The prototypical Indian science institution looks drab and is dingy, with sanitary facilities that rival those in our railway stations. Small wonder then that its inhabitants typically see themselves as disempowered and undeserving. Diversity of research or personality is often frowned upon, those who don't match stereotypes or work on subjects that have been hammered to death are labelled 'too independent'. In the still predominantly male corridors of science departments, one can still hear statements like "It's no good hiring girls, all they do is prepare to get married" or, "Of course no one listens to a woman's seminar - all she needs is to look good".
Hierarchy is alive and well in science institutes, and sycophancy acts as a good lubricant in career advancement. It is rare to find research teams where juniors can freely contradict their seniors in ways that are essential to the scientific temper; dissent is, after all, the beginning of discovery. This leads to individual, rather than collective, successes by Indian scientists, and a consequent lack of real impact on global platforms.
Another paradox concerns international contacts: on the one hand, independent foreign collaborations are often frowned upon, and those who are part of such projects are accused of "seeking out white skin", and are occasionally denied leave and funding by envious science managers. On the other hand - and not surprisingly - the latter often preside over scientific call centres, where armies of students and postdocs do the number-crunching for international projects, without having the least idea of their overall scientific design. Little wonder, then, that apolitical, productive and independent scientists feel powerless and invisible in such a system.
Thanks to my colleague Anant for the e-mail pointer.