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Science and South Asia


mittalsouthasiainstitute.harvard.edu/ 1730 Cambridge Street, 4th Floor Cambridge, MA 02138 United States of America Authors featured in this publication reserve all rights to their essays.


Science and South Asia

Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts 2019


CONTENTS From the Director 2

Contributors 5

Basic Science and India’s Transforming Research Landscape Priyamvada Natarajan 7

The Genetic Legacy of South Asians Priya Moorjani 13

Health as Habitat Satchit Balsari 19

Reenvisioning Science Education for Pakistan Muhammad Hamid Zaman 27

Restoring the Murals and Sculptures of Ajanta M. R. Singh 33


CONTENTS Connecting Science with South Asian Start-Ups Tarun Khanna and K. VijayRaghavan 41

Finding Discipline in Interdisciplinary Education Venkatesh N. Murthy 45

Remedying India’s Toxic Water Problem Ashok Gagdil and Joyashree Roy 49

The New Science and Technology behind Art Conservation Narayan Khandekar, Katherine Eremin, and Penley Knipe 55

A Science for Every Indian Mukund Thattai 63


FROM THE DIRECTOR

In South Asia, profound scientific discoveries and advancements date back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Across numerous endeavors—ranging from astronomy to mathematics to medicine, and more—science is deeply rooted in the South Asian consciousness, predisposing contemporary South Asians to continued scientific inquiry. Science remains a steadfast part of South Asia’s interactions with other nations and an agent of internal change; but the region faces many challenges that require the development of stronger scientific programs—especially as its population continues to rapidly grow. Today, the region is confronted with issues of air pollution, energy security, water scarcity, sanitation, and sustainability, uncovering the pressing need for South Asian societies to make the precarious decision about which obstacles to address first. South Asia grapples with some of the most difficult scientific challenges in the world, but it is also the region that delivers among the most innovative scientific solutions to problems. This publication, Science & South Asia, invites the reader to consider science within the context of South Asia’s diverse cultural, sociological, and political environments. The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University has a long-standing commitment to connect the Harvard community with scholars and practitioners working in South Asia and to cultivate institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration in the region. This volume brings together experts across the scientific, economic, and political spectrums, from backgrounds that span diverse disciplines, offering new perspectives on science in South Asia. The following collection of essays ranges from topics in regional health and environmental crises, to the development of start-ups and interdisciplinary education in South Asia, to the use of the scientific method and technology in 2 Science and South Asia


South Asian art conservation and even genealogy. Priya Moorjani, assistant professor of genetics, genomics, and development at the University of California, Berkeley, unravels the mysteries of the ancients’ migration from Africa to South Asia through her innovative DNA research; while Ashok Gagdil, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and Joyashree Roy, professor of economics at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, explore breakthrough technological and social innovations to bring safe drinking water to South Asia. Muhammad Hamid Zaman, professor of biomedical engineering and international health at Boston University, envisions a shift in Pakistan’s science education that integrates critical thinking and promotes expansive, interdisciplinary studies. Toward the middle of the volume, K. VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the prime minister of India, and I work to unearth the importance of scientific input in the development of the start-up ecosystem; while Narayan Khandekar, Katherine Eremin, and Penley Knipe of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard University illustrate the complexities of nondestructive scientific techniques to reveal hidden features of age-old South Asian paintings. Mukund Thattai, on faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bangalore, concludes this volume with a journey through the development of scientific programs in India, championing the reimagination of science in the public’s mind to a science that inspires, embracing curiosity but maintaining its roots in local experience and history. Together, these essays expose the inextricable connection of numerous disciplines through science, highlighting the importance of scientific advancements in all aspects of life and the need to bring science to the forefront of our social consciousness. They provide a view into scientific innovations within the region—both present and future—building a narrative that shows us just how ubiquitous and essential science is in our everyday lives. Our past four publications on Health, the City, Technology, and the Arts have each provided a window into South Asia’s modern challenges and advancements. This Science edition is distinct from our Technology publication through its focus on the development of scientific practices across a diverse array of disciplines. As always, we invite you to engage actively with the essays that follow. Please feel free to take notes in the blank pages provided, and share the digital edition with your friends and colleagues. Regards,

Tarun Khanna Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School Director, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 3


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CONTRIBUTORS Satchit Balsari is assistant professor in emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Katherine Eremin is the Patricia Cornwell Senior Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard University. Ashok Gagdil is professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Narayan Khandekar is director of and senior conservation scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard University. Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and the director of Harvard’s Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute. He serves as chair of the Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship that informed the Atal Innovation Mission. Penley Knipe is the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper and the head of the Paper Lab at the Harvard Art Museums. Priya Moorjani is assistant professor of genetics, genomics, and development at the University of California, Berkeley. Venkatesh N. Murthy is professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University and a member of Harvard’s Center for Brain Science. Priyamvada Natarajan is professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University. Joyashree Roy is professor of economics at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, where she has initiated and coordinates the university’s Global Change Programme, which concentrates on climate change research. M. R. Singh is professor and head of the Department of Conservation at the National Museum Institute in New Delhi. Mukund Thattai is on faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bangalore. K. VijayRaghavan is principal scientific advisor to the prime minister of India. Muhammad Hamid Zaman is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University.

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Basic Science and India’s Transforming Research Landscape Priyamvada Natarajan

In a provocatively titled essay, “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge,” Abraham Flexner, the founding director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, made the case for curiosity-driven basic science research in 1939. He eloquently states, “A poem, a symphony, a painting, a mathematical truth, a new scientific fact, all bear in themselves all the justification that universities, colleges, and institutes of research need or require.” His view remains pertinent today— not just for the United States, but globally. Radical, transformative, and innovative ideas, born from basic scientific research, frequently lead to unanticipated discoveries on long time scales; this is often referred to as blue-sky research. And in a world shaped and increasingly driven by science and technology, the tussle for the status of scientific superpower is an active one between nations. Until recently, China and India had not been serious contenders in that struggle. However, a recent report from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) released on January 18, 2018, showed that China had for the first time surpassed the United States in its number of scientific publications. Meanwhile, the US still remains the scientific powerhouse with the largest R&D budget of around US $500 billion in 2015, about 26 percent of the global total and outpacing China when it comes to producing the most influential articles, cited in the top 1 percent. While the US budget has remained flat as a portion of the country’s overall economy, both China and India have been surging ahead, increasing their proportional spending on scientific research over the past decade. In India’s case, this growing investment is mirrored in the number of research publications from scientists and engineers, which has been steadily rising since 2004, reaching about one hundred thousand papers in 2016 and ranking just above Japan’s count (fig. 1 below shows the data from this report). Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 7


The data therefore suggest that a slow and steady global realignment in investment in basic scientific research and intellectual output is currently underway. This represents a crucial juncture for Indian science and technology, as we are witnessing a major inversion—a move from India historically being driven by scarcity and lack of resources to the country reallocating abundant funds to the service of research. The transformation that this increase in funding has set in motion will take time to yield results in innovation and impact, but the shift is palpably afoot. Since Independence, it has been a challenge for Indian policy makers to balance the need to develop, industrialize, and modernize the Indian economy versus invest in basic science research that might not produce immediate, tangible results. Despite this conflict of national priorities, one elite research institute, the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR), had been established even prior to Independence in 1945, with initial philanthropic support from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Post-Independence, nuclear energy and space science were designated high-priority areas for research investment, which in turn led to the foundation of the Atomic Energy Establishment (subsequently renamed the Bhabha Atomic Research Center) in 1954 and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1969. On the nuclear front, in addition to exploring peaceful uses for atomic energy, India chose to develop and test weapons and hence belongs to the elite nuclear club of nine nations that possess a nuclear arsenal. Though not a signatory of the International Non-Proliferation Treaty, India recently negotiated an agreement with the US for cooperation and inclusion into an international consortium for research into nuclear fusion. ISRO, meanwhile, is a major jewel in the crown of the national science and technology enterprise. Established by independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and emblematic of his belief in development via scientific progress, its ambitious charter is to “harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.” Nehru tapped one of his inner circle, the eminent space scientist Vikram Sarabhai, to provide the scientific vision for ISRO. ISRO is an exemplar in the constellation of research institutions in India and is currently one of the leading space agencies in the world, operating on a lean budget, entirely funded by the government. Recent notable achievements include the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan in 2014, making India the first nation to succeed on its maiden attempt to do so; the flawless launch of twenty communication satellites in a single payload in 2016; and the record-breaking launch of 104 satellites aboard a single indigenously developed rocket, the PSLV-C37. Besides occupying a pole position in the lucrative commercial satellite launching business at present, ISRO also has an active space exploration agenda with several planned future missions, including a lunar landing project, in collaboration with the Japanese Space Agency, to prospect for water near the south pole of the moon. ISRO has received steady government funding 8 Science and South Asia


Figure: Data showing the global growth trend in the number of published science and engineering articles over the past fifteen years. Output from Indian researchers has been steadily growing in tandem with increases in research.

and is managed entirely by scientists and engineers with little or no bureaucratic interference. This is in fact the model—early visionary leadership coupled with autonomy—that the Indian government has since adopted to establish premier institutions in various scientific disciplines. Two recent ventures that in their own ways are transforming the research landscape in their respective disciplines are IUCAA (Inter-University Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics) and NCBS (National Center for Biological Sciences). IUCAA was founded in 1988 under the leadership of the eminent astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar; and, similarly, NCBS was established in 1992, with renowned geneticist Dr. Obaid Siddiqi at its helm. Having completed their training in the UK and US, both leaders were able to set up thriving institutes with worldclass research groups. Yet, up until India’s recent economic resurgence following its economic liberalization, which has led to the nation’s growth and affluence, funding even for these elite institutions had initially been scarce. Recent infusion of research money into these enterprises has been regenerative. The Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and his collaborators have noted that the conditions of scarcity produce their own psychology, and one characteristic is the narrowing horizon of even imagined possibilities. The course of research directions deliberately adopted by the Indian physics establishment offers an interesting case study for how a death in funding shaped and impacted intellectual exploration. For instance, the research agenda pursued by Indian physicists tilted strongly toward abstract, theoretical problems that did not require expensive experimental equipment. Frugal budgets fashioned these choices, and India produced a generation of leaders in areas like theoretical general relativity and string theory when they were out of vogue in the West. Meanwhile, scientific establishments in Europe and the US focused on scientific questions that necessitated large investments in infrastructure and experimental apparatus. With the torquing of the practice of science toward “Big Science” over the past three to four decades, India lagged behind. Two recent commitments in physics and astronomy stand to radically shift India’s international research profile, and signal the move to the frontier of experimental work. Scarcity is no longer driving the agenda. India has just joined the Advanced LIGO consortium as a partner, and will now operate deLakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 9


tectors to join in the large international network dedicated to the experimental detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding black holes in the cosmos. In astronomy, India has signed a memorandum of understanding with a public-private partnership to join the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project and has purchased a time-share in this future observatory. The TMT will be one of the largest ground-based telescopes, and first light is expected within the coming two decades. Big science is not only here to stay but will clear the mode of operation for the future. With the rapid pace in development of technology and the increasing sophistication of instruments, scientific research is now performed in large teams that combine the effort and expertise of many individual scientists and engineers. The strategic decision to join these projects reveals the ambitions of a burgeoning science and technology superpower. Training the next generation of scientists who will be at the helm of these future enterprises is the next big looming challenge. The key remaining ingredient to India transforming into a scientific superpower and staying one is the creation of a robust educational pipeline that will ensure training and recruitment of the abundantly available young talent. An early misstep in setting up the educational infrastructure post-Independence was the adoption of the German Max-Planck Institute model instead of the template of another type of ecosystem, of a US research university, that effectively marries teaching, research, and entrepreneurship. In the German model, pedagogy was centered in colleges affiliated with universities and research activities were devolved to well-funded elite institutes. It is within this framework that the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) were established. However, realizing that research and teaching need to be reconnected as part of the educational experience to produce the next generation of basic science researchers and discoveries, several new institutes—the IISERs (Indian Institute for Science Education and Research)—that reintegrated the two components have been founded across the country since 2010. We are constantly reminded of the advantage offered by India’s unique demographic profile—that by 2020 the median age will be twenty-eight years, compared to thirty-eight years for the US, forty-two years for China, and almost fifty years for Japan. At present, people aged fifteen to twenty-nine years comprise 28 percent of the total population of the country. India is in sore need of a pipeline to train its younger generation in science and technology and in which to absorb them into its technical labor force in order to tap into its so-called demographic dividend. However, this would pose many challenges for the existing educational infrastructure, as India simply does not have the capacity to educate these growing numbers of students, and its current institutions cannot be effectively scaled up to accommodate these surging numbers. In order to create the talent pool required to fuel innovation driven by the science-technology machine, it was

