Context: Scientific temper, as enshrined in Part IV-A of the Constitution, must be upheld by all sections of the society.
Scientific temper is an attitude or a way of being that involves:
- Open-mindedness, logical thinking and analytical conduct in daily life.
- Willingness to meet with new facts and evidence without pre-conceived notions.
- Breaking stereotypes and being open to accepting that one’s own experiences and beliefs need continuous re-calibration.
The British prevented the development of scientific temper in Indian society as it would have raised ethical and moral questions on their rule.
After independence the need for scientific temper was hard felt to curb social evils like female infanticide, dowry etc. and hence it was protected as a fundamental duty. According to Article 51 (A) sub section-H of the Indian Constitution, every citizen is obligated “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform in our citizens”.
Constitution makers did not want everyone to study science; rather they sought to change people’s way of thinking and to break their hold of superstitions by applying rationality and thought. Education’s role was to unite people in pursuit of knowledge and a search that would bring prosperity to the nation.
Need of inculcating scientific temper:
- Growth of nation: ‘Renaissance’ in Europe was the period when European society gravitated from religious orthodoxy and supremacy to objectivity and rationality. Great scientific inventions during Renaissance formed the basis of European economic supremacy which continues to this day.
- Power to weak: Scientific temper equips a person with power to think rationally and question authority, hence to assert themselves in the society, thus bringing ‘equality of status’, as mentioned in the Preamble.
- Human development: Scientific temper attacks the fatalistic attitude which is held high in Indian society, thus encouraging people to concentrate on current existence and to strive at maximizing their potential.
- Attacks social evils: Scientific temper helps in diluting the social divisions created by caste inequalities, color and creed-based segregations etc. by highlighting their unethical foundations.
- Links spiritualism with materialism: Spiritual reality calls for a disciplined life, a clean and useful life dedicated to selfless service. Such a life is not opposed to science as science helps in applying moral principles more effectively in the service of fellow beings.
Unfortunately, the vision of the Constitution to develop ‘scientific temper’ has lost, which can be inferred by following:
- Recently a Vice Chancellor of Andhra University was criticized by the scientific community for talking about existence of test tube babies and stem cell therapies in India’s ancient era, based on hypothesis and not any cause-effect link.
- Rationalist thinkers like Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare were killed for their crusade against superstition and orthodoxy in society.
- As per NCRB data, between 2005 and 2015, more than 2000 women were killed in India following allegations of witchcraft.
- Prevalence of ‘God-men’ catering to the educated middle class who even spread their superstitious ideas through media and social media is a glaring example of pseudo-scientific society.
Maharashtra has implemented the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 and Rajasthan passed a law banning witch-hunting in 2015. Despite similar new laws in several states, practices like witch-hunting, rooted in superstition and bigotry, continue in villages and which mainly affect lower caste people and vulnerable individuals like widows etc.
Hence, the veil of orthodoxy and dogmatism covering Indian society needs actions beyond legislations which target cognitive restructuring of minds through developing scientific temper and rational enquiry.
How to inculcate scientific temper?
- Catch them young: Scientific temper can be best developed during childhood in schools if education is imparted through means like stories, painting, recitation, games, group projects etc. so that children open up and are not afraid of asking questions to their teachers which strengthens their inquisitiveness.
- Mid-level schools: Students in colleges need to be placed in analytical situations through role play, quizzes, model making etc. where critical and rational thinking are needed. Making students aware of the impact of science on society by arranging visits to factories, hospitals, research laboratories, and encouraging them to participate in science exhibitions.
- Reform of religious instruction: Instead of countering religious teachings, the superstitious and orthodox elements in religious instructions should be discouraged by reviving the scientific Vedic learning, like philosophy of ‘Advait Vedanta’ or absolute monism which is more like modern science.
- National Framework on Developing Scientific Culture: Academicians, government experts, and scientists should collectively deliberate on a unified set of objective guidelines which define the contours of scientific temper and standards which should be followed by universities.
- Strengthening local level institutions: Spreading awareness about science and reasoning should start from rural areas through capacity building and scientific demonstration programs at Panchayats which can keep a check on activities like witchcraft etc.
- Restraining public figures: Public figures like politicians and professors are expected to uphold and disseminate scientific culture and in case of transgression strict penal provisions should be instituted against them.
Since independence it has been ensured by various governments that India moves on the path of rationalism and objectivism be it Lal bahadur Shastri who coined ‘Jai Javan Jai Kisan’ or Atal Bihari Bajpai who stressed on the importance of science by adding ‘Jai Vigyan’ (hail science) or the incumbent Prime Minister who pushed for ‘Jai Anusandhan’ (hail research). But the pestering problem of ‘bigotry’ needs a combined effort not just by the government but individuals as well who should make it their fundamental duty to inspect, ask and verify information in their day to day affiars.