Science Maligned

Today is June 19 and this was the day 27 years back when Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay had ended his life after facing one of the biggest treacheries that science imposed on him. It is ironic that it took a nation 27 years to restore the glory of one man who created history, yet suffered a shameful death after facing social ostracism and reprimand instead of recognition.

This one man being the late Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay who became the first physician in India (and the second in the world after Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards) to perform the procedure to produce the test tube baby “Durga” (alias Kanupriya Agarwal) on October 3, 1978, exactly 67 days after the first test tube baby was born.

But the doctor’s claim to accomplish in-vitro fertilization successfully was greeted with disbelief and disdain. Not only was he mocked by his peers, the Indian Government also did not allow him to attend a seminar in Japan that had been organized by Kyoto University (which invited him to present his experiment to the international community in 1979). Although his British counterparts also received criticism from the world, but Mukhopadhyay’s story never reached the world! In fact, he could never submit his research. The only evidence of his research being a report which he submitted to the West Bengal Marxist government which does not give any proper scientific account of the technique he invented. Shocked and depressed, Dr Mukhopadhyay committed suicide on June 19, 1981. It was in October, 2005 that the Indian Council of Medical Research finally declared him as the person to give India’s first test tube baby.

His achievement would have been lost in the pages of time if it had not been brought to the masses in the form of a cinematic tribute by Tapan Sinha’s movie Ek Doctor Ki Maut in 1991. I feel that his was not just the ‘maut’ of a doctor who paid a heavy price for invention, but the ‘maut’ of science in a nation which could not give him the accolades that he deserved when he deserved it. The fault could be rectified only by giving him “belated” recognition.

Did Dr. Subhash Mukhopadyay deserve the treatment he got? Did his wife deserve the shame she had been compelled to live with for the last 27 years? Is this the fate of scientists and doctors who invent new path–breaking technology? How many scientists may have suffered this wrath at the hands of bureaucracy and society? How many of them may not have even got credit for their research? How many of them must have faded into oblivion?

In Tapan Sinha’s movie, Pankaj Kapur (who plays the title character) replies to everyone rebuking his research by saying, “Science does not depend on anybody’s belief or disbelief; it asks for proof. It’s all about truth.”
But then why did Mukhopadhyay’s invention give him the fate of Frankenstein?

It is sad that Dr. Mukhopadhyay paid a heavy price for his serendipity and our nation lost another great scientist. Ironic it is that prophets are not honored in their own country; and it holds true for Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay.

Aayushi Uberoi

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