Marching for Science and Against Bigotry in India

We came to know about the worldwide event (which happened on 22nd April, 2017) quite late. So we could not organize the March on that date. But after the international event, many scientists expressed the view that we should do something similar, because science in India is under attack from a rising wave of unscientific beliefs and religious bigotry, and scientific research is suffering serious setback due to dwindling governmental support. Some scientists came together and gave a call to organize a March for Science on 9thAugust 2017. The organization Breakthrough Science Society gave full support to this initiative and actively worked to coordinate the efforts in different cities and make the March successful. Many other scientific societies and organizations also joined hands. ‘March for Science Organizing Committees’ were formed in different cities.

There is a provision in the Indian Constitution (Article 51A), which urges all citizens to cultivate scientific temper. But in recent times the attempts to spread unscientific ideas and superstitions are on the rise. Sometimes, bizarre ideas without any evidence to support them are being propagated as science, and are patronized by persons in high positions in the administrative setup. This is vitiating the cultural atmosphere of the country. To make things worse, even untested and unscientific ideas are being introduced into the school textbooks and curricula. This was one issue we wanted to highlight through the march.

Secondly, we wanted to bring to public attention the plight of scientific institutions resulting from severe fund crunch. The funding support for scientific research is sorely inadequate, having remained stagnant in the range 0.8%- 0.9% of the GDP for far too long. In recent years it has seen further decline. Financial support to even premier institutions like IITs, NITs, and IISERs has been slashed. Universities are languishing for shortage of funds needed to support scientific research. Agencies which provide research funding, like Department of Science & Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) are also impacted by reduced governmental support.

In the field of education, the funding situation is appalling. The government spends only 3% of its GDP on education. In India the education system has been seriously neglected, resulting in a large section of the populace remaining illiterate or semi-literate even after 70 years of independence. The public school system, where a majority of Indian children get their education, is in a very bad shape, as many schools lack the required infrastructure like proper buildings, toilets, and playgrounds; classrooms are overcrowded; there are meager laboratory facilities, shortage of teachers is acute. As a result, a majority of children are deprived of the opportunity of being a part of the scientific people-power of the country.

We felt that the situation demands the members of scientific community to stand up in defence of science, science teaching and scientific attitude in an open and visible manner.

The call for the March for Science received enthusiastic response from a large section of the scientific community. On 9 August 2017, more than 15,000 people marched in 40 cities and towns, raising the demands:

  1. Stop propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas, and develop scientific temper, human values and spirit of inquiry in conformance with Article 51A of the Constitution.
  2. Allocate at least 3% of GDP to scientific and technological research and 10% toward education.
  3. Ensure that the education system does not impart ideas that contradict scientific evidence.
  4. Enact policies based on evidence-backed science.

In 2018, the March for Science in India was done on the same day as the global event, i.e., on 14 April. It was again a grand success, as around 13,000 people marched in more than 40 cities. The slight drop in number is because of the fact that at this time most universities have examinations. That is why many people could not take part in the March even though they wanted to.

The Indian scientific community has decided to make it an annual event, to press the demand of robust funding of education and scientific research and to oppose in a visible manner the blatant propagation of pseudo-science.

March for Science: Thiruvananthapuram in 2017