National Development: The Scientific Revolution In Rural India

Garry Jacobs

March 30, 1975

Science has been a major force in the development of the modern world. It has had a great impact on industry, commerce and the social life of nations. India is rightly proud of the high international standing of its scientific community. The rapid growth in its heavy industrial sector is one testament to this achievement. Yet at a time when new advances are being made in almost all fields of investigation and practical application, the fact remains that ninety percent of the country lies outside the influence of science, untouched or barely touched by the rapid growth in knowledge and the new technologies that have evolved.

This is a country where highly advanced industry lives along side primitive agriculture, but separated by an immense generation gap -- a gap in education, prosperity and motivation. The reason for this is that science as it exists here today is not a natural development of nor integrated with the life of the nation. Rather it has been imposed as a superstructure on the social and economic life of the country and has failed to become a dynamic force for widespread social upliftment. Government planners have recognized this gap which divides the nation by a few centuries of progress and we are now seeing the first real attempts to bridge the distance.

The problem of development is two fold. It is a task of awakening the sleeping potential of the country and educating it for effective action. It is also a task of adapting and molding the latest discoveries, technologies and life styles imported from the western world into a form and spirit in harmony with India's social and cultural heritage.

In the field of science this dual necessity can easily be seen. It is not enough that we create in the people an interest in modern technology or a willingness to adopt it. It is first essential that the scientific community in India adapt itself to the needs of the country and the people. The pivotal questions are how to involve scientists in evolving technologies relevant to the present needs of the people -- which means the rural communities -- and how to ensure the application of existing knowledge in the field of agriculture, industry and social life.

In the developed countries which passed through the Industrial Revolution, science has come to occupy its present position through successive stages of natural social evolution. Among the conditions responsible for this development were the birth of democracy and political freedom, the spread of education, the rise of critical mental enquiry as a reaction to the dogmatism of Christianity and the vibrant expansion of human society through the opening of world wide commerce. Mind began to revolt against stagnation and religious fanaticism and to actively look for relationships between natural phenomena. Intuition was given scope for expression. This mental awakening took place in the context of an industrial revolution. That is, mental enquiry at once expressed itself through the observation of natural law and the application of this knowledge for devising instruments of social utility. Mind arrogantly proclaimed itself the ruler of man and nature. Pure science and applied technology grew side by side integrated with the society in which they rose through progressive stages of development. The industrial revolution absorbed the great mental energies unleashed by scientific enquiry.


During the period of western industrialisation India was, historically speaking, in decline. Her population had learned to live on a subsistence level. The support of religion, culture and spirituality preserved social contentment and traditional ways. Society lacked the impetus to grow and expand.

Science as a social institution and organised way of life came to India only after independence. Here it did not arise naturally out of the existing social conditions but rather came as a decision by the national and government leaders to imitate the developmental achievements of the West. It was not born of a ripened mental climate for creative thought nor from a condition of great commercial activity and expression. In other words, it was imposed as a superstructure on top of the nation without reference to the felt need of the people or the stage of its historical and sociological evolution.


Today the scientific community transcends national borders and social customs. It is truly international in outlook, exchange of knowledge, participation of members. A scientist draws inspiration in being recognised by the higher echelons of the international community. To this extent the scientist has become insulated from the social atmosphere of the country in which he lives. This is especially true in India where science was never integrated with its social base.

The problem facing us is to propose ways and means to accomplish this social integration of scientific knowledge and the community of scientists in India. The development of science in a society occurs under certain social conditions and progresses through certain stages of development. Neither these conditions nor stages can be completely eliminated though they may vary in their make-up and duration. But it is possible to foster the conditions which will accelerate a natural progressive development. For science to be integrated with life, it means that scientific knowledge and technology must be applied in the context of daily life which in India centers around agriculture and to a lesser extent industry and commerce. In fact the tasks of promoting the agricultural and industrial development of the nation and the application of science to social life are essentially one. The proper atmosphere must be created for a natural development of science in conjunction with agriculture and industry. The linking of these three is the key to national development.


