Only modern science can solve the many problems that India's masses face.
When we discuss science, we must ask what its purpose is. The answer, to my mind, is: to make our lives better and happier. Science is that knowledge by which we understand nature and harness it for our benefit.
Some people may oppose this view, saying that the atom bomb destroys lives, and that science has created weapons of destruction. Scientific knowledge can be misused, but also used to benefit mankind. But without science we will be living precarious, wretched lives.
An objection could also be raised that it is only the applied sciences (technology) that benefit people, not the fundamental sciences. It is true that a scientist doing fundamental research does not care whether his discoveries are of any utility or not. Newton and Einstein did not bother whether their discoveries would benefit mankind. However, these benefit mankind in the long run.
Today India faces huge problems; only science can solve them. Some 80 per cent of its people live in poverty, with unemployment, sky-rocketing prices, problems of healthcare, education and housing, and so on. Forty-eight farmers commit suicide on an average each day. And 47 per cent of the children are malnourished. Our national aim must be to abolish these evils and make India prosperous for all.
To address the problems, I present Four People's Principles (following Sun Yat Sen's Three People's Principles). These should be our guiding principles: Science, Democracy, Livelihood, and Unity of the People.
When India was on the scientific path, it prospered. With the aid of science we built mighty civilisations thousands of years ago when most people in Europe (except in Greece and Rome) lived in the forests. We made outstanding scientific discoveries. However, we subsequently took to the unscientific path of superstition and ritual. The way out is to go back to the scientific path shown by our ancestors — Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, Sushruta and Charaka, Ramanujan and C.V. Raman.
Here are three examples of Indian scientific achievements in ancient times.
1. The decimal system was perhaps the most revolutionary and greatest scientific achievement in the ancient world. The Europeans called the numbers in the decimal system Arabic numerals, but surprisingly the Arabs called them Hindu numerals. Were they Arabic or Hindu? The languages Urdu, Persian and Arabic are written from right to left, but if you ask any speaker of these languages to write a number, he will write it left to right. This shows the numbers were taken from a language that was written left to right. It is accepted now that these numbers came from India, and were copied by the Arabs.
The decimal system has revolutionary significance. Ancient Rome was a great civilisation, but its people were uncomfortable with numbers above 1000. They wrote their numbers in alphabets, I standing for 1, V for 5, X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, D for 500 and M for 1000. There was no alphabet expressing a number higher than 1000. If one would have asked an ancient Roman to write the number one million, he would have gone crazy: to write one million he would have to write the letter M, which stands for millennium (or one thousand), one thousand times. On the other hand, under our system, to express one million we have just to write the number one followed by six zeroes. We could thus express astronomically high numbers by adding zeroes. In the Roman numerals there is no zero. Zero was ancient India's invention.
2. Five thousand years ago in the Indus Valley civilisation was created the system of town planning, with covered drains and the sewage system.
3. Plastic surgery was invented in India in the 6th century B.C.; Westerners discovered it about 200 years ago.
I am not going into our other great scientific achievements (for details, see ‘Sanskrit as a Language of Science' at the website, www. kgfindia.com).
However, today we are far behind the Western countries in science; that is the real cause of our poverty and other social evils. We must spread science — not physics, chemistry and biology alone: it is the entire scientific outlook. We must spread rational and logical thinking among our masses and make them give up backwardness and superstition. The mindset steeped in casteism, communalism and superstition must change. Science is not the natural sciences alone, but also the social sciences. A worldwide recession is on. This can only be solved by knowledge of economic theory, not of natural sciences or engineering.
The second principle is Democracy. When King Ajatashatru of Magadha was planning to attack the Vajjian democracy, he sent a messenger to the Buddha for advice. Instead of speaking to this messenger, the Buddha told one of his disciples: “Have you heard, Anand, that the Vajjians foregather often and frequent the public meetings of their clan? So long, Anand, as the Vajjians so foregather and so frequent the public meetings of their clan, so long they may be expected not to decline but to prosper.
Similarly, Avadan Shatak, a Buddhist Sanskrit text of the second century A.D., mentions that a group of merchants went from North India to the Deccan and were asked by the Deccan King, who was the king who ruled over North India. The merchants replied: Deva, kechit deshah ganadheena, kechit rajaadheena, iti, which means “Your Majesty, some regions are under democratic rule, while others are under kings.” So, democracy is nothing new to India.
The method of shastrarthas was developed in ancient India, which permitted free discussion in the presence of a large assembly. This resulted in growth in philosophy, law, grammar and so on, and also in science, including medicine, mathematics and astronomy.
Some people say democracy is not good for India. I disagree. The problem in India is not that there is too much democracy but too little. We need more democracy, not less, and that means educating the masses, raising their cultural level, and involving them actively in national reconstruction.
Democracy and science go hand in hand. Scientific growth requires certain supportive values, namely, the freedom to think, criticise, and dissent, tolerance, plurality, and free flow of information. These are the values of a democratic society.
The third principle is livelihood for the masses. Today, 80 per cent of Indians are poor, and there is massive unemployment, lack of healthcare, housing and good education. In the recent period, the rich have become richer, and the rich-poor divide has increased. Economic growth has benefited only a handful.
The French thinker, Rousseau, wrote: “It is obviously contrary to the law of nature for a handful of people to gorge themselves on superfluities while the starving multitudes lack the necessities of life.” (Discourse on the Origins of Inequality)
Using our creativity we must find ways to raise the standard of living of the masses. Ultimately, that is what matters. Let the system we adopt be called capitalism or socialism or communism, the real test is whether the standard of living of the masses is going up or not. Surely, a system in which a quarter million farmers have committed suicide in the last 15 years and vast masses live in poverty is unacceptable.
Before the Industrial Revolution, which began in Western Europe in the 18th century, there was feudalism everywhere. In the feudal system the methods of production were primitive and very little wealth was generated, and only a handful of people could be rich. In contrast, modern industry is powerful and big, and enough wealth can be generated to meet everybody's basic needs. Nobody needs to be poor. It is the state's duty to ensure that.
Unity of the people
India has great diversity, with a number of castes, languages, religions and ethnic groups, as it is broadly a country of immigrants (see the article, ‘Kalidas Ghalib Academy for Mutual Understanding,' and the video, ‘What is India,' at www. kgfindia.com). So the only policy that will work here is secularism, giving equal respect to all communities. This was the policy of Emperor Akbar, who was really the architect of modern India. This policy was continued by Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues who created our secular Constitution.
In 1947, religious passions were inflamed; Pakistan had declared itself an Islamic state. There must have been tremendous pressure on Nehru and his colleagues to declare India a Hindu state. It is not easy to keep a cool head when passions are inflamed, but our leaders said India would not be a Hindu state but a secular one. It is for this reason that there is more stability in India than in the neighbouring country.
Powerful vested interests are trying to destroy the unity and make us fight one another on the basis of religion, caste, region, language, and so on. It is the duty of all patriotic people to expose these designs and maintain the unity of the people; without that we cannot progress.
(Justice Markandey Katju is Chairman of the Press Council of India. This is an edited version of the address he delivered on January 11 at an international conference organised by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, on ‘Science Communication for Scientific Temper,' in New Delhi)