Our Hindu Fundamentalist Party (HFP) has launched a shrill campaign to prevent the dredging of a geological feature -- called Adam's bridge -- in the thin stretch of the Indian ocean between India and Sri Lanka because it 'believes' that this feature is the same as the bridge built by the Ram's army in the mythological epic Ramayana . HFP's campaign is going on in spite of a perfectly natural explanation for the formation of this feature.
Both Krish and Sujai, who have been following this ugly campaign quite extensively, have also raised this question: Why has India's scientific and academic community not risen up in protest against HFP's crass attempt to whip up religions passions and to establish the primacy of faith over science.
Now, among the desi bloggers I read, at least one has expressed her dismay and disgust at HFP's campaign; another poured scorn and ridicule on it in a 'research publication'. While I have not been following this debate in our media much, I presume that some scientists have also voiced their opinion -- favouring science, I hope! -- on this issue in TV debates, etc.
But these are isolated voices. What about the voice of the scientific community as a whole? By this I mean our science academies -- of which we have three! Wouln't if be nice if they come forward with their opinion on Adam's bridge? Wouldn't it be nice if they explain what science has to say about its formation? Wouldn't it be nice if they also offer a strong argument for a scientific outlook to life in general and natural phenomena in particular? Wouldn't it be nice if they lend their collective support to ASI and its scientists? Wouldn't it be nice if they take a united stand for science and against superstition?
All that would be nice, but don't hold your breath. It is extremely unlikely to happen. The science academies' past silence on issues impacting on science has been spectacularly eloquent.
Consider the following excerpt from The Saga of Indian Science since Independence by Pushpa Bhargava (founder director of CCMB, Hyderabad, and a former member of the National Knowledge Commission) and Chandana Chakrabarti (see also footnote ):
... Rarely have scientists occupying important positions, even in autonomous organizations such as our numerous universities and institutions of higher learning, taken a firm and consistent stand against superstition and irrational belief. The same would be true of the country's socially and intellectually sterile science academies none of which have, for example, formally and officially objected to the proposal of the Universities Grants Commission ... to introduce and fund liberally graduate and postgraduate courses in Vedic astrology in our universities from the 2001-02 academic year [p. 107]
Given this kind of deep reluctance to stand up to political masters and fundamentalist thugs, it is extremely unlikely that our academies will bat for science in the current debate about Adam's bridge. All we have got -- and all we will get -- are just isolated voices. And we should be happy with what we get.
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 I have no opinion about the commercial benefits of the Sethusamudram project that requires the dredging up of the Adam's bridge. This post is essentially about the faith-based claims about the origin of this bridge.
 It's not just on science vs. superstition that Indian scientists have been reluctant to take a stand. This realm also includes policies where scientific inputs are essential. For example, sometime ago, Nature did a profile of Sunita Narain and her organization, the Centre for Science and Environment. Accompanying this profile was an editorial which pointed out the reluctant of Indian scientists (not just the science academies, but individuals) to get involved in policy debates:
... Indian scientists who resent either the CSE's positions or its influence do themselves no favours by carping about either the activities of the Delhi think-tank, or about the media outlets that lap up its output. They should instead look at themselves, and ask if their public influence is commensurate with their own expertise, and with the ever-expanding scope and scale of scientific and environmental policy debates in India.
According to CSE director Sunita Narain, and many journalists, India's scientists too often remain old-fashionedly aloof from the discussions that accompany policymaking. Seeking status and advancement chiefly among their peers, and suspicious of the media's tendency to simplify and exaggerate, scientists who could assist the messy democratic process are inclined, instead, to look down on it. This approach by scientists to science policy is, of course, a global phenomenon. But it is particularly pervasive in India — and particularly inappropriate, given India's vast and pressing need for more public, more thorough, more detailed policy preparation, in areas such as environmental regulation.