Like science, the development of industry in India did not arise from the prevailing natural conditions in the country. Such a natural development presupposes (1) a national need in that direction; (2) capital; (3) enterprise; (4) scientific urge to acquire technology developed elsewhere; and (5) a natural setting for this effort in the social structure. What just now obtains is that the national leadership feels the urge for industrial development, dissemination of scientific knowledge at the grass roots level and a host of other things. There is not sufficient capital generated for large investment and there is no chain of natural growth in industrial development. All efforts taken at central, state and private levels are by fits and starts.

As for the young men who should operate the plants and spear-head research, they are at best job oriented careerists in a great measure. Managerial cadre of good caliber are lacking. Between the scientist and the manager, the scientist is more mental and the manager relates more to the physical realities of the factory. The former tends to be lab-oriented rather than workspot-oriented.

For the most part, large, medium and small scale industry here are located and operated without relation to the environment around. When a huge fertilizer plant was to be located at Cudda1ore, a top ranking government official was asked why this site was chosen. He said the principle is that one place is as good as another. The proper understanding of the relationship between industries is also lacking. When a large manufacturer of buses was asked to consider expansion of his unit for export, they expressed their willingness but said it was not possible because of the insufficient allocation of power and steel to the auxiliary industries on which they depend for vital components.

In order for industrial development to move ahead swiftly and smoothly without frequent breakdowns and major gaps in the network of production, the growth must issue from a point in the society where the proper conditions are naturally met. That point will be found where science, industry, commerce and agriculture meet -- at the level of rural development.


From the beginning in the western nations, by far the greatest amount of research and innovation has been conducted by private industrial concerns motivated by the drive to produce new and better items for sale and to earn larger corporate profits. The field of scientific enquiry was directly linked to the field of commerce by the incentive of monetary reward. This is true in the field of applied technology where scientists are not solely motivated by the self-fulfillment which comes by discovery or the mental satisfaction of research work. These other fields of pure science are more able to grow and expand without intimate contact with social life.

Here in India the technical or applied scientists, e.g. engineers, agricultural researchers, etc., have been insulated from the environment, i.e. industrial and agricultural communities, and do not directly participate in those life activities. The result has been that researchers are for the most part unaware of the conditions and needs pertaining in the field. In addition, the results of their work find insufficient expression in commercial life. Furthermore, the researcher does not receive a direct financial reward for his work which for this type of scientist means he is not being adequately motivated for technological innovations.


Applied science will flourish here when the engineers, chemists, agronomists, etc. are in a position to personally make use of the innovations they develop and translate these discoveries into economic gain. Trained, qualified scientists must feel drawn to remunerative-cum-scientifically rewarding work and the industrial climate in the nation must be geared to this end. There must be a shift from salaried research to entrepreneurial profit.

Besides the trained scientists involved in technical research there is another group of individuals who are capable of substantial contribution to technology if offered the proper opportunity. This second type may be called the perceptive person. Whether he is educated or uneducated, he is one who subtly sees the relationship between various conditions and is able to "instinctively" choose the right action. In agriculture he perceives the invisible relations between season, crop, soil and water. In industry he improvises more efficient production techniques and makes small but significant modifications in the equipment. In every village and every factory such individuals will be present in small number and can be identified. In most cases these individuals are support personnel who do not directly participate in the earnings of industrial ventures. These individuals must be given special recognition, provided the practical education necessary to help them translate their perceptions into remunerative production and given the financial facilities to start industrial ventures of their own. These two types will form a new cadre of scientifically trained industrialists.

Science will go to any field of life where the trained scientists and perceptive untrained scientists are drawn out of enthusiasm, job satisfaction, urge for venture, innovation and remuneration. These individuals can maintain their interest and make it spread around them only where the fields of work arise from the natural conditions of the society.


When the scientific community turns its attention to advancing rural life, the conditions will be right for a socio-scientific revolution at the village level. Rural life in India means agriculture and agro-based industries. Already agriculture is being modernised through introduction of new hybrid crops, and the growing utilization of fertilizers and chemicals. Rural youth are becoming accustomed to the operation of machinery. More agricultural products are being converted into consumer goods through agro-based industries.

But for the rural people to rise above the level of the soil and develop mentally and scientifically, it is necessary to release the dynamism of the village population. The real lever of development is the releasing and channeling of the social energies of the people. This can be accomplished when a few individuals in every community are made to see and benefit materially from the application of scientific techniques in their daily life. Once a few have prospered in this manner, whole villages will follow suit.


Since independence, in almost every village youth are leaving their homes for education in the University and employment in towns and cities. Engineering students seek jobs in government or large public and private corporations. But there is a feeling among many that their lives are unfulfilled unless they can do something for the village from which they came. When the potential for profit and service at the village level is fully seen, a counter migration of scientifically trained youth will begin back to the rural areas. The result will be the sprouting up of new village scale industries and the rapid development of new technology to modernize rural living. This will mark the true beginning of the industrial revolution in India.

Already there are signs of the coming age. The General Manager of a large fertilizer plant digs bore-wells in a village devoid of water and begins wet cultivation of a few acres. A small scale industrialist in Madras plans to establish a handmade paper factory in his father's village to help employ the people of this arid region. The factory superintendent of an 1 crore industrial unit decides to start an agro-based industry in his own village. The wealthy leader of another village invites Coimbatore industrialists to set up a tomato paste factory and promises to organise agriculture in his area for the purpose. These are the surest indications of the natural movement which will unleash widespread prosperity in rural India.


The proper starting point for science in India is the agricultural, industrial and social life of the village. In agriculture tremendous advances have been made at the research stations but only a small proportion of the new technology is actually being applied in the fields. The need is not for new discoveries but for utilization of what is known. For this to occur, the agricultural scientists must recognise the vast potential of farming and begin to apply their knowledge as modern farmers. When one agricultural graduate succeeds in raising per acre yield on village lands by 50%, the entire village will follow suit.

Through the application of existing technology, the annual per acre profit in many areas of the country can be raised in successive years from Rs.1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 to Rs.5000 and in some cases two, three or four times this amount. Where field development matures, scientific and industrial development begin. Agricultural prosperity will give birth to agro-based industries such as fruit canning, paper making, starch manufacture, accelerating freeze drying, essential oil extraction. The potential of these industries will lure engineers back to the rural areas. As new industries arise in the villages, youth will be exposed to new types of machinery never seen before. They will be trained for new jobs and learn new skills.


One direct effect of science based industry moving to the village is that a stimulating mental atmosphere will be created, encouraging education and scientific enquiry among the uneducated masses. This will mark the true awakening of the people to mental life and the natural birth of a scientific revolution in India. There will be a growing demand among rural folk for education of their children, training in industrial skills, and opportunities to create agro industries in their area. The energies of youth will be absorbed into scientific curiosity. The uneducated scientifically perceptive youth will gain the knowledge necessary to become a scientific researcher or a scientific industrialist. The social climate of the Industrial Revolution will be naturally recreated in India.


Another direct result will be the increasing application of technology to domestic life in the village. New inventions will be made in every aspect of rural living to save labour and effort, add cleanliness and comfort, prevent wastage of fuel, water, etc. The atmosphere will be proper for the creation of the Planned Village Community.

In place of the randomly divided lands and temporary housing which is today the rule in villages throughout the country, entire villages can be recreated according to a modern plan. Streets and property lines can be straightened, running water and electricity can enter every building, pipeline plumbing can replace the unsanitary open trenches. The new found field prosperity can be channeled into the construction of permanent brick houses, new shops, schools and public recreation areas.

Where material cleanliness and prosperity are accompanied by an urge for education and mental enquiry, the conditions will be right for a renaissance of Indian culture in which the rich spiritual treasures of the past will be rediscovered in the light of a fulfilled outer social existence and the ancient truths resound with a greater significance than ever before. It is then that India will be ready to accept its role as the spiritual leader of the world.