9 From Contract to Trusteeship: a New Role for Science
Nation states today, irrespective of their political systems, see science and technology as important vehicles for the development of a country. Increasingly, however, citizens have raised voices questioning claims made by science and are suspicious of some of the scientists’ work. In India, environmental minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010 was led by public consultations to declare a moratorium on Bt Brinjal that he argued was ‘both responsive to science and responsible to society’. In Germany the opposition against nuclear power reached a new high around the same time and in 2009 in The Netherlands a vaccination campaign against cervical cancer became a failure when the majority of 12-16 year old girls, for whom the campaign was designed, refused vaccination against the almost unanimous advice by scientists. Citizens today, the world over, are increasingly arguing for newer forms of public engagement of science that go beyond its current public understanding. The social contract between science and society as it has existed since the times of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s (1767-1835) autonomous university for the Bildung of citizens or Vannevar Bush’s pure science that could be trusted to deliver the goods is increasingly being seen as inadequate (Science: the endless frontier, Report to US President, 1945).
Science policies in India in the past, irrespective of the government in power, have predominantly seen the contract of science with society as the remit of the experts, and a domain where it was up to the ‘scientific elites’ to vision the future of science and technology for India’s development. These elite groups are narrowly constituted, and are not even representative of the large scientific manpower that India has. The only experiment with a participatory process of informing science and technology planning involving over 2000 scientists, the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) Plan as part of India’s Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79) was short-lived. Internationally today India seeks to promote itself as the ‘world’s fastest growing democracy’ at events such as the Davos economic summit of 2006. The Manifesto questions the tenuous link between knowledge and democracy in India. If science was widely debated during the freedom movement, the absence of democratic discussions on science and technology post-independence is an aberration that needs to be re-examined.
This Manifesto proposes to rethink science’s contract with Indian society by arguing that India can draw upon its rich and diverse traditions of understanding the relation between science and society, both from within and outside the scientific establishment. This, the Manifesto suggests, requires openness to critiques of science by scientists, social scientists, citizens, activists, and industrialists—not to demonize science and technology, but to inform future scientific and democratic practices. This is examined at two levels. First by considering the contribution of social movements to the debates on knowledge, and second by exploring the often unspoken, but nevertheless important, relations between science, violence and inequity.
Science and social movements in India
Science and technology have seen several debates during the Indian national movement. Gandhi, Tagore, Ananda Coomaraswamy, P C Ray, Meghnad Saha and Jawaharlal Nehru all contributed to the rich discussions on both the nature and content of science, technology and development. Ever since the rise of the nation-state in India, society has been dominated by state, bureaucracy and partisan unions. There were a whole set of issues that never got articulated and innumerable voices of protest which were ignored or never heard.
The science-society contract was one where the nation state was committed to science, security and (technological and economic models of linear and western) development. The struggles of Telengana, Naxalbari, and the North-East of the late 1960s and early 1970s and even the peaceful efforts of Bhoodan in the first few decades after independence reflected what was deeply wrong with the body politic. India had created more refugees from development than from all the wars it fought. By the 1980s, there were one million troops of paramilitary control for the maintenance of internal order.
History has not recorded all movements that sprang up in India in the 1970’s and 1980’s offering alternatives to mainstream politics, science, technology and development. One can immediately recollect, however, the forest and ecological movements of Chipko in the Himalayas and Appiko in the Western Ghats, the movement against the IRMBs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles) in Baliapal, the struggles against development at Koel-Karo, and the anti-nuclear struggles at Rawat Bhata. Apart from the explosions at the community level, this period also saw the rise of NGOs—not as extension counters of the state but as separate voices of political protest. One thinks in particular of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the People’s Science Movements (PSMs), the Patriotic and People Oriented Science and Technology (PPST), and the various voices of the non-party political process articulated by groups like the Lokayan.
In the 1980’s, almost as an act outside history and political scripts, these movements mushroomed in India. They collectively made three separate arguments. First, the party, the union and the electoral process could no longer exhaust the possibilities of the political. Second, while Gandhian struggles might have ended, these social movements began to invent new styles of Swaraj. Third, they multiplied the possibilities between the real presence of the naxalite movements and the nostalgic memory of the Gandhian movements. They formulated and staged a variety of alternatives that were not available to the technocratic imagination of the state.