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deemed necessary to privatize education. But, though such efforts have been made recently, the availability and employment of quality control and accreditation norms to retain high standards of education in these new establishments is very much a work in progress. While many of these strategic moves are potentially aligned well to advance India’s prospects for scientific and technological leadership and global competitiveness, we can also learn from institutional experiences in Europe and the US. Lessons from its Western counterparts on the expansion of research networks to amplify productivity include development of more effective private-public and philanthropic partnerships for fueling cutting-edge research. This has proved to be not only successful in rapidly opening up discovery space, but spreading the risk in exploring new directions has also been shown to be cost-effective. In the US, government funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Digital Libraries Project spawned technologies that eventually led to successful companies like Google and Yahoo that generate trillions of dollars worldwide and have utterly reshaped our world. However, the NSF and public taxpayers who fund it have not benefited from these spectacular economic returns. India could follow a different path going forward, and its government could retain options akin to early-stage investors for the scientific and technological research funding in basic science projects that they finance. This new model would ensure replenishment of funds toward keeping the basic science subsidies engine fueled in the long run. In fact, India stands to leverage its being a latecomer in the race for global dominance in the fields of science and technology by appropriating and adapting best practices and experiences from the old guard. The future is bright for Indian science and technology; and for a country with strong ancient traditions in mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences, its time is coming soon. REFERENCES AND RELEVANT LINKS Advanced LIGO Consortium India. http://www.gw-indigo.org/tiki-index.php. Dijgraaf, Robert, and Abraham Flexner. The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. India TMT. http://tmt.iiap.res.in/about. Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Eldar Sharif. Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. New York: Picador, 2014. https://www.amazon.com/Scarcity-Science-HavingDefines-Lives/dp/125005611X. National Science Board. Bridging the Gap: Building a Sustained Approach to Mid-scale Research Infrastructure and Cyberinfrastructure at NSF. National Science Board Report, 2018. https:// www.nsf.gov/nsb/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=244252&org=NSB&from=news. Tollefson, Jeff. “China Declared World’s Largest Producer of Scientific Articles.” Nature 553, 390 (2018). https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00927-4.

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The Genetic Legacy of South Asians Priya Moorjani

The story of India began some forty to sixty thousand years ago, when modern humans left Africa and populated Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. This major exodus, referred to as the Out-of-Africa migration, brought the first humans to India and marked the beginning of thousands of years of settlement, the rise and fall of the Indus Valley Civilization, the advent and demise of kingdoms and colonial rule, and the birth of the modern-day nation of India. While written, linguistic, and archaeological records tell us a great deal about our recent history, our ancient past has remained enigmatic for many millennia like the settlers of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. But a new kind of information, gleaned from our DNA, is now rapidly unraveling the mystery and revising some of our long-held myths about these early chapters in our history. Found in the nucleus of every cell in the body, DNA contains the recipe of life in the form of a sequence of four letters—adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T)—passed down from generation to generation. In each generation, small changes occur in our DNA or genome resulting from random errors called “mutations.” Mutations are often harmful and cause diseases, but they are also the source of all the diversity that we observe around us. They are responsible for differences in skin color and hair type, as well as the ability to digest milk in adulthood and resist diseases like malaria. Importantly, our DNA carries a wealth of information about our ancestors, since we share more mutations with individuals closely related to us. In each generation, children inherit 50 percent of their DNA from each of their two parents, who in turn received 50 percent of their DNA from each of their parents and so

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on (so a child has 25 percent from each grandparent, 12.5 percent from each great-grandparent, and so forth). By measuring the number of shared mutations between individuals or groups, we can thus learn about how people relate to each other and reconstruct their history over deep timescales (over hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years). Tracing the genetic legacy of populations worldwide has revealed surprising new findings about human history, at times contradictory to the popular narrative. The first major surprise about Indian population history came in 2009, when a study led by Harvard Medical School and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad compared genetic data from twenty-five Indian groups to other worldwide populations. Their analysis showed that all Indians have “mixed” ancestry—meaning that part of their DNA came from West Eurasian ancestors such as Europeans, Middle Easterners, and Central Asians (presumably the Indo-Europeans, henceforth referred to as “Ancestral North Indians [ANI]”); and that the other part of their DNA came from indigenous Indian ancestors, not found outside the subcontinent (presumably the Dravidians, henceforth referred to as “Ancestral South Indians [ASI]”). Therefore, contrary to the popular myth that present-day North Indian populations descended directly from Indo-Europeans and that present-day South Indian populations descended directly from Dravidians, all populations in India—regardless of their caste, language, and geography— are united in this history of admixture between ancestral North and ancestral South Indian populations. Though this ANI-ASI admixture is universal in the history of present-day Indians, the particular patterns of admixture differ between groups. For ex-

Figure: Model of Indian population history. Image copyright Kumarasamy Thangaraj, CCMB.

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ample, the proportion of ANI ancestry varies between 20 to 80 percent in India, and tends to be higher in Northern, as opposed to Southern, groups; in upper-caste, as opposed to lower-caste, groups; and in speakers of Indo-European languages, as compared to those that speak Dravidian languages. These differences suggest that the mixture between ANI and ASI has had a formative impact on Indian history, and is related to the spread of languages and the traditional caste system on the subcontinent. But when did this mixture occur? What forces brought such diverse populations together? Our genes can help shed light on this question. The genomes of Indian individuals are made up of regions of both ANI and ASI descent (since some of their ancestors were ANI, while others were ASI). When ANI and ASI groups first came into contact, the regions of each ancestry would have been extremely long, extending for the entire length of the chromosomes. However, due to the process of recombination that leads to shuffling of DNA during the formation of egg and sperm, these segments would have broken up in each generation, leading to smaller and smaller regions of ANI and ASI ancestry as time passed. As this happens in a clocklike manner, measuring the lengths of the ANI and ASI regions in Indian genomes today can tell us about the timing of the mixture. Given this insight, it was inferred that the ANI and ASI mixture occurred between two thousand to four thousand years ago. The estimated dates correlate with language and geography, with more recent dates observed in Northern groups that speak Indo-European languages, compared to Southern groups that speak Dravidian languages. Moreover, there is evidence for multiple layers of ANI ancestry in some upper- and middle-caste groups. In some tribal groups, the entire mixture is consistent with having occurred during this period, suggesting that four thousand years ago there may have been people of entirely ANI (and entire ASI) ancestry living in India. But today, all Indians have both of these ancestries, suggesting that this mixture was rapid and pervasive and affected all populations and groups in India. From historical and archaeological studies, we know that the period between two thousand to four thousand years ago was particularly eventful for the Indian subcontinent. It was marked by the mysterious end of the Indus civilization, the arrival of Indo-European languages and Vedic religion, changes in funerary and burial rites and massive migrations along the Gangetic plains. These events could have catalyzed the mixing of the divergent ANI and ASI groups. This period was followed by a major demographic shift toward endogamy in which mixture, even between closely related groups, became rare. An important implication of these findings is that the caste system is not a recent construct of the British Raj as suggested by some, but is in fact an old instiLakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 15


tution dating back to at least a couple of thousand years ago. Additional evidence for this conclusion comes from the study of ancient Indian texts, which show that at its inception of the Vedas supported substantial social movement across groups. However, the later parts of Vedas and the writings of Manu composed around 1,000 BC forbid marriages across the four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra). Together, evidence from these diverse sources that rely on very different and independent information, are helping to paint a clearer and in-depth picture of our past. A looming question that still remains is, Who were the ANI and ASI? What do these findings tell us, if anything, about the elusive Indus Valley Civilization? Until recently, most genetic studies focused on studying DNA from living people to infer past population relationships and evolutionary history. However, it has now become possible to extract DNA from ancient humans, by sequencing bones from skeletons and remains. This technology has revolutionized the studies of human evolution in the West, as it is in fact a bit like a time machine that allows one to go back in the past and study historical population relationships and events. It has shown that ancestors of all non-Africans and Neanderthals mixed with each other, it has clarified questions about the origins of Europeans and Native Americans, it has helped uncover the existence of Denisovans, a previously unknown human species that lived roughly fifty thousand years ago and contributed DNA to some present-day human populations, including Indians. This technology has only recently begun to be applied to the study of Indian population history—for example, recent work using DNA from ancient West Eurasian samples has shown that the source of ANI ancestry in India can be best modeled as a combination of early Neolithic Iranian farmers and Bronze Age pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (present-day Ukraine and Russia). Since that steppe is also the place attributed to the origin and spread of Indo-European languages by some, this may plausibly explain how Sanskrit came to India. But this is just the beginning of what we can learn with ancient DNA technology, as several groups have recently hinted that they are working on ancient DNA from South Asia, from the Indus Valley Civilization. This is like the key we have been waiting for to open the doors of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, to meet our early ancestors and to follow their journey. In the process, we might rediscover who we are and what truly defines us as Indians.

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Mumbai Smog. Photograph by Abhay Singh.

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Health as Habit Satchit Balsari

In February 2018, the Indian government announced what the New York Times called the world’s largest health insurance program, offering Rs. 5 lakhs’ worth of annual coverage to roughly five hundred million people. As part of its Ayushman Bharat program, the government will support over 150,000 health and wellness centers, with a focus on both infectious and noncommunicable diseases. The state-sponsored think tank NITI Aayog announced that the entire enterprise will be supported by a health-tech spine called the National Health Stack, which will help streamline claims, decrease graft, and improve efficiency. All eligible Indians will receive coverage for inpatient medical and surgical services. Demand may outstrip capacity, as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer cripple the lives of a growing number of Indians each year. The question now is whether this colossal (and welcome) investment will change any of the key drivers of our health. What impact, if any, will it have on what Indians breathe, what they eat, and how they move? One of my favorite and not so distant memories of Mumbai is the final stretch of the journey home from the airport. Whizzing down the northern viaduct of the Sea Link, the 5.6-kilometer wonder way that spans Mahim Bay, I would try pick out the buildings I still recognized: Hinduja Hospital, Twin Towers, and Beach Towers. On a clear night the eternal flame of the Trombay Thermal Power Station would dance on the horizon. The Koli fishing boats bobbing on the foreground would signal that I was home. But, in about 2016, I started noticing a change. The familiar landmarks I knew were hard to pick apart. They stood in the shadow of the looming skyscrapers behind them—giant structures that had redefined Mumbai’s sky-

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line. And both the old and the new were wrapped in a thick blanket of what the Weather Channel app had started calling smoke. Visibility on days when the Air Quality Index (AQI) crossed 200 was low, and Mahim Bay began to look forlorn. “AQI” has become part of household chatter only recently. It has managed to wedge its way into Delhi’s morning ritual: “Did you see the level today? 450. Oh, God. I think I’ll keep the kids home.” Particulate matter had become the great divider: there were those who have the means to filter it out, and those who did not. The Rs. 20,000 HEPA filters purifying the air in the homes of the haves are well beyond the reach of the hundreds of millions who inhale toxic air with every breath. The air is now laden with the by-products of untamed industrial growth, kitchen fires, agricultural waste, vehicular emissions, incessant construction, and unclean energy (coal). Many of these pollutants are less than 2.5 microns in size, and easily pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. They are known to decrease life expectancy, damage the heart and lungs, and be highly carcinogenic. The havoc they wreck in our bodies can be reversed by neither medicine nor money. And yet, even as cancer rates multiply and quality of life plummets, stakeholders are loath to address the looming catastrophe. These dystopian megacities, in spite of their staggering economic output and equally staggering picture of human misery, are expected to multiply. By 2030, some estimates see the Mumbai Metropolitan Region reaching a population of close to thirty million, with Delhi and Kolkata both above twenty million.1 Chennai, Bangalore, and Pune will cross ten million, and fourteen cities will comprise more than four million people each. Going by current trends, none of these cities will experience a concomitant rise in supporting infrastructure. The clamor for space will result in worsening slum density, taller buildings, denser road traffic, and few public spaces. Our much-needed economic growth has, as was the case in Europe, not only polluted our environment, but it has also greatly influenced our mobility. The millions trapped in the bustling urban megalopolises live in crammed quarters, traveling long distances to and from work in trains, buses, and cars, and working long, grueling hours, many in sedentary jobs. The streets are chockablock with vendors and slums, potholes and waste; the millions who walk the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, or Kolkata do so because they have to, not because they want to. A leisurely stroll along the Hooghly River or the Arabian Sea is now both a distant memory and a health hazard. The hours that the human body was designed to spend walking, jumping, climbing, running, lifting, resting, and consuming ingested food are instead spent indoors or outdoors, sitting in traffic and inhaling toxic air. What I miss most about walking down Old Prabhadevi Road, where I grew up, is walking. Vehicles are parked on either side of what was once a

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narrow, quiet leafy street. Now the elderly have to constantly dodge Ubers and Olas and private cars where there used to be cows and street cricket champions. Last summer, when my mother (in her seventies) visited me in Cambridge and announced that she wanted to learn to bicycle again, I was simultaneously terrified and elated. A month later, she was spending close to an hour every day enjoying the community bike path in the neighborhood. It saddened me to know that she would not be able to do so the day she returned home to Old Prabhadevi Road. I wondered whether my grandmother, had she still been alive today, would have left the apartment as often as she did in the 1980s and 1990s to make multiple trips to the market and the temple, and to her friends. What I also began to notice on my regular trips back to India is the steady expansion of waistlines. Across socioeconomic strata, Indians have accumulated their wealth around their waists. We don’t eat like our parents did; and our grandparents would hardly recognize some of the food now available in stores. Our food is available in Tetra Paks or foil wrappers and is more often a by-product of chemicals than of natural ingredients. The “to go” Westernization of the urban diet proved inevitable; fast food and soda are often now the norm. According to the 2007 National Family Health Survey, 16 percent of Indian females and 12.1 percent of Indian males were obese, with obesity levels reaching close to 50 percent in cities such as Delhi. Obesity drives ill health and contributes to cardiac disease, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, and a slew of related physical and mental health challenges. Its causes are a complex interplay of genetics, lifestyle, and environment. This growing obesity is a harbinger of a high burden of morbidity as insulin injections, dialysis treatments, bypass surgeries, and toe amputations become a troublesome part of what it means to grow old in urban India. And yet, in 2017, the government welcomed processed food companies to an investment conference in India, where the Minister of Food Processing Industries proclaimed, “I don’t think that processed food is unhealthy food. You just have to be conscious about what you’re eating.”2 Unfortunately, what Indians think they are eating is drenched in myth. Street wisdom and state officials claim that India’s yogic vegetarianism is the panacea for all illness. Even if this were true, the data show that close to 75 percent of Indians eat some form of fish, eggs, or meat. Of the nearly two lakh respondents to the National Family Health Survey (2005–6), less than 20 percent of megacity dwellers were vegetarian.3 Only 25 percent of rural India is vegetarian, with great interstate variation. Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan are predominantly (75 percent) vegetarian in contrast to six northeastern states where less than 2 percent of the population is vegetarian. And across most groups, we know that the consumption of white flour, white rice, and processed “snacks” is staggeringly high. The predominance of simple carbo-

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Crowded Street Jaipur. Photograph by Annie Spratt.

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hydrates in the modern Indian diet is no small driver of the obesity epidemic. Sabudana, rotis, rice, popadams, biscuits, and increasingly popular “healthy baked snacks,” are gastronomic delights, but also very efficient in causing rapid changes in blood glucose—the first step in converting excess sugars to fat. And yet, a government website laments that “one of the prime factors for non-competitiveness of the food processing industry (in India) is because of the cost and quality of marketing channels. India presents a huge opportunity and is all set for a big retail revolution. India is the least saturated of global markets with a small organized retail.”4 What we should be doing instead is exactly the opposite. We should be teaching our children early on where their food comes from, how it is grown, preserved, fermented, transported, baked, boiled, fried, or roasted before it arrives on their plates. We should take advantage of the fact that most Indian households still cook food in their kitchens, and off-the-shelf, read-to-eat meals are still not the norm. As Michael Pollan recommends in his treatise, In Defense of Food, we should be eating natural food, mostly plants, and not too much.5 What we eat, what we breathe, and how we move contribute significantly to our health (and ill health). Public health and behavioral science has shown, irrefutably, that offering people choices is not enough. We have to create the conditions to let people make informed choices. And more importantly, we have to create a society where these choices—choices to lead a healthier lifestyle—are even possible. Can the worrisome trends we observe in India, and in many large cities in the developing world, be reversed? Is there precedence? The answer to both questions is yes—but not without heightened public consciousness; concerted efforts by citizens, physicians, and urban planners; and a somber, serious commitment by policy makers. The last will be the toughest because the gains of policy interventions today will only be felt several election cycles down the road. It is easier to demonstrate, for example, that ten new industrial plants have been built than it is to quantify the air quality improvements and positive health outcomes had they not been built. It is easier to bring processed foods to the market to offer consumers “variety” than it is to ensure that more fresh food makes it from farm to table, even in our bustling cities. Thankfully, we have a workable blueprint from other cities that have dealt with the challenges presented by booming industrialized economies, urban agglomeration, and population explosion. The air in today’s greatest cities was heavily polluted just a few decades ago. In December of 1952, for example, four thousand deaths were attributed to immediate respiratory effects from the Great Smog of London. As a result, the Clean Air Act was passed and families were offered incentives to replace coal fires with gas fires. In 1966, 10

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percent of New York City’s residents suffered adverse health effects as a result of smog over the Thanksgiving weekend. By 1972, the city had cut levels and particulate matter by half. In these postindustrial cities, through legislation and implementation, polluting industries were moved away from residential areas, and large investments were made in the development of public transportation and affordable housing, and in curtailment of vehicular emissions. City councils the world over are now disincentivizing the use of private vehicles. Wider footpaths, more trains and buses, bicycle lanes and bike shares have made even cities like New York more navigable. There is now an entire generation of urban dwellers who do not aspire to own a car. The average New Yorker walks four miles a day; sugar and soda have been taxed in Denmark; and grocery chains across Europe and the United States are making a concerted effort to offer more fresh produce and less processed food. But these solutions are not for the West alone. Beijing and Shanghai, two cities topping the list for the world’s worst air quality, have made efforts to scale back pollutants. The Chinese government is encouraging residents to give up coal stoves and furnaces. Cars are required to use higher-quality gasoline. Over one hundred coal-fired power plants are scheduled to be shut down, as the government invests in wind and solar energy. Singapore, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Taipei, and Seoul all have a dense network of light rail or buses or, more often, both. Communities have started reexposing their children to healthy eating habits early on. In Uruguay, students learn to milk cows, grow vegetables, and help to cook school lunches. Japanese lunch meals are often prepared from vegetables grown on school property that are planted and tended by students. Students use lunchtime to learn about food. South Korean lunches include only whole foods, not processed “food-like” items. There are no easy solutions, of course. The answers lie not in the purview of one discipline or a state agency, but at the intersection of public health, nutrition, urban planning, transport, renewable energy, education, and law enforcement. Public outcry is muted because the collective slide to ill health is slow and often difficult to acknowledge until it reaches epidemic proportion. Catastrophes like the great annual winter smog in Delhi have galvanized the bureaucracy and judiciary into action; however, ineffective interagency coordination and poor law enforcement have precluded substantive change. The private sector has responded by offering farm shares and organic food—excellent services that today remain beyond the reach of most Indians. There is growing scientific and policy evidence that communities are happier and healthier when they are imagined on smaller scales, even within cities. The knowledge that exercise and diet have the greatest impact on our lives is as ancient as our civilization, and yet we are increasingly trapped in lifestyles and environments that discourage us from eating well, moving more, and

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breathing freely. It is therefore now up to the guardians of knowledge, the scientists and the academics, to commit to translational engagement. Digital and social media can serve as potent evangelizing tools. It is incumbent on our scientists to educate society, because sweeping change will require both societal and political fervor to redefine what it means to be modern, progressive, and sustainable. Our heath is probably best imagined as a matter of habit. How do we construct our modern lives in a way that our choices contribute to positive health, and not disease? How do we examine every policy decision through its impact on what we hold most precious—our lives? Strategic long-term investments that allow people to simply enjoy being human, that allow them to eat healthy, to walk freely, and to breathe fresh air will boost the long-term health of the nation, and must be pursued on the same war footing as curative interventions.

1

The World’s Cities in 2016, United Nations Data booklet. http://www.un.org/en/ development/desa/population/publications/pdf/urbanization/the_worlds_cities_ in_2016_data_booklet.pdf (accessed March 2, 2018).

2

C. Dewey, “Obesity Is Not an Issue”: Why the Indian Government Is Courting Foreign Junk-Food Makers,” Washington Post, Oct 3, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/ news/wonk/wp/2017/10/03/obesity-is-not-an-issue-why-the-indian-government-iscourting-foreign-junk-food-makers/?utm_term=.ff610a7020db (accessed March 2, 2018).

3

B. Natarajan and S. Jacob, “‘Provincialising’ Vegetarianism: Putting Indian Food Habits in Their Place,” Economic and Political Weekly 53, no. 9 (March 2018). http://www.epw.in/system/ files/pdf/2018_53/9/SA_LIII_9_030318_Balmurli_Natrajan.pdf (accessed March 6, 2018).

4

See http://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/six_head_product/PFV_OPF.htm.

5

Michael Pollan, food expert and professor of journalism at Berkeley, has written several books on food and our diets. He distills the central message of one of his earlier books, In Defense of Food, into a simple maxim: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

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Students graduating. Photograph by Faustin Tuyambaze.

