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The Declining Era Of Scientists And Scientific Research- Is It The End?

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By Nakul Arora:

India has a very rich scientific heritage. Aryabhatta, a mathematician is known for giving the world zero “0”. Also, the presence of the iron pillar, whose composition still amazes scientists, is itself a proof of the technological advancement of India during that period. Coming from such a rich background, it is surprising to find the apathetic state of Indian science and research today. The mention of apathetic state here should not be mistaken for the lack of scientific research or the fact that India is not producing scientist of world stature anymore. Both the statements are false, what it actually means is the absence of any glory attached with scientific research in India, today, or the fact that the young minds are today more attracted towards the professional fields of engineering and medicine, which has more money up for grabs in shorter time. However, the situation is not all bad here; there have been considerable improvement in recent times. We will now try to analyse the present situation here by considering all aspects.

Post-independence, India has produced Nobel-prize winners like H. G. Khurana and C. V. Raman but it has not been able to maintain the quantity of people wanting to pursue research-based careers. The reason behind this can be linked back to the Nehruvian policy of socialist development, wherein, though basic science was given importance but individual funding and promotion of financial incentives for research was totally absent. Thus, as a result of following this policy, there was a clear absence of intellectual property. However, keeping in line with Soviet policy, there was heavy investment in atomic energy and nuclear energy, the results of which show in India’s leadership in both the sectors. Also, the Undergraduate education in India is totally de-coupled with research. This is mostly due to the lack of importance given to it by the state universities themselves. The state universities can’t themselves be blamed for they, unlike their foreign counterparts, suffer from lack of proper equipment and funding. Due to this, they are also unable to retain any good faculty, which they generally end up losing to foreign universities or the highly mushrooming Indian private colleges. The private colleges offering UG and higher education, due to presence of lack of stringent quality control, are operating just for profit and have almost negligible research infrastructure. Even if the infrastructure problems were to be sidelined, the curriculum been followed by the Indian universities is heavily outdated. Newer topics of research such as molecular biology, NMR spectroscopy, etc, are yet to be even included in the syllabuses.

The problem with the lack of a research mindset amongst the students is deeply linked to the societal conditions present today. The post-globalization era has increased the demand for Indian technical and business professionals a lot. This, in turn, has led to these trades rising up in social stature because of the huge amount of money they are able to fetch in a shorter time interval. Thus, colleges catering to technical, medicinal and business education have seen huge mushrooming in the recent times. The study of sciences and humanities has taken a backseat. There is a race amongst the top students of high school to get into the best technical and medicinal institutions. Those, who are left out, also prefer to take the secondary level institutions. It’s only the lowest grade of students, who are left over and are mostly forced to take up studying science. Since, there is so much social stature attached to the two fields, for the people generally link the monetary situation with intelligence and capability, that anyone who is found not doing anything in them is generally considered by the society to be doing nothing at all. Imagine the plight of a good student, who ends up taking humanities or science for the love of it. Thus, there is a total absence of any societal respect for the people pursuing sciences, which in turn, forces most of them to take out a professional job/course instead of pursuing their interest further. The situation has improved a lot in recent years, though, and there are some really good institutions like DU for the study of humanities.

Another big problem that plagues scientific research, or for the matter of fact any other area, in India is the beauracracy and red tapeism present in the system. This, undoubtedly to say hinders the research for a scientist is required to submit all requests for further materials and equipments needed to the beauracracy which takes a lot of time to process even the simplest of requests. This factor is the main hindrance in bringing back the expatriate Indian scientists for they have seen and worked in different, much friendlier conditions. Also, the presence of reverence for old people’s work and age in the Indian society interferes with the scientific practice of questioning the status-quo. A young scientist, here in India, can’t question the work being done by a senior of his for fear of societal backlash. However, if any major scientific discovery is to be observed, it was only done after a young mind questioned the status quo and challenged the older, in many cases even dead, scientists’ research on the same subject. This practice adopted by the higher scientists of keeping themselves surrounded by people who don’t express any dissent should be stopped.

The situation is not all gloomy and there are several good opportunities which make one hopeful of the improving levels of research in the future. The Indian government has recently set up the Indian institute of science and research, which are aimed at focussing on coupling UG education with research. Also, the government has recently set up some world class laboratory facilities like the nanotechnology lab and the neutrino observatory. Also, the Indian government has several fellowships running which give the returning expatriate scientist with a choice of setting up his laboratory anywhere in the country. Also, there is a huge availability of good jobs of senior positions in the Indian universities which provide amazing opportunity for scientists to come back and settle here. Even being an assistant professor in the state-run universities has its own set of perks and also, the mushrooming of the high number of private colleges has led to a hike in the pay structure as well.

The conditions look favourable, but still there is a lot to be done to change the basic mindset prevalent in the society toward the sciences. The reputed scientists have to play an important role here by using their fan-following to push people into realizing the importance of science and technology in a country’s economic development. Also, a whole host of changes will have to be made at the policy level to ensure introductions of an updated curriculum, better conditions of labs and equipment in the universities, promotion of individual research through financial incentives and state grants, etc. Last, but not the least, the young minds of India will have to be prepared through a curriculum and methodology of teaching that promotes reasoning over rote memorisation, so as to build the inquisitiveness in them, which can later come out in their questioning the status-quo and hopefully, some of them, ending up in research. Till these long-term changes come into play, we all can begin today by looking up to the people pursuing science out of their interest and zeal for research.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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