FOR 50 years, a unique people’s movement had been constantly raising questions on life and society in Kerala and trying to resolve them in a scientific manner, thus shaping public opinion and government policies in several key sectors.
As the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the People’s Science Movement, celebrates its golden jubilee year, it can be proud that the common people and policymakers alike have all along looked up to it for credible guidance in tackling contemporary issues affecting Kerala society.
The KSSP was formed in Kozhikode in 1962 as a small forum of science writers with a limited ambition: to translate scientific works into the local language, Malayalam, and to make such knowledge accessible to the common man.
But its founders soon realised that access to science continued to be the monopoly of a minority because of inequalities in Kerala society, and a large section of people were still far away from reaping the benefits of scientific progress. By 1972, therefore, the KSSP adopted the slogan, “Science for Social Revolution”, and became a movement for the mass dissemination of science for social change. Today, it has nearly 2,000 local units and over 40,000 members active in education, health, environment, energy, development, gender issues, culture and science communication among other well-known Parishad agendas.
It has played an influential role in raising environmental awareness in Kerala from very early days, and its involvement and campaign against the Silent Valley project caught the imagination of the people and popularised the idea of sustainable development in the country.
The KSSP’s army of volunteer schoolteachers and women members were the soul behind Kerala’s total literacy campaign that became a successful model for India as a whole in the early 1990s.
Such early campaigns evolved a certain method that the KSSP would use in all its activities: raising questions and criticism, conducting studies and research and awareness campaigns, and, when needed, developing alternative models.
Subsequently, it campaigned for decentralised democracy, initiating local-level experiments, empowerment initiatives, and methods for participatory resource mapping and watershed-based development initiatives. These models were used generously in the “People’s Campaign” undertaken by a Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the late 1990s for effective devolution of power to local bodies.
The KSSP has also continuously assessed school curricula and textbooks, encouraging pedagogic innovations, training teachers, and publishing science books and journals for children and layman alike. In the health sector, it has utilised the services of doctors and social scientists to create awareness about a whole lot of issues affecting the common people, including in public health, access to health care and drugs.
In the energy sector, the products of its 25-year-old research unit, the Integrated Rural Technology Centre (IRTC), such as high-efficiency wood-burning stoves, and campaigns for replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps, and for small-scale hydro stations, have all been popular initiatives.
The challenge before the KSSP in its Golden Jubilee year is to reinvent itself so as to tackle the fresh set of issues affecting Kerala society in the neoliberal era. And, the key to that is in winning over the new generation of educated and highly skilled youth to involve themselves in selfless social work, as KSSP volunteers had done remarkably well until now.