These protest movements are important for the reaction of the state and for the memory and nostalgia they still inspire for alternative social, institutional and scientific imaginations for swaraj. Three of these struggles stand out for local movements that drew national and international attention:firstly the fisher folk struggles in Kerala, secondly the anti-dam movement, and thirdly the struggle of the survivors of Bhopal. The fisher folk’s struggle, which initially began as a battle between traditional fishermen and motorised trawlers, began as a set of local contestations and transformed into the most globalized of struggles articulating the role of marginal fisher people everywhere. It raised questions of equality and justice giving newer meanings to exploitation and suffering. The anti-dam struggles on the Narmada dam issue forcefully articulated and forged a wider umbrella of alliances questioning the nature of development inspiring similar movements across India and involving several dissenting scientists and technologists to pursue alternative pathways to development. The struggle in Bhopal following the world’s largest industrial disaster could also not assure genuine rehabilitation or any sense of justice to its victims. It brought to the fore the inability of the state and its scientific apparatus to be with its people even as it claimed to represent them in the legal case against Union Carbide.
The real contribution of these movements was not to the politics of civil society but to the politics of knowledge. The NGOs showed the insufficiency of technical and natural sciences. They emphasised the importance of design and construction of technology as a socio-cultural system, and the need for a cost-benefit analysis that goes beyond technical assessments to the wider requirements of justice and sustainability. They called for a world-view where a humanistic and social science imagination would supplement a scientific and technocratic perspective. They demanded a diversity of knowledge systems that were both cognitive and experiential. They also demanded an emphasis on participation and representation, and a systemic connection to health, education and ecology, while linking tradition to future. These movements brought a new meaning to the Gandhian vision of oceanic circles by showing how Indian students pursuing higher studies in science and technology abroad often played important roles in taking the struggles to a wider audience through the Internet. They connected the worlds of subsistence and sustainability long before the Brundtland report and the Rio summit. Unfortunately, they were caught by the twin processes of globalisation and liberalisation. Liberalisation gave the state an excuse to retreat from key responsibilities within India, while globalisation undermined the state’s regulatory role from without. The NGOs, as dissidents, suddenly did not have a credible opponent anymore to argue against, but neither did they have a positive alternative ready.
The first decade of the 21st century has led to a rethinking amongst people’s movements. The sites of protest had multiplied. Several Indian states now compete with each other to attract foreign investments displacing people’s lives and livelihoods in large numbers. The strains of unbridled growth of mining projects, automobile manufacturing, power and chemical plants, and the spread of Special Economic Zones have raised the question of swaraj. How can science and technology contribute to the swaraj of the Indian people instead of becoming vehicles of oppression and destruction?
The broad acceptance of an ideology of urbanisation, globalisation and progress shows that the victims of violence—whether of riots or development—are not part of stakeholder democracy. The Manifesto urges us to re-examine some of these linkages between science, development and violence.
Science, (non-)violence, and knowledge democracy
Hind Swaraj was a manifesto that aimed to promote love and non-violence. It was no naive call for peace but based on a deep understanding and even personal experience of violence and its origins by Gandhi in Europe, South Africa and India. This fundamental understanding needs to be updated since Gandhi’s times, as societies have enhanced the capacity for violence manifold. There is an obvious, monolithic and technocratic side to violence in the form of war and genocide; but violence also appears in an unexpected everydayness—less obvious, more dispersed, and less centrally controlled. Violence today is no longer confined to the holocaust camps, but also to the realms of development, globalisation and modernity.
Every large-scale innovation has its underside by creating obsolescence, waste and erasure. Knowledge societies, like those in India, that have a continuing tradition of several parallel indigenous knowledge systems, have to contend with this underside. Otherwise, science and technology could lead to large-scale societal and cultural damage by further pushing these parallel knowledge systems into obsolescence. Such damage may have huge negative consequences for society since especially these parallel knowledge systems may have ideas and hopes of human survival when trying to find new ways to cope with a radically new problem such as climate change. This Manifesto recommends that answers be sought broadly—not just from modern science and technology, but also from these hitherto parallel and ‘defeated’ knowledge systems. This can offer new ways of coping with the inherent violence in standard science and technology.
Recognising violence in standard science is not to vilify science, but to suggest that science needs a theory of culture in which it should be located. Meghnad Saha significantly captured this connection through the naming of the journal he founded in 1935 “Science and Culture” that later led to the unequivocal celebration by Nehru in his famous address to the Indian Science Congress in 1937 where he proclaimed the Congress to represent science and the future as belonging to those who made friends with science. There was indeed more to the culture of science that Saha and Nehru were asking India to pursue—India was, for example, one of the first states in the British commonwealth to accept the metric system. An alternate view explored science’s separation from culture, suggesting that science could become violent if such separation happened. Ananda Coomaraswamy was one of the first who articulated this during the debates of the national movements when he claimed that a proletarian is a man who is disconnected from his culture. Coomaraswamy argued to revisit India’s craft traditions that, to him, offered alternate notions of time and ways of being. He seemed to suggest that once culture reconnects to science it would be possible to retrieve its complexity, its sustainability, its playfulness and that one thus could move away from the reductionism fetishized by years of state politics and industrialisation. Gandhi’s opposition to western civilisation in Hind Swaraj had this notion of science being embedded in a theory of culture that later found expression through the Khadi movement.
