Amid celebrations of the birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar in Worli on Saturday, a motley crew of scientists, students and academicians marched in silence along the promenade near Haji Ali. They were protesting against the recent fund cuts in scientific education and the propagation of “pseudoscience”.
Returning for the second chapter of the “March for Science” in the city, over 250 people from the scientific community stood in solidarity with the international March for Science, which, this year was held globally on Saturday.
The turnout was higher compared to last year, with an evident rise in student participation. While fund cuts remained the central theme of the march, more focus on the “decline of scientific temper” and the shift towards “superstition” in the country.
Late rationalist Narendra Dabholkar’s picture was seen on several placards as protesters walked from Nehru Planetarium in Worli to Haji Ali. The congregation met at the basement of the Planetarium before commencing the March. Scientists spoke about Ambedkar’s vision for promoting scientific temper.
“Today, science is under threat. We are in a situation like never before. The scientific community is being attacked from all quarters with fund cuts and an increasing shift towards pseudo-scientific ideas,” said T Jayaraman, Centre for Science, Technology and Society, School of Habitat Studies School of Research Methodology at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
“When the Prime Minister says that Ganesha is an example of plastic surgery, he is propagating ideas that have no scientific evidence. One cannot keep scientific temper in a box and restricted to superstition,” said Jayaraman, while addressing the protestors.
“Through this March, we are trying to tell the world that the scientific community is taking note of what is happening in the country. It will be countered and restricted, not just by academics and scientists but by teachers and students as well,” said Vivek Monteiro, of Navnirmiti, an organisation that promotes scientific thinking and innovation.
Another issue that emerged as a common cause for concern among the community was the changes in the textbooks and syllabus in schools.
“It is a dangerous thing that school textbooks are being changed to propagate pseudo-scientific ideas. It misguides schoolchildren about science,” said Yasmin Khan, Vice-principal of Sofia College. A research scholar from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, said: “The funding for science is abysmally low and there is a decline in the scientific temper in the country. This march is a beginning of a campaign to set things in the right path.”
The members have decided to build the momentum by engaging with public. “The march will be followed by various awareness activities. It is not just an annual march but we want to engage with public more,” said MC Arunan, from the Collaborative Undergraduate Biology Education at Bhabha Centre. Last year’s march has culminated into a ‘Curiosity Circle’ wherein groups of scientists and academicians visit educational campuses and hold public dialogues to talk about science.