Knowledge Swaraj: an Indian manifesto on Science and Technology

ksThe Knowledge Swaraj manifesto is a document developed through a collaborative effort of academics and activists of the Knowledge in Civil Society (KICS) network in India. The key points of this document are presented in this post. The complete manifesto can be read online on the KICS website.

  1. What is “Knowledge Swaraj: The Indian Manifesto on Science and Technology”?
  • It is a document inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and asks what Swaraj means for the domain of Science and Technology (S&T) in 21st century India.
  • It argues for Indian self rule of a knowledge democracy, which draws its agenda for S&T from the needs of the Indian people

  1. Who is the Manifesto for?
  • A general audience to inform about the character of knowledge, S&T and Indian self rule of these
  • Scientists and activists to engage with and through the social construction of S&T
  • Policy makers to suggest forms of science policy, for and by the people
  1. What was the need for the Manifesto?

In a world faced by a multi-faceted crises, the manifesto:

  • calls for a critical reflection of the strengths and weakness of Indian society and science
  • suggests ways to turn crises into opportunities
  • serves as a wake-up call for scientists and citizens alike
  • seeks a framework for long term, community solutions rather than short term individual fixes
  1. What does this new swaraj of S&T favour?

It favours a new science which:

  • is better rooted in Indian society
  • draws from a range of Indian knowledge systems
  • assumes trusteeship of society and the world
  • foregrounds values of sustainability, plurality and justice
  • leads to a new ethics of technoscience
  • and finally, leads to a science by and for the people
  1. How does the Manifesto intend to address the multi-faceted crises?

By creating a new swaraj of S&T which addresses the following three dimensions:

  • Justice – democratization of governance with informed participation of all
  • Sustainability – long term perspective with emphasis on universal human rights
  • Plurality – recognition of diversity of knowledge systems and expertise
  1. What is the Manifesto’s take on expertise?

It argues that:

  • There are traditional forms of expertise which need to be incorporated into science policy because
  • Technological projects have many aspects beyond engineering and science
  • These aspects call for expertise, from social sciences and humanities, and also the ‘experience-based’ knowledge systems
  • Further, public distrust of scientific advice demands that all technologies be subject to political or democratic governance
  1. How can non-scientific forms of expertise influence the establishment?

Expertise can be of two forms,

  • Participating/interactional form: the expertise to understand and follow discussions; this is easier to acquire, sufficient for interaction with the establishment about balancing risks and benefits of a scientific development, needed for a “social audit”
  • Contributory form: expertise to develop inside knowledge or design of technology; this is relatively not so easy to acquire, unique to a particular domain (e.g. nuclear physics or construction of dams), needed for a “scientific audit” but exclusive to that domain

The Manifesto therefore conceptualizes expertise as a spectrum of different forms where specific forms of expertise are needed for different questions

  1. What about the social dimensions of expertise?

Recognizing the spectrum of expertise also implies recognizing the spectrum of identities and (social) contexts of the peoples.

  1. How can this new view of expertise be enacted?

Problems associated with S&T are generally assumed to be external and attributed to bad management, wrong political decisions or unprofitable market conditions. In the Manifesto’s new view:

  • Characteristics of society and knowledge will come into view
  • Spectrum of expertise will be evoked at the stage of problem definition itself
  • The problem definition will help understand its characteristics thus determining which forms of expertise can best contribute to solving the problem
  1. What are the implications of this new view of expertise?

Under this new view of expertise, S&T will create

  • Alternate forms of non-violent interactions to redress inequity and injustice
  • New societal arrangements relevant for the development of India
  • A new democratic governance for ownership and management of resources
  • New regulatory frameworks to secure balanced inputs from all relevant forms of expertise
  1. What is the nature of the existing “contract” of science with society?

The contract of science with society is seen as the remit of ‘scientific elites’ to envision the future of S&T’s development.

  1. Why does the Manifesto seek to reconsider this “contract”?

S&T could lead to large scale societal and cultural damage. The Manifesto fears that science could become violent if it is separated from culture; therefore it submits that science needs a theory of culture in which it should be located.