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Reenvisioning Science Education for Pakistan Muhammad Hamid Zaman

While never explicitly stated, the goal of the high school system in Pakistan is to create disincentives for students to become scientists. The high school exam, the Higher Secondary School Certificate, the HSSC, gives two options to aspiring scientists, though neither of them are actually about basic science. Students, who number in the hundreds of thousands, appear for an annual exam in their respective boards of education. The total number of boards is over two dozen (in the federal board alone, over fifty thousand students appeared for the exam in 2017). Students who pursue science can choose to be in the pre-engineering group or the premedical group. The subjects taught in these two groups are identical, except that in pre-engineering students study mathematics (in addition to chemistry and physics), and in premed students study biology (in lieu of mathematics, and in addition to chemistry and physics). The system does not allow for a student to take both mathematics and biology at the high school level. These two tracks feed directly into engineering colleges or medical schools. Despite global trends of interdisciplinary scholarship and a demand for biological and mathematical sciences to engage with each other, little has been done to change the archaic Indian system since its inception over seventy years ago. Options for a student to pursue a higher degree in science have historically been few and largely utilized by those who are unable to get into the highly competitive engineering or medical institutions. But, against the backdrop of these constraints, two kinds of students pursue advanced degrees in basic science in Pakistan. The first group comprises those who were not admitted to the national medical schools or engineering colleges. After high school, they

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would typically enter a four-year bachelor’s program (previously two years until 2017 and followed up by two years of masters). The numbers of students, at any university, in a basic science discipline is typically a few dozen, suggesting that out of the hundreds of thousands who would appear for the national exam in high school, only a tiny fraction make it to the bachelor’s level. The second group of students that pursues higher degrees in basic sciences compromises those who matriculate from the British system of Indian high schools (employing O and A levels, where students are granted some freedom to choose their subjects). But should they be interested in a higher degree in basic sciences, they would have to continue their studies abroad. With the exception of very few options (Lahore University of Management Sciences), there is little opportunity for these students to pursue advanced degrees in basic sciences in India. The supply-and-demand analysis paints an even bleaker picture of the status of basic science training. The demand side, from student interest, has historically been stifled and discouraged through systematic barriers, social pressures (to become an engineer or a doctor), and lack of employment opportunities for basic scientists. But the supply side has also been deficient, owing to lack of funds for research and general infrastructure collapse at universities. In 2002, the Higher Education Commission appeared on the scene with a big budget and an even bigger mandate. The goal was to transform Pakistan’s research sector and to put Pakistan “on the map.” It did so by sending thousands of aspiring master’s and PhD students abroad and by incentivizing research at institutions and starting controversial programs where each published paper was rewarded with a cash award. It did change the culture, but, as economist Faisal Bari points out, universities that had historically focused on teaching were all of a sudden concentrating only on research (and that, too, of dubious quality) and failing in their core responsibility to train the next generation. Furthermore, the research activity picked up mostly in the engineering, health, and information technology sectors, but not in basic sciences. This takes us to our next point about the ambiguity between basic science and applied activity in the information technology sector, and it is national discourse and perspective, as well as poor policy decisions, that have resulted in these blurred lines. But the result has done major damage to rigorous discussion on science education, science policy, pipeline of students graduating and interested in pursuing science, and potential opportunities for growth in the basic science sector. From national plans (such as Vision 2025 and other plans) to provincial strategies on promotion of science, focus goes almost exclusively to technology, and that, too, to information technology. This, the government argues, results from the demand in the employment sector, particularly in telecommunication and media industry, that has seen a surge over the last two decades. The historical demand for physicists and chemists in the national nuclear program has saturated and been replaced by the private-sector 28 Science and South Asia


Students Taking an Exam. Courtesy of the Daily Post India.

demand for IT professionals. With little local industry in hardware, optics, and biotechnology, and with limited funding for infrastructure, no one can make the argument for the necessity of basic science, even when it strengthens the applied sectors. Given limited resources and even more limited government appetite, the question of the future of basic science in India remains. The argument that the solution is rooted in funding is only partly true. The solution cannot come from increasing research funding alone when there are fundamental questions about the quality of the pipeline and education that the system provides. Even with increased funding, the quality of research and scholarship in basic sciences in Pakistan has continued to decline, and there is little doubt that Pakistani scholars in basic sciences, on average, are not globally or even regionally competitive. Incentives such as cash awards for publications have increased the number of papers but have equally increased cases of plagiarism and the abundance of highly dubious quality research published in predatory journals. Any comprehensive solutions, therefore, must strengthen the quality of the output that the system produces. This requires interventions at both the high school and university levels, as well as opportunities for citizen awareness and engagement. Starting with high school, the artificial and archaic boundaries between what students can choose to study at that level need to be abolished. The Pakistani school system currently forces students to study only to become engineers or doctors, even when they may have no interest in such professions. With a very limited number of available slots at engineering or medical Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 29


schools, the vast majority (by some estimates upwards of 90 percent) of students are compelled to choose careers outside engineering or medicine. The ability to engage with different disciplines is the first step toward creating a lasting sense of curiosity. The challenge to this need not be ideological, but is rather of a logistical nature, for which ample solutions are available. Second, textbooks and the ability to deliver material must be thoroughly reexamined; a number of scientists, including Pervez Hoodbhoy, have systematically discussed gross errors in textbooks and the fact that they tend to reinforce memorization as opposed to problem solving and critical or creative thinking. The challenge here lies in both the text and its delivery. An opportunity for teacher training, and subsequently a discourse on texts that enable creative thinking, must be a high priority. The problems seen at the high school level are manifest as well at the university level. Here again, the quality of teaching is subpar, and permission for students to take courses beyond their discipline is restricted. Students concentrating in science often have no time to engage with humanities, including literature, history, philosophy, and art, areas that help them think about complex questions and other dimensions of knowledge as well as foster curiosity. The entire four-year curriculum is highly scripted with little room for debate, discussion, and freedom to study topics of one’s choice. Such college graduates, even given their advanced degrees, are unlikely to compete globally in a fast-moving and rapidly changing scientific climate that increasingly rewards collaboration and cross-disciplinary activities. Since most of these problems are not new, there has been some discussion and efforts to correct our course. Some of these efforts in the recent past have been led by philanthropists, including Syed Babar Ali and the Lahore University of Management Sciences, to create scientist-scholars through educational endeavors that combine scientific rigor with liberal arts education. This model, while laudable, is resource-intensive and requires major support of philanthropists to ensure sustainability and growth. Furthermore, in a country where higher education is in high demand, many more such efforts must be developed and sustained to generate broadscale change in Pakistan. The final aspect in the solution space addresses broad citizen engagement with science. Given the absence of a robust library system and science museums, an effort must be made to engage citizens in science—regardless of their age, gender, socioeconomic status, or geographic proximity to an urban center. While science festivals, including the Lahore Science Mela and similar efforts in a handful of other cities, are early steps in this direction, these efforts are nascent and must be supported and made available to vast sectors of society that lack basic understanding of what science is and what a scientist does.

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Overall, the fundamental challenge in creating curious, rigorous, and socially engaged scientists lies in the artificial constraints and bottlenecks in place at high schools and universities. Pakistan’s capability to produce scientists of international standing relies on it strengthening the pipeline through a more inclusive curriculum and training teachers in pedagogical methodologies that deliver on the promise of quality, creativity, and inquiry.

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Figure 1

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Restoring the Murals and Sculptures of Ajanta M. R. Singh

India’s Ajanta caves, a World Heritage Site bearing beautiful murals, represents the life and belief of ancient Indians from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE. The cave reveals the highest point of artistic and technical achievements in India’s great cultural period, the golden age (Spink 2014). The thirty Buddhist caves created by the Vakatakas in a remote ravine at Ajanta form a devotional complex that ranks among the world’s most impressive achievements. The masterworks of early Buddhist arts housed in the Ajanta caves later spread with Buddhism over the Himalayas to Afghanistan, China, Japan, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. It was Ajanta that had introduced chiaroscuro and foreshortening painting techniques to the world. The three-dimensional stone sculptures of Ajanta had also been developed at the cave art’s apex. Some of the caves were oriented toward summer/winter solstices, and at least one of the pillars in the upper cave 6 emanates musical sound. The painted layer has been applied on dry mud/ lime plasters and the painting with colors of inorganic nature (Artioli et al. 2008). The binder to the pigment layer is certainly of an organic nature, which has still to be precisely identified; however, preliminary investigation confirms use of animal glue in the tempera-style paintings at Ajanta (Lal 1996; Subbaraman 1993). As half of the Ajanta caves face east and other half south to the 178-foothigh waterfall of Waghura (Lion’s den) river in seven stages, Ajanta’s microclimatic condition plays an important role in the survival of its murals. Conservation studies carried out at Ajanta so far include monitoring of environmental parameters, engineering of the geological survey, rock and mineral analysis, biodeterioration studies, and pigments and painting techniques, as well as com-

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position and characterization of earthen plaster (Singh and Arbad 2015). The mud plaster used as support for the murals contains clay and silt admixed with natural fiber such as rice husk, plant seeds, and local plant fibers. The mud plaster is very sensitive to humidity inside the cave, which can impact other layers of the painted surface. As the binder is organic in nature, it is also prone to solubilize in water, hence the nature of support and the pigment layer are vulnerable to environmental conditions. In the past many kinds of varnishes, such as copal, mastic, shellac, polyvinyl acetate, and so on, have been widely applied as a consolidant or protective coating for the conservation of wall paintings. Ever since the paintings’ discovery in the nineteenth century, the varnish layers found in cave nos. 9 and 10 (1 BCE paintings) have been applied repeatedly so that artists could copy the paintings. One of the biggest challenges to the scientific cleaning of Ajanta’s paintings is the removal of substance from the surface of the paintings possessing chemical composition quite different from the original material. The most serious issue with these varnishes is the changes observed in their physiochemical properties resulting from their natural aging. Thermal and photochemical reaction of these materials has also caused mechanical stress to the painted layer that has led to formation of cracks, ridges, gaps, lacuna, and so on, on the painted surface. This has also resulted in the alteration of the physiochemical property at the interface between the works of art and their environment. One of the main consequences of the polymeric degradation of these materials is the drastic loss of solubility (Singh and Arbad 2012 and 2013), which makes their removal all the more difficult, as a conventional mixed organic solvents system is used to clean the painted surfaces. We also observe that reversibility of the previous coating with polymer is reduced over time. Since conservation of decorative surfaces can cause chromatic alteration, it is essential to minimize the effects of this by developing new conservation methods or materials or by improving the methodology already in use. Moreover, the complete removal of these materials is often a delicate operation, owing to the heterogeneous and porous nature of the support. Cleaning the porous surface with the organic solvents mixture can also result in the partial redistribution of unwanted materials throughout the porous ground. However, controlled cleaning, with minimal and dexterous use of the solvents mixture, can yield desired results and restore surface breathability (see fig. 1). One other solution to this problem can also be found by using micro-emulsion, in which the dispersed solvents phase is especially tailored to solubilize the substances to be removed (Ferroni et al. 1995). The micro-emulsion is stabilized by surfactants that have polar and nonpolar groupings. In employing this method, the harmful effects of the previous treatment technique can be drastically reduced in the closed cave interior (Rance and Frieberg 1977).

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Figure 2

After ascertaining the causes of ruin of Ajanta’s painted plaster, the 1920 Italian restorers devised scientific methods to treat the paintings with (a) injections of lime-casein, when the gaps in paintings were narrow; (b) plaster fills of Paris or lime, fine pozzolana, where the cavities were large; (c) copper nail fixes, in the affected part of hanging support layers; and (d) liberal use of unbleached shellac dissolved in alcohol for general preservation. Italian restorers from 1920 had applied layer after layer of shellac varnishes to about two-thirds of Ajanta’s paintings. But in the tropical climate of the region, the shellac has by now oxidized to an orange-red color and completely masked the beautiful murals beneath. The shellac layer has also disrupted the breathability of the painted murals on earthen plaster, and, aside from the change in the chromatic appearance of the inner pigment layer, the moisture trapped inside the paintings is now showing a formation of cracks, ridges, and gaps (Singh 2011). One of the primary tasks of conservators at Ajanta is to remove the shellac coating to restore the breathability of the painted surface and expose the original color of the painting. To remove the shellac, a mixture of morpholine, n-Butylamine, butanol, ethanol, and dimethyl formamide were taken in the ratios of 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, and 1, respectively, and mixed well. Likewise, to clean Ajanta’s tempera painting, this mixture was slowly applied, with judicious and minimal use of cleaning solvents, to restrict its effects only on the shellac layer. After wetting, and hence softening, the surface for two to three minutes, conservators carefully removed the shellac varnish with cotton swabs without touching the original pigment layer; the main goal of this cleaning was solely to reduce the thickness of the varnish layer and make the painted plaster breathe naturally. Fig. 2 shows the results of the scientific cleansing of the painted medallion in cave no. 2’s ceiling; a small strip is left for comparison and to evaluate the original appearance of the painted surfaces.

