A mighty force
The activities of KSSP, Kerala's People's Science Movement
by Uwe Hoering
KSSP started bringing science back to the people of Kerala by
publishing scientific material in the local Malayalee language. It has since
staged a large variety of activities aimed at combatting superstition and
The people of Ulloor are on the ball. They have drawn a map of
their village and the surrounding district with details of houses, huts and
paths. They are establishing how the land can be utilised and what water supply
problems they will have to tackle. They are counselled and supervised by soil
scientists and cartographers of Kerala's state land use authority. Their survey
of the available sources of the land, water and vegetation forms the foundation
for future development planning.
Leaving the drawing up of a resources map to the villagers
themselves is typical of the Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), Kerala's
People's Science Movement. Ever since it was set up in the sixties, it has been
involved in getting science and technology out of the ivory tower and circles of
experts and "bringing it back to the everyday life of everyday people, its
creators and beneficiaries», as K.K. Krishnakumar puts it.
"We are convinced that science is a powerful force that will
boost changes in society," says Mr Krishnakumar, who is an engineer of the State
Planning Authority in Thiruvananthapuram; the capital of Kerala and has been a
member of KSSP ever since its inception. Just like him, and regardless of their
political affiliations, many technicians, scientists, doctors, jurists and
teachers support the People's Science Movement and its basic conviction that
scientific enlightenment is a potent remedy against superstition, religious
prejudice, nationalist fanaticism and helpless resignation to existing problems.
Scientific material in the local language
The first step was to publish scientific material which had
hitherto been available exclusively in English in the local language of
Malayalee. The Malayalee publications are not at all expensive, and are written
in a clear and straightforward style. They cover Darwin's theory of evolution
and agricultural production methods, education and health and the envioronment
and technology. There are an encyclopaedia for lay-people, a children's magazine
called Eureka, "Sastra Kerala", a periodical for juveniles and a host of novels,
dramas and science fiction books.
However, the " People's Science Movement» made a point of
actually entering the villages. In order to improve the teaching of natural
sciences in rural areas, it organised courses for natural history teachers,
donated material and equipment for physics and chemistry lessons and supported
"science clubs" at schools. Lectures were organised for the villagers, and
discussion fore gave them the opportunity to work out solutions of their own to
problems they were facing. This provided a counterbalance to top-down planning
through authorities and companies. «Before, people used to believe that
science and technology was only there for people who had studied,» says
C.P. Narayan, KSSP's General Secretary.
The "Science and Culture Caravan", Sastra Kala Jatha, is an
integral part of KSSP's activities, and forms their annual climax. "Theatre
makes people inquisitive," says theatre producer Jos Chirammel. "It provides an
impulse to reflect on one's own situation and that of society as a whole. »
For several weeks, the lay theatre groups travel from village to village and
school to school. Folk drama elements are cleverly combined with traditional
story-telling styles, folk myths and popular songs and film music, and they are
filled with new contents. Topics addressed include discrimination against women
and the exploitation of agricultural workers, the hazards of environmental
destruction and nuclear weapons, and the significance of education and
Some facts and figures
KSSP is India's largest science publisher. It has al- ready
published 600 books and produces 30-40 new titles per year. Nearly 90 percent of
its income derives from this activity.
KSSP has 60,000 members, 10,000 of whom are teachers. KSSP
strives to raise both the standards and the commitment of teachers, and the
achievement and enjoyment of learning of students.
The foundation of KSSP can be traced back to that of Science
Literary Forum in 1957 by a group of concerned activists and science writers.
Five years later KSSP, which literally means Science Writers' Forum of Kerala,
was formally established.
Arming people with knowledge
The KSSP soon became a factor that parties, politics, industry
and bureaucracy had to reckon with. It drew public attention to water pollution
through industrial companies. And its sound criticism helped stop the planned
errection of a reservoir dam in a rain forest area with a particularly rich
biodiversity. «Our contribution was that of informing people," Mr Narayan
explains. "Again and again, we can observe that people themselves become
politically active once they have been armed, as it were, with knowledge.»
In arguing that environmental protection and development are not
opposed to eachother but have to progress hand in hand, the KSSP played a
pioneering role in India. But it also contributed to the fact that, unlike, the
popularity of the Hindu nationalists has remained at a low level in Kerala. It
campaigns for democracy and democratic decentralisation, and against the might
of multinationals and the negative social impact of the economic liberalisation
course the government in New Delhi has been pursuing for a number of years. "We
are political in that we campaign for an improvement in living standards of the
majority of the population, and for a widening of their knowledge and their
cultural horizon," says Mr Narayan.
The literacy campaign that it ran by order of the state
government in the mid-eighties was also about far more than reading and writing.
"It is just as important to impart to people scientific concepts of our society,
the universe, the world in the 20th century in which we are living and causes of
backwardness. These are issues they are interested in,"says Mr Narayan.
Literacy campaign a model for NGOs
This has been underscored by their success. 20,000 volunteers,
including housewives, salaried employees, fishermen and workers, were won over
to run the courses. Five years later, Kerala announced that illiteracy was a
thing of the past. The campaign became a model for several other NGOs throughout
However, the "People's Science Movement" now has to orientate
itself on television programmes. If an instalment of the "Ramayana", the film
serial version of the popular Hindu epos, just happens to be showing on TV, then
its events are only poorly attended, Ms Radhamani, a staff member of the KSSP,
complains. Even in the most remote hamlets, glamorous soap operas and adverts
are attracting people to the television. This means serious competition for
debating societies, books and street theatres.
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