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Students and researchers in Mumbai march for science, demand funding and focus

Their demands included raising the percentage of GDP allotted to research from 0.8% to 3%, and an increase in funding for education as a whole to reach 10% of GDP.

mumbai Updated: Aug 10, 2017 00:22 IST
Shasta Kaul
Shasta Kaul
Hindustan Times
mumbai,march for science,funding for science
Students and scientists march to Girgaum chowpatty demanding better funding for scientific research. (Bhushan Koyande/HT)

Students, teachers and researchers marched from August Kranti Maidan to Girgaum Chowpatty on Wednesday to demand proper funding and focus for scientific research.

Their demands included raising the percentage of GDP allotted to research from 0.8% to 3%, and an increase in funding for education as a whole to reach 10% of GDP.

Armed with posters that bore slogans like “Science not Silence”, “People it’s time to react”, and “Defend Science, Don’t De-fund Science, the protesters gathered at Kranti Maidan at 4pm on Wednesday amidst fleeting showers. The march started at 4.15pm. The march was part of a larger global movement which caused more than a million people to take to the streets across 600 cities in April. This was the first march in Mumbai.

Vikrant Shetty, a student at DY Patil University, said, “There are many brilliant minds in this country, but research is not incentivised as much as it should be”.

“Researchers extract knowledge from little-known areas. This is commendable in an era in which people are purposely muddling information,” said another physics student Neel Kohle from Ruparel College.

The march aims for government policies towards research and education to be evidence-driven. Dr Deepak Modi, a cellular and molecular biologist who was also at the march, spoke passionately about how irksome it is for scientists to face pseudo-scientific ideas that are gaining popularity.

Shubojit Sen, a fellow at the Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences (CBS) added that social media was partly responsible for this. “People use WhatsApp as means for evidence. This highlights a flaw in our education system which needs to teach citizens how to consume and process information”.

Modi also spoke about how outsourcing funding for research to the private sector is not a viable option: “We need support from the government for unbiased research. Companies often only wish to fund research that beneficial to them. It is no use having the government tell scientists that they must be self-sustaining if they are entrepreneurs. Not all scientists are entrepreneurs – they are simply passionate about innovation, and the system is killing it.”

The general consensus seemed to be that although the country’s GDP has increased rapidly over the past few decades, allocation to research had not kept up.

Dr Aniket Sule, a researcher at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, who helped coordinate the logistics for the march, pointed out how religious dogma had facilitated the propagation of pseudo science in the recent years, and Hridey Mangwani from Cactus Commincations noted the absence of research papers by Indian authors in international settings as many had chosen to migrate because of the lack of funding. “We need to foster a better environment to retain talent in the country,” he said.

First Published: Aug 10, 2017 00:22 IST