By Rajan Suri
With a long history of highs and lows in science in India, the country is beginning to join the leaders of science in the world. Gaining orders to launch 68 foreign satellites with the ambition of gaining further for many hundreds in the future, puts India among the leaders. But India is still lagging in original ideas. It is an area that the Government and leadings scientists should pay attention to.
Unlike many other civilisations in the world, India’s civilisation has never been inimical to science. The Vedas have scientific concepts such as the earth going around the sun. Numbers were known to Indians long before anywhere else. Pythagoras triples were known at least as long as 8th century BC. The Vedanga Jyotisa is a great book of early astronomy.
Kautalya’s Arthashastra mentions bridges, dams and road works among other great projects. Earlier works include texts in metallurgy and architecture. The Sushruta Samhita, the earliest book of systematic science of medicine goes as back as 6th century BC. There are endless examples of Indian civilisation once being a leader in science, medicine and mathematics. It will take books to list some of the great developments of early Indian science and its place in the evolution of science in the world.
Unlike Christian Europe and Islamic Middle East, science has never faced ridicule let alone censor in Indian dharmic traditions. It has coexisted and even integrated well in the dharmic tradition.
But somewhere along history, the people of South Asia lost the instinct for science and the ability to be original. It is common to blame this on colonial rule and to some extent Islamic rule. But that cannot be the entire story. It is true that Indian centres of learning were not only subdued but even driven to extinction during colonial rule. Colonialism tried to claim all scientific knowledge as the gift of European civilisation. Most colonising Empires try and do that.
But today, there are no such constraints. Indians have proven themselves very capable to being great scientists. They become even greater scientists in leading western institutions of science. But in India, there is still that gaping hole of originality. Once India was creating the ideas of science. Now it lags behind.
It is not enough to blame India being only 70 years old. It is also not enough to blame lack of facilities. Both are lame excuses now. India is not 70 year old. It is thousands of years old. It was merely ruled at times by non Indians. And as for facilities, the country is rich enough to create the facilities. In fact there are plenty of advanced scientific and medical research facilities in India.
The reason lies elsewhere. The question to ask is why were Indians so fertile in imagination and originality 2000 and 3000 years ago but now. There is no cultural or religious antagonism to science in Indian traditions. So what has gone wrong.
The contract for launching of 68 foreign satellites shows tremendous conviction in Indian science around the world. Even countries as advanced as USA and UK are among those that have placed launch contracts and development contracts with Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian space agency.
In the last 15 years Antrix has launched 74 foreign satellites. These have included Belgium, Canada, France, Germany and even Israel. They have used India’s advanced Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSV). It is hoping to launch some 2500 satellites in the next decade for countries and private companies. This will include nano satellites and satellites for surveillance and navigation.
Even in the nuclear technology, India is the leader in thorium based research in nuclear energy production. It can export nuclear power reactors.
Indian science is now advanced in every field of science. But India is still not the a trail blazer or originator of ideas. This is an area that the Government needs to put resources in. China on the other hand has invested large resources in science and is leading the world in some areas of science now. India can leave China and even USA behind. History is evidence of the great achievements of Indian science.