October 29, 2015

India: ‘Reasoning and rationalism ... are under attack' - interview with scientist P M Bhargava

The Times of India

‘Reasoning and rationalism ... are under attack'
Arun Ram, TNN | Oct 29, 2015, 03.49 AM IST

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Late one night in 1986, when P M Bhargava's wife received a call from the Union home secretary asking for the scientist, she was worried. "Has he done something wrong," she asked. The caller said Bhargava had indeed done many things, for which the government wanted to award him the Padma Bhushan. The founder of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and a former vice-chairman of National Knowledge Commission told TOI that he would return the award as a mark of protest against "the government's intolerance and the attack on reasoning and science". Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Q: Writers returned their Akademi awards against attacks on freedom of expression. Why you?

A: Reasoning and rationalism, which are the bedrocks of science, are under attack. This government has no respect for science. But for space and atomic energy, allocations for science have been cut. People with rationalistic views are being killed. The Padma Bhushan had a special place in my collection of 100 awards, but now I feel no sentimental attachment to it.

Q: Will more scientists follow suit?

A: I don't know. It is a personal decision. I have not discussed it with other scientists.

Q: The statement accuses the government of promoting irrational and sectarian thought by functionaries of the government. Can you elaborate?

A: The attack on beef-eaters is an example. How can a government decide on what people should eat? Charaka (principal contributor to ancient Ayurveda) has spelled out the benefits of eating beef, and had prescribed it for people with several disorders. Functionaries of the government include a lot of people, including the minister for science and technology.

Q: Is the scientific community united in this fight?

A: A large majority of scientists feel that this government is stymieing reasoning and scientific temper, but many may not come out to mark their protest. I, however, hope that young scientists and people from other sections voice their convictions and concerns. If they do, there will be a cultural revolution. I can see sporadic and spontaneous protest, just like in the making of any revolution. But then, it may all fizzle out. In the second case, our society will be a deeply unhappy one, and that could have adverse effects on the nation in the long run.

Q: What will be your advice to the government to prevent such a situation?

A: Don't mix religion with politics. Keep your beliefs personal; never ever try to institutionalise them. Don't tell me what to eat, what to wear and whom to love.