Onto more people.
The scary-looking person in the photo is Dr. Deepak Malghan, who is currently writing an intellectual biography of J. C. Kumarappa, and was another speaker in the workshop. He isn’t as scary in real life, though his English is. Deepak’s specialty is giving a clear picture of things from a theoretical context, and he does it very well.
The talk was called ‘Science, State, Market, Society and Ecology’ or something like that. His focus was on two main things: what science and technology in India is doing, and problems of linked to a poor definition of progress and development. The first part was more interesting, will elaborate.
Modern India can be said to stand on three pillars: State, Market and Society. The problem with science and technology in India seems to be that their main focus is either the State or the Market. The State angle is pretty clear: our former President has published only two scientific papers in his entire career, and the people praise him as a scientist. This is due to his being the head of DRDO, trying to make India self sufficient in methods to kill people (a deterrent, of course). One way progress is measured is by the amount of advanced weaponry a country has, which is directly a State interest.
The market angle is even more apparent: our best minds working to solve problems which will make sharper videos, clearer sound, ubiquitous connectivity, long lasting mobile phones etc., etc., Most of these are things are bought and sold in Western countries, and many proudly admit that their product ‘will touch the Indian market in only another 3-4 years’. A market trend may be indicative of people’s choice, but the crucial point is that it is the people’s choice weighed by the amount of money they have. Thus, more people work on making mobile phones into computers than making computers into catalysts for development. You will find almost 24-hour electricity in Bangalore where the big people have generators anyways than in a village during crucial examination times simply because Bangalore pays more rupees per kilowatt.
This is the centenary year of IISc and apparently there was a committee that was setup to research the Institute’s history and find the technologies that it had delivered to the Indian people. The result: zero (or very close to it). Being a publicly funded institution, this is not only shameful, but immoral. Deepak went to state that US universities are accountable to the societies that they are in, and actually solve problems faced in the society, unlike our boys in the IISc or IITs (less the mention of IIMs, the better). No audited reports of IISc are ever published, (unlike say, UC Berkeley) and insiders know what a farce auditing is. Now, if the premier institutions funded by taxpayer’s money cannot help solve problems that we face, then who are they accountable to ?
An extempore in the evening was by Prakash, an activist from Dakshina Kannada who happened to drop by. He looked at the issue from the lowest empirical view, saying that he was unable to see how the present trends of development can be stopped or even wether they should be stopped. His view that media is generating desires in a phenomenally large amount of people which aggregatively generate a tremendous force pushing development. Castes, Classes and Genders who were suppressed have suddenly found liberalization to work in their advantage. His question was: Once you give freedom to a people, how can you tell them not to do things ? How can you tell a girl kept down by athoritative parents not to elope ? How can you tell a Dalit boy not to wear fake Adidas and Ray-Bans ? How can you tell farmers not to buy fridges, bikes and other things they see on TV ? To Prakash, all critiques of development which do not take into consideration such issues are of little relevance.
I countered this thesis by raising the question of duties. All the points that he had raised were about rights, duties never figured even once anywhere. Forget about duties, what about consequences ? DDT may kill malaria bearing mosquitoes, but does a farmer know what it does to his environment and eventually to himself ? Would a person who has such knowledge use DDT ? As I have always maintained, India started on the development path without ever providing its citizens with the cultural skills to benefit most. As a result, most have suffered at the hands of a few. However one may criticize the development paradigm that the West put forth, it is a fact that the average life expectancy, income, social security there is far superior to anything here. The West had an advantage of a smaller population. If to reach similar Quality of Life as in the West we have to consume as much as they do, we will need a few more earths. Prakash’s views showed how dangerous it can be if one does not stop and look at the bigger picture once in a while.
This is the place where we stayed, and we got to see quite a few beautiful birds, including the rare to sight and beautiful Scarlet Minivet , Paradise Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher among others. Nice place to sit and reflect, and has been quite and experience.