Academicians have a high ethical responsibility to humanity in general, to be open to criticism, and to encourage telling the truth irrespective of consequences. But unfortunately, many academicians are carriers of unscientific, irrational and illogical thoughts which undermine the true values of science. This is a major impediment to the creation of a better society.
Those who are in academics have immense potential to share knowledge with the society. The academicians have great responsibilities to maintain the association between academic world and society. Academicians are supposed to be intellectuals who employ thorough reasoning and deep thinking in relation to subjects that tend to stimulate deep discussion, be in natural sciences, literature or philosophy.
As a research student of Natural Sciences, I believe that science has given us the power to think rationally and logically, and the results of this process may directly be applicable to our daily life. In a country like India that consists of different religions and beliefs, it is quite difficult to generate scientific temper within the society with the help of science. It is the moral responsibility of academicians from all fields to develop scientific temper within the Indian society. Article 51A of the Indian constitution dictates that “[i]t shall be the duty of every citizen to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. India, as a developing country, is suffering from superstitions and undemocratic cultural values. Superstitious practices arise from an ignorance of scientific facts and misunderstanding of science, which can lead the society into darkness. Sometimes, the scientific fraternity, including science teachers/scholars, fail to eradicate such social evils. Even academicians and scientists sometimes hold irrational belief in fate or magic or fear the unknown, which is not a good sign for a progressive society.
Academicians have a high ethical responsibility to humanity in general, to be open to criticism, and to encourage telling the truth irrespective of consequences. But unfortunately, many academicians are carriers of unscientific, irrational and illogical thoughts which undermine the true values of science. This is a major impediment to the creation of a better society. Teaching scientific temper to people is an unavoidable part of the democratisation of the society. During my educational journey from school to university, regrettably, my teachers have excused themselves from their moral duty to teach me scientific temper and the moral responsibilities of the profession. Social reformers like the Buddha in ancient times to the rationalist movement led by Periyar, Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule in modern times, have used scientific temper to effect social change. Jyotiba Phule, in his book on slavery, says, “[i]f Brahmins were created from the mouth of Brahma, it becomes the womb of the Brahmins. It must be subject to the physical law of menstruation. So did Brahma secrete himself for four days every month? If Brahmin was conceived in the mouth of Brahma where did the foetus grow?” (Phule 1991: 2). The elephant-headed God, Ganesha, worshipped before any major enterprise or launching of rockets in India is the patron-deity of intellectuals, bankers, scribes and authors! As Dr. B.R. Ambedkar noted in his work ‘The Buddha or Karl Marx’, “[n]othing is infallible. Nothing is binding forever. Everything is subject to inquiry and examination” (Ambedkar 1987: 442). Science teaches us that everything should be subjected to inquiry and examination. As a science researcher in Indian academia, it is my moral responsibility to create rational and logical thinking within my circle of influence and society at large through discussions on scientific facts. Science has a greater role in democratising the society by spreading scientific reasoning.
Gender discrimination has some link with false interpretations of natural and biological processes. In India, during menstruation, girls and women are often not allowed to enter the temple, kitchen, and the worship room. The recent incidence of girl students being checked for menstruation in a college in Gujarat, is just one example of this kind of discrimination. Moreover, menstruating women are treated as untouchables within their own family and surroundings. They are not allowed to touch sour food like pickles. I have many personal experiences in this regard — I was not allowed to participate in religious festivals in my own home during menstruation, which used to cause mental disturbance and anxiety. The principal basis for such patriarchal restrictions on women is cultural and religious beliefs of impurity associated with menstruation. Scientific research on menstruation does not endorse such patriarchal perspectives on menstruating women. Such malevolent social practices are against Articles 15 and 17 of the Indian constitution too. Thus, as scientists, we have a moral responsibility to fight patriarchal values.
Scientific community also has a great responsibility to eradicate caste discriminations through spreading scientific temper. Unfortunately, the Indian scientific community is highly Brahminical and patriarchal in its cultural moorings, a factor that has tremendous impact on the undemocratic and non-inclusive practices within the Indian academia. As a Dalit woman researcher in science belonging to a rural lower-middle class family, I feel that this culture should change, so that more talented students can join and excel in Indian science. All India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE) for 2017–18 released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) suggests that more than half of the faculty members in the country’s higher educational institutions are from the general category, with the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) being the least represented; 56.8 per cent of teaching staff are from the general category, 32.3 per cent are OBCs, 8.6 per cent are SCs, while STs are a mere 2.27 per cent (AISHE 2017-18, section 2.4, p-20). The lack of diversity and representation, particularly of SCs, STs and OBCs is reflected even in the public funded institutions. Since the academic world is dominated by the upper castes, they have greater moral responsibilities towards their profession, student community and society to creatively intervene and change the Science & Technology system (also, academics in general) to be more open and inclusive. Unfortunately, this is not happening. Power is directly related to knowledge and circulated through the academic institutions. SCs and STs are not getting opportunities to reach higher positions in higher educational institutions due to their weak economic and social status, and hence they are not getting ample chance to intervene and change the savarna culture of Indian academia.
As academicians, can we collectively respond to these challenges the country faces?
Ambedkar, B. R. (1987). “Buddha or Karl Marx”. In B.R. Ambedkar, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches(pp. 441–462). New Delhi: Dr. Ambedkar Foundation.
Phule, J. G. (1991). Slavery. Bombay: The Education Department of Maharashtra.
http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/viewDocument.action;jsessionid=B9DD19AD31E7C7A4DA475077BE084437?documentId=245 accessed on January 27, 2020.
Tejal Barkhade is a PhD Research Scholar at the School of Nano Sciences, Central University of Gujarat