Remembering PM Bhargava: A Champion of Scientific Temper



In 2015, a large number of scientists supported the protest of writers and others from the cultural fraternity – by giving up their state awards, or by issuing statements against the increasing polarisation and violence in the country on the basis of caste and community. One of the most important of these was Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). Bhargava returned his Padma Bhushan award  to protest “the government’s attack on rationalism, reasoning and science.” Talking to The Indian Express, he added that the “Modi government is giving room for communalists and fringe groups to divide the country based on religion.” 

PM Bhargava made rich contributions to molecular biology. But he was also actively involved in the location of science in a nation, and how it should translate into the day to day life of citizens. His lifelong involvement in upholding the notion of scientific temper as a crucial aspect of the India we want to build; his commitment to building institutions; his interest in the links between science and art; and his willingness to speak up as a citizen: these were just some of the achievements of a rich, committed life.

The statement remains painfully relevant today, which is why we need to reaffirm it, and insist on the idea of India it stands for. 

October 28, 2015

The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country.

It is the same climate of intolerance, and rejection of reason that has led to the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi and the assassinations of Prof. Kalburgi, Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Shri Govind Pansare. All three fought against superstition and obscurantism to build a scientific temper in our society. Prof. Kalburgi was a renowned scholar and an authority on the Vachana literature associated with the 12th-century reformer Basava, who opposed institutionalised religion, caste and gender discrimination. Similarly, Dr Dabholkar and Shri Pansare promoted scientific temper through their fight against superstition and blind faith.

The Indian Constitution in Article 51 A (h) demands, as a part of the fundamental duties of the citizens, that we “…develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing instead is the active promotion of irrational and sectarian thought by important functionaries of the government.

The Indian civilisation is a truly plural one. We have always had many practices and communities that have allowed space for each other; we celebrate the festivals and anniversaries of all faiths. This unity and peace has now been disturbed by a rash of bigoted acts, attacks on minorities and Dalits, which show no signs of abating.

The writers have shown the way with their protests. We scientists now join our voices to theirs, to assert that the Indian people will not accept such attacks on reason, science and our plural culture. We reject the destructive narrow view of India that seeks to dictate what people will wear, think, eat and who they will love.

We appeal to all other sections of society to raise their voice against the assault on reason and scientific temper we are witnessing in India today.


Writers’ Appeal: Join the March for Science on August 9, 2017.

“Scientific temper is what elite politics denies in our humanness…”: Githa Hariharan in conversation with Satyajit Rath.