March against sham science
New Delhi: The need for a walking stick didn't hold back Krishna Sengupta, 74, from joining scientists, fellow academics and students as they marched along Delhi's streets on Saturday in protest against what they view as the government's anti-science policies.
Sengupta, former professor of physics at Miranda House, a Delhi college, was participating in the "March for Science", held in many places in India in tandem with similar events across the world.
The All India People's Science Network and the Breakthrough Science Society, two NGOs coordinating the campaign in India, said over 3,000 people joined the march in Calcutta.
"This walk is important, especially to prevent our society from sinking into dark days," said Sengupta. The scientific temper is important not just to improve the economy, she said, but to improve society as well.
The march organisers have drafted a petition that calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop the propagation of unscientific and obscurantist ideas and ensure India's education system does not impart beliefs contrary to scientific evidence.
"Unscientific ideas and superstitious beliefs are being propagated with accelerated pace," the petition reads. "Ridiculous claims are being made about an imaginary glorious past ignoring the true contributions based on historical evidence.'
Junior human resource development minister Satya Pal Singh had earlier this year claimed that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was wrong, because no one had seen a monkey enter a forest to re-emerge as a human.
Science minister Harsh Vardhan had last month claimed that physicist Stephen Hawking had said the Vedas might have a theory superior to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
"What is even more worrying is how our scientific agencies are being influenced into pursuing pseudo-science," said D. Raghunandan, who is associated with the All India People's Science Network.
The Centre has approved funds for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to probe the healing properties of Ganga water. Last year, the department of science and technology established a "steering committee" to guide research to assess the virtues of the panchgavya, a concoction of cow dung, urine, milk, curd, ghee, water and other ingredients.
The call for the march had come from scientists from many academic and government institutions, including the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai; the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Calcutta.
"We have reports of marches in around 40 cities across India, including Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai, Lucknow, Patna, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati," said Chanchal Ghosh, a coordinator with the Breakthrough Science Society.
The campaign has urged the government to increase its budgets for science and education.
The global organisers of the march for science have described this year's event as a second show of unity by science supporters "to hold elected and appointed officials responsible for enacting equitable evidence-based policies that serve all communities and science for the common good".
Scientists were expected to turn up for the marches in multiple cities in all continents.