Vinod Mubayi


Ever since the BJP won the 2014 elections, its votaries have been obsessed with making claims of the superiority of the ancient Vedic texts in all matters, not only those pertaining to culture and civilization, but extending to science and technology.


Thus, when the noted cosmologist Stephen Hawking died recently, the Minister of Science in the Indian government, Harsh Vardhan, felt compelled to make a claim linking Hawking’s name to the Vedas. He is reported to have remarked that the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking once said the Vedas had a “theory superior” to that of Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2. While such an irrational remark, avidly picked up in some of the Indian media, was debunked by many scientists who were unaware that Hawking had said any such thing, it is not the falsification of science that concerns us as much as the falsification of language itself when it is used in the service of the political agenda known as Hindutva.


This agenda is driven by a desperate need to denigrate and rubbish the last 1000+ years of Indian civilization, i.e. the period when various Muslim empires were established in parts of and promote and glorify everything that came before it, the more ancient the better. If one deconstructs Vardhan’s remark, we are left with trying to connect Einstein’s concept of mass-energy equivalence, one of the many outcomes of his Special Theory of Relativity, to some unspecified Vedic “theory.” Vardhan is allegedly a person with a medical degree so one may assume that he has had some exposure to the scientific method of examining evidence and accepting or rejecting claims based on that evidence. He made this remark at the latest Indian Science Congress, whose annual sessions have become a venue for making outlandish and bizarre claims about science and technology in ancient India. Before speaking, did Vardhan stop for a moment to think whether the Vedas are scientific theories? Or was he simply anxious to gain publicity through parroting the “superiority” of the Vedas, by tying his remark to Hawking, a famous scientist whose death had landed him on the front pages of newspapers?


A couple of years earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at another session of the Indian Science Congress, speculated about the presence of advanced plastic surgery in ancient India when he proclaimed: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.” Oh, really? Mythical half-human half-animal figures are a commonplace in all ancient cultures the world over. Centaurs (upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse), Pan, the god of hunters and nymphs with the head of a human and the arms and legs of a goat, and mermaids, upper body of a female and lower half of a fish, are some examples. But no European politician has claimed that ancient Europeans were carrying out advanced transplant surgery.


Another BJP politician Satyapal Singh claimed that Darwin’s theory of evolution is “scientifically wrong” and needs to be changed in the school and college curriculum. His reason? If man had descended from apes, Dang’s grandparents or earlier generