After protests by writers and artists, over 100 distinguished scientists from some of India’s top institutes issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing the “climate of intolerance” and “a rash of bigoted acts”.
The statement — a rare public stand by a community that is reluctant to voice its collective opinion on non-scientific issues — came just a day after two smaller groups of scientists issued separate statements making a similar point.
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Wednesday’s statement was signed by some of the top names of Indian science including P Balram, former director of Indian Institute of Science; Ashoke Sen of the Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad; A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board; P M Bhargava, former director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology; B Ravindran of the Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar; Partha Pratim Majumdar of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in Kalyani; and Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology in Delhi. At least five of them are Padma awardees.
“The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country. It is the same climate of intolerance and rejection of reason that led to the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq and the assassinations of Prof (M M) Kalburgi, Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Shri Govind Pansare. All three fought against superstition and obscurantism to build a scientific temper in our society,” said the statement.
“The Indian civilisation is a truly plural one. We have always had many practices and communities that have allowed space for each other; we celebrate the festivals and anniversaries of all faiths. This unity and peace has now been disturbed by a rash of bigoted acts, attacks on minorities and Dalits, which show no signs of abating,” it added.
Among those who signed the statement were scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Statistical Institute, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Raman Research Institute, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, IIT, Mumbai, JNU, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and several other institutes. The statement was also put online for other scientists to lend their name and weight.
Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology said the statement was a result of informal conversations between several scientists. He said the scientists were not reacting to any individual incident but to a pattern that had become very evident. “Of late, there has been a disturbing tendency in our public discourse to replace civility with violence,” he said. Rath said there was no conversation about scientists returning any awards like the writers had done.
T Jayaraman of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a signatory to the statement, said while scientists generally refrain from intervening in political and social issues, the recent incidents were being seen as an attack on core values of science, scientific temper and rationality. “In a democracy like ours, there is no option but to tolerate dissent. Dissent is integral to science… Reason must prevail,” he said.
The scientists did not hide the fact that they had been influenced by the writers’ protest. “The writers have shown the way with their protests. We scientists now join our voices to theirs, to assert that people will not accept such attacks on reason, science and our plural culture. We reject the destructive narrow view of India that seeks to dictate what people will wear, think, eat and who they will love,” they said.