January 11, 2015

Agenda of RSS in Indian Science Congress

Dinesh Abrol

FOR the first time in the Indian Science Congress in its 102 years history, the organisers held a symposium on “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit”. Seven papers presented over the five-hour session were invited by the Department of Sanskrit, Mumbai University, and Kavi Kulaguru Kalidas University, and reviewed by the Mumbai University’s Department of Sanskrit. Evidence of ancient aviation in the Rigveda was claimed in a paper co-authored by Captain Anand Bodas, retired head of a pilot training centre, and Ameya Jadhav, a teacher. The paper talked about the existence of interplanetary aircraft in India around 9000 years ago. It had references to “cosmic connection” and a phenomenon explained in terms of “fusion of science and spirituality due to inter-penetration law”. Proof for the claim for the author was some Sanskrit text called Vymanika Shastra written 7000 years ago. There were also other outlandish claims made at the Symposium like the existence of a cow carrying a bacteria in its body which enables it to turn whatever it consumes into pure 24 carat gold, helmet on Mars from Mahabharata days, autopsies were being conducted in ancient days by leaving the dead bodies to float in water for three days and Pythagoras’ Theorem invented in India, not Greece.

Speakers at the symposium on “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” included mostly students of Sanskrit and only some professionals. The presenters ended up reducing the contribution to scientific and technological knowledge from ancient India to mythology based talks. Speakers talked of the discoveries made from India during the early Vedic period. The presenters used liberally the occasion to make a large number of outrageous claims. Claims made were pseudo-scientific without producing scientific evidence. Speakers had only the references from Sanskrit texts to present in the name of evidence. Unbelievable dates of the discoveries attributed to the early Vedic period across different branches of knowledge made the claims of the speakers even more suspect. Presenters of the papers at the symposium had little to do either with the pursuit of science or the history of science, and their interest was to bring to the fore the claims that justified RSS ideology. They wanted to use the prestigious scientific platform to give the aura of science to their claims.

Not only the claims made at the symposium were clearly inconsistent with the tradition of scientific method, testable propositions and primacy of empirical evidence on which the 102 year old congress was founded, but also evident from the utterances of ministers that all of it was consciously permitted by the organisers. After all the speakers were carrying forward the tradition set by the Prime Minister Modi who talked at the AIIMS about Ganesha as the evidence of plastic surgery and stem cells and the BJP Home Minister Rajnath Singh who claimed that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle was known to the Vedas and India conducted the world’s first nuclear test “lakhs of years ago”.  Attribution of the loss of ancient knowledge and wisdom to foreign rule and things being stolen by the foreign rulers clearly smacked of an attempt to reinforce the ideology of RSS through the platform of Indian Science Congress. Linking of the erosion of ancient techniques and knowledge to the medieval period, denigration of the “foreign rule”, things being stolen by “foreign rulers”, attempts to create a false pride through the claims of “ancient knowledge” of modern discoveries and techniques to the early Vedic period and ultimately constructing an aura of selflessness of Hindus was well evident from the minister’s utterances and the discussions carried out at the session.




At the symposium we had the union minister of state Prakash Javadekar, who also went on to opine that it was high time India used its ancient knowledge and wisdom. He even said at the inauguration of the symposium that Germany was showing pragmatic interest in Sanskrit as well as Indian ancient knowledge. Certainly not to be left behind, Dr Harsh Vardan, union minister of science and technology, he also went on to make a similar kind of claim at the inaugural session that “Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras Theorem but we very sophisticatedly gave its credit to the Greeks. We allowed selflessly “beej ganit” to be called algebra. These ministers forgot simple truths of the discipline of history of science and technology. These ministers obviously need to be reminded that India’s heritage of science and technology was created when the channels of communication between the Indians, Greeks, Persians, and others were open, particularly in areas such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine. India’s heritage was a product of social exchanges. Scientific knowledge that developed through the generation of efforts cannot be labelled Hindu or Islamic. Understanding demands respect and appreciation of the contributions of others.

