August 17, 2014

Continuing Assault on Scientific Temper


Akin to a seed cast on the Earth, a word planted in the heart will bear fruit someday.

 – From A Word Planted in The Heart, Devanur Mahadeva

THE high economic growth seeking polity in India today is highly submissive and cooperative towards casteist, communal, obscurantist and occult traditions. This is reflected yet again in the recent incidents of malicious attacks on a science activist and an academic in Karnataka. In social media and in other public spaces, the assertion and aggression is growing from a bolstered bandwagon of communally inclined individuals and groups, with a spate of intolerant attacks posing serious threats in cultivating scientific temper and reasoning.

On July 27, when science activist Prabha N Belavangala, secretary of Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), Karnataka, posted her opinion in social media on the challenges of continuing superstitious practices to scientific attitude, she was threatened with rape and assault for maligning Indian culture and ‘sanatana dharma’. The attacker, VR Bhat, who overtly has Hindutva communal allegiance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS), further brings out his casteist sense of social traditions by criticising Prabha as one of those who reads book like Edege Bidda Akshara (A word planted in the heart) – a celebrated book by eminent Kannada Dalit writer, Devanur Mahadeva, as if earning unqualified discredit to readers of such texts like her. Significantly, Mr Bhat here exposes the close links between obscurantism, misogyny, communalism and anti-Dalit upper caste intolerance towards heterogeneity and rationalist fabric. Further to this incident two days later, in a lecture when Prof. Mallika Ghanti, Registrar of Kuvempu University, Shimoga, pointed this incident and drew the casteist and communal tradition of intolerance and violence in history and its continuation vis-à-vis the threats on N Prabha, a vitriolic attack has been launched against Prof. Ghanti. Highly sexist, dehumanising and deplorable abuses have been unleashed against her in social media.

With increasing condemnation of his shameful remarks against Prabha, VR Bhat deleted his post, not before Prabha could manage to take a screenshot of the thread. She lodged a complaint with the police in Bangalore against VR Bhat’s malice. After mounting pressure on the government, also at a time when the state of Karnataka witnessed gruesome sexual assaults against women in the past few weeks, VR Bhat was finally arrested on August 2 under the Goonda Act. Prof. Ghanti has also lodged complaint to the police; but no arrests have been made as yet. There has been a wide spread protest by individuals and different groups, both in Karnataka and across the nation, involving different science forums, rationalists associations, Dalit organisations, writers groups, women organisations, professionals, students and teachers. However, in a recent development of retaliation, a case has been registered against Prabha for hurting religious sentiments!



These incidents of attacks against scientific worker and academic happened at a time when Karnataka witnessed a spate of sexual violence against women, including on minors. In an elite private school in Bangalore, a six year old child has been sexually assaulted by her instructors, triggering a widespread outrage by people in the state. On July 28, the government resorted to a completely unfathomable amendment bringing The Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video or Audio Pirates, (Amendment) Bill, 2014, commonly known as Goonda Act. The amendment adds, ‘Acid attackers, Depredator of Environment, Digital Offenders, Money Launderers and Sexual Predators’, to the title! The ambiguity of this amendment not only reflects government’s intent of looking away from systemic violence unleashed against women by clubbing sexual offenders with people sharing digitally information in defiance of harsh copyright proprietorship, but also posits a serious threat to people’s freedom of expression. This sly amendment can be a tool in the hands of the same people who are attacking the rationalists, science activists and academics today, threatening any non-conformist expression and creating further fear among the public for their voices of dissent.




In the wake of these incidents, it is more important than ever before for a persistent, tolerant and argumentative consolidation of people across sections to discuss the necessity of nurturing scientific temper and rationalism. This August reminds us of the murder of Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune a year ago, who throughout his life fought against casteism, communalism, obscurantism and occult practices, and had to die in the hands of the same people who share the thread of regressive ideology that continues to attack all forms of scientific rationale. After his death, a vengeance erupted from the people who espouse and adhere to the cult of sanatana dharma, as ‘a man receives what he deserves’! This vengeance stems off with vitriolic personal attacks and dehumanising abuses, like what Prabha or Prof. Ghanti is facing today, and at times leads to physical assault and extermination, like in the murder of Dr Dabholkar.

It is, thus, important that the perpetrators, occult practitioners, casteist and communal hate-mongers do not get an upper hand in threatening people, suppressing their view points, and also do not get impunity by using the political class and utilising the ambiguous interpretation of any legislation. Scientific enquiry and rationalist thought must be cultivated with utmost care.