On our Constitution Day, all of us need to remind ourselves that it is our fundamental duty to rediscover the importance of scientific temper and foster ideology-free science in the true spirit of inquiry and reform, says FUZAIL AHMAD AYYUBI.
Ever since the idea of modern India was envisioned by the nation’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, among others, it was in part aimed towards throttling the newly independent nation from antiquarian beliefs towards modernity and scientific values.
While Nehru is credited with the coining of the term “scientific temper” and the “spirit of science”, the entire leadership post-partition echoed these values and religiously promoted the religiously the idea of science and its utility not being limited merely to its technical or academic concepts, but the consequences and effect that such a scientific temper would have on the society at large.
Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946) notes that “[t]he impact of science and the modern world have brought a greater appreciation of facts, a more critical faculty, a weighing of evidence, a refusal to accept tradition merely because it is tradition.” It is this spirit of scientific inquiry and curiosity that was repeatedly advocated by our leaders. For them, science was not just a tool for inventions and research but it was science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people.
It is this great gift of scientific temper and spirit of inquisitiveness for which we should thank our great leaders and the same was later incorporated within the Constitution of India under clause (h) of Article 51A, inserted in 1976 through the 42nd amendment, which has cast upon every citizen a duty “to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”
As evident from the phraseology, the fundamental duty envisioned here is not just a pedantic or technical terminology but is meant as an all-encompassing solution to all the problems that may timely arise owing to the dynamic character of society. Therefore, the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform are not merely for the privileged and the enlightened but are rather meant to ensure enlightenment for all.
Scientific temper and spirit of inquiry are aimed at shattering thresholds, pre-defined notions of antiquity and to test everything by reason and rationality rather than by the mere fact that it is uttered by or with authority. This is further strengthened by clause (j) of Article 51-A that also casts a duty upon every citizen “to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement”
Unlike the fundamental rights under Part III of our Constitution, the fundamental duties are not enforceable through writs but are meant to be a guiding light for the growth of the nation at both the individualistic and collective level. Nevertheless, our courts have time and again stressed the importance of these duties in order to bring about excellence, surpassing merit, virtue, honest performance, dignity and eminence.
The Supreme Court in the famous Minerva Mills case (1980) recognised the significance of fundamental duties, despite being non-justiciable, by holding such duties to be still rules of law as they prescribe a norm of conduct to be followed. It went further to hold that only by reason of its non-enforceability, such duties and obligations do not cease to be rule of law.
The Karnataka High Court as well in one of its judgements echoed that every citizen of India is fundamentally obligated to develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry. It is the duty of every citizen to contribute to reform society for a better way of life.
In the present time, when we are coping with a pandemic that requires awareness at the individual levels in order to protect the collective, these duties have become ever more important to be observed and practiced. From the initial days of the pandemic till the present there have been umpteen examples reflecting the hold of tradition, superstition and irrational beliefs spread through fake news and propagated by means of another scientific advance of the modern age – the social media.
The directions issued by the respective governments in the context of the current pandemic to observe social-distancing and wearing masks along with constant analysis of the disease and research regarding its vaccine is in line with this scientific temper and very much relatable to Article 51A(h).
However, lately, it has also been observed that antiquarian beliefs, superstitious cures, ignorance and lack of awareness are creating hurdles in the efforts of governments, not only in India but in other parts of the world as well.
It is not just wearing a mask or social distancing, there is a need of raising general awareness about the pandemic as well as healthcare and hygiene, which has often taken a back seat in the scheme of things.
It would also be wrong to assume that we have no scientific temper or humanism or spirit of inquiry and reform for that has been repeatedly reflected in the present pandemic in form of constant efforts by citizens to lend a helping hand to others.
We have seen the efforts of Bollywood actor Sonu Sood and Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna feeding those in need. We have seen doctors and nursing staff who, despite knowing of the lethal risk to their lives and loved ones, have worked overtime and performed their duties diligently in these difficult times. We have seen thousands of individuals and organisations that continued to help the poor and the needy without any recognition. We have seen groups that took care of stray animals during the tumultuous time of the lockdown. These are all examples of the scientific temper and humanism that has so far been imbibed in our countrymen.
The most recent example of this spirit of humanism and compassion was also Seema Dhaka, a woman head constable from Delhi Police who traced 76 children separated from their families.
After almost 44 years from the insertion of these fundamental duties in the constitution, despite India having achieved its goal of technological advancement, which is noticeable from the fact that how readily the government tackled the problem of shortage of ventilators for being used for persons critically affected by COVID-19 virus, it still appears that our society still holds tradition, superstition and irrational beliefs.
The present times are a reminder for us to rediscover our fundamental duty towards scientific temper and foster ideology-free science in the true spirit of inquiry and reform.
It is only the application of mind, along with a scientific temper that will offer viable solutions to the present and future challenges.
(Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi is Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India. The views are personal.)