Dr. J. K. Bajaj

Work on the Scientific Tradition of India: The PPST Effort (1981-89)

While working as intensely active researchers in elementary particle physics during 1978-81 and thus having the opportunity to watch the modern scientific community of India from within, we were struck by the inability of even the most brilliant of the Indian scientists to make really significant contributions to their chosen field of study; it seemed that however bright and hard-working the Indian scientists might be, leadership in every field of scientific endeavor remained outside our grasp; it in fact seemed that we the Indian scientists were merely tolerated as minor, and often dispensable, participants in a grand exercise that ran according to the designs and direction of others; we, even the best of us, did not really belong to the core of the tradition in any field of modern science.

With this understanding of the situation of modern science in India, we began an effort to understand the earlier tradition of science and technology in India and to investigate the possibility of connecting the Indian scientific activity of today with the earlier tradition. This led to the foundation, along with colleagues in science and engineering, of the Patriotic and People-oriented Science and Technology (PPST) Group and the PPST Bulletin at Chennai.

The PPST Group and the PPST Bulletin became a forum for a respectful understanding of the Indian tradition of science and technology, especially in medicine, agriculture, mathematics, astronomy and linguistics; for an in-depth analysis of our current science and technology efforts in various fields; and, for looking at the possibilities of relating our current efforts with our earlier tradition so that we may evolve a new scientific and technological tradition that is patriotic in the sense of being rooted in the Indian tradition, and people-oriented in the sense of being responsive to the immediate needs and requirements of India.

To acquire a systematic understanding of the essential differences in the Indian and the Western traditions of science and technology, undertook courses in the philosophy and sociology of science at the Department of Humanities of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; and also undertook a project, as Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, on the Development of a non-Western Perspective on Science and Technology.

One component of the project involved an effort to understand the essentials of the Western approach to science based on a study of one of the earliest ideologues of modern science, Francis Bacon. This work has appeared in the PPST Bulletin and also as a long essay in Science Hegemony and Violence, ed. Ashis Nandi, OUP, Delhi (1987).

The other component of the project was to evolve an understanding of the specifics of the Indian approach to science and technology. A preliminary formulation, based on a study of the classical Indian scientific effort in various fields, and especially in medicine, was presented through various article in the PPST Bulletin; a summary of this understanding appears as an article on Science and Technology up to 1800 in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Srilanka, ed. F. Robinson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge(1989). An authentic and comprehensive analysis of the Indian approach to science and technology, however, requires much study by Indian scholars, and remains to be accomplished.

One of the important aspects of the PPST effort was to study the impact of technological modernization in different sectors of economy. It seemed that such modernization, while it extensively re-allocated and re-organized productive resources, did not generally add to the total availability of goods, resources or skills in the country. A careful analysis of the then emerging green-revolution from this perspective showed that though the green-revolution did increase the market availability of food, it did not really add to the rate of growth of food- production in the country, and consequently, it had little impact on per-capita availability of food. The analysis, in fact, indicated that the rate of growth in food-production had actually declined in the decades following the green-revolution as compared to the previous two decades. These conclusions are now an established fact, but it escaped the notice of most in early eighties, in the first flush of the so-called success of the green-revolution. The article carrying this analysis was published as Green Revolution: A Historical Perspective, PPST Bulletin, 2 no. 2 (1982). This article has become a classic in the field, and has been quoted by most critics of green revolution, and has been reproduced in various books on the subject.

Around the same time, a similar analysis of the impact of modernization in fuel resources and in food systems was carried out with colleagues in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Similarly, a detailed analysis of the modernization of milk and oilseeds economy, especially in the context of the operation flood, was also undertaken. This latter analysis happens to be one of the first in-depth analyses of our policies concerning milk and oilseeds, and in general, concerning cattle in India. These various analyses appeared in a series of articles in the PPST Bulletin; many of these have been reproduced elsewhere.

Our understanding of the non-Western perspective on science and of the impact of modernization on economies was presented in various conferences; including the conference on the Crisis of Modern Science in Penang (1986) and the meeting on Alternative Paradigms in Colombo (1988).