Why Science Scares the RSS/BJP: Curious Case of Satyapal Singh

Prabir Purkayastha

SATYAPAL Singh, the minister of state for human resources development (HRD), and a former police officer, while speaking in the All India Vaidik Sammelan, has attacked the theory of evolution – which he foolishly calls Darwinism – asking that it be removed from school and college education. In this, he has been backed by Ram Madhav, the general secretary of the BJP, who has quoted the Christian Right on creationism – now called “intelligent design” – being a substitute for the theory of evolution. They join a growing tribe of BJP leaders and ideologues, who argue that myth – or as SR Rao, the ICHR chairperson termed as oral history – must supersede any scientific study of history. It is on the basis of unreason and mythology that the BJP wants to build a modern India.

Modi talking about myths as historical facts – flying chariots as aeronautics, and Ganesha’s elephant head being cosmetic surgery – could be dismissed as aberrations. Satyapal Singh and Ram Madhav’s attacks on evolution are not just some isolated myths being paraded as history. Evolution is at the heart of biology, or life sciences, today.

The three premiere science academies, for the first time have come out openly against a BJP minister, and condemned his attack on evolution. The statement from the three academies states: “The Honourable Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Shri Satyapal Singh has been quoted as saying that ‘Nobody, including our ancestors, in writing or orally, have said they saw an ape turning into a man. Darwin’s theory (of evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong...’

“The three Academies of Science wish to state that there is no scientific basis for the Minister’s statements. Evolutionary theory, to which Darwin made seminal contributions, is well established. There is no scientific dispute about the basic facts of evolution. This is a scientific theory, and one that has made many predictions that have been repeatedly confirmed by experiments and observation...

“It would be a retrograde step to remove the teaching of the theory of evolution from school and college curricula or to dilute this by offering non-scientific explanations or myths…”

 

The late Pushpa Bhargava had resigned from the academies for their refusal to stand up for science and scientific temper. He would have been heartened that the scientists have at last raised their voice against this attack on science. 

Raghavendra Gadagkar, the former president of Indian National Science Academy, and an internationally recognised biologist, correctly identifies that Satyapal Singh and the BJP/RSS project is not about science but about politics. Speaking to NDTV, he said it was "politically polarising science and scientists" which is "the real danger we must guard against".

Raosaheb Kasbe traces this project in his book Zot (Marathi). He shows that Golwalkar, speaking to the Vishwa Hindi Parishad in Allahabad during Kumbhmela, was asserting the supremacy of religion over science. Golwalkar said, “On several occasions, people say that this age is the age of science. So they often argue that we have to bring about changes in religion in order to adapt to the age of science. I say exactly the opposite thing... If you go on changing religion with every research in science, then the religion will not remain religion ... The entire mankind will be then disenchanted. Hence, I think that to bring changes in religion with every research in science is not an appropriate way”. Kasbe writes that the language used by Golwalkar is similar to that of the Islamists, who want to Islamise modernity; the RSS wants to Saffronise modernity.

Satyapal Singh now claims that evolution, a core tenet of life sciences, has been disproved by “scientists” today. He even advances his Ph.D in chemistry, secured from Delhi University before he became a police officer, as his proof that he is still a “man of science”. He wants to have a debate over this in a conference, organised presumably by the HRD ministry. Creationism presumably will help shore up the “science” of Garbh Sashtra/Garbh Sanskar, which the RSS is propagating with the help of various government agencies, to develop fair and intelligent babies after conception by the mother, listening to religious texts, devotional songs and not eating non vegetarian food!

The interesting issue for me is always been the source and the validity for such “truths” that the Sangh lobby propagates. After all, Hinduism never had a revealed text, unlike Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that had to be taken as the basis of science. So why should the Abrahamic myth of creation, that God worked for six days to create the universe including all the living beings, become the basis of the RSS ideology?

It is this creation myth in the Bible that has led to the lobby in the US, which argues that creationism should be taught in the schools and colleges on par with evolution. It is this lobby’s literature, presumably in the internet, that has deeply influenced Satyapal Singh and Ram Madhav. Ram Madhav, in his tweet, mentions his source, Evolution News (https://evolutionnews.org/), a website of the Discovery Institute that is devoted to the so-called theory of Intelligent Design, the retooled, “modern” version of creationism. Whatever such theories might be, they certainly are not intelligent.

Just as the Christian Right/fundamentalists in the US argue against evolution, so do the Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists. In Saudi Arabia, teaching of evolution is banned, and referred to only as a blasphemous theory. Yes, Satyapal Singh and Ram Madhav are indeed in very “distinguished” company.

Why are the Hindutva proponents continuously attracted to such “western” thoughts, when they continuously attack others for borrowing from the west? Why do they use the “arguments” of an unknown and unsourced German woman, who supported the ancient wisdom of Garbh Sanskar, and is allegedly the mother of modern Germany? Why borrow from western creationism and attack science in India? Including labelling the theory of evolution as Darwinism?

It is here we must see how BJP/RSS roots influence their thinking. Golwalkar was clear in his book, “We or Our Nationhood Defined”. He was defining a modern nation, not an ancient one. For him, culture (Hindu), language (Sanskrit), race (Aryan) were the characteristics of a “modern” nation. He was defining – following the footsteps of Mussolini and Hitler – a sectarian nation, that would identify the nation only with one section of its people, disenfranchising the rest. He was defining a modern, exclusionary nation, in which Muslims and Christians would be subjugated, second class citizens. But these views should not to be confused with any thoughts from the past. As Savarkar had argued, Hinduism needs to be militarised and India needs to be Hinduised; he was clear that this Hindutva had nothing to do with Hinduism as a religion.

What we need to register is that RSS views are never original, they always have been derived from western ideologues. Just as they picked up fascism as an ideology from Italy and Germany, they are now picking up creationism from the racist Christian Right in the US, even while attacking churches and Christians in different parts of the country.

Why are the BJP ideologues so keen to attack not only science, but also the methods of science? Why do they argue that myth, or faith, must prevail over reason?

The answer is simple. The RSS/BJP fears critical thinking. Instead, it wants to build an Indian nation on the basis of hatred and fear. Their attempt is to identify only the Hindus with India, and exclude minorities as outsiders, even when they have been here for a thousand years; or two thousand. The problem that they have is not just excluding minorities; using religion for defining exclusions demands that they need to overlook the caste system and the internal exclusions within Hindu society. A critical and a scientific examination of the past would raise all these issues, therefore the need to jettison science and reason.

Just as it wants to borrow ideology from abroad, the RSS/BJP wants to import advanced technology without the scientific capacity to develop it in India. This is the difference between the self reliance in ‘Made in India’, and the shallowness of Modi’s ‘Make in India’. In one, we had to absorb and develop technology. In the other, we expect foreign capital to come to India, and manufacture goods without parting with their technology: a policy for perpetual dependence on the west. Both in mind and body.


 

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