200 scientists sign an appeal to ‘vote against inequality, intimidation, discrimination’

Voting

For the first time, a large number (199) of scientists, both senior and young, have signed an appeal to vote against hate politics. The appeal calls for people to vote so as to “reject those who lynch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region. Again, we must reject those who encourage such practices.”

At last count, 199 scientists from across India have signed an appeal asking all Indian citizens to “remember our constitutional commitment to scientific temper” and “to vote against inequality, intimidation, discrimination, and unreason [as] these are inimical to the values of our Constitution,” and “to vote wisely, weighing arguments and evidence critically ” in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls beginning on April 11.

The appeal has been signed by both young and senior, well respected researchers and scientists including Amitabh Joshi, Gagandeep Kang, Naresh Dadhich, Subhash Lakhotia and Satyajit Mayor. It has been drafted by a small group including Prof. Satyajit Rath, Adjunct Faculty at Pune’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER).

This is the first time that scientists have ever drafted and signed an appeal calling for people to vote to “reject those who lynch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region. Again, we must reject those who encourage such practices.”

It says an “atmosphere in which scientists, activists and rationalists are hounded, harassed, intimidated, censored, jailed, or worse, murdered, is not the future our country deserves. It is not the future we want to give our youth”. It adds: “we cannot endorse a politics that divides us, creates fears, and marginalises a large fraction of our society — women, dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, the persons with disabilities or the poor”.

To a question about how nearly 200 scientists have signed this appeal, Prof. Rath tells me: “This is a logical follow-up movement of unusual interventions that the scientific community has been making in the last few years. We had the March for Science in 2017 and 2018, and for the first time three science academies issued a statement in January 2018 denouncing Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh’s statement on human evolution. So this appeal is a step further by the scientific community and one should not be surprised.”

“We are not against any particular party but against sectarian politics and irrationality. The appeal is not about voting for or against any party but to think about issues of evidence-based policy and scientific temper,” Prof. Rath says.

“The appeal is in defence of the constitutional values. If any government begins to take punitive action against scientists for promoting constitutional principles and values that would be sad. I don’t think any government will do that,” Prof. Rath adds. “Many young scientists enthusiastically and spontaneously wanted to sign the appeal despite the perception of prevailing situation,” he says. “It says something very positive about Indian scientific community and how widespread the worry and concern is.”

Prof. Rath goes on to say: “Higher education and research have become more and more commercialised and there is less and less evidence-based public discourse.”

About the compulsion for CSIR labs to raise funding from other sources, Prof. Rath says: “This government thinks scientific research which is useful to society in terms of economic impact alone. What it has done is that it has removed the empowering value of science on society. It negates the idea of scientific temper as a valuable commitment.”

Prof. Amitabh Joshi from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) says: “It is an appeal to be thoughtful and rational about whom one votes for. I don’t see it as a political letter in the narrow sense. It is not an endorsement of a party.”

Considering that almost all research funding comes from the government, the willingness to sign the appeal is by itself a strong statement. “I don’t get funding from the government but I work closely with the government on certain programmes. Yet, it needed to be signed,” a senior scientist tells me.

Published in The Hindu on April 4, 2019

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