Coomaraswamy and Gandhi were critical of the linear notions of time embedded in the western ideas of progress, rationality and the scientific method. Rationality helps to order, discriminate and choose; but those rational choices can easily result in a triage that excludes some from science’s benefits or makes others the victims of unintended negative consequences. The scientific method helps to generate new information, but it can also be violent—especially when the experiment is not carried out on the ‘self’ but on the ‘other’. The social movements of protest challenged this notion of the scientific experiment of progress on tribals, farmers and nature. In this modernization project the pursuit of science becomes a movement of victorious discoveries and leaves no place for “defeated” knowledge systems. The mono-logic, linear notion of progressive science regards other forms of knowledge as non-knowledge and locks them away in a museum. Rather, marginalized people should be recognized as bearers of valuable knowledge in their own right, and producers of new knowledge and sustainable practices of dealing with the world. Their expertise in domains such as agriculture, animal husbandry, food processing, handloom, and conservation of biodiversity makes them valuable partners in the new knowledge society.
If societies do not learn to assimilate modern ‘western’ science in their own, culture-specific ways, the negative aspects of science will overtake the positive, and the violent character of science will prevail over the beneficial. The political project of democracy is thus clear: democratisation of institutions without the democratisation of knowledge and science is futile. Here again the insights of Gandhi merit attention—both in understanding the violence in the scientific method and in working out alternative scientific imaginations through his work on, for example, khadi and village industries. The All India Spinners Association (AISA) and its sister All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) can be seen as experiments in creating alternative institutions of science, democracy and culture, and not just as economic experiments or as vehicles for India’s freedom.
Science in India today can be seen as a site for various struggles. Extending the argument in the previous chapter, the opposition of crowd and expert needs to be challenged, and the idea of the citizen needs to be renewed as a person of knowledge. It is by re-working the idea of the citizen as possessing a repertoire of knowledge and expertise, that we can open up secluded spaces which modern science has hitherto forbidden to the nomad, the tribal and the informal economy. This will liberate and enable their craft consciousness as a method of survival, their tacit knowledge as a source of improvisation, their ecologies of memory and technology as repositories of useful knowledge. The rationality, methodology and modernity of science and technology can only be beneficial and constructive when complemented by the playfulness, creativity and improvisation of the tinkerer.
Also time needs to be pluralized. Both history and progress have become deeply problematic for a nation state that is so committed to industrialisation. Development, as Mahashweta Devi once said, becomes the rape of the countryside, justified in the name of history. To pluralise time is to pluralise the possibilities of life and living for parallel cultures that do not follow modern calendars. If time is narrowly taken as linear and historical, the tribe will remain only as an oral memory and its crafts will only survive in a museum. The beauty of modern science also lies in the multiplicity of time that it offers. We only need to assure that our societies, democracies and policy-making systems recognize and exploit this opportunity.
The brutality of scientific violence goes beyond physical violence. It might impinge on the body but the long-term violence lies in the logic of its world-views and its concepts. This Manifesto proposes an anthropology that will help world-views that were stored away by science to re-enter a dialogue. Part of the violence of science is its also being the vehicle of the nation-state. Hence, a non-violent (or at least less violent) future of science lies in celebrating alternative imaginations and broad spectra of expertise. Such alternative and complementary imaginations also need to restore a gender balance. Science and technology have erected the myth of masculinity and of an impersonal machismo. Since wars began in the minds of men, the defences of peace must be reconstructed in the minds of women and children (to rephrase a UNESCO manifesto).
