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Decolonization of Science: what is it that is to be done

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Decolonization is a word that has been in trend lately. Many different people have different ideas about decolonization and I too have an idea of what a completely decolonized India would look like. People associate decolonization with repealing colonial institutions that have long stopped working for the people but rather only work against them, a linguistic reform which would enable a pan Indian identity and a cultural narrative for India which would give it a firm footing to fight the universalization of western values sometimes even by force. (For ex: Syria and South Korea).
The one aspect of knowledge system and perhaps the most fundamental and important i.e. science is where people don’t expect nor do they even comprehend that any kind of decolonization is needed. People not only in India but around the world accept that science developed in the west because of obvious reasons like the government propaganda and the not so obvious reason: school/University texts and experts. The experts who write our textbooks really do not cross-check the facts and publish as they are published in the UK and in US etc.
This has been a ploy used by the British in India at least since 1857 (soon after the mutiny) to curb the masses. I would suggest a read of Macaulay’s infamous speech in the British parliament about the role of the British govt. to educate the poor. Our textbooks have not only inaccurate but complete falsehoods embedded in them which the students are asked to learn ( of course by rote) and then those students unknowingly further these lies. Most of scientific history was written by living and dead white men, who claim that much of it, if not all science came from the west. This claim cannot be taken at face value because these ‘historians’ who wrote this were racists and it is very much possible that there is a bias in their work. This can also lead to factual inaccuracies in some cases but as Prof. CK Raju points out, most of the time these factual inaccuracies are deliberate falsehoods. These falsehoods are pompously taunted as a stamp of superiority and used to suppress any attempt at critical analysis and criticism. What’s more the whole hierarchy of experts won’t even agree to have a public debate on these issues.
The fact that we were taught that Romans were using Additive numerals (commonly called Roman numerals) and also, on the other hand, we are taught that a Roman wrote the astronomical book ‘Almagest’ which involves precise decimal place calculations amongst other things (Roman numerals cannot express fractions) is as perplexing as it is laughable. The myth about Euclid and Pythagoras have been drilled into children’s head have had a devastating effect on the psyche of the children wanting to learn mathematics. Prof Raju further says that Macaulay’s suggestion was adopted by the British govt, they still had Church education as their school curricula unlike India. The church curricula also brought in Church dogmas about science and it’s deliberately induced falsehoods into its own theology masquerading as science which makes the subject unnecessarily difficult.Let us take the example of calculus- Calculus as is now an established fact developed in India over a 1000 year period starting from Aryabhata right up to the mathematicians in Kerala and Jaipur in the 16th and the 17th century. Calculus was a Pan Indian development to which creative contributions were made by the Arabs (optics and astronomy) also. The calculus and other scientific texts were transported to the Arabs who acknowledged their Indian sources and used them for further development and application of the sciences.

Europe was struggling financially and had always wanted extensive trade with India. The crusades had largely failed for the Muslims were far superior in military might and so the Church decided to use its own version of Aql-i-Kalam to persuade the Muslims. As part of their plans for trade with India the Church sent out many missions to India to learn the  techniques of navigation and jyotishya (timekeeping and not astrology). Navigation was the only way that efficient trade was possible with India for that one needs a good calendar.  These scientific challenges had been addressed by the Indians and so India was the place to be.

The Europeans set up colleges in Kochin and secretly sent back information about the navigation and timekeeping techniques of the Indians back to Rome. Anyone who receives new knowledge does fully appreciate it’s technical aspect immediately and the same happened with the Jesuits. They misunderstood the Indian calculus for they were caught up in their own dogmatic beliefs, beliefs which were falsely induced into theology by the Church for its own political benefit which led to a bad understanding of Indian calculus and all the sciences imported from the non-west at large. The Jesuits and the subsequent people did acknowledge their Indian sources for the fear of the inquisition. This was used by colonial day historians to use history to their advantage and claim superiority.

Through colonialism and western imperialism today this European experience of imported Knowledge (a bad understanding of calculus and science) is being replayed in a fast-forward mode in Indian schools and colleges and this needs to be discussed and spoken about for until we do not challenge their authority over knowledge we won’t be able to be creative, free and educated human beings.

PS: A more detailed account of the history of math and science can be found in Prof. Raju’s book ‘CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS’ and the corresponding writing regarding this topic are available on his website

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