While Indians form the backbone of research abroad their homeland crawls low in the field of science & technologyIt’s really strange what a simple visit to the National Science Centre at Delhi can teach you about the condition of research (and researchers) in India. As you enter the huge complex and start examining the game-like scientific machines kept for display throughout the three-floor complex, you find out that around half of them are not working, while half of the other-half are not in working condition. You might just wonder, alongside looking at the torn and not-so-clear explanatory charts above most exhibits, whether this is how the largest scientific institution promotes the teaching of science in a country which is regarded the next knowledge superpower of the world. Well, the truth is, the National Science Centre acts as a humble mirror to the field of scientific research in India.
In a self-priding country like India where we are proud of our various exploits over history (and at present) in most fields that exist in the firmament, we consider anyone having the faintest of connections with India accomplishing even the smallest of (the relatively bigger) feats, well, Indian. Hence, from Ronald Ross to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan to those Spell-Bee winners, a successful person having had anything to do with our country belongs to it, and more importantly, we take pride in the very fact.
We pride ourselves as having been home to seven Nobel laureates, with a good four of them being related to core scientific studies (economics excluded). This in statistical terms, puts India at twentieth place in terms of the total Nobel prizes won by country. But here’s the shocker (read truth) – three of these four Nobel laureates are actually not Indian. CV Raman is the only Indian among the ‘Indian’ Nobel Prize winners; all other became American citizens soon after leaving the country, which leaves India’s Scientific Nobel tally at one.
The Nobel, still, is the the highest scientific honour for a researcher. India is the second most populous country of the world, and the large variety of human resource present here directs that India should (and could) have made large strides into the huge and vast world of scientific research, which the country (and in a way its people) has resisted up till now.
It would certainly not be wrong to call India a country of doctors and engineers, for that is exactly what the career ideology of its youth depicts. Believe it or not it would require a major coup by the average Indian youngster belonging to a family of the service class to even think of taking anything else up as a career (though an engineer never ends up getting an ‘engineering’ job). It requires a large amount of interest in a field like research to make it a career, and given the absolute dearth of facility and infrastructure, and above it unwillingness of family, it only becomes greater so. Research in India is limited only to a few elite universities though there are quite a lot offering research seats. Draw parallels with the west, and we find even the smallest of universities having hired Nobel laureates as professors.
Well, given that a passionate-for-science youngster does manage to complete his research degree (by the end of which he won’t be young, technically), where does he go, and what does he do? Research in India is not a high-paying job, certainly not as high paying as service and management. So you either stay back to a life of isolation, low-pay and unrelated-to-your-study work, or go abroad. The latter is exactly what most of our research graduates have done.
A recent study has pointed out that around one in every ten scientists and three in every ten doctors in the US are Indian, the only difference being that technically, they are not. Either now, or in the future, most of them will cease to belong to our country, and will to their country of residence. All they will be, then, is Indian-origin Americans, not belonging to their country-of-birth.
What the problem is with the Indian scientific community needs to be introspected. It is very certain that any scientific community, to work freely, needs autonomy, a luxury not yet granted in India. Every country has its problems, but that does not mean that all research be directed toward the personal problems of the country alone. Research is meant for the spread of knowledge and the discovery of what is not known, and pursuing the subject requires intent and curiosity. Our country does not a have a fixed scientific community, and the appearance of great scientists at random points in time will not help in the concretization of science in the Indian society and thought process.
A host of Indian-born foreign nationals have made long inroads into their respective careers and achieved the pinnacles of success in doing so, and so many others will, and we Indians will be proud of them, felicitate them and make them our idols. But isn’t it long time now, that we started not only developing infrastructure for ourselves and our hugely capable population, alongside developing in our youth love for science and curiosity for research, encouraging them to pursue what their real interest is?
We have been careless in letting some of our best minds leave towards better life and more encouragement for curiosity, and at a time when research is fast becoming a parameter for development, we cannot continue in the same manner. No one wants to leave his country of birth, only circumstances force him to. Working in a direction such that this ceases to happen is what is required to be done, and not only does the government hold responsibility for development of infrastructure, we citizens too need to make sure that such development does not become a loss-making and discouraging venture. We Indians are probably the most intelligent minds in the world at present, and not tapping this potential might turn out to be something we will regret in the future.