Towards trusteeship as a new relation between science and society
This Manifesto proposes to reconsider the social contract between Indian science and society. Rather than thinking about the relation between them only in terms of a contract, it makes a plea for reinvigorating the ideals of gift giving and hospitality. With such a form of trusteeship we can hope for a socialisation of research and technology as called for by the larger project of which this Manifesto forms a part. In translating the vision of a non-violent science as articulated in Hind Swaraj through khadi, Gandhi built on the idea of science for sacrifice. The members of the Ashram and of the khadi service spun khadi for sacrifice and to create a ‘charkha atmosphere’ that would encourage experimentation and innovation. While the khadi movement created incentives for innovators through well-advertised prizes such as the Charkha Prize for an improved spinning wheel, citizens were encouraged to see themselves as trustees of their products and innovations and were encouraged to share them for use by institutions such as the AISA. The design of the charkha prize itself was a case of socialisation of science where the design criteria incorporated the conditions of the poor user in the village. Rooting social needs within a politics of alternate imaginations has been the contribution of various social movements. Dissenting views, rather than being silenced or ignored, need to be engaged with in a dialogue aiming at a greater democratisation of science. Carrying out this challenge not only needs a fundamental reworking of the very idea of expertise as elaborated earlier, but also a new idea of the relationship between science and society.
This Manifesto proposes to add the idea of trusteeship to that of social contract, in order to reshape the relationship between science and society. The vocabulary of contracts typically implies that the contract partners see themselves as opposing parties. This
Unindicated hysterectomies in Andhra Pradesh: Science, Violence and ethics
A doctor couple with the Life Health Reinforcement Group (Life – HRG) working in rural India not too far from Hyderabad projected as the medical capital of India found a number of young rural women undergoing hysterectomy operations (along with the removal of ovaries) as a solution recommended by qualified and certified allopathic medical practitioners for often basic gynaecological problems. This practice usually recommended as a solution of last resort after several other tests and remedies including pap smear tests and informed consent of patients was being practiced as a normal activity without any rigorous examination. This ‘surgical menopause’ has been possible due to the ease of operative procedures made possible through modern science and technology even as the imprecise nature of the intervention and the effects on the female body are relatively unknown. In the absence of an ethical framework and guidelines for intervention, there is violence caused to women who are poor and who are not informed of possible longer term effects on their bodies. The silence and helplessness of the medical community to examine this phenomenon when the doctor couple brought this to their notice indicates the absence of swaraj of the medical fraternity with their profession that is increasingly controlled by finance capital as also the complex relation between the possible violence of science without an ethical frame of action and precaution. The pilot on medical ethics also shows the importance of technological responsibility of scientists as demonstrated by the doctor couple who sought to carry societal concerns to the scientific community.
oppositional perspective then includes the possibilities of mistrust and cheating, and a need for checking and control. Such a perspective belies the mutual dependence between science and society. No scientific institutions can exist without support of society (as captured by the ‘socialisation’ concept) and current societies are thoroughly constituted by science and technology. This Manifesto invites the scientists to regard themselves as trustees for those on whom they depend for the making, the distribution and the use of knowledge. And, building on the previous chapter’s generalisation of expertise and knowledge, also others—who have knowledge of a different kind than scientific—are asked to behave like trustees holding their riches of knowledge on behalf those who do not have the expertise.
All current holders of knowledge—whether labelled ‘scientific’, ‘experiential’, ‘alternative’, or ‘modern’—will have to make their choice between fighting wars over knowledge or being trustees of knowledge. All will retain the stewardship of their knowledge and increase and use it, not primarily for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation. This would need to be backed by new regulations of intellectual property rights, as well as those that protect the environment and people against misuse and exploitation of knowledge. It would also require new ways of giving shape to this idea of trusteeship, complementing the contractual relationship between science and society. Public debates and other new forms of democratisation of science and technology need to be experimented with. An agreement on central values, shared within a society and the foundation for such trusteeship and stewardship, is needed too.
A good example of how this vision of trusteeship in science can be put into practice is the swaraj that farmers have experienced in several parts of India through the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is a set of practices that involves a combination of principles of traditional farming such as alternate wetting and drying, single seed transplantation, use of organic inputs, with principles derived from close observation and understanding of novel practices such as wider spacing of much younger seedlings. This civil society innovation originated in Madagascar in Africa by a Jesuit priest Henri de Launlanie who offered it to African farmers as a gift that has since been offered repeatedly by others in the spirit of trusteeship. In a short span of over a decade SRI was introduced to the rest of the world through Norman Uphoff who placed the knowledge on SRI in public domain and treated it as an open source innovation. SRI has been accepted by farmers and researchers in 42 countries. In India, several thousand small and marginal farmers have adapted this innovation in their rice fields to improve farm incomes and soil health, and have started to use the principles of SRI in other crops. The SRI movement in India, and the rest of the world, has seen several alliances of farmers, civil society organisations and researchers who are keen to look at themselves as trustees of knowledge. The internet has enabled knowledge dialogues between different kinds of knowledge creating spaces for meeting different forms of expertise.