Image credit: Paul Aitchison
Image credit: Paul Aitchison

The wrong formula

India’s National Science Day highlights the deep malaise in state-sponsored science awareness programmes.

In India, 28 February is celebrated as National Science Day. It is reported that on that date in 1928, a 40-year-old Tamil Brahmin named Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, sitting at 210 Bowbazar Street in the erstwhile building of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta, discovered certain phenomena regarding the scattering of light when passed through a transparent material, which would come to be known as the Raman effect. For this discovery, Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. This was India's first Nobel in the sciences, the first awarded to an Indian for research done in India. It was also the last one.

Under the prodding of the National Council of Science and Technology Communication, since 1987 the Indian government has celebrated 28 February as National Science Day; it is perhaps unsurprising that many Indians don't even know of its existence. Indeed, the day largely bypasses most universities in the country, and instead is mostly observed by those who receive patronage from the central government. In states where the provincial education boards and councils are still dominant – Tamil Nadu and West Bengal (Paschim Banga), for example – National Science Day is largely unknown. Organised celebrations occur at schools following the national syllabus dictated by New Delhi and at central government offices, especially educational and research institutions. These events often bring in sarkari chief guests, ranging from the dubious to the infamous, with the occasional savant. Lamps are lit, speeches are made, marigold garlands are worn and hung up, a lot of tea and coffee is drunk, and some samosas are consumed. And then everyone goes home. 

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