January 11, 2015

Wither Scientific Temper?

SECTION V of our Constitution, Article 51A on `Fundamental Duties’ begins by saying: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India…”. In the enumeration of such duties, sub-clause (h) says: “To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. The `Hindutva Brigade’ is working in complete contradistinction of this constitutional directive. What happened at the 102nd Indian Science Congress held at Mumbai in a special session called `Vedic science through Sanskrit’ surpasses even the surreal. Various claims were made glorifying Indian science in the ancient past (read: glory of “Hindu civilization”). A retired principal of a pilot training centre claimed that aircraft technology existed in India 7000 years ago, i.e., around 5000 BCE. This claim is sought to be substantiated by a Sanskrit text, Vyamanika Shastra, that claims to document an ancient sage Maharishi Bharadwaja’s musings on aviation technology. That the Indian Science Congress which annually discusses the achievements of Indian science so far, ways to overcome the shortcomings and define the future direction, should be the platform to propagate such `unscientific temper’ is obnoxious. Always the Indian prime minister (unless indisposed) inaugurates this important annual meet to outline the government’s expectations from the scientific community and informing them about the government’s policy direction. The amazing statements made since this Modi government assumed office calling for rewriting our history and in glorifying our ancient past by various leaders of the RSS/BJP have emboldened such bizarre claims at the Science Congress. Even the PM, not to be left behind, had stated earlier during his election campaign for Maharashtra assembly that plastic surgery in ancient India reached such heights that they could implant an elephant’s head on a human body to create Lord Ganesha and that ancient India was well versed with `stem cells research’ and in-vitro fertilization-like procedures that explains the immaculate conception and birth of Karna. It is a little wonder that pseudo science is elevated to the level where mythology substitutes for both history of science and history in general. Various other ludicrous claims have also been made by other RSS/BJP leaders. Of course, there were many landmark scientific achievements in Indian history. The advances in astronomy and mathematics were, indeed, path breaking. Modern science would have been impossible but for the invention of the zero, not merely as a tool for accounting which many other ancient civilizations preceded us in usage, but as a concept whose opposite is the infinite. This gave birth to negative numbers, irrational numbers, quadratic equations, mathematical constants etc. Though the world came to know of this through the Arab traders who carried these scientific achievements to the western world, to be fair, the Arabs credited Indian scientists. Most of these advances, however, as scientifically shown by historians occurred much later than the Eighth Century BCE, i.e., a full 4000 years later than what is being claimed today. 7000 years ago, what was the state of human civilization in these lands? Archaeologists, anthropologists and historians have painstakingly documented this evolution through scientific methods of archeological remains subjected to `carbon dating’. Between 5000 and 4000 BC, the level of human civilization and activity was such that its highlights are described as “handmade ceramic; cotton cultivated”. This is based on the findings at Mehrgarh on the basis of Archaeological excavations at this early site of Indus Valley Civilization. This stage is known as Mehrgarh-II period. To imagine that aviation technology etc etc to be existing at this stage would be incredulous (A People’s History of India, a joint project of eminent Indian Historians). As an editorial in The Hindu (January 6, 2015) points out: “Flying, for instance, has caught humankind’s imagination across cultures right from ancient times (Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, drew detailed drawings of an aircraft more than 300 years before an aircraft was finally invented – Ed.). Such references should be taken for the myths they are, not as scientific facts. Scientists have been able to create animal chimeras that have cells/organs of different species, much as what Greek mythology describes. Should the Greeks then be taken as pioneers in the science of chimera production? Thanks to our understanding of genetics and the ability to fertilize eggs outside the body, producing designer babies is no longer in the realm of science fiction. Should the creators of the science fiction then be credited with devising the procedures? Compare this with how Sir Arthur C Clarke (a pioneer of science fiction – Ed.) documented his idea of communications satellites in a concept paper published in 1945. Dozens of geosynchronous satellites launched each year do precisely what Sir Arthur had visualised there”. Instead, if we were to take the Hindutva brigade’s claims today as real, they would also have to explain why, in spite of such scientific accomplishments in the ancient past, how various kingdoms in these lands, could not resist, indeed stop, periodic invasions, the establishment of Empires leading to the colonisation of India. The primary reason was that these various kingdoms could not match the advanced scientifically developed superior arms of those who crossed the Hindukush mountain range or came here from other avenues. Often the Hindutva Brigade accuses the Marxist historians (apart from the colonial and liberal scholars) of discounting or debunking the `glory of the ancient Hindu civilization’ which they want to restore today. We, in these columns, are habituated at debunking such `history’ that is fabricated by the Hindutva Brigade. Instead, let us read what the Asian Age editorially comments (January 6, 2015) “It’s time the lid came off the hypocrisy and we recalled that some of the most elaborate expositions of advances made in ancient India have come from the writings of Marxists (literally), as in the case of Professor Irfan Habib (a Muslim, to boot) or Mahapandit Rahul Sankirtyayan (Ed - we may add D D Kosambi, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Romila Thapar and many others to this list). In fact, it is hard to recall anyone inspired by the narrow religious chauvinism of the saffron variety who has made a serious study of our ancient past that would stand up to serious intellectual scrutiny.” This editorial titled `Saffron yarn woven at Science Congress’ begins by saying: “Culturally dwarfed entities, which may be diffident about the future, tend to grasp at any shadow of real or imagined past greatness to make sense of the present. The orchestrated campaign of self-glorification of the Hindu Right falls in just this category.” Further: “For the sake of discussion, let’s fall for the saffron yarn woven at the science congress that the ancient Indians could send out planes on inter-planetary missions. “So what?”, it’s logical to ask. “What good is that to us now when we are unable to put together even a decent car with our own design and technology, leave alone an aircraft?” It concludes: “The fanatics are not only going on about “ghar-wapsi” and alliterating about “Ramzada” and “haramzada”, imperilling in the process the social cohesiveness of the country, they are seizing top bodies of scientists and historians to propagate their low philosophy. They believe they have gained the levers of power.” Indeed, they are behaving as the controller of the levers of power today. The RSS chief, on the very same day as the Science Congress, speaking at Ahmedabad said: “We have to take advantage of this favourable condition. India is a Hindu nation”. Need anything more be said about the `mission’ of this Modi government? These are the dangers facing the nation today. Rewriting history, through the spread of `unscientific temper’, to glorify and establish as Golwalkar propagated – the uninterrupted glory of the Hindu civilization in these lands since ancient times – requires that the modern secular democratic republic of India be transformed into the RSS project of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. The realisation of this project has to resisted and defeated if India, as we know today, has to be preserved and, on this basis, developed to attain great heights as a people and a country. (January 6, 2015)