  1. What does the Manifesto propose while reconsidering the existing “contract”?

The Manifesto proposes the establishment of worldviews:

  • To re-enter a dialogue to ensure a non or less violent future of science
  • Where Western/Modern science is assimilated in culture specific ways to be positive and beneficial for democracy.

Towards this worldview, the Manifesto reconsiders the social contract between Indian science and society as a form of trusteeship which reinvigorates gift giving and hospitality.

  1. What are the characteristics of this trusteeship of Indian science and society?
  • As articulated by Gandhi, the idea of science of sacrifice will incorporate conditions of the poor user in the village in the design criteria of science
  • Scientists will be seen as trustees for those whom they depend for making, distribution and use of knowledge
  • Other experts in the spectrum will be trustees for the riches of knowledge on behalf of those who do not possess that knowledge
  • All holders of knowledge will act as trustees of knowledge for the sake of the nation and not for their own sake
  • An agreement on central values for such trusteeship and stewardship and democratisation of S&T is needed
  • This will be backed by (legal) regulations to protect the people and the environment against misuse and exploitation of knowledge
  1. What are the implications of the new trusteeship?

The new trusteeship will redefine the role of S&T in India by:

  • Redefining sustainability, that goes beyond functionality and includes diverse forms of subsistence and survival
  • Imagining a new democratization which celebrates a plurality of knowledge systems
  • Pleading for cognitive justice that gives shape to a knowledge democracy
  1. How is sustainability redefined?

Sustainable will be redefined by:

  • Planning for everyone’s needs
  • Strengthening local institutions
  • Questioning blind faith in technology
  • Questioning use of economic instruments to measure sustainability
  • Looking at nature beyond industrial factory time
  • Incorporating diversity of societies and realities with different ideas of progress
  1. How will this redefined sustainability influence S&T?

Such an S&T will:

  • Look at the context of social needs
  • Include long term benefits to balance older notions of economics
  • Advocate end-use centric, development oriented paradigm
  • Prioritize prevention and end use efficiency, rather than cure and consumption
  • Promote equity and democratic institutions
  • Support educational initiatives which achieves the above goals
  • And ultimately work towards a societal transformation
  1. How will acknowledging plurality lead to a democratization of S&T?

Acknowledging plurality of knowledge systems will:

  • Acknowledge different forms of expertise
  • Recognize different ways of living (such as craft & tribal communities)
  • Understand multiple and often oppositional realities
  • Make it imperative that people participate in the choices that impact them
  • Guarantee that alternative solutions are available in society
  1. What will cognitive justice achieve in the new S&T?

Cognitive justice will:

  • Recognize the diversity of scientific imagination of Indian knowledge society
  • Help reduce risks of vulnerability due to technology by acknowledging multiplicity of expressions valued by Indian society
  • Celebrate the nuanced understanding of a spectrum of expertise
  • Recognize the need for diversity of knowledge, not just as method but as a culture and way of life
  1. What about ethics and technoscience?

Technoscience constitutes both technology and science and occupies spaces between S&T. Currently, an efficient system is viewed from supply side while the demand side (people) are inadequately represented because the system’s output is based on utilitarian calculations. In the new S&T, efficiency will be redefined. From a Gandhian perspective, the system’s activity will be pursued for ameliorating the condition of the weakest and the neediest.

  1. What are the elements of a people oriented S&T policy?

Such a policy will:

  • Seek a fundamental renewal of societal institutions and role of knowledge therein
  • Celebrate parallel knowledge cultures
  • Renew relevance of traditional knowledge and craft
  • Be down to earth and rooted in Indian experiences (while facing ethical dilemmas of giving space to religion and multiple cultural identities)
  • Encourage transparent discussions of economies of S&T
  • Aspire to quality rather than quantity
  • Invest in infrastructure and processes rather than events and products
  • Create measures to reinvent democracy and social institutions
  • Dream beyond boundaries of state politics
  • Reinstall the citizen as expert and an inventor
  • Reinstall richness of parallel knowledge systems
  • Celebrate morality of weak and marginalized
  • Give an identity of strength to the weak



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