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Figure 3

Another major conservation issue at Ajanta is the removal of soot from those caves used for worship, where smoke residue was deposited on the painted surface while the paintings were copied in the nineteenth century under the light of big oil lamps. To correct the effects of this residue, one to two grains of EDTA were dissolved in a drop of distilled water and 18–20 ml of ethanol, and then one to two drops of ammonia and two to three drops of triethanolamine were mixed into it to create a 25 ml solution. Over short durations, this mixture was then gently applied with cotton swabs on the portion of the painted plaster possessing soot deposition. Particular attention was paid to restrict its application to solely sooty accretions without in any way affecting the black outlines of the paintings. As the nature of adherence of black soot to the original black color of outlines is quite different, an experienced conservator can definitely carry out this operation precisely. Most of the ceiling paintings of cave no. 2, where the erosion of white kaolin pigments was observed grain by grain, were cleaned to remove a thin layer of soot from its surface; subsequently two coats of 0.5 percent polyvinyl acetate were applied to white pigment layers when the cleaned painted surface was totally dry. The temperature inside the cave is about 27˚C, and the humidity around 55 to 66 percent. Fig. 3 depicts the cleaning of soot and consolidation of white pigments in cave no. 2’s ceiling at Ajanta. Consolidation and Restoration of the Stone Sculptures at Ajanta The Ajanta caves are hewn in a rock called Deccan trap or basaltic rock with massive, vesicular and amygdular formations. A mass of this rock overlies the roof of these caves. The Deccan basalt is a fine-grained and dense rock with low porosity. Although the individual lump of the rock is imper-

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Figure 4A

meable, the basalt is, however, characterized by fissures, seams, cracks, and joints within the body of the rock, which has allowed seepages of moisture or flow of rainwater inside the caves and onto the paintings, leading to their erosion. The rock is composed of the minerals feldspar, augite, iron, and so on. Based on petrography and petro-chemistry studies, it has been reported that the basalt of the Ajanta area is free from olivine and belongs to the tholeiitic basalt type; the presence of the glomeroporphyritic texture of plagioclase feldspars suggests that the rock has been crystallized under intratelluric conditions (Lal 1996). Ajanta’s basalt is also characterized by clay veins at an isolated site. The flaws and fissures can be observed on colossal sculptures carved out of Ajanta’s basalt. This has triggered the disintegration of the stone sculptures and the weathering of rock, exfoliation-type damage, and, in some instances, loss of body parts of the sculptures. As the basalt weathers ten times faster than granite, once the weathering process sets in, we observe how the stone sculptures erode to the point of becoming powdery. The consolidation and restoration of those stone sculptures were accomplished by introducing ethyl silicate into the cracks and fissures of the sculptures through a saline technique (see figs. 4A–B). As the Ajanta area reaches very high temperatures, the extreme weather causes fast evaporation of the consolidated ethyl silicate, and the sculptures to be restored were covered all around with plyboard and watercoolers placed near them atop scaffolding to bring the temperature to about a consistent ~27˚C within the closed space. At some points, on sculptures where stone was found damaged by exfoliation and loss of stone mass, a paste of similar stone powder and ethyl silicate was applied layer by layer, and each layer wetted for many days to consolidate and restore the sculptures. After roughly six

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Figure 4B

months of consolidation, the sculptures were slowly exposed to sunlight for slow drying and further consolidation. To correct those larger cracks observed on some sculptures, the basalt stone powder was introduced via an air blower and ethyl silicate hence subsequently introduced through a saline technique. This process was repeated slowly many times until all the cracks were filled and the sculptures were consolidated. Almost all of Ajanta’s sculptures have been consolidated by this technique. Where loss of body parts was observed in the sculptures, stainless rods were inserted, and the sculptures were hence consolidated with the prepared stone-powder paste and ethyl silicate through continuous wetting. Many of Ajanta’s sculptures and pillars were consolidated by this technique. Very large cracks in the facade parts of the caves through which water had once seeped into the caves were filled with hydraulic lime and color matched to the cave’s surroundings. All restoration work was properly documented and photographed before any consolidation work had begun.

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REFERENCES Artioli, D., F. Capanna, A. Giovagnoli, M. Ioele, A. Marcone, M. Mariottini, L. Rissotto, and M. Singh. 2008. Mural Paintings of Ajanta Caves. Pt. 2, Non Destructive Investigations and Microanalysis on Execution Technique and State of Conservation. 9th Int. Conf. NDT Art, Jerusalem, Isr. May 25–30, 2008, pp. 1–10. Ferroni, E., G. Gabrielli, and G. Camination. 1995. “Removal of Hydrophobic Impurities from Pictorial Surface by Means of Heterogeneous System.” Sci. Technol. Cult. Herit. 4: 67–74. Lal, B., 1996. “Conservation of Wall Paintings in India.” Indian Assoc. Study Conserv. Cult. Prop. of Geoscience, I.A. (1972). Rance, D. G., and S. Frieberg. 1977. “Miscellar Solutions versus Micro Emulsion.” J. Colloid Interface Sci. 60: 207–9. Singh, M., 2011. “Microclimatic Condition in Relation to Conservation of Cave no-2: Murals of Ajanta.” Curr. Sci. 101: 89–94. Singh, M., and B. R. Arbad. 2012. “Conservation and Restoration Research on 2nd BCE Murals of Ajanta.” IJSER 3: 1–8. ———. 2013. “Chemistry of Preservation of Ajanta Murals.” Int. J. Conserv. Sci. 4: 161–76. ———. 2015. “Characterization of 4th–5th Century A.D. Earthen Plaster Support Layers of Ajanta Mural Paintings.” Constr. Build. Mater. 82: 142–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. conbuildmat.2015.02.043. Spink, W. 2014. Ajanta: History and Development. Vol. 6, Defining Features, Ajanta: History and Development. Boston: Brill. Subbaraman, S., 1993. “Conservation of Mural Paintings.” Curr. Sci. 64: 736–53.

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40 Science and South Asia


Connecting Science with South Asian Start-Ups Tarun Khanna and K. VijayRaghavan

Since 2015, India’s science- and technology-focused start-up movement has seen steady improvement in quality and quantity. Now, just four years later, new Indian companies are becoming pioneers in a range of domains, such as computer science, engineering, medicine, drug discovery, agriculture, and more; they are moving smartly beyond their comfort zone of e-commerce ventures. Policy initiatives that give tax breaks and stimulate intellectual property development are an important impetus for the growth of these companies. In addition, the Indian government’s recently constituted Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) has strengthened the incubators that are supported by various government science agencies as well as invested in new ones. As a result, there is marked progress on the following fronts: first, the curation of ideas for entrepreneurs to choose from; second, mentorship of the teams implementing these ideas through the early stages; third, aid given to help enterprises succeed by navigating the inevitable challenges that present themselves in a nascent start-up ecosystem. Further, one significant gap is also now receiving urgently needed attention: the scientific input that fuels the start-ups. Science must inform the innovative process. Without that, our start-up ecosystem would be competing blindly in the global arena, with its hands tied behind its back. Our innovations will be restricted to reverse-engineering, reverse-innovating, and so on. Jugaad, our colloquial term for creativity in an infrastructure-deficit ecosystem, is a great first step, but it is simply insufficient to compete on the global stage.

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Fortunately, India’s scientific institutions can deliver, built as they are on robust foundations. Despite legitimate concerns about quality, there is no question that students of extraordinary talent graduate from our institutions in significant numbers across myriad scientific fields. Second, these high graduation rates have resulted in pockets of high-quality research at our top universities and research institutions—those institutions that have embraced an open-systems mind-set that allows them to contribute to and keep up with the latest global advances. Third, some major organizations, such as at the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Department of Atomic Energy, have built impressive indigenous capacity in complex areas. Financial support for science has also grown steadily since 2015. While science funding as a percentage of GDP is at 0.7%, the Economic Survey of 2018, a Finance Ministry document, argues for substantial increases and for taking on major missions in basic science to push India to the head of the competitive pack. Significant work on artificial intelligence, cyber-physical systems, supercomputing, and biopharma has begun and other major projects, such as in deep ocean exploration and electronics, are in the offing. Of course, there are also major science components in other funded missions such as those working to boost nutrition and fight tuberculosis. Yet, for basic science to be itself constantly invigorated and, in turn, to invigorate the entrepreneurial ecosystem, two major chasms must be bridged. First, industry must invest much more in research and development and connect to the start-up ecosystem. Take a look at Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. Their cumulative R&D spend of about $60 billion in 2017 is comparable to the entire US federal government expenditure on all nondefense-related scientific research. We may not leap to this level directly, but we must start by fostering the links that will ultimately eliminate the mutual incomprehension between science and industry in India. Second, academics must embrace the responsibility of connecting much more to society, industry, and the start-up ecosystem. The resulting benefits of connectivity will help provide much-needed energy to our entrepreneurs. There has been a self-organization of such assets in certain locations— mainly in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, the National Capital Region, and even recently in Kanpur. The bonding and the networking between academic institutions, industry, and entrepreneurs must grow quicker and by an order of magnitude. IIT–Madras provides a case in point—it shows that the task is not impossible. Its research park has grown from a sparsely occupied shell to a huge venture bubbling with interactions. Only a very small part of the major resources for its growth has come from government funds. Speed, quality, and scale are therefore possible in our ecosystem. Each of our major centers of science and technology investment have niche strengths in certain key areas. Bangalore is strong in information technology and biotech, Hyderabad in chemistry, Pune and Chennai in manufacturing. These 42 Science and South Asia


must be leveraged as links within the ecosystem are strengthened. The extraordinary synergy in IIT–Madras, on solar power and electric mobility with national missions and with the auto industry, again provides an example. Abroad as well, the last decade in Israel provides another illustrative case in point—it has invested in cyber technologies and life sciences around key universities and research institutes, backstopped by a vibrant industry ecosystem and government support for basic research. Such centers of excellence will help us attract the best global talent. As an immediate starting point, we simply must make it far easier for global talent to work in and with Indian institutions and scientists. One currently finds it incomparably easier to work in Chinese and European research institutions than in India’s best. Well-chosen and locally driven international institutional partnerships will further facilitate the growth of industry and the economy. In the few cases where there has already been exemplary success in India, one factor stands out among all others. That is the quality of the leadership of scientific institutions, universities, and projects. Leaders should be further liberated from regulatory mandates that are often anachronistic in this era of global science, and then be held accountable for the use of these new freedoms. The government’s announced Institutions of Excellence program, designed to identify select public and private universities capable of achieving global preeminence in the medium term, is one such measure that will help. As the NITI Aayog continually reexamines the policy arena, India’s office of principal scientific adviser has been tasked with ensuring that the multiple rays of our science efforts converge to focus on addressing key problems, developing a shared sense of purpose, and linking to the societal- and economic-delivery system. Linking science to start-ups—in other words, using the instruments available to policy makers and industrialists—is a hitherto neglected aspect of upgrading knowledge flows within society, but it is one that can pay major dividends over the next decade.

