CAB could stymie scientific progress: Nobel laureate

CAB could stymie scientific progress: Nobel laureate

Nobel Prize winner Venkataraman Ramakrishnan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nobel Prize winner Venkataraman Ramakrishnan described the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) as not only a backward-looking piece of legislature which could fundamentally alter the nature of the country but also stifle its blazing scientific progress made in recent years.

Speaking to DH on Wednesday, the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry Dr Ramakrishnan, popularly known as “Venki,” said that he was dismayed by the decision of Modi administration to use the CAB as means of introducing a religious basis for granting citizenship.

“India made a conscious decision to be a tolerant secular country and enshrined these ideas in its constitution. The constitution also says ‘To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’ is one of the fundamental duties of the people of the Republic of India. It is one of the most enlightened documents in the world and its ideal of tolerance ever since its inception is something that India should rightly be proud of. However, the CAB goes against everything the constitution stands for,” he said.

He added that the bill could alienate huge sections of the country by making them feel as if their religion somehow is less welcome and even worse, less “Indian.”

For decades, Indian scientists were regarded as society's silent intellectuals, unwilling to involve themselves in political discourse or comment on national policies. Events such as the tabling of the CAB in recent times has changed that.

A bevy of prominent Bengaluru-based scientists who signed a petition against the CAB said that they felt obligated to take a moral stand against the Bill because it threatened to purge India of its legacy of human rights.

The Bill will also impede scientific advances in the country, cautioned Professor Srikanth Sastry of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Studies.

“Scientific advances only proliferate in countries with free-thinking societies. Research requires freedom of thought. Science has failed in authoritarian systems over the long-run,” he said.

It was a viewpoint echoed by Dr Ramakrishnan who added that science can ill afford to lose or discourage talent from various groups. “In cases where this has been imposed such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, it as destroyed what used to be great science,” he said.

He clarified that in Soviet Russia, scientists were ideologically opposed to genetics, so biology in the Soviet Union under agronomist Trofim Lysenko’s influence was backward and missed out on most of the advances. In Nazi Germany, the expelling of the jews, who contributed to all sectors, affected the overall quality of science. Nazi prejudice also prompted some of the best and the brightest in German science (including non-Jews) to flee the country for the west.

Dr Sastry cautioned that this too could happen in India. “Such moves may discourage Indian scientists from wanting to work in India. This legislation does not address any important priority for the country. It may not stand legal scrutiny. One worries that it is instead motivated by electoral political considerations,” he said.

The list of signatories of the petition had crossed 1,500 by 6 pm on Dec 11. A majority of them are scientists and researchers. Many of signatories were from Bengaluru.

Bangalore: 172
PIO Scientists at International Institutes: 93
Mumbai: 70
Delhi: 55
Hyderabad: 34
Chennai: 30

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