Science and Society in Colonial India: Exploring an Agenda * *
I am grateful to the Executive Committee and the members of the Indian History Congress for electing me to preside over its section devoted to Modern Indian History. I deem it a great honour and would like to take this opportunity to dwell upon the relevance of social history of Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) for our region and culture. What I propose to present here is not a new research piece but a collage of existing researches on the theme interspersed with some key questions and observations. This synoptic survey is dedicated to the memory of Professor P.S. Gupta, our past President and a teachep whose erudition and simplicity inspired.
Science as a rational exercise is intrinsic to human nature, so has been man's fascination for tools as homo faber. Indian society, through the ages, has been no exception to this. Centuries ago Said-al-Andalusi (1029-70) in his Tabaqat-al-Uman (probably the first work on history of science in any language) referred to India as the first nation which cultivated the sciences.1 In ancient India, medical men inspite of their scripture-orientation, insisted on the supreme importance of direct observation of natural phenomena and on the technique of a rational processing of the empirical data. The Carak Samhita, an ancient medical text, says, "To one who understands, knowledge of nature and love of humanity are not two things but one."2 Nothing could illustrate better the links between science and society.
In relatively recent times the relevance of science for the society was not lost either on the colonizers or the colonized. In its very first issue, the Calcutta Review wrote:
* Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
* * Presidential Address to Modern India section, Indian History Congress Diamond Jubilee Session 29-30 December 1999, Calicut University, Calicut.
Social Scientist, Vol. 28, Nos. 5 - 6, May - June 2000