“The petition addressed to Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh to retract his statement that the theory of evolution was ‘scientifically wrong’ was signed by nearly 5,000 scientists. But even if nobody had signed it and if I was targeted, there is no dearth of jobs,” says Dr. Aniket Sule, who drafted the letter and posted it online.
The rare act of the scientific community in India standing up to politicians to protect the interests of science has ended on a positive note. At least for now, the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh’s efforts to remove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from school and college curricula has been stalled. The ruling party at the centre has been facing the heat after Mr. Singh said that the theory of evolution was “scientifically wrong”.
In a damage control exercise Prakash Javadekar Union Minister of Human Resource Development told PTI: “I have discussed the matter with my MoS and I have asked him to refrain from making such comments. We should not dilute science. This is the advice I have given him. We are not going to fund any event or don’t have any plan for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong. It is the domain of scientists and we should let them free to continue their efforts for progress of the country.”
The hasty retreat by the ruling party came after Mr. Singh’s statement was widely condemned by scientists across the country and the three Science Academies. A petition addressed to Mr. Singh to retract the statement was signed by over 5,000 scientists and students from India and outside.
“I am happy with the outcome. I was planning to send the letter to Mr. Singh tomorrow,” says Dr. Aniket Sule from the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai who drafted the letter. On an individual basis a few scientists at TIFR have been airing concerns whenever unscientific statements were made in the last few years.
“The theory of evolution is so fundamental to science, just like the theory of gravity. So when I heard the news of Satyapal Singh saying that the theory of evolution was scientifically wrong, I felt something should be done about it,” recalls Dr. Sule. “So I drafted the letter and circulated it among 15-odd scientists at TIFR before posting it online.”
At a time when many individuals, including journalists, have been facing the ire of the party supporters and fringe groups, was Dr. Sule not scared of the repercussions, especially when science funding comes primarily or solely from the government? “I am in an institute where scientists share the same thinking. There is a special kind of autonomy at TIFR. I am pretty confident that TIFR management will not target me. They would in fact support me,” Dr. Sule says.
“The letter was signed by over 5,000 scientists. But even if nobody had signed it and if I was targeted, there is no dearth of jobs,” he says with confidence. No, Dr. Sule’s confidence is not because he is at the fag end of his career and has nothing much to lose. He is all of 38 years and has been working at TIFR since 2006.
“Time has come for scientists to say ‘enough is enough’. Last decade, it was turn of Dr. P.M. Bhargava, Prof. Yash Pal and Prof. Jayant Narlikar to lead the charge. Now, sadly two of them are not amongst us and Prof. Narlikar has reduced his public engagements. This is the time for scientific stalwarts of next generation to step in their shoes and make voice of scientists heard. If they cannot do that, they are failing not just fellow scientists but the progress of science itself,” Dr. Sule said while speaking at a book release function organised at IIT Bombay in December last year.
Dr. Sule is no stalwart but has stood up when it mattered the most. And the scientific community has tasted its first significant success in recent times. But it has won only a battle, the war is still on.