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A brief history
In the year 1962 about two dozen learned like minded persons sat together at Kozhikkod and thought about the necessity of taking science to the masses in Kerala. It was in a way a continuation of an attempt made five years back in 1957 at Ottapalam in Palakkad district. Literary workers of Malayalam language had an organization, 'Samastha Kerala Sahitya Parishath'. This organization was reluctant to include the scientific literature in their business, which provoked a few to start another organization concentrating on scientific literature, by name 'Kerala Sastrasahitya samithy' (scientific literary committee). They aimed at publishing books and articles on science and related topics. They published a couple of books on science in Malayalam. However the organization was short lived since the people behind it had to go to different places owing to employment reasons.
But the organization, named as 'Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat' (KSSP), started in 1962 at Kozhikkode has a different story to tell. Though started with the same aim as its predecessor it slowly acquired fuel for going forward from its own activities. Its workers understood that by simply publishing scientific articles or books in local language would not help taking science to the mass. During those days most of the people especially those belonging to the working class were illiterate and hence they could not even read news papers, leave alone scientific articles.
Taking science to the people – a typical model
KSSP workers thought over this and decided to interfere in the life of the common people by finding scientific solutions to their day to day problems. The first thing attracted the attention of these workers was the method of cooking followed in almost all houses in the rural area. The hearth (oven) used by them was simply a pit on the floor with three stones placed around it in a triangular pattern. Firewoods would be burned in the pit such that the pot with water resting over the three stones got heated and the water in it boiled slowly. Rice, curries and all other items were cooked like this. Those working with these hearths faced several problems. Burning the firewood needed lot of time, and very often one had to keep on attending to it continuously. Artificial airing for burning the firewood using a small pipe created health problems to those attending to it since lot of smoke generated used to trouble the person. Regular use of this cooking method exposed to smoke lead to breathing troubles, head ache, etc. very often the kitchen would also be covered with smoke.
The alternate model developed by KSSP found solution to most of the above problems. The model was so made that the smoke would completely be going out to the atmosphere through a long pipe and the ashes produced would be dropped down into another cabin just below the cabin in which the firewood was burned. This cabin is having an opening to the kitchen side just below the opening through which the firewoods are pushed to the hearth. Through this opening air goes into the hearth and help divert the smoke to escape through the connected long pipe upward. Also the added advantage of this new hearth is that it needs only less amount of firewood – about one-third only – since the temperature loss is less (about 30% more efficient). This indirectly help reduce the destruction of trees for firewoods – an environmental gain.
The introduction of this hearth attracted the attention of all concerned and even the Government came forward to assist the people financially to get it fitted. The Agency for Non – conventional energy and Rural Technology working under the Kerala Government took up the distribution of this hearth subsidising the rate. This hearth is now known as 'Parishath Aduppu', also as 'smokeless oven' (pukayillatha aduppu). Presently more than half a million such hearths have been fitted throughout the State. Other agencies also have come forward to manufacture such hearths.
The above is a typical example how people are attracted to new scientific know how if it is communicated in a language known to them. KSSP learned a basic lesson through this started doing research for developing technologies which are useful for rural working class. It started a research centre of its own at Mundur near Palakkad by name 'Integrated Rural Technology Centre' (IRTC), where various projects are taken up to develop technologies which can be transferred to the rural people so that they can make better results in their work places.
Major areas of activities
As an organization KSSP started its campaigns in several fields where un-scientific approaches are in vogue. Education, environment, agriculture, energy, health, waste management, planning, development activities, etc. came into the consideration of KSSP.
Now the major activities of KSSP can be roughly classified into three, namely, educative, agitative and constructive concentrating in areas specified above. Thus the approach can be grouped as below:
Science for social revolution
KSSP views the Indian society as one divided into two major groups: a minority which is continuously getting richer and a majority which is continuously getting impoverished or face the threat of impoverishment. The organization understands that today science and technology serve as efficient tools in the hands of the minority for exploiting the majority. Hence KSSP takes a partisan attitude towards this majority in every issue, consequently become against the minority. It aims at providing the weapon of science and technology in the hands of majority to fight against the exploitation. Educating people is actually enhancing their power of comprehension. They become able to analyse social issues in a scientific way and help them to play a more active role in transforming the society. If science and technology become a tool in the hands of the majority, that will bring about a radical change in the society. This idea has been conceived by KSSP in its slogan "Science for Social Revolution".
Education and environment
Among the various areas the attention of KSSP was first focussed on education and environment. The presence of several teachers in the organization naturally made it easy to enter the field of education. The aim of the interference was to make learning and teaching joyful activities. Necessary pedagogic innovations were to be promoted by assessing the curriculum and text books. Massive children's festivals, teacher exchange programmes, talent festivals for children, publishing science journals and books for children, etc. were also taken up. KSSP initiated and took a lead role in making Kerala totally literate.
As another major step it took up the environmental awareness campaign among the people. The campaign for the protection of the Silent Valley forests from destruction through the implementation of a hydro-electric project helped people to become aware of environmental issues. This campaign led the authorities to legalise the study of environmental impacts of every project, before giving permission to start. KSSP through its research wing IRTC has assisted several Municipalities and Panchayaths in their waste management. Campaigns for forest conservation, against filling the paddy fields, against the removal of soil from hill tops as well as exhaustive sand mining, etc. have taken up by this organization.
KSSP through its works had developed models for decentralization of administration. Local level Planning came into being because of these campaigns. It made aware of the importance of energy conservation through several means. In health front also it did exemplary works.
Awards and Recognitions
KSSP's overall contributions to the society attracted the attention nationally and internationally. Recognitions came from different sources which include Vikram Sarabhai Memorial Award by Indian Council of Social Science Research for its work in science (1983), Indira Pariyavaran Puraskar and the Vriksha Mithra Puraskar for its work in the field of environment, both awards by Government of India (1989), Global 500 Roll of Honour of the UNEP for its work in the environment field (1990), The King Sejong Literacy Prize for its work in science popularization and literacy (1991), Right Livelihood Award (often called "Alternative Nobel Prize") by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation (Stockholm, Sweden) for its pioneering work in the field of health, peace and development (1996) and Best R&D institution Award at State level to Integrated Rural Technology Centre, R&D institution in the field of energy conservation studies.
KSSP at its 50th age is still active and young creating models in various fields aiming at sustainable developmen, with its forty thousand and odd volunteer strength.