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Finding Discipline in Interdisciplinary Education Venkatesh N. Murthy

“What do you want to be, an engineer or a doctor?” I was frequently asked this question when I was finishing high school in India more than three decades ago. By now a few more choices have become socially acceptable, but, by and large, most students in South Asia enter specialized college programs and tend to focus on a single discipline from early on. In general, although there is some concession to the breadth of education in some degree programs, it is not extensive. Even within science, there is a rush to focus—biologists tend to not do a lot of mathematics, and physical sciences students typically do not take courses in life sciences. All of this is in contrast to American liberal arts education. Intellectual disciplines in many parts of the world, including South Asia, tend to become bounded early on in a student’s life. In the West, the words “multidisciplinary,” “interdisciplinary,” and “transdisciplinary” abound in scientific and social media. These qualifiers frequently imply glossy combinations of different fields that can then catalyze solutions to major problems. Without a doubt, there is justified excitement about scientific discoveries spurred by the cross-fertilization of techniques and expertise across fields. I am sure each reader is familiar with many examples of such combinations: one of my favorites in academic research is how methods from optical physics have become indispensable for studying biological phenomena. It’s not just fashionable, but also profitable to talk about combining methods and approaches from different disciplines, since research funding is increasingly aimed at promoting interdisciplinary studies. Given interdisciplinary scholarship’s attractiveness and promise of fascination, it is natural for a young student to dive headlong into it. After all, why plod along conventional routes

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in stodgy departments, when today’s leading thinkers seem to work fluidly across domains? How, then, should a student or scholar resolve this tension between the specific and the general, between specializing deeply in a discipline and broadly combining disciplines? On the one hand, the liberal arts education system in Western colleges is geared for a broad exploration, priming students to expand their horizons, acquire a well-rounded background, and make new connections. On the other hand, sustained immersion in a particular discipline is important to obtain deeper insights. In thinking about this balance, let me consider an example close to my heart—one that involves a more interesting organ: the brain. As a neuroscientist, I often encounter students who are motivated by a desire to cure diseases of the brain, a worthy motivation. These students are eager to start taking specialized courses on this subject—for example, on Alzheimer’s disease. But this puts the cart before the horse. Alzheimer’s starts with a molecular and cellular trigger, which modifies nerve cells in the brain in some way, which then somehow alters the ability of the brain to process, store, and recall information. Without a solid fluency in these basic concepts and a critical analysis of these biological processes, it is difficult to imagine how one can offer cures. If you want to understand how the brain works, it seems reasonable that you should study its biology as well as the nature of information processing and computation in this biological device. An interdisciplinary approach seems to be appropriate, even necessary. How then, should you acquire mastery of these two very different fields of knowledge? Should it be through individual interdisciplinary courses or through inquiry in separate tracks? To answer this question, we need to look at how expertise is developed. Traditional disciplines are often defined and embodied by academic departments. Disciplines may be somewhat arbitrary constructs, but some are heavily steeped in a structure of progression. In every field of study, one needs to advance through the different levels of the discipline, as knowledge in many fields is cumulative. For example, in physics, a student must learn the basic language of mathematics as it is used to describe phenomena that quickly departs from everyday intuitions and language. And a student would need to learn some basic mathematics before tackling more complex mathematics that builds upon the foundational principles. The next step, then, is to learn about physical phenomena, and how to use mathematical principles to describe or model them. It is indeed very helpful to partition facts and concepts that naturally build on each other. This is why curricula typically progress from courses that introduce basic concepts to ones that highlight more specialized and complex ideas. This step-by-step development usually occurs within a discipline, but it should also apply to interdisciplinary studies. But what if you wish to examine something that requires knowledge of multiple disciplines, and novel ways of linking them? Clearly, many paths are 46 Science and South Asia


available to pursue your interest, each offering myriad advantages. In my experience, as an engineer turned neurobiologist, fruitful interdisciplinary thinking arises in the later stages of scholarship. Only after mastery in the relevant domains (learned separately) is one able to relate the fields in deep, nontrivial ways. It may be an unglamorous and long path, but the end results can be extraordinary and satisfying. In acquiring detailed knowledge of any one field, one must also remain curious about other fields. This balance will be different for different people. You can also, of course, become an expert in a particular “interdisciplinary” area, but it will be difficult to excel without deep operational knowledge of the specific components of that cross-disciplinary field. Operationally, it seems helpful to be conversant as an expert in at least one of the disciplines within your interdisciplinary field. Whether such specialization comes during one’s college tenure, or afterward, in graduate or professional school (or simply on the job), is also a matter of individual choice. Inculcating an adventurous attitude toward learning is also of paramount importance. It is not uncommon to hear an engineer say she or he doesn’t understand any biology and won’t bother, and conversely for biomedical scientists to attest that they don’t “get” physics. Certainly, there is still a tendency among students in some parts of the world to be afraid of change—often because they are pressured to conform. It will be important to emphasize that it is perfectly all right to feel naive and uncomfortable, and to start learning again at any point in one’s career. But, what can a student do practically about all this? Students in areas of the world where early specialization is the norm could seek out short courses that introduce them to exciting interdisciplinary areas—to use an example from my own background, the related subjects of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Such short, intensive courses that run for a few weeks at residential locations are widespread in the US and parts of Europe. There are usually several lectures each day from experts in different fields, and many courses have a hands-on laboratory component for active learning. Informal interactions among students and faculty also add immense value to such programs. But these short courses tend to be selective and may not be easily scaled to very large populations such as India or Pakistan. Innovation is much needed to democratize such courses to benefit millions of more students around the globe. Some possibilities include hybrid online and in-person courses coordinated over a large number of sites. Experts can offer lectures online (in real time, ideally), which are then streamed to multiple locations. Local faculty, even if they are not quite experts in the field, can help moderate discussions among students at each site. Complementing this approach would be to train an amplifying cadre of educators, who can then independently shepherd such courses. Indian education can benefit immeasurably from insertion of such interdisciplinary approaches into its curricula, and graduates and myriad industries, in turn, would profit from this balanced form of education. Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 47


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Remedying India’s Toxic Water Problem Ashok Gadgil and Joyashree Roy

For years, students at Dhapdhapi High School drank water containing toxic levels of arsenic. Last year, they finally gained affordable and reliable access to safe drinking water. The novel water technology that we invented in the United States and collaborated on with Indian social scientists has allowed for this success at the school. As scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jadavpur University, we worked for over a decade to break the cycle of failed attempts to address the arsenic poisoning that has afflicted South Asia for decades. We have learned that unless social innovation occurs concurrently with technological innovation, a sustainable solution cannot be achieved (Smith et al. 2000). Over the years, hundreds of overly expensive, socially incompatible, and technologically complicated arsenic-treatment solutions have been implemented in West Bengal, only to be abandoned soon after installation (Kabir and Howard 2007; Das 2011). In the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, our research revealed that 95 percent of the arsenic-treatment projects failed or were abandoned within six months of installation (Das 2011). The science behind our technology, ElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR), has been broadly understood, but the final steps to translate that science into a useful technology have not yet been realized. In 2005, we began bench-top research at Berkeley with a beaker of arsenic-laced synthetic groundwater, iron and copper wire electrodes, and a low-voltage power supply. During water treatment, rust is created. It oxidizes and captures arsenic, coagulates, settles, and is filtered out. In developing this technology, we incorporated key lessons from the emerging field of develop-

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ment engineering. We pulled the hard sciences, engineering, and social sciences into the R&D process with support from the Indo-US Science and Technology Foundation, IUSSTF, a nonprofit based in New Delhi. As part of our holistic approach, we engaged frequently with the recipient community, just outside Kolkata, making efforts to understand local practices and needs. Hundreds of millions of people need arsenic water remediation, and we did not want our technology to fail along with the 95 percent of other prior attempts. Toxicity of Arsenic One true story that continually motivates our team is that of Rustam Sheikh, a landless laborer from Murshidabad district. Rustam lost his right index finger in 2009 from chronic arsenic exposure. Then, in 2011, he lost his right hand, and in 2013, his whole right arm. As arsenic-induced cancers spread throughout his body, he lost his ability to work and to support his family or even himself. Soon after, his battle ended as he perished from the cancer in August 2014. From the Central Valley of California to the Bengal Basin of India and Bangladesh, more than 200 million people like Rustam drink water with toxic levels of carcinogenic arsenic every day. Their groundwater is 10 to 100 times the World Health Organization’s arsenic guideline value of 10 parts per billion (ppb), but it is the only water that they have or can afford (WHO 2008; Pelton, Bernhardt, and Shaeffer 2016; Naujokas et al. 2013). Arsenic is tasteless, colorless, and odorless, but highly toxic. Drinking water with arsenic even at its allowed maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) of 10 ppb produces far more internal cancers than those produced from the next most hazardous carcinogen at its MCL. To illustrate, lifelong consumption of water with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) at their allowed MCL concentration causes 0.5 excess internal cancer per 100,000 people; arsenic causes 700 excess among the same population (US EPA 2010; Smith et al. 2002). Drinking water with 25 times the acceptable level of arsenic—a concentration that tens of millions of people drink daily—causes 18,000 excess internal cancers per 100,000 people (US EPA 2010; Smith et al. 2002). Still, cancer is only one among numerous health risks. Arsenic attacks multiple bodily processes and organs (Naujokas et al. 2013). Arsenic exposure has in fact reduced IQ levels in children and increased risk of cardiovascular disease (Naujokas et al. 2013). Vascular diseases lead to gangrenes, as in the case of Rustam, that require amputations (Das, Roy, and Chakraborti 2016). Lesions and telltale spots speckle the skin of men, women, and children. In affected regions these spots carry grim social stigmas, with the potential to deem a young person unfit for marriage. In Bangladesh, drinking arsenic-bearing groundwater and the resulting fatal consequences have become so pervasive that the WHO has called it “the largest case of mass poisoning in recorded history” since 2002 (WHO 2002). 50 Science and South Asia


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A study published in The Lancet in 2010 found arsenic to be the cause of roughly every one in five adult deaths in Bangladesh (Argos et al. 2010). Developing a Lasting Solution through ECAR A technology like ECAR offers unique potential to solve this crisis. The entire treatment system is designed for local fabrication, maintenance, and repair. Over a decade of peer-reviewed research in the laboratory and the field showed that ECAR consistently reduces arsenic levels from as high as 1,000 ppb to well below the WHO guideline of 10 ppb (Gagdil et al. 2014). Dhapdhapi High School’s treatment plant has been fully functional since April 2016. In September 2016, once we were certain the treated water was safe for drinking in all respects, we were able to offer it to students, teachers, and staff for consumption. Our industrial partner in the IUSSTF project, Livpure, distributed free electronic personal debit cards to students for the automatic water dispensers they set up in the schoolyard. Livpure now operates and maintains the water plant and is preparing to provide affordable access to the community outside the school. This business model, coupled with the effectiveness of ECAR, is a pioneering example of a solution to the arsenic problem. In 2016, ECAR was ranked among the top 200 MacArthur 100 & Change nominees. Had ECAR been chosen, three million people would have benefited within five years from new treatment plants in tragically affected communities, and we would have been able to launch a much larger campaign. For us, ECAR proves the time has come: with aggressive dissemination of this technology, we can finally end the horrific poisoning of hundreds of millions of people.

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REFERENCES Argos, Maria, et al. 2010. “Arsenic Exposure from Drinking Water, and All-Cause and ChronicDisease Mortalities in Bangladesh (HEALS): A Prospective Cohort Study.” The Lancet 376, no. 9737: 252–58. Das, A. 2011. “The Economic Analysis of Arsenic in Water: A Case Study of West Bengal.” PhD diss. Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Das, Abhijit, Joyashree Roy, and Sayantan Chakraborti. 2016. Socio-Economic Analysis of Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater in West Bengal. Singapore: Springer. Gadgil, A., S. Amrose, S. Bandaru, C. Delaire, A. Torkelson, and C. Van Genuchten. 2014. “Addressing Arsenic Mass Poisoning in South Asia with Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation.” In Water Reclamation and Sustainability, edited by Satinder Ahuja. San Diego, CA: Elsevier. Kabir, A., and G. Howard. 2007. “Sustainability of Arsenic Mitigation in Bangladesh: Results of a Functionality Survey.” Int J Environ Health Res 17, no. 3: 207–18. Naujokas M. F., B. Anderson, H. Ahsan, H. V. Aposhian, J. H. Graziano, C. Thompson, and W. A. Suk. 2013. “The Broad Scope of Health Effects from Chronic Arsenic Exposure: Update on a Worldwide Public Health Problem.” Environ Health Perspect 121: 295–302. Pelton, Tom, Courtney Bernhardt, and Eric Shaeffer. 2016. Arsenic in California Drinking Water: Three Years after Notice of Noncompliance to State, Arsenic Levels Unsafe in Drinking Water for 55,000 Californians. The Environmental Integrity Project. September. Smith, A. H., et al. 2000. “Contamination of Drinking-Water by Arsenicin Bangladesh: A Public Health Emergency.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) 78, no. 9. Smith, A. H., et al. 2002. “Public Health: Arsenic Epidemiology and Drinking Water Standards.” Science 296, no. 5576: 2145–46. (Note: Assumptions slightly differ between the two studies for arsenic cancer risk, cited numbers 8 and 9. Citation 8 has arsenic cancer estimates based on more recent data than citation 9.) US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2010. “Toxicological Review of Inorganic Arsenic (Cancer).” EPA/635/R-10/001. WHO (World Health Organization). 2002. “Arsenic: Mass Poisoning on an Unprecedented Scale.” Geneva: WHO Press. ———. 2008. Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality: Incorporating First and Second Addenda to Third Edition. Vol. 1, Recommendations. Geneva: WHO Press.

