Sundar Sarukkai: Welcome
Subbiah Arunachalam: Inaugural talk
In his inaugural talk for the Science and Religion workshop, Dr. Subbiah Arunachalam briefly dealt with the nature of the scientific institutions in India today. He began by pointing out to the deteriorating condition of the current scientific landscape, in comparison to the pre-independence era of research, which had produced eminent scientists such as C.V. Raman and J.C. Bose.
To illustrate this point Dr. Arunachalam introduced us to the seemingly unknown figure of Dr. Sambhu Nath De. Well known among the scientific community for his pioneering contribution to the study of cholera, Dr. De was never officially recognized or supported via substantial fellowships by the Indian scientific establishment. By introducing De to us, Dr. Arunachalam was able to take us towards the very nature of the difference he had been alluding to. A difference that he chose to articulate in terms of ‘status’ and ‘stature’.
The term ‘status’ is deployed here to flesh out the commoditized manner in which coveted positions, like that of the director, are treated within the contemporary research institutions. This, along with the publicity quotient that accompanies scientific projects, is framed as symptomatic of the increasing role that ‘status’ plays within the scientific community.
Here Dr. Arunachalam seemed to be bringing into question the politics of merit in modern scientific institutions. Such a politicized paradigm of merit is seen as affecting the culture of research within the institutions. For example, the public appreciation of scientific discoveries does not seem to materialize, the other way, into an open access to scientific institutions.
While all this association with ‘status’ seems to have trivialized serious research pursuits, ‘stature’ is that which we are lacking in our scientific institutions today. Characterized by features such as persistence, dedication and self reliance in achievement, Dr. De was presented as a role model in the ‘stature’ category. It almost seems as though the very absence of institutional support gave Dr. De the teeth that was required to tackle the problem at hand. Dr. De’s intuitive selection of cholera as his research subject itself was not driven by an external mandate but defined by the context within which he found himself.
This brings us to the role that context plays in defining human purpose. Of what purpose are billion dollar space research when there is a significant population of human beings slowly starving to death? Through the example of Dr. De, we are able to take note of the crucial role sensitivity and sensibility play in research. With their high walls limiting their gaze of the outside world, scientific institutions have forgotten those for whose benefit research is conducted in the first place. In this short speech, we were urged to look beyond the status of appearances to reach the stature of essences.