Espousing that there is a precursor for almost every theory of modern science in the ancient texts is a dangerous thing and when the governments indulge in such jingoism they are damaging the future of science and of Indian youth. We need to realize that these claims also belittle the great achievements of the past from India. Because the truth is that while we did transmit the knowledge generated here in India but we also used the processes of absorption and transformation of knowledge that came to us through the social exchanges with other cultures.  It is being very conveniently forgotten by the ministers of the BJP government that the history of scientific knowledge is not a history of cumulative and uninterrupted growth. The exchange of knowledge between different cultural and geographical regions is essential to the growth of knowledge. The ability to adapt the knowledge is crucial to growth. The unwillingness to learn from other peoples led actually to stagnation at conceptual level in India.




It is however heartening to see that a section of the scientific community has already come out to resist the blatant misuse of the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) platform by the ministers and the speakers permitted by them for the espousal of the RSS musings on Indian science at the symposium. They are willing to come out in open. They are trying to put a stop to scientific distortion. They are putting onus on the political leadership. A conference meant to delve into surgery methods, aviation, architecture, engineering applications in India during the ancient period being blatantly misused for dishing out mythology as science is a worrisome matter. Certainly the conduct of the Indian Science Congress Association, which is a professional body of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), does not speak well for the future of science in India.

It is worrisome because a former pilot, Captain Anand J Bodas, used the conference to claim that aeronautical engineering in India dates back to the Vedic times. He referred to a book “Vymanika Shastra” that claims to document ancient sage Mahsishi Bhardawja’s musings on aviation technology. But he chose not to refer and discuss that how after conducting a thorough study exactly 40 years ago, a group of five Indian young scientists from the departments of aeronautical and mechanical engineering of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore had already questioned and debunked such claims on aviation technology. They had found that the text of Vymanika Shastra could not be dated back earlier than 1904. This has now been brought out in open by the leader of the IISc team which studied this issue forty years ago.  

The group that studied this question was led by H S Mukunda, a now retired professor of aerospace engineering from IISc. This team pointed out that none of the technologies documented in the Vymanika Shastra would allow an object to fly. They had also found that the Vymanika Shastra was based on a figment of imagination of a man who lived in the 20th century, and not the ancient sage Mahrishi Bhardwaja. When contacted by the Indian Express (January 6, Delhi Edition, p2), Professor Mukunda had to say the following, “Anybody who talks about these things has the responsibility to prove these things as well -- at least on a small scale. We went out of the way to find some substance for it at that time. We put in enormous effort. If you see the drawings presented with the Vedic papers, it is grotesque. What is this nonsense? -- I don’t know where we are going by glorifying the past. It makes sense if the ancient knowledge is put to use, not otherwise. I regret doing all that work to write the paper. Ultimately it seems to have no meaning”.




An online petition launched by Dr Ramprasad Gandhiraman, a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Centre and the Universities Space Research Association in California, signed already by over 1175 professionals, suggests quite correctly that providing a scientific platform in a prestigious scientific conference for a pseudo-scientific talk is appalling. It questions the integrity of scientific process. This petition also notes that this talk is not an isolated incident to shrug off. It also refers to how a Google search with keywords “Indian prime minister plastic surgery”, “Indian home minister Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle”, “Indian health minister sex education ban”, “Gujarat school books science myths” etc., will give plenty of alarming developments happening over six months.

The petition pleads that “We as scientific community should be seriously concerned about the infiltration of pseudoscience in science curricula with backing of influential political parties. The accelerated pace with which it is being promoted will seriously undermine nation’s science and it will have a disastrous effect on the future generation scientists. Giving a scientific platform for a pseudo-science talk is worse than a systematic attack that has been carried out by politically powerful pseudo-science propagandists in the recent past. Scientific temper and the accompanying curiosity to understand the universe has always existed throughout human history. Today, we live in an era which has seen amazing technological advancement. And we are able to understand our universe in a way that is far superior than our ancestors did at any point of time in history. Pseudo-science does a great disservice to science and it is the responsibility of scientists to stand up and defend the science.” The petition closes with the plea, “If we scientists remain passive, we are betraying not only the science but also our children”.