There is not a week that goes by without a new list by Forbes or similar agencies being featured in our media – made much of, for the rich and successful Indians who feature there. And the same media, often on the same show or page will also feature the abysmally low ranking of the country in various other kinds of ranking. The 2014 UNDP Human Development Index (based on life expectancy, education land income levels) places us at 135 among the 196 nations of the world. We fare equally badly in the various health indices, such as maternal mortality and under-5 child mortality etc.
We live in a sea of contradictions – the increasing number of women in the public space and their achievements versus the dreadful status of so many others, the increasing incomes and climbing life styles of the haves versus the downward sliding living conditions of those with little or static incomes, the possibility of world class education for our children versus the large numbers who cannot even access minimum quality – the list would be endless. At an individual level, there is the increasing finickiness for cleanliness in the space around us (kids don’t want to use public toilets, we consider hard before going to unfamiliar places) with the deteriorating levels of cleanliness in the surroundings, the increasing awareness of the need for healthy eating with increase in fast food sales etc..etc…
But these are contradictions in our society, as they would be in any society. We need to acknowledge them, and not accept them, and if we are decent citizens, do our bit to make a difference. But when national leaders and public icons (and in this case he has become both) pronounce contradictions, on policies or major issues, it has serious consequences; they just cannot be passed off as personal opinions. Yes, I am referring to the public postures on science taken by our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi who has been elected on the promise of development. In the 21st century, development is almost synonymous with success in scientific innovations. The PM who flew down to Sriharikota for the launch of the Mars mission and was all praise for the effort of ISRO scientists, who has invoked science in many of his speeches (“We have to embrace science and technology and make farming modern”) and is a strong supporter of IT based solutions (the product of science) also pronounced his belief that “stem cell medicine was present in Mahabharata times, and Lord Ganesa obtained his elephant head through plastic surgery (a major gaffe, as he could have meant only transplant surgery) at a recent function in Mumbai.
These contradictions arise, I suppose, from the need to play to a diverse constituency. But for a scientist like me this is immensely disturbing !! It is unacceptable, in a country that is poorly educated, even more so in science. For the large part India languishes in a nineteenth century scientific ethos, and needs leaders who with their scientific approach lead by example. These statements are worse than public statements supporting conservative dressing by women to prevent rape!! And unlike the women’s lobby which cries out against such utterances, there has been a deafening silence form the scientific community. Balu, an eminent scientist, and a great writer of science for lay audiences, has tried to understand why, in an article in today’s Hindu. The direct and indirect benevolence to the Government for all funds, leads to this situation. And it would be true for most other areas as well be it Social Science or Arts. The absence of robust, independent Institutions and the lack of any interest in creating such Institutions does not bode well for us as a society.
As an individual I have put forth my views to my small audience. What more can I do, I wonder!!
P.S. Haryana Government has appointed Mr Batra to advice them on education.