The BOB Man

Remembering Rabindranath Majumdar

Sabyasachi Chatterjee

Rabindranath Majumdar, or Rabinda as he was popularly known to his countless admirers, was born on November 24, 1946, in a village near Memari in Burdwan district. He came to study chemistry honours at Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission Residential College. He obtained first class in Chemistry honours, B.Tech in Chemical Engineering and M.Tech in Chemical Technology; in all the three occasions he secured first place. He did his PhD from Calcutta University in 1972. In 1974, he started teaching in the Department of Chemical Technology. In 1984-85, he worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Leeds, England. In 1993-95 he served as the Head of Chemical Technology Department of Calcutta University. This distinguished scientist was engaged in teaching and research. However, he did not confine himself in the classroom and laboratory; rather he always tried to make science social and society scientific that was the motto of the journal Bijnan O Bijnankarmi (BOB). In fact Rabinda was somehow synonymous with BOB. The magazine for which he was known in the field of science movement was Bijnan O Bijnankarmi.

The Bijnan O Bijnankarmiwas launched in July 1977. It was bi-monthly at first. Each year, six issues were published from July 1977 to June 1983. In 1983 five issues were published with a joint issue of No. 2 & 3 (September to December 1983). From 1984 onwards, this journal was published, sometimes singularly, and often as joint issues. The publication of Bijnan O Bijnankarmi was suddenly stopped in 1993 and from 1994 a new format was adopted. The period of the year was changed from July-June to January-December along with its periodicity from bi-monthly to tri-monthly. It was regular in its periodicity till March 1996. Then a joint issue was published taking 2nd and 3rd number of the 18th year. There was no further change regarding its periodicity till December 1997. But in few recent years Bijnan O Bijnankarmi was published annually during the time of Kolkata Book Fair. However it did not come out to newsstand after 2022.

As to its subject matter, Bijnan O Bijnankarmiwas truly a representative of the ideal, phrased like ‘think globally, act locally’. It always highlighted the global phenomenon. It vividly reported the debates and issues that were taking place in different international summit on environment. As far as the movement was concerned it had played a pivotal role in the movement against a proposed chemical fertiliser company in the Sunderban area of the South 24 Parganas. Rabinda himself was deeply attached to the movement. A contemporary novel portrayed a character of a scientist on the basis of Rabinda’s role in the movement. Bijnan O Bijnankarmihad contributed significantly in the anti-nuclear movement of the state. Till the Pokhran explosion of 1998, as many as forty-one articles/reports were published in the Bijnan O Bijnankarmion nuclear power and weapons. After Pokhran explosion, when a movement was started against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, comprising of ninety-eight people’s organisations, Bijnan O Bijnankarmiwas a part of that initiative. On August 6, i.e. the Hiroshima Day, 1998 a huge rally from Sealdaha to Birla Planetarium was organised in Kolkata where Rabinda along with other like-minded activists took part.

The disastrous Bhopal Gas tragedy took place on 2nd December 1984, After the Bhopal gas disaster, BOB tried to demonstrate the dangers of manufacturing hazardous chemicals. It tried to show the risk behind the making of dangerous chemical pesticides. It had also showed the huge loss and sufferings, which the concerned company did not pay. BOB protested against this nuisance and demanded compensation for people.

Another thrust area of Bijnan O Bijnankarmi was related with medical science in general and people’s health in particular. It reacted to the contemporary health issues. When enteric diseases broke out in West Bengal in 1984, it published a number of articles. The same thing happened in 1985 when hepatitis broke out in Kolkata and its surrounding areas, the Bijnan O Bijnankarmialso raised the question of the responsibility of the government regarding it.

The Bijnan O Bijnankarmiwas also concerned with the method of science. In this context, it had tried to evaluate homeopathic and acupuncture as medicinal methods. Bijnan O Bijnankarmicriticised the First World’s role in using the people of the third world for experimentation of new bio-chemical medicines on their body before marketing of those specific drugs. It had tried to consolidate the grievances of the common people, who failed to get proper treatment. People took the opportunity to ventilate their feelings in the pages of Bijnan O Bijnankarmi.

The Bijnan O Bijnankarmimade an evaluation of the textbooks on science, either published or approved by the government, of primary and secondary courses in West Bengal. It exposed various unscientific subjects present in those textbooks. It also threw light on non-formal science education based on experiments as introduced by the Ekalavya in Madhya Pradesh. In a nutshell, the Ekalavya’s main areas of work were innovations in school education, publication of educational literature, science-society issues and facilitating participatory development. It had innovative curriculum, teaching methodologies and educational materials for science, social science and primary education. The Ekalavya believed that science and technology were not esoteric spheres of thought and activity but should be rooted in people’s knowledge and understanding and should be addressed to their needs. Along with the Ekalavya, the Bijnan O Bijnankarmialso showed the camaraderie to some other people’s movements like the movement centred round ChhattishgarhShahid Hospital and the people’s health movement of Latin America. Through all these efforts, it accelerated the pace of the science movements of West Bengal.

Rabinda played the pivotal role in all of these efforts. He took main initiative in presenting the important issues published in BOB as booklets. Among those mention must be made of BijnanshikshaPrathamikHalchal(1988) [Condition of Science Education in Primary Level], BijnanshikshaMadhyamikHalchal(1992) [Condition of Science Education in Secondary Level]. His own book on introduction and measurement of Environmental Pollution (ParibeshDushanParichiti O Parimap) came out in 1998. He and ManindranarayanMajumder wrote a quality textbook on environment when environmental studies became a compulsory subject at undergraduate level in West Bengal in the 21st century; name of that book was ParibeshbidyaParichay(2002) [Introduction to Environment]. The most striking part of this book was the chapter on environmental movement. Actually Rabinda was an 'activist-writer'. He was integrally associated with the science and environment movement. He wrote a pioneering article on the science movement under the title “BijnanAndolonerSandhane” [In search of science movement]' in BOB in November-December 1979. That search continued throughout his life. Therefore, in the last ten years, he wrote two booklets BharaterAamaadmirJanyaBijnan O Prajukti[Science and Technology for the Common People of India] and BijnanAndololanAthabaKupmandukatarCharcha[the science movement or the practice of narrow-mindedness] (both of these were published in 2016). The characteristic of his writing was to give the reader a scope for thought without giving the last word; He tried to share ideas through writing, not as an authority. And that's why he never hesitated in self-criticism. He repeatedly raised questions about his work. But it is not to block the way, but to find out new direction of science movement.

This write-up would be incomplete without referring his love for Prafulla Chandra Ray. He wrote extensively on the contribution and dream of Prafulla Chandra. He sincerely believed the relevance of following Prafulla Chandra’s footstep. Apart from writing a number of post-editorials on the life and works of Prafulla Chandra in the EiSamay, he wrote a full-length monograph. Like Prafulla Chandra, Rabinda also emphasised on the trinity of science, society and human being; incidentally that was the title [BijnanSamajManush, 2006] of the compilation of the articles published in the Bijnan O Bijnankarmi. Rabinda would be remembered not by the BOB family alone, his devoted work would inspire the activists of people’s science movement.

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Vol 56, No. 37, Mar 10 - 16, 2024