Monday, 27 August 2012



The history of inculcating scientific temperament in our countrymen during the late 1980s and early 1990s has been documented by National Council of Science and Technology
Council (NCSTC), a science-popularizing wing functioning even nowadays under the Department of Science & Technology of Govt. of India. Vigyan Prasar, another body for popularizing

science among masses was born out to propagate the magnanimous work undertaken during the above noted countrywide movement launched with much fanfare and later acclaim of having made a positive impact. As a scientific communicator I had, in a way, got associated with Vigyan Jathas and closely watched its functionaries to perform various tasks under strain. I had once requested Dr. Narender Sehgal, Director of NCSTC and spearheading the movement under the worthy guidance of Prof Yash Pal to assess and study the impact on of the Jathas and the Movement left on the mindset of the people but told that it was difficult to quantify it. However, certain indicators developed by social scientists could be selected and applied for assessing the changes in the living conditions of our people, particularly the common man living in small towns and village communities, as well as the environment and a report was carefully prepared. After much deliberations, the software selection and preparation committee of the science popularization movements, launched twice, had developed several types of affordable material for inculcating an interest in science. It was immensely popular with the school level children. One of its major fallout was beginning of a Children’s Science Congress, annually co-held at the same venue determined for organizing Indian Science Congress.

Breaking the centuries old myths and superstitions was one of the major tasks during the twice-organized popular science movements in India. Both the scientific community as well as the national governments universally acclaimed the gigantic effort across the globe. These movements would have acted as catalyst upon which the people were supposed to acquire better understanding of science and technology, particularly in the Indian national context, and sustain it too. But regrettably, the society in general kept itself aloof only because as a pre-condition it would require some sort of basic and formal educational standards, which were absent. In spite of communicating science and technology in simple terms and local language, the people remained uninterested in acquiring scientific information by dint of which they could have certainly improved their way of living and thinking about the world around them. Another reason for failure of the people to acquire scientific temperament was the mass-psyche of the society that feared its local mentors so much that it became impossible for them to unshackle from the grip of superstitions and myths. For centuries local faith healer and Guru, practicing witchcraft, forbade the illiterate and the timid Indian to accept modern scientific knowledge and change his mindset according to newly acquired knowledge. Fearing a backlash from such wicked persons as noted above, the common person had no other option but to remain an instant for victim for them. Instances of witchcraft and faith healing in India come to notice only because a few of the gory incidents get immediately reported in the media. The State has no effective role except taking action in accordance with the provisions of the Cr.P.C and only if there was a complaint against the perpetrator. It is too much to expect of a Sarpanch, most of which are semi-educated having political agenda, to be having a scientific temperament. The architecture of our social system that runs our life in general in addition to the architecture of modern political system that shapes the mental environment is of non-scientific nature. It is another matter, that in spite of these constraints we still learn science and attain technological feats but without really having a scientific temperament. Your editorial –Superstitious sarpanch, (The Tribune, 27 August 2012) is a hitting piece of comment on the sordid milieu that persists even after massive inputs –both materially and educationally, in science popularization in the last three plan periods. It was terrible to learn that the father killed the feverish girl child instead of seeking treatment at a govt. run hospital. Whatever happened at village Bhinder Kalan (Punjab) is not an isolated incident but a common one throughout India. How many of our village Headmen know about the work of NCSTC, Vigyan Prasar and a number of other scientific institutions that have created new knowledge for the betterment of the fellow citizens and how many of them access the websites of these organizations for acquiring information about their activities? Obviously, the number is negligible. Our civilization has been gradually built upon folklore that makes it difficult to recognize modern science as way of life and see our scientists and technocrats something as icons.

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