India has an impressive scientific heritage. Scientific research — in fields such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine and material science — has been carried out in the Indian sub-continent since ancient times. However, a remarkable gap has persisted between this scientific knowledge and the ‘common’ man and woman and, until recently, almost no effort has been made to bridge this gap.
Throughout history, there have been attempts to take science to the common people. For example, Vigyan (Science) — a monthly popular science magazine in Hindi — has been published by Vigyan Parishad (a learned society of scientists and academics) since 1915.
Following Independence in 1947, the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, introduced the concept of modern ‘scientific temper’ — a phrase taken to mean an enquiring attitude and analytical approach that leads to rational thinking and the pursuit of truth without prejudice. Accordingly, the constitution of India has a special provision “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry”.
Science communication movement in India
After Independence, a number of government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took their cue from the constitution and became involved in science popularisation. In this way, science communication was taken up at various levels, institutional as well as individual. Nehru was a major force behind this advancement of science in independent India.
The National Institute of Science Communication (NISCOM) — previously the Publications and Information Directorate — began publishing of the Hindi popular science journal Vigyan Pragati (Progress in Science) in 1952. The Science Reporter (an English monthly) and Science Ki Dunia (an Urdu quarterly) followed soon after. Today, NISCOM also brings out 11 professional scientific journals and publishes various popular science books (often in Indian languages).
In 1980, science communication was given prominence in India’s sixth Five Year Plan, and two years later the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) was established. The Council has a mandate to integrate, coordinate, catalyse and support science communication and popularisation, at the micro as well as macro level. NCSTC’s programmes include training in science and technology communication, software development, research, field-based projects, and creating information networks and databases.
Several NGOs have also pursued science communication programmes. The Indian Science Writers’ Association (ISWA), for example, was founded in 1985 with a view to developing and nurturing the science writing profession in India. The association has around 200 members and undertakes a broad spectrum of activities including training courses, lectures and fellowships. ISWA also works with government agencies and NGOs in promoting science communication activities.
India’s science communicators have used various modes of communication to reach out to the masses. As a result, a lot of infrastructure, software and human resources are available in the country. Each has its own significance and utility, given the vast diversities that exist in the country.
In addition to the scientific journals (both popular and technical) published by the government, several national and regional daily newspapers have now started producing weekly science pages. In a unique initiative, Vigyan Prasar provides a weekly ready-to-print science page, in both Hindi and English, which some 21 newspapers use at a nominal cost.
Sadly, however, there are signs that interest in science communication is waning in the print media. For example, the Indian science magazines Science Today and Bulletin of Sciences have been discontinued, as have Indian editions of certain foreign magazines, such as La Recherche and Scientific American.