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Thousands march for science across India

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 09/08/2017
Scientists demanded that the government allocated 3 percent of the country's GDP to scientific and technological research [Sanjay Kumar/Al Jazeera] © Provided by Al Jazeera Scientists demanded that the government allocated 3 percent of the country's GDP to scientific and technological research [Sanjay Kumar/Al Jazeera]

Thousands of scientists and their supporters have marched across India to promote their work and demand that the government invest more in the field.

Inspired by the global March for Science earlier this year, rallies were held in more than 25 cities across the country on Wednesday.

"The march is not a protest," Meena Kharamtal, one of the organisers of the rally in Mumbai told Al Jazeera.

"This is a march for science," she said.

Kharamtal, along with the thousands who have rallied across the country, demanded that the government increase the funding for scientific and technological research.

"Funding for basic science in India is facing a grave situation," Anindita Brahma, a research associate at the Indian Institute of Science, told Al Jazeera.

Among the demands of Wednesday's rallies was the allocation at least three percent of the GDP to scientific and technological research and 10 percent towards education, a statement by the march organisers said.

In January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the importance of scientific research at the Indian Science Congress.

"If we want science to deliver, we must not constrain it," he said, adding that "by 2030, India will be among the top three countries in science and technology".

While many welcomed Modi's comments, those who attended the rallies on Wednesday said the government has not translated them into action.

"Although the government expects us to achieve groundbreaking discoveries, it fails to realise that the basic necessity is infrastructure, which requires sufficient funding," Brahma told Al Jazeera after attending the march in Bangalore.

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According to the World Bank, India's expenditure on research and development has remained stagnant at about 0.8 percent of the GDP over the last few years. 

This is "way smaller than anything needed to make any kind of breakthrough in science", Deepak Modi, a ecologist from Mumbai, told Al Jazeera.

China, for example, invested more than 2 percent of its GDP in research and development in 2014.

"Further there is a significant push to generate money from science being done," Deepak Modi said.

"We wish to tell the government that science cannot be compared to business. Science is a creative activity, and it may take many years before research yields any practical value and the government must support science."

At the time of publication, the Indian government had not responded to Al Jazeera's request for comment.

In addition to funding, the organisers called for the end to "propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance", as well as better adherence to Article 51A of the Constitution, which states that it is the duty of every citizen to "develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform".

Souvik Mandal, an environmental scientist who also marched in Bangalore, said he was worried "about the ignorance of public and government bodies, and their denial of scientific facts".

"The intensity in which pseudoscience and superstition are currently propagated in India and throughout the world is alarming," he said.

Gargya of the Indian Science Forum of New Delhi added that he believed "that in the last few years, many Indian policies that are coming are based in beliefs, which are not actually true".

'Science must be a priority'

India's March for Science grew out of the global march that took place on Earth Day in April.

Thousands from more than 600 cities worldwide rallied to "defend the role of science in policy and society", especially in the wake of what they called a growing number of attacks on the field.

"It was heartening to see [the global march,]," Amol Amodkar, a student from the Institute of Science and Research, Mohali, told Al Jazeera.

"It gave us confidence that the scientific community can and will stand together for what we believe in," he said before the rally in Chandigarh. 

"Science must be a priority for a growing nation like India."

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Mandal agreed, adding that he is optimistic about the future of science in India.

"We have seen a wonderful, and unexpected, number of participants from the younger generation," at the marches, he said.

This "gives us hope of a future where the public may prefer a government which abides by the scientific thinking and takes decision, including policies, through scientific knowledge".

Follow Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath on Twitter @elledubg.

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