Recently, Uttar Pradesh’s deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma said that since Sita was found by her father in an earthen pot, she could be a precursor to what is now the test tube baby project. This statement joins the ranks of those by Satyapal Singh on Darwinian evolution and Dr Harshvardhan’s comment on Hawking and the Vedas, and is a glimpse of a very sorry state of science in India. Such statements by our elected representatives is perhaps a representation of how India views or values science.
We spend peanuts on R&D, a mere 0.7 per cent of our GDP. To add to the woes of an already malnourished research community, a share of these funds go into a long discredited pseudoscientific fields like homeopathy and cow urine. Stretching and meditation—or as it’s called by its brand name, Yoga—was hailed by Baba Ramdev as the cure for HIV. Minister of state for AYUSH, Shripad Yesso Naik, promised to cure cancer by regular yoga asanas in a year (spoiler alert, he hasn’t). A report found that 88 per cent of journals recommended by UGC are dubious. Labs in schools are under-equipped and teaching is substandard. What was supposed to be a journey of discovery and innovation is now reduced to rat races of JEE and NEET. Science in India is truly in a sad state, possibly stemming from a deeper insecurity of Indian minds.
Internet, computers, satellites, electricity, vaccinations, antibiotics, petrol, plastic—these are all products of science. Each one is a story of curiosity and discovery that has shaped our survival into existence. Science is indispensable. It has kept us alive for centuries, and will keep doing so for many more to come. Unfortunately there seems to be one commonality in all these stories: we almost never see anything Indian.
In my journey as a scientist in making, I have hardly come across any Indian researchers in my textbooks; the majority of the surnames are Western. We have this insecurity as a country that we haven’t contributed enough. We attempt to fill this void by trying to gloat about how advanced and scientific Indian culture is. How we had airplanes, nukes, and genetic engineering many centuries ago.
As a young adult, I understand insecurities at a very personal level, but trying to curb it by turning a blind eye is not the answer. Denial does not change the truth, and the truth is that we need a lot of investment in science and technology, right from middle school to post-doctorate education. Even if Indian history was better than modern science, how does that matter now? Thousands of kids die each month from something as trivial as diarrhoea. We need more investment, and change can’t and won’t happen overnight. Europe and America took hundreds of years to become the leaders of science. If we want to join them, we need to start investing before we can even think of catching up.
Science is a disciplined force. It has no space for chalta hai attitudes, it demands persistence and resolution. Clinical trials for drugs are spread over many decades and still sometimes end up being rejected. It takes as much as ₹16,000 crore rupees to develop a single drug. That is the kind of research that qualifies as good science. You can’t veil your fiction as science, and act like it enough. Why spend your entire youth on a Ph.D. to prove something when you can simply cite the Vedas? Why spend billions on cancer research when you can simply dispel cancer as karmic justice? Why invest in technology when everything is, after all, controlled by the arrangement of stars?
Science is not just hidden in vaulted labs or treasured patents. It’s a way of life. Science is not loyal to any god or religion, it’s only loyal to the truth. Nothing is absolute in science, and even the most fundamental conventions are always up for debate. Science is about asking questions, finding solutions, and enriching lives. It is the light that wards out the darkness of ignorance. Science belongs to anyone who seeks it, from a farmer experimenting with his seeds to a learned researcher.
But you can’t embrace science if you keep diluting it with fiction. Our past doesn’t define India, but what we do now now does. Either we can choose to prop our Vedic past on a pedestal, or we move forward to a better future of enlightenment and discovery.