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figure 1a: visible

figure 1b: IR

figure 1c: UV

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The New Science and Technology behind Art Conservation Narayan Khandekar, Katherine Eremin, and Penley Knipe

In the US, the use of science to examine works of art started at Harvard in 1928 when Rutherford John Gettens was employed as the Fogg Art Museum’s (now part of Harvard Art Museums) first scientist by the then-director Edward Waldo Forbes. Forbes, Gettens, and the head of conservation, George Stout, set about creating a conservation field that emphasized record keeping, as well as accountable and transparent decision making; as part of this initiative, they introduced the first journal focused on reporting conservation and conservation science findings, Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, in existence from 1932 to 1942. The journal included the work of distinguished Indian researchers such as Ananda Coomaraswamy and Subrahmanya Paramasivan. The work of scientists in the Harvard Art Museums has been ongoing for the last ninety years. The activities of a conservation scientist can consist of testing material used for storage and display to ensure the best conditions for a museum object. Scientists can test the materials that make up a work of art and discern the techniques used by the artist; determine the conservation or restoration history such as combining fragments, retouching, rebinding, and so on; study changes that have occurred to the original materials such as fading or darkening of the pigments; and infer what the work may have looked like when it was originally painted. In order to do so, a great deal of instrumentation is leveled at the painting, beginning with techniques that do not require a sample to be removed from the work such as Raman spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF). These give a strong sense of the pigments used on the artist’s palette

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and are noninvasive. If more information is needed, then a microscopic sample will be extracted, usually from the edge of a damaged area, or from the very edge of the work, from a place where any possible visual impact is minimized. When the sample is collected, the same sample can often be divided or reused for analyses like infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), polarized light microscopy, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS). The scientist’s work gains significance when it is combined with insights from art conservators and historians. It gives meaning and context to the results, and provides a new way for scholars, students, and the public alike to engage with the work. In addition, a body of results can be built up over time so that not only can the home museum’s collection be better developed and understood, but other museums can also begin using the work to study their collections in a similar vein. We can gather countless findings from a longterm study, such as how artists’ palettes change over time; when a pigment is introduced into the artistic practice of a community; how and between which groups pigments were traded; and how the meaning of pigment choices and/ or mixtures of pigments can be understood. Occasionally a new pigment will be discovered, such as our lab’s identification of the pigment, copper citrate, on an eighteenth-century Thai manuscript for the first time. Harvard Art Museums has over six hundred Indian works on paper that include manuscripts, manuscript folios, albums, album folios, scrolls, single drawings, and single paintings. This collection dates from the fourteenth to twentieth centuries, and represents central India (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra), east India (Bengal, Odisha), north India (Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh), and south India (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Deccan Plateau). Thus far twenty manuscripts have been extensively studied and have revealed a great deal of information. What follows are some case studies from our current research on the materials from this collection. Novel Techniques for Analyzing Indian Manuscripts Each artwork was examined carefully using visible, ultraviolet (UV), and infrared (IR) radiation and features of interest photographed at high magnification. Two main nondestructive analytical techniques were employed to obtain information about the pigments used for each color: X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which provides elemental information; and Raman spectroscopy, which provides molecular information. IR, visible, and UV images served to analyze the different pigment mixtures detected, with all colors present considered. This combination of techniques enables most inorganic pigments to be identified. Identification of organic materials, however, is more difficult and would require sampling and the use of alternative analytical techniques.

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Likely pigment identifications were first based on the chemical composition obtained by XRF analysis and were then confirmed by Raman spectroscopy. The in-situ XRF analysis is considerably faster than the in-situ Raman analysis, so fewer locations were analyzed on a given color with Raman spectroscopy than with XRF, unless significant chemical variation had been seen with XRF. The presence of organic colorants (such as red lake pigments or organic yellow pigments) was inferred from a lack of elements characteristic of the inorganic pigments of the corresponding color (such as mercury or arsenic), as well as their behavior in UV illumination. In most instances, the organic blue pigment indigo, which lacks elements detectable by XRF, was confirmed by the Raman spectrum. Raman spectra from red, pink, or purple areas containing an organic red normally had a highly florescent background with no identifiable peaks. Differences in the IR behavior of areas of similar color allowed the use of different pigments to be assessed via infrared imaging, to guide the sites for nondestructive analysis. This variation can be clearly seen in the IR image from painting no. 1972.74, A Nayika and Her Lover from a Rasamanjari Series, dated to 1660–70 and painted in Kashmir (fig. 1a: visible; fig. 1b: IR). The woman’s green blouse is infrared opaque, while the green fruit is infrared transparent; analysis shows that the green in the blouse is copper-based, while that in the fruit is a mixture of blue indigo and an organic yellow, possibly Indian yellow. Similarly, the reddish-brown architecture is infrared opaque and was painted with the iron oxide hematite, whereas the brighter red cushion, rug, and fruit are infrared transparent and were painted with mixtures of red lead and vermilion. An unusual organic yellow produced from the urine of cows, who fed on mango leaves, Indian yellow was used for the woman’s yellow clothes. This reveals a distinct yellow florescence in UV, (fig. 1c: UV), which enables it to be identified despite the lack of inorganic elements and the poor in-situ Raman spectrum. Although Indian yellow is believed to have been produced from the fifteenth century to the early twentieth century, there appears to be little firm identification of Indian yellow in artworks prior to the 1580s. At the Harvard Art Museums, the earliest paintings shown to contain Indian yellow are from a manuscript of the Divan of Anvari, made in Lahore in 1588, where both Indian yellow and the inorganic yellow orpiment, an arsenic sulfide, were used. In earlier paintings from a Bhagavata Purana series, painted in Rajasthan around 1540, orpiment was the only yellow used. In many paintings, strong florescence of green areas shows the use of mixtures of Indian yellow with blue and green pigments. In Krishna’s Manifest Vision through Sound (Kavitt) from a Rasikapriya series, no. 1984.458, produced in Rajasthan between 1660 and 1680, a range of greens was used; they differ in their behavior in IR and UV—mixtures containing copper chloride are opaque in IR, mixtures with Indian yellow fluoresce in UV. Both of these were

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mixed with each other and with tin white and/or indigo to adjust the shade (fig. 2a: visible; fig. 2b: IR; fig. 2c: UV). In both this painting and the similarly dated Kashmiri example (no. 1972.74), the blue used for the skin and sky is the cobalt-colored glassy pigment, smalt, whereas the architecture was painted with a mixture of blue indigo and a white pigment. The smalt is characterized by the presence of iron, nickel, arsenic, and bismuth mixed with the cobalt. Similar chemical fingerprints are obtained from smalt used in Iranian and European paintings indicating a common source for the cobalt ore and likely

figure 2a: visible

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for the smalt itself. The Netherlands was a major producer of smalt in the seventeenth century, suggesting import of smalt to India via the Dutch East India Company. Despite their similar dates, the paintings differ in the artist’s choice of white—lead white was used alone and in mixtures in certain paintings, whereas tin white was the sole white used in others. Analysis of other paintings from the same areas is required to determine whether this difference in white pigment is characteristic of the production place or not. Interestingly, early works seem to lack either lead white or tin white and instead have white

figure 2b: IR

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clays or chalk (calcite) used for white pigments. For example, white clay was used on sixteenth-century Jain folios and folios from the previously mentioned sixteenth-century Bhagavata Purana series. IR examination was also useful for revealing the presence of carbon-based media below IR-transparent paints in some paintings. This normally occurs as underdrawing, sometimes revealing how the initial sketch was altered before the final version was painted—for example, multiple changes to the buildings in the Kashmiri painting can be seen in an IR detail. IR imaging also occasionally revealed hidden text as well. Imaging can only reveal underlying details

figure 2c: UV

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where an IR opaque medium, normally a carbon-based black, was used. Some paintings lack detectable underdrawing owing to use of an IR transparent medium—for example, in at least folios from the Bhagavata Purana series created in Rajasthan around 1540, Krishna Sporting with the Cowherds, all underdrawing was executed in blue indigo and can be seen only in areas of paint loss or below thin, overlying pigment. With the use of mainly IR-transparent pigments, much of the image in IR disappears, with the exception of the strong carbon-based black lines used to depict details, most notably the tree leaves. Another interesting feature noted was in the use of metallic pigments— most commonly gold, silver, and tin. These were normally applied in powdered form mixed with an organic binder and often decorated with punch work or transparent colored glazes. Unusually, close examination of the gold, painted on a page from a Bhagavata Purana series created in Rajasthan around 1720 revealed the use of leaf rather than shell gold. The leaf gold appears flattened, creased, and more sheetlike when compared to shell gold, which is brushy when viewed in transmitted light. We must yet examine more paintings to determine whether this unusual application is more widespread than previously believed. The Harvard Art Museums are continuously coming upon new findings. On one manuscript image, we have discerned pure green pigments, and mixtures of blue and yellow to make a green. We are working to understand the significance of this discovery. We have found that mid- to late seventeenth-century manuscripts contain smalt, which is an indication of trade where the import of the pigment probably comes from Holland through the Dutch East India Company. We found the unexpected use of metallic foil, rather than the usual powdered metal, in one painting. As time passes and we study more manuscripts, we will be able to connect the dots and understand if this is the practice of a single studio, the common practice of a particular town or city, or a more widely adopted practice. At the moment we have only one example, and it is impossible to draw out any significance as yet. Ultimately, the study of Indian works on paper will reveal the extent to which pigment selection for individual artworks depends on artistic choice versus availability, and this will inform our understanding of the working practices of artists. Our scientists and conservators at the Harvard Art Museums have been studying Indian manuscripts and paintings to determine the materials and techniques originally used and how these vary by manufacturing location and/ or date; this approach allows researchers to understand the geographical and chronological ranges in the use of different pigments across the Indian subcontinent. This scientific method, as well as scientists’ close collaboration with conservators, has given us new insights into the holdings of Indian art at the Harvard Art Museums. Our work will continue as our findings reach new audiences to increase the depth of understanding of these prized works of art.

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62 engineer. Science and South Asia An Photograph by Clint Bustrillos.


A Science for Every Indian Mukund Thattai

It is a truism that basic research leads to technological and economic progress. Governments and the public have come to see all of science through the lens of applications. This is short-sighted: in a democracy, science is a public good for a multitude of reasons. The astronomer and author Carl Sagan spoke of science as a candle in the dark: a way to push back ignorance and uncertainty, a way to discover truths about our world and chart our way forward. In the wake of the Bhopal gas leak of 1984, reacting to the horror of the deadliest industrial disaster in history, a collection of grassroots groups across India assembled to discuss the future. These groups, some of whom had existed for decades, were dedicated to spreading awareness about science and its fruits, in schools and town halls, through street theater performances, and in vernacular media. Their members, mainly nonscientists, were driven by conscience and idealism. They saw a role for science in the literacy and anti-superstition efforts of the era, but also knew the limits of a science divorced from society. In 1988 they came together to form the All India People’s Science Network, perhaps unique in the world in its reach and depth. This network continues to be active today, teaching and popularizing science, mobilizing thousands of people in cities and villages, intervening in public discussions about issues ranging from genetic modification to forest loss. This is one way in which the flame of science burns in contemporary India. Yet it’s not the aspect we usually talk about. Stories about Indian science tend to focus on big-bang contributions. We’re told about the ancient invention of zero, the linguistics of Panini, the

