Deepmala 40 – Rewarding the Problem Solvers for the Poor

Practice invariably comes first and science, which explains as to why that practice works, follows later. The technology often came first – science followed. We knew how to make a wheel first and the science of motion developed later. The steam engine come first and thermodynamics followed later. We learnt to ear the food first and the science of nutrition followed later. The technological driven process of scientific inquiries empowers doers, and then the thinkers follow and extend the logic of what has been done. If we try to do just the opposite, as oftentimes seems to be the case, we extend scientific concepts and then see where can these be applied. These sometime work, but most of the time, these attempts end up creating a divide between the scientific community and the day-to-day concerns of millions of people. Let me explain this by taking a very simple example of drawing water from a well.

We should ask as to why the design of a pulley to draw water from a well remained unchanged for two thousand years? Millions of women in drawing water from wells, feel fatigued and sometimes need to rest to catch their breath. But all this time, they have to keep holding the rope with a water-filled bucket or vessel tied to it. Not surprisingly all it takes is a momentary loosening of one’s grip to result in the bucket falling into the well. Although communities have devised ways of retrieving a fallen bucket out of well, for example, by using hooks tied to another rope, this did not prevent the bucket falling into the well. This was the situation until an artisan when posed with this challenge solved this problem by attaching a small lever on the pulley. The lever did not get in the way while pulling on the rope, but the moment the tension on the rope slackened, the lever pressed against it and arrested the downward movement thus keeping the water-filled bucket in its position. Now an old lady or an ill person could take rest, chat and then resume the pulling operation. Thousands of such pulleys are now being installed all across the Gujrat Villages. These designs will spread to the rest of India soon. Can you imagine the relief this will bring to millions of poor women, who draw water from wells in India everyday.

Why did such problems that affect millions of people every day not get solved through the use of the existing scientific models? This example challenges us to consider the changes we need to make in the way scientists are taught and trained so that we do not so to say throw the baby out with bathwater. In other words we do not in any way seek to alienate the outstanding scientists that we do have in various disciplines in at least some of our countries. Rather the aim is to harness their talent so as to add value to the local, indigenous ability to solve problems. In the example of this pulley, we should remember that navigators had used a similar concept while pulling the ropes in setting oars in the boats, and a chain pulley system in the construction industry also used similar concepts. Thus the concept was not new but its application in a real life problem did not happen. This shows that the problems that society faces did not receive as much attention in the formal science programs. While it is possible that the problem was with the society that it did not push for its problems getting addressed. Or equally possible it may be the way the scientist was taught and trained that is the problem stemming from little encouragement to pursue science that solves every day problems while at the same time extending the frontiers of science.

We must create a new value system, where problem solving for the poor and the disadvantaged becomes the mission, and those who contribute to it are made into the national heroes. That is why an illiterate artisan, who developed this pulley system was acknowledged and rewarded by the National Innovation Foundation that was set up under my Chairmanship last year. We need more such innovations, which will solve the problems of the poor.