Editorial Articles

Issue no 48, 26 February-04 March 2022

Role of Indian Languages in Science Communication, Popularization & Its Extension

Nakul Parashar

Since time immemorial, language has been an essential element of effective communication. India has been blessed with so many languages and dialects that it makes communication a challenge on the one hand and rich with comprehensive glossary and usage on the other. One size fits all theory thus, does not fit here due to the wide variety of languages. Communication strategies vary from language to language. They vary according to the geography and the number of people that speak a particular language. Why go far? Within Jammu & Kashmir, there are four prominently spoken and written Indian languages - Dogri, Hindi and English in Jammu, whereas it is Kashmiri, Urdu and English in Kashmir. The geographical terrain is hilly and upper reaches of the region remain cut off due to snow for a large part of winters. While these statistics might be challenges for a communicator-on-foot, the variety of these languages adds a lot to the repository of words and their usage. However, with technology, we've seen how several impediments have been overcome with the aid of technologybased communication tools during the past two years. Covid or no-Covid, people have admitted technology in their lives to ensure that communication channels remain open. Classroom teaching, group meetings, street plays and many more that required in-person involvement saw a shift to the online medium. Things continued to happen, yet from experts' perspectives, the efficacy of communication was diluted.

Amidst all this, science communication and popularisation were not an exception. Science communicators faced similar issues. To reach every nook and corner of the country, all their in-person activities took a back seat. All those efforts to walk to remote places and demonstrate handson experiments, meet people and interact with them about various science topics could not happen. Like them, everyone waited for things to return to the old normal. Science communicators came together for in-person meetings, seminars, workshops, and hands-on experiment demos whenever the lockdown & travel embargos lifted. While Hindi & English remained the connecting language across the nation, everyone realised that the efficacy of their science outreach efforts could come only through local language as the medium of communication. This is how science communicators started building content, associated products and practically acceptable glossary of words and usage in the local Indian language. A long way to go, indeed!

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Kachch to Kamrup (throughout the country), there are 22 Indian languages and more than 19,500 dialects. This variety thus provides a large canvas for the science communicators to work upon. This proves the significance of Indian languages in the domain of Science Communication, Popularisation, and its Extension (SCoPE). For this, something perennial for the public to read was required. Periodicals, for that matter, have always been looked upon as an effective vehicle to take the thought to people in a consistent manner. Whether a regular newsletter or a magazine, publication of this kind has always been accepted to supplement a daily newspaper. The shelf life of a periodical is, thus, longer than that of a newspaper. This way, the longevity of effectiveness of communication made through a weekly or fortnightly or monthly magazine maintains a more prolonged impact on the enduser. Having realised this, a number of periodicals have started to come up with the help of local science & technology agencies

During the September 2021 timeframe in Kashmir, Vigyan Prasar(VP), the nation's neutral nodal agency for SCoPE and the Central University of Kashmir (CUK), came together to ink a letter of collaboration to work in the domain of SCoPE-inKashmiri. Thus, the first popular science monthly called Gaash (meaning vision in Kashmiri) came up. Gaash, since its launch, has become very popular in the valley, especially with teachers of Mobile Schools, where teachers of these schools teach students of the nomadic community. VP and CUK also came together to produce the monthly popular science magzine in Urdu called Tajassus(which means curiosity in Urdu). Incidentally, the script of Urdu and Kashmiri are identical. Tajassus has been in print since 2019 and has been published consistently since then.

Vigyan Prasar has recently signed a similar note of collaboration with the Central University of Jammu for bringing out a popular science monthly in Dogri (expected in March 2022) and another one with the Punjab State Council for Science & Technology for a popular science monthly in Punjabi (scheduled from April 2022).

A similar endeavour in Gujarati, with the help of the Gujarat Council for Science & Technology (GUJCOST), is called Jigyasa (which means curiosity in Gujarati). In Marathi, the famous Sathaye College of the University of Bombay with VP produces a popular science magazine called the Vigyan Vishwa (the world of science in Marathi). Moving down south, the Karnataka Science & Technology Academy in Bengaluru has been producing the popular science monthly in Kannada called Kutuhalli (meaning curiosity in Kannada) since 2019.

In Tamil, a similar effort that started in 2019 with the help of Tamil Nadu Science & Technology Centre in Chennai has been continuously producing a monthly magazine called Ariviyal Palagai (meaning the platform for science). The Telegu counterpart produced by the National Institute of Technology in Warangal is Vigyan Vani (voice of science). The collaborative effort for Bangla is made jointly between VP and Jagadis Bose National Science Talent Search Organisation in Kolkata, and it is called Bigyan Katha (story of science). The popular Assamese science monthly is Xandhan (meaning research in Assamese), and Tezpur University produces it. In Maithili, VP, without any local support, has brought out a popular science monthly called Vigyan Ratnakar.

Similar to efforts being made for popular science monthlies in Dogri and Punjabi, VP is working closely with agencies in languages that have been left behind so far - Malayalam, Odia, Nepali, Bhojpuri, Manipuri and Konkani.

Aggregating content, getting it editorially corrected to suit the readers' palate and getting all of this published in print form is a challenging task. The success stories of how people have accepted these monthlies manifest that there has been a void in this domain for a long time.

Besides publishing monthly magazines, SCoPE encompasses many other facets of communication channels. Short science films, popular science books, science literature festivals, science theatre, science festivals & exhibitions, science communication workshops, science film festivals and much more are integral parts of science communication, popularisation and its extension. Thus VP has embarked upon all these programs in a big way with all its local partners on a year-on-year enhanced plan. In Bengali, it has already produced and published more than a dozen books on various topics and plans to achieve a similar number of books in all other Indian languages.

The journey has begun. As citizens, we have our social responsibility to create scientific awareness in society with whatever possible means and methods. This is what we call scientific social responsibility (SSR). To ensure that we accomplish our duty perfectly, it's essential to promote it through our mother tongue or any Indian language that will go a long way and reach the target audience quickly and effectively. It is heartening to see that the Government of India has embarked upon plans to create content in the Indian language at the higher education level. The Madhya Pradesh Government has led to producing course books in Hindi for students pursuing MBBS in the state. This opens up the door and enhances the significance of Indian languages in Science & Technology Communication Popularization and its Extension (SCoPE).


(The author is Director Vigyan Prasar, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, New Delhi) Email : nakul.parashar@gmail.com  

Views expressed are personal