A north pole for science and technology

The work and contributions of Y. Nayudamma demonstrate how scientists and technologists can be agents of change

The work and contributions of Y. Nayudamma demonstrate how scientists and technologists can be agents of change

Mankind has been shaped by various ancient civilisations, examples being Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Chinese, and the Indus Valley. These civilisations have evolved since the time humans first decided to give up their nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of settling down in one place. It has been a long journey of many thousands of years until we became members of what is called the modern civilisation, with its common features and aspirations across the globe. The key feature of this journey has been the accumulation of bounteous knowledge and the pursuit of higher standards of living, propelled by rapid strides in the fields of science and technology.

So much so, a human being has now to be called a ‘technological animal’, ever looking for new tools that further his growing ambitions. This relentless quest for better living has thrown up some serious issues about the values, the purpose, the relevance, and the consequences of a blind-folded pursuit and application of science and technology. Who is the master? Science or the people? Agenda-setting is the key issue.

Issues on values, interests

This is the birth centenary year of Dr. Y. Nayudamma, Padma Shri recipient, noted scientist, former Director of the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai and former Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. His work, contributions and philosophy threw distinct light on various issues concerning science and technology. He had outlined a clear set of goals and objectives and the values that should guide their progress.

The main issues are: whether science and technology should adapt to the people or people should adapt to them; whether they should emerge from the felt needs and concerns of the people or should be driven from the top; what the values are that should guide and govern the pursuit of science and technology and their applications; how to contain and handle the undesirable consequences of an indiscriminate application of these powerful tools, and whose interests these tools should be serving.

Dr. Nayudamma’s work and contributions held a mirror to these concerns and demonstrated how scientists and technologists could (and can) be effective agents of such change. Science pursued in an ivory tower may not by itself serve humanity. It should be taken to the people in the form of effective technological tools that every person could use to solve their problems. Science should be for society and technology should be driven by the needs of the people.

Reshaping leather industry

As a renowned leather scientist, Dr. Nayudamma made a pioneering contribution to change the face and the nature of the tannery industry in the country. The profession of collecting hides and skins of dead animals, which is pursued by some traditional communities, used to be looked down upon due to factors such as the stench and the difficult nature of work involved. He reflected on how science and technology could make a difference in making this profession widely acceptable. He succeeded in this by enabling the removal of the stench and improving the skills of those involved in this job. He promoted leather products to improve the incomes of tannery workers. In the process, he proved that the application of science and technology could help in enhancing the economic viability of the activity to which these tools are applied, besides promoting more gainful employment.

As a result, the leather products and leather industry have gained better public acceptance. Indian leather products are in great demand in international markets. The possession of quality leather products such as shoes and handbags have come to form a part of one’s image. People from various communities are now involved in the leather industry, breaking traditional barriers and prejudices. Thus, Dr. Nayudamma was clearly an agent of social change.

Values guide the choice of technology. The focal values guiding people across the globe are ‘materialism and consumerism’. The unbridled pursuit of such ends does not help people living in peace with them. Hence, Indian philosophy and thought lay stress on a spiritual pursuit for internal peace to live in harmony with society and nature. Science and technology should enable development that is in harmony with nature.

Programmes and threads

I am struck by the vision of Dr. Nayudamma as some of his views are now reflected in some of the major initiatives of the Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Talking about the need for empowerment of all sections of society, Dr. Nayudamma — in one particular context — said that if a woman has a bank account, she would be treated differently and respected in the family. This helps in her emancipation. This is clearly at the core of the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) under which about 50 crore bank accounts have been opened to enable financial inclusion and empowerment. The PMJDY is described as “a national mission on financial inclusion encompassing an integrated approach to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country”.

Self-reliance was at the core of Dr. Nayudamma’s philosophy. He was of the opinion that our colonial past and western training, orientation and education have made us look to the West for the import of technology and solutions, and western remedies may not solve India’s problems, which are different and context-specific. He strongly advocated self-reliance in science and technology. This is also the essence of the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative (a vision of self-reliance) of the Prime Minister.

Referring to the provisions of the United Nations Charter, Dr. Nayudamma had emphasised the point of enabling all to live in dignity, have worth, equality of rights, better standards of life, security, etc. with the participation of all in national endeavours. This is the underlying principle of the philosophy of ‘Sab Ka Sath-Sab Ka Vikas-Sab Ka Prayas’.

It is rare to find such far-sighted and visionary scientists like Dr. Nayudamma. It is unfortunate that a plane crash in June 1985 claimed his life when he was only 63 years. India greatly misses this man of great vision.

Dr. Nayudamma was a link in the chain of India’s great scientific heritage. Thousands of years ago, we had great scientists such as Baudhayana, Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskaracharya, Mahaviracharya, Varahamihira, Kanada, Susruta, Charaka, Patanjali, etc. who made pioneering contributions in various fields of knowledge. This tradition had dimmed during the medieval period, which was marked by foreign invasions.

There are now concerted efforts being made to restore the pride of being a ‘Vishawaguru’ — that India was in the past. All of us need to participate in this effort by streamlining our systems of education, modes of science and research.

We are living in times where knowledge is the real power. We need to empower all with the knowledge that is the best resource of every individual. We need to provide such knowledge that enables a resolution of the problems of our nation collectively.

Dr. Nayudamma lay stress on the point that education is not to provide relief and that it should release the inner potential of all to make everyone self-reliant and self-confident. We need such systems of knowledge providers in every domain.

Nationalism is a positive force

Dr. Nayudamma firmly believed that an individual flourishes and is at his/her best only with a sense of community participation and in an environment of collective endeavour. Such an ecosystem is best provided when we are guided by the spirit of nationalism. Nationalism, accordingly, is a positive force for ensuring the rapid progress of our nation by realising the full potential of every individual. It is not a negative factor, as is being sought to be propagated by some.

The developmental strategies followed globally, based on modern scientific and technological advances, are resulting in rapid resource depletion, and ecological imbalances and inequities. What is needed are alternative development models to ensure sustainable and harmonious development. For Dr. Nayudamma, the environment was not a piece of real estate. It is a heritage to be held for future generations and is a serious responsibility of all.

In his birth centenary year, 1922, I pay tributes to all scientists and technologists who are striving for the betterment of humanity with care, concern and responsibility.

M. Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice-President of India

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