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medical treatises of Charaka, and the astronomical calculations of Aryabhata. A parallel technological narrative runs from ancient textiles and rustproof metalwork to modern armaments such as the Mysorean rockets used by Tipu Sultan against British East India Company forces. We celebrate the work of Srinivasa Ramanujan, J. C. Bose, and C. V. Raman in British India. Stories of science in independent India are no different. The Green Revolution of the 1960s, which increased India’s agricultural capacity manifold, made M. S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlaug household names. India’s pride at being able to loft spacecraft to earth, moon, and Mars orbit has made heroes of the men behind the Indian Space Research Organization, Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was India’s “Missile Man,” and later its president. Homi Bhabha was revered throughout India’s scientific and political establishment; it was through his efforts that the country eventually joined the club of nuclear powers in 1974. But these singular achievements are not universally celebrated. The genesis of the All India People’s Science Network echoed the traumatic experiences of a previous generation, when the Hiroshima bomb triggered mass movements against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Green Revolution has all but petered out: growth in agricultural yield is slowing, India’s farmland is increasingly too saline to be usable, and the total cultivable area is dropping. The country now faces irreversible environmental degradation and loss of wildlife, a water crisis with no solution in sight, and massive displacements of people, all as a consequence of the post-Independence push to industrialization. This is the people’s history of Indian science, and it stands in direct contrast to the great-man narrative. Panini is known as the “father of linguistics”; Aryabhata, the “father of astronomy”; Swaminathan, the “father of the Green Revolution”; Sarabhai, the “father of India’s space program”; and Bhabha, the “father of India’s nuclear program.” Indian science has many fathers, no mothers to speak of, and a billion neglected children. Why does India support science as a publicly funded enterprise? The country’s total expenditure on research, including contributions from industry, has for years held steady at about 0.7 percent of GDP, according to the Indian Government’s Economic Survey of 2018. This is much lower than the 2–3 percent of GDP that China, the US, or Germany spend. However, India’s rate of public investment in research is 0.5% of GDP, comparable to that of wealthier countries. Investments on this scale can only be politically justified if they are targeted toward areas of national importance, such as defense, agriculture, and health. What about the argument for public investment in more basic research? This is often based on Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report to the US government, “Science, the Endless Frontier.” Bush knew that the Manhattan Project and other major scientific achievements of the US war effort relied on apparently useless discoveries of earlier decades. He argued that basic research 64 Science and South Asia


would yield sustained technological and economic dividends, and therefore should be supported by public funds. Enlightenment science in the West, with its curiosity-driven ideal, was done by a small set of men who enjoyed the patronage of the wealthy or the monarchy. It later borrowed the trappings of academic rigor from philosophers and historians: practices such as the sharing of work in learned societies, peer review of research findings, and formal apprenticeship of students in universities. During the Industrial Revolution science continued within the walls of academia, while technology progressed through the labors of practical men in the outside world. However, as scientific predictions became more reliable and therefore useful to the process of invention, science and technology started to intertwine. This process culminated in the massive projects of World War II, giving us radar, transistors, computers, atomic energy, and Bush’s fateful social contract. The hyphenation of “science-and-technology” has never since been reversed. In the postwar era governments have become the single largest funders of science across the world. In newly independent India, science was practiced within universities, in the new engineering-centric teaching institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), in the application-oriented laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and in basic research institutes such as the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Some of these, including most of the universities, had existed prior to Indian Independence; each had developed within its own unique circumstances and context. But these separate histories soon began to be erased, as the administration of science and education in India moved inexorably toward uniformity. Since academic positions enjoyed relatively stable funding, science grew professionalized. It became a viable and sought-after career path for increasing numbers of people. In exchange for this stability, scientists ceded control of the research agenda. National missions such as weather forecasting, agriculture, the atomic program, myriad massive engineering projects, and the expansion of India’s human resources set the direction for India’s growing scientific cadre. Now, after seven decades of public investment, the government is asking what has been achieved. February 28th, the anniversary of the day C. V. Raman discovered the effect for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, is celebrated as India’s National Science Day. Writing in the Hindustan Times on this occasion in 2018, K. VijayRaghavan, now India’s principal scientific advisor, made the case for public investment in “blue skies” research. VijayRaghavan, an accomplished basic scientist himself and the former director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, echoed Vannevar Bush as he wrote about the benefits accrued from curiosity-driven research in India: Shambhu Nath De’s work on cholera toxin, and G. N. Ramachandran’s seminal contributions to structural biology. He Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute 65


argued that much more could be expected if the right investments, incentives, and institutional environments were put in place. Unfortunately this narrative starts from the premise that the only justification for public funding of science is the promise of eventual applications. This gives a flawed impression of the way science works, creates unrealistic expectations, and sets funders at odds with researchers. Major Indian science funding agencies including the CSIR, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnology, and the Department of Atomic Energy are under pressure to deliver on applications. Basic scientists are forced to hide behind Bush’s fragile syllogism: “Our collective work may not be useful now, but history tells us it will be someday; my own work is not useful now, so there is a chance it might be someday.” But, eventually, that “someday” becomes today. Judged by the very yardsticks scientists themselves have put forward, Indian science has done little for the Indian people. The Indian scientific establishment can no longer take unquestioning public support for granted. The case of the INO, the India-based Neutrino Observatory, is revealing. In development for nearly two decades by a consortium of institutions including TIFR, the INO is a proposed detector shielded deep within a mountain which will study properties of the fundamental particles known as neutrinos. The project has a strong scientific justification, raises no safety concerns, and has recently been granted environmental clearances. Yet the effort has been dogged by claims that it will affect human health and harm forest and farmlands. Though the INO team has worked closely with the people who live around the mountain and nearby forested areas, they are accused of ignoring the sentiments of the local community. False rumors spread faster than attempts by scientists to address them. Why do these stories have so much traction? Why is it so easy to paint scientists in a bad light? Sadly, the INO is a victim of previous failures in which precisely these kinds of lapses did occur: in which scientists ignored environmental issues or local sentiments. Such concerns are not restricted to India. The Thirty Meter Telescope proposed to be built on Mauna Kea in Hawaii has met with strong protests from native Hawaiians who feel it would violate one of their most sacred spaces. Across the world, public spending on esoteric scientific projects has always faced resistance, not just from the people but also from politicians. In 1969 Robert Wilson, the first director of Fermilab, was asked by a US Congressional Committee whether his expensive particle accelerator had any security applications. He replied, “It has nothing to do with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.” Wilson was arguing that there are deep and important reasons to fund science, beyond its much-touted capacity to generate technological progress. The science-for-applications framework was

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articulated through negotiations between the scientific community and the government, each side driven by its own narrow and self-serving logic. It’s time to ask people—not scientists, not the government, but people—why, if at all, science makes a positive contribution to their lives. Contrast the slow but steady growth of the grassroots All India People’s Science Network with the precipitous decline of India’s government-supported universities and the underperformance of its research establishment. The longevity of the network is the result of many factors: the drive and dedication of its members, who see science as an instrument of broader change; the diversity of its activities, bubbling up from the preoccupations and motivations of its various constituencies; the diffuseness of its structure, each of its subgroups having grown organically within a local context. I believe there are valuable lessons here on how to reimagine science in India, a deeply rooted science worthy of public support. What kind of science would this be? A science that inspires. There is a strong case to fund science for the same reason we fund the arts, or sport. Science is a cultural activity: it reveals unexpected beauty in the everyday; it captures the imagination of children; it attempts to answer some of humanity’s biggest questions about where we came from. Moreover, scientific ideas can be a potent component of the process by which society arrives at collective decisions about the future. Among the strongest reasons a resource-limited country such as India should fund curiosity-driven science is that the nature of future crises cannot be predicted. It is impossible to micromanage the long-term research agenda, so the only hope is to cast a wide net. A broad and deep scientific community is a valuable resource that can be called upon to give its inputs on a variety of issues. Scientists cannot be expected to always deliver a solution, but can be expected to provide the best possible information available at any time. In this consultative process it is crucially important not to privilege scientific experts over other participants in the discussion. A diverse and democratic science. Science thrives within a diversity of questions and methods, a diversity of institutional environments, and a diversity of personal experiences of individual scientists. In the modern era the practice of science has moved to a more democratic mode, away from the idea of lone geniuses and toward a collective effort of creating hypotheses and sharing results. Any tendency toward uniformity and career professionalization dilutes and ultimately destroys this diversity. As historian of science Dhruv Raina describes it, a science that is vulnerable to the “pressures of government” is “no longer an open frontier of critical activity.” Instead, science must become “social and reflexive.” Ideas and themes must bubble up from the broadest possible community. In India access to such a process is limited by the accident

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of one’s mother tongue and social class, and this must change. Anyone who wants to should have the opportunity to understand what scientists are doing. Ultimately this must involve not only scientists, but also social scientists, historians, philosophers, artists and communicators, and the public at large. A science that is locally rooted. Is there such a thing as an “Indian way” of doing science? Science in the abstract is said to transcend national boundaries. In practice it is strongly influenced by local experiences and local history. Unfortunately, even as national missions have faded to the background, they have been replaced by an imitation of Western fashions. It has become common to look to high-profile journals and conferences as arbiters of questions worth asking. This must stop. The key to revitalizing Indian science is the careful choice of rich questions. These questions could be driven by new national missions that bring the excitement of a collective effort. Or they could be inspired by observing the complex interactions of the world immediately around us. There is a great deal of scholarship and scientific inquiry that can arise from the study of India’s traditional knowledge systems. The country’s enormous biodiversity and human genetic diversity are an exciting and bottomless source of scientific puzzles and important secrets. Such questions would allow for a deeper two-way engagement with India’s people. This is not to say Indian scientists cannot work on internationally important problems—quite the opposite. The scientific community in India, working within their own unique contexts, could become the source of important problems that anyone in the world would be excited to work on. A science that builds global connections. The internationalization of science is an important goal in and of itself. While it stimulates cross-fertilization of ideas and pushes up standards within science, internationalizing science also creates opportunities for broader global discussions and engagements. The unfortunate hurdles which curtail the ability of Indian academics and students to travel abroad, and the enormous difficulty foreign academics face in obtaining necessary permissions to visit their colleagues in India, serve no purpose. In spite of all this there is a healthy trend toward stronger international links. Major global science funding agencies such as the Wellcome Trust and European Molecular Biology Organization directly fund research within India. And while India’s current capacity to train its young scientists is slowly improving, Indian students are exposed to excellent opportunities abroad. The US National Science Foundation estimates there are nearly nine thousand Indian students enrolled in science and engineering PhD programs in the US alone, with thousands more spread across the world. This is a substantial fraction of the seventy-six thousand students presently enrolled in such programs in India according to the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s 2017 Survey. Young Indian scholars abroad represent India to the world; they build links

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to productive academic and research networks, are trained in cutting-edge disciplines, and generate new scientific output, while maintaining close ties to home. A science that renews itself and passes on its values. Academic scientists have long played a dual role as teachers and researchers. Within India science has a remarkably broad appeal. Public science talks are standing room–only affairs, and famous scientists receive the kind of adulation typically reserved for movie stars. Students across the country are excited about science, many aspiring to become scientists themselves. Historically, engineering and medical colleges have attracted scientifically minded students, but this is changing. The Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) have now been running undergraduate programs for over a decade in cities across India. These institutions are to science what the IITs are to engineering, attracting some of the brightest students each year. Science programs within public universities have not fared as well, and must seize every opportunity to reinvent themselves. A science curriculum based not on dry facts but on the history and process of discovery can form the base of a broad education, in conjunction with the humanities and the arts. These are just a few of the reasons I believe science in India deserves public support. Every so often the work of basic scientists has led to useful applications. But there are enough instances in which actual harm has been done in the name of science. We cannot be so naive as to claim innocence; we must take some responsibility for this and participate fully in correcting it. This does not mean overturning our lives and institutional structures. But for a start it means we must be open to ideas and criticism, sensitive to the consequences of our work, more integrally connected to the complex society around us. Words from the 1983 essay “Toward a People’s Science Movement,” by historian Mahesh Rangarajan and coauthors, remain relevant today: “Science and technology are being alienated from the people, their understanding and knowledge, life experiences and problems.” It is time that every Indian, and people everywhere, are able to carry the candle of science in a way that brings meaning to their lives.

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Science & South Asia  

In South Asia, profound scientific discoveries and advancements date back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Across numerous endeavors — r...

Science & South Asia  

In South Asia, profound scientific discoveries and advancements date back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Across numerous endeavors — r...

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