The seeds of scientific temper in Indian Constitution

For the first time in its 175-year-old history of publication, Scientific American, one of USA’s leading popular science magazines  openly endorsed a candidate during the campaign for the US presidential election The magazine explained in a statement that the rejection of  evidence based science by Donald Trump, the current president of U.S while preparing policies on health and environment led them to this taking this stand . The lack of science-backed policies had proven particularly disastrous during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and have resulted in large number of people dying from Covid-19 infections in the U.S. The unprecedented  political stand  by the Scientific American emphasized how  public policies based on scientific facts could save lives and make people’s lives better.

A similar thought could be found in our Indian constitution, embedded in the part that talks about fundamental duties of every Indian citizen.

“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”.

Although this statement was added to the constitution as a part of the 42nd amendment in 1976, the idea of scientific temper has its roots in Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, a book published almost 30 years earlier.In this book, Nehru refers to scientific temper as “the temper of a free man.” He viewed science as the way to solve the numerous economic, political and social problems that India faced after its birth as an independent nation. But according to him, the use of science and technological advancements  towards the development of a nation would not be enough, there was also a need for the citizens of this country and not just the practising scientists, to develop a “scientific temper’,’ that is a rational, critical and  scientific bent of mind.

The word scientific temper had been used in different contexts by European writers before Nehru but he is credited with the current definition of the term. His definition of scientific temper was based on ancient Indian texts like the Buddhist Kalama Suta that asks a student to question,look for evidence and not merely believe something because the teacher said so. Nehru was also inspired by  the social reforms led by Rammohun Roy and  the writings of Prafulla Chandra Roy, often considered to be the founder of modern Indian chemistry, who advocated for growth of scientific spirit,ability to reason among indian students. The Indian parliament adopted the Science Policy Resolution in 1958 that viewed science and technology as a tool to fulfill the country’s  various requirements and also to bring about socioeconomic change.

Our political leaders and policy makers have often behaved in the same way as us. They have often preached about the importance of scientific temper , rational thinking  but  actually relied on astrology or superstitious beliefs. Separating science from its social consequences,many have  lauded Mangalyaan but turned a blind eye to the inequalities that persist in our society based on caste, gender, religion.They have often confused a country’s scientific and technological advancements with  the successful propagating of a scientific temperament among citizens.  Just as we  have confused the idea of reading science in schools and colleges, being a professional or a research scientist in the field of science and technology with the idea of inculcating a scientific temper in the way we think. Having a scientific temper in this day and age would cause us to fact-check the information we receive on social media and look for sources that backup their claims with evidence. Having a scientific temper would allow us to separate evidence- based historical happenings from mythology, it would also prevent us from passing off mythological characters as proof of the scientific achievements of our ancestors. A scientific temper  within us,  would challenge false and grandiose notions about our  ancient past that are not backed up by facts or evidence and instead, focus on creating a future that is defined by well researched, scientific-evidence based public policies.