreams for people - places of genuine research are hardly found.

    You can list any number of reasons, but the point is that for anything to work you cannot afford such a bankrupt education system.


Dear Commenters:
Please identify yourself. At least use a pseudonym. Otherwise there will be too many *Anonymous*; making it confusing.

Do NOT write personal information or whereabouts about the author or other commenters. You are free to write about yourself. Please do not use abusive language. Do not indulge in personal attacks and insults.

Write comments which are relevant and make sense so that the debate remains healthy.