7 Introduction

This is a Hind Swaraj-inspired document for the 21t Century. It asks what “self-rule (swaraj) for India” can mean, one century after Mohandas Gandhi wrote his manifesto for an independent India on board a ship from Europe to Africa. Swaraj today in the 21st century has to include the important domain of self-rule in science and technology too. If Mahatma Gandhi gave prominence to science and technology in the form of law, medicine and railways in the original Hind Swaraj, for the 21st century we see on centre stage: biotechnologies, tribal knowledge, space technology, handloom, information and communication technologies, and ayurvedic medicine. This Indian Manifesto on Science and Technology argues for Indian self-rule of its science and technology, for a knowledge democracy that draws its agenda for research and technology on the richness of Indian culture and the needs of the Indian people.

This is a pro-science manifesto—but a manifesto that favours a new form of science. This new science will be better rooted in Indian society than the current standard science and technology. This Manifesto argues how that rootedness can be realized by drawing on a broader range of knowledge systems, by proposing that science should assume trusteeship of society and the world, and by foregrounding the values of sustainability, plurality and justice. This then leads to a new ethics of technoscience, and indeed to a science by and for the people – a knowledge swaraj.

The world today is facing a multi-faceted crisis: a resource crisis signalling the end of the fossil fuel era and the drying up of most modern resources; a climate crisis which almost reached a point of no return; an institutional crisis with an eroding credibility of the state as well as the market; and an economic-financial crisis that questions the received neo-liberal strategies for development of wealth and health. This Manifesto calls for a critical reflection upon the strengths and weaknesses of Indian society and science, and suggests ways to turn these crises into opportunities. It engages with the original Hind Swaraj by recognizing a crisis and the need for personal engagement. It asks questions that need to be asked at this critical juncture. This Manfiesto is meant as a wake-up call to citizens and scientists alike. It seeks to build a framework for moving from short-term individual fixes to longer-term community solutions.

This Manifesto extends the ideas of swaraj and swadeshi asking what India’s own agenda and style of knowledge, science and technology development could be, independent of the dictates of the North and West. This does not imply a plea for isolationism. Just as Gandhi clearly positioned an independent India within the commonwealth of nations, so this Manifesto recognizes the international character of science; but it adds a realization of the (partly negative) effects of globalisation and a celebration of the cultural richness of interconnectedness, albeit on equal terms.

The Manifesto seeks to question a blind faith in technology without being Luddite; to restore cultural identity and pride without being chauvinistic; and to outline an ideal of knowledge democracy without the illusion of concrete policy solutions. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj offers an inspiration in 2011 as much as in 1909 for the need to revalue and legitimise peoples’ practices. India, Gandhi believed, needs not only to free itself from colonial rule, but has a responsibility to the world to liberate the West from a developmental mindset that alienates people and is deeply unsustainable. As Gandhi has suggested in 1909, we believe that citizens and civil society today can engage in swaraj or self-rule, and inform state processes to reinvent development. In that sense this Manifesto is not just for India, but a modest offering from India to the world.

The Manifesto is written from the perspective of citizens while engaging with science and technology. In doing so, we do not look too much into the past, but try to work towards a normative frame that can help provide a fresher look at India’s capabilities and responsibilities. We seek to give the Manifesto an earthy fragrance that draws on concrete experiences of people, and with an innovative spirit that breaks the vicious cycles that many sectors have been trapped in. The Manifesto will present a vision that enthuses those stuck with modest experimentation to paint a wider canvas, and in that process to restore dignity to the majority who are vulnerable victims and yet potential champions of a new and sustainable knowledge society. Indian citizens are thus seen as active contributors in the knowledge society and not as mere recipients of products of science and technology. This Manifesto is about innovation – an innovation that is rooted in communities.

The Manifesto addresses the three key dimensions of justice, sustainability and plurality. Justice is taken – not given – and is conditional on democratisation of governance with the informed participation of all. The Manifesto’s understanding of sustainability is long term, with emphasis on universal human rights with access to food, health and education, and focus on reduction of vulnerability of the under-privileged. Recognizing plurality begins by the realization that there are multiple knowledge systems and different kinds of experts as opposed to the conventional division of experts and non-experts. The Manifesto takes cognizance of the existence of a large number of marginalized people who have the capacity to significantly contribute to the development of society, including its science and technology, but are currently excluded from this process.

This Manifesto is intended for three different readerships. First it is written for a general audience of citizens, school children, students, and scholars: a foundational argument about the character of knowledge, science and technology and about the opportunities for self-rule of these. Second, it is meant as a wake-up call for scientists and activists; to scientists it makes a plea to value the social embedding of science and technology in society, and to activists it makes a plea to engage in the social construction of science and technology. Third, this Manifesto speaks to policy-makers and (admittedly rather implicitly) suggests new forms of a pro-active science policy for the people and by the people.

This Manifesto starts by arguing for a plurality of knowledge and expertise. It then seeks to situate some of the debates from social movements that have contributed significantly to shaping the discourse on knowledge and democracy arguing for alternative scientific imaginations rooted in non-violence. It argues for the need to add the notion of trusteeship to the social contract on science in India. Conclusions are drawn to indicate how a swaraj of science and technology will yield justice, sustainability and plurality.

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Introduction by Florence Piron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.