It was a day of protest marches in Mumbai. Even as lakhs of Maratha community members marched to Azad Maidan on Wednesday, about 200 scientists marched over a 2-km stretch in South Mumbai protesting budgetary cuts in scientific research and the shift towards “pseudo-scientific ideas”. In April when researchers and scientists in the United States took to the streets to protest against dramatic budgetary cuts and shift in scientific policies under President Donald Trump’s regime, with 600 cities globally participating in a first-ever protest march after decades, in India, discussions in the scientific community had only begun.
On Wednesday, following months of e-mail exchanges amongst top researchers, over 200 scientists joined ‘March for Science’ protest rally in Mumbai, along with scientists in 29 other cities in India to draw the Centre’s attention towards poor budgetary allocation for research.
“The rally is not just to demand more funds for science. It is time scientists come together to speak about the shift we are seeing in government funds for unscientific research,” said Aniket Sule, astrophysicist attached with the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education.
The rally was catalysed by Breakthrough Science Society, in Kolkata, that started writing e-mails to the scientific community after the April rally in US. The major demand is to increase budgetary provision from 0.85 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent for research and 10 per cent for education.
The protesters also showed concern over “pseudo-scientific ideas”, mainly SVAROP programme (Scientific Validation and Research On ‘Panchgavya’), a programme based on promoting benefits of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd and ghee for alleged medicinal properties.
At 70, Shrikrishna Dani,a mathematician at Centre for Basic Sciences, says this is the first time he is seeing such a protest by the scientific community in India. “It is important to use ancient knowledge through a scientific prism today. Understanding cow urine’s applications was not started as a pilot research project. It is receiving huge funds with no scientific validation. Why just the cow? Why not research on buffalo or bull?” he said adding that such researches should not be politically forced. On Wednesday, scientists, students and professors from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Indian Institute of Technology, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Homi Bhabha Centre and various colleges silently marched from August Kranti Maidan to Wilson College, at Girgaum Chowpatty with banners.
“The current condition of research infrastructure, even in leading institutes of Mumbai, is extremely poor. Unless there is proper funding for basic sciences, how will teachers also encourage students to pursue research?” said A D Sawant, former pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mumbai and a Chemistry scholar.
N Krishnan, a scientist with TIFR, said: “Funding is seen as a way of controlling. We have to beg for funds for a process which should not be controlled by an entity that does not understand the process of research,” he said adding that scientists were forced to protest openly because they perceive there is an attack on science. “It is concerning if scientist are forced to come on roads. The scientific temper is taken for granted and with the BJP government, there is lesss focus on evidence-based decision-making. In High Court, a judge spoke about peacock’s tears. We are worried if we don’t speak about these perceptions now, we will never get an opportunity later,” said M C Arunan, attached to the Collaborative Undergraduate Biology Education at Bhabha Centre.