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The Science of Equality

Scientists of the world unite...

Sunday 15 February 2009, by Benoîte Labrosse

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

“We are turning science and
technology into a weapon that the
poor can use to combat their poverty.”
For almost 50 years, this has been the
creed of Indian NGO Kerala Sasthra
Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), who
have helped impoverished citizens
to actively pursue the social change
that leads to greater equality.

The roots of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya
Parishad, which translated from
Malayalam means “The forum for
scientific literature of Kerala”, date
back to 1962. The primary objective
of this small group of researchers
was to translate scientific works into
their local language in an effort to
further enlighten their community.
“The founders came from three
schools of thought that each
influenced the movement,” explains
K.K. Krishnakumar, an engineer who
has been with the NGO since 1972,
“There were populists inspired by
the Soviet movement, researchers
who believed the country needed
to develop scientifically, and, finally,
professors and writers who felt that
the language of science—English—
and the low literacy rates were an
obstacle for the people.”

The KSSP quickly became one of
the most prolific scientific publishers
in India with an average of fifty
titles per year. Sold door-to-door
by members of the organisation—
today they are more than 50,000
strong— these publications are the
principle source of their finances.
“We mainly concentrate on scientific
and political subject matter, but we
also have children’s books, tales,
and also books on health,” notes
Krishnakumar, who was once the
president of the NGO and remains
on its executive committee.

In the 1970s, the KSSP decided to
expand its scope by concentrating
on the political aspects of science
and technology. “We understood
that our role should be to help the
under-privileged to understand
scientific and political issues, thereby
encouraging them to participate
in the democratic process more
efficiently,” adds Krishnakumar, “it’s
science for a social revolution.”

KSSP’s first foray into the public policy
debate came with its position against
the building of a hydro-electrical dam
in the Silent Valley region. “Since
then we’ve had quite the love-hate
relationship with the government!”,
exclaims the engineer while laughing,
“We’ve had to critique their actions
often, but sometimes the politicians
are happy that we do it !” One of the
most obvious examples is the highly
successful literacy campaign that the
KSSP ran at the end of the 80s in
response to what they saw as a lack
of government will to do so itself.

There is still a lot of work to be
done, however, before a semblance
of equality is reached, “We have
once more seen the shocking
impact of neo-liberalism,” laments
Krishnakumar, “the gap between
the rich and the poor has widened
further— and the poor are increasingly
marginalised in society.”

Do not think for a second that this
has dented the optimism that has
been a trademark of the KSSP
since its inception. “We aren’t
fatalists and we don’t believe in
the ‘there are no other alternatives’
philosophy, we believe that when
the right questions are asked it
leads people to refl ect and to create
initiatives that can bring change,”
assures Krishnakumar.

Although the youth have always
had an important role in the
organisation, their membership
levels have declined in recent years,
Krishnakuma explains, “I think it is
due to the individualism that comes
with a neo-liberal society. The
bonds of the community are not as
strong as they once were so we’re
rebuilding them in a new way.”

“The reason that this movement
has lasted so long is that it adapts
to the needs of the population,”
he confi rms. As well as working
to incorporate new media and
technology into its operation, KSSP
is taking advantage of the year 2009,
which marks the 150th anniversary of
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the
400th anniversary of the invention of
the telescope by Galileo, to launch
a massive scientifi c campaign. “We
are using every possible opportunity
to get the community involved,
discussing science and its impact
on society because the biggest
lesson we’ve learned is that social
transformation must come from the
local community.” K.K. Krishnakumar
emphasizes, “Once the community
gets involved it shows tremendous
creativity to reach its goals. Our job
is to inspire that creativity.”

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