“March for science” is a global movement started last year to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. On April 14 it celebrated its anniversary.
Last year, Indian scientists and science supporters didn’t march for support of the movement but this year over 200 participants including scientists from over 35 Indian cities took on streets demanding funds for research and development in India, that remains a paltry 0.8% of the GDP, be ramped up to at least 3% of the GDP and for education to 6%.
The scientists demonstrating also condemn the unscientific statements made by Indian ministers, such as junior human resource development minister, Satyapal Singh and science and technology minister, Harsh Vardhan.
Notably, the HRD minister had earlier made a statement that India’s mantras codified the laws of motion before Newton and also nullified the Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution claiming it as unscientific. His comments on Darwin were roundly criticised by Indian scientists.
The Indian scientists also raised concerns about education material being manipulated to suit pity political ideologies.
On top of this, Harsh Vardhan, who himself is a science & technology minister, recently said that the renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking thought Vedic theories were superior to Einstein’s famous formulation — e=mc2. Ironically, he said this at the recent India Science Congress event.
Scientists have also voiced their concerns against some groups which, they said, have vested interests in undermining science by prescribing unscientific ideas and superstitious beliefs. “While one one hand, we are trying to work in new and unexplored areas through research… a section of politicians continue to promote mythological and unproven tales, which have no scientific evidence till date,” said another city-based senior scientist.
In 2013, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition activist and Maharashtra’s most vocal rationalist, was shot dead which was a big jolt to scientific temperament in the country.
It should be recalled that India’s win over polio and leprosy is testimonial to power, trust and success of science and not due to any temple, mosque or any mythological belief for that matter.
The Pulse Polio Immunization programme was launched in India in 1995. The last polio case in the country was reported from West Bengal in 2011. Thereafter, in 2012 the WHO removed India from the list of countries with active endemic wild polio virus transmission. Victory over leprosy was also one of India’s big healthcare victories. While the National Health Policy, Govt. of India had set the goal of elimination of leprosy by the year 2005, as on 31st December 2005, Prevalence Rate recorded in the country was 0.95/10,000 population and the country achieved the goal of elimination of leprosy as a public health problem, defined as less than 1 case per 10,000.
In spite of these positive results, our country has not invested how much it should to spread the scientific fervor and we has been stuck for years with 0.9% of GDP spending on Science & Technology, which is far less than 2% spent by China (according to the 2014 UNESCO Science Report & the Department of Science & Tech).
India has 200 scientists per million people, too few considering the country’s size. China has pushed this to nearly 1,000 over three decades. (2014 UNESCO Science Report and the Department of Science and Tech). There is an urgent need for the Government to build an ecosystem that is conducive to scientific research and demonstrate a national commitment towards encouraging research for new and innovative drug therapies to address unmet medical needs that are specific to India.