Is overpopulation the main cause of India not producing great mathematicians like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Sridharacharya and Ramanujan?

By Sunil Kumar

According to me; no. All of these mathematicians you mentioned were the product of a different cultural milieu. A way of life that prized learning above all else.

The Greek philosopher/polymath Pythagoras acknowledged his debt to the Brahmins of Kashmir as early as 2500 years ago. The decimal system and zero are also Indian gifts to the world of science and technology; without which very little progress would have been made. The Kerala School of Mathematics most probably invented calculus before Leibnitz and Newton.

Ramanujan; a globally acknowledged genius is the latest in this list; and even he lived a 100 years back.

Apart from being interested only in mathematics, he attributed his insights to the Goddess Namagiri of Nammakal; something that present-day “skeptics” will be loath to admit to. Another example of a lost cultural context, nevertheless relevant to some extent.

Systematic destruction of gurukuls and traditional methods of learning; and the introduction of Western-style Education of Macaulay changed the perspective of Indians who became ashamed of their great heritage of inquisitiveness and inquiry which was quite unlike the Europeans who punished similar endeavours with burnings, lynchings etc.

Only after Renaissance Europe; and the rise of great scientists and mathematicians in the West; it was that part of the world that gained ascendancy and managed to reframe the narrative. Overpopulation in a positive perspective would have given us more of a demographic dividend; a larger sample set of ingenious, creative minds apart from the usual suspects.

Present-day India’s education system and political inadequacy to go beyond language, religion, caste and reservations has led to a decline. More research patents and high-end innovation is done in the West, Japan and now China due to a state policy of supporting talent.

Despite this statement; there still are some great mathematical minds of Indian origin who largely migrate to the West instead of languishing in some dingy and underfunded university here.

NRIs recognised for their mathematical prowess include Manjul Bhargava; who won the Fields Medal(highest award in Maths) in 2014. The guy has multiple interests including music and Sanskrit.

Modern education in India is more geared towards a generic or economic goal like engineering, doctors, MBAs, cracking competitive examinations rather than the freedom to research and specialise on a certain goal/area of interest like in the West. Inept government policies; political wrangling, bureaucratic hassles and a general waste of time happens even in top-tier Indian research institutes.

So, large population is definitely not the reason according to me. Higher mathematics is also a creative, intellectual and intensive pursuit; and a suitable environment along with an encouraging policy will definitely reap dividends.

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