Nobel Laureates of India

An Ayurveda mantra inscribed in rocks at Zanskar, India.
An Ayurveda mantra inscribed in rocks at Zanskar, India.
Photo Credit: Asia Society

This is my 23rd post in the category Nobel Prizes. The discussion here will be used as background material for an upcoming article concerning the new immigration caps recently put in place by the new government in the UK limiting the number of non-Europeans who can enter the country. This will especially impact Indians who for years have been the major ethnic group entering the UK for work.

Please note that of the nine Nobel Laureates born in India or of Indian descent listed here:

  • Two were Indian Citizens of Foreign Origin: Ross and Kipling.

  • Only one was not born in India: V.S. Naipaul - but an ethnic Indian nonetheless.

  • Three were Indians with US Citizenship: Khorana, Chandrasekhar and Ramakrishnan.

LaureateAwardYearBirthplaceNationalityAward Country
Ronald RossMedicine1902IndiaEnglish/ScottishUK
Rudyard KiplingLiterature1907IndiaBritishUK
Rabindranath TagoreLiterature1913IndiaIndianIndia
Chandrasekhara Venkata RamanPhysics1930IndiaIndianIndia
Har Gobind KhoranaMedicine1968Br IndiaUS CitizenIndia
Subrahmanyan ChandrasekharPhysics1983Br IndiaUS CitizensIndia/USA
Amartya SenEconomics1998IndiaIndianIndia
V.S. NaipaulLiterature2001TrinidadBritish-TrinidadianUK
Venkatraman RamakrishnanChemistry2009IndiaUS CitizenUSA

It should be noted that in the past 80 years only 5 ethnic Indians have won Nobel Science Prizes, rather a paltry showing considering the huge number of Indian immigrants in the US and the UK who are scientists, doctors, and engineers. It is also an embarrassingly low number when we consider that Indians represent 22% of the world's population.

Perhaps the following example may give us a clue into the mind of an Indian scientist: you probably have read about India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle: an expendable launch system developed and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization, which allows India to launch satellites into sun synchronous orbits, a service that previously was commercially viable only from Russia.

You may say to yourself, wow these Indians have joined the quite small and exclusive space community, they must be rather clever fellows. So what's keeping them from getting Nobel Prizes? Well, sending rockets into space is a grunt work engineering problem, no disrespect to rocket scientists. Nobel Science requires a different spark of genius. The kind of genius that cannot truck with superstition and pseudo-science.

And when I say superstition and pseudo-science, I mean their religion. The same thing that keeps a billion and a half Muslims from winning more than 3 Nobel Science Prizes while Jews, 125 times smaller in population, have won 172 Nobel Prizes.

Here is the story:

Frontline Magazine, Sep 2005, Is India a science superpower?

Sri Balaji
Lord Bilaji
Flickr-User: Hinduism
If you thought that scientists, especially space scientists, would have something to say regarding the astrological logic underlying popular traditions, well, think again. While the country was gearing up for Akshay Trithiya, India's top space scientists were busy seeking the blessings of Lord Balaji at the Tirupati temple for a safe launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. A miniature model of the rocket was laid in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and prayed over by priests in the presence of 15 scientists. Scientists, who have not let go their own security blanket of gods, can hardly be expected to question the comforting but false illusions astrologers sell to ordinary people.

Meanwhile, the many satellites that India's space agency has launched in the past were busy beaming television programmes selling unsubstantiated health benefits of yoga and Ayurveda, delivered in a heady brew of spiritualism and Hindu nationalism. India's most popular tele-yogi, Swami Ramdev, offers his Divya Yoga on television. Interspersed with the swami's calls for awakening "desh kaa svabhiman" (national self-respect) by teaching "crore saal purana vigyan" (science dating back ten million years), one finds totally unsubstantiated claims about the power of yogic postures, deep breathing and his own Ayurvedic concoctions for every ailment known to humankind including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma and obesity.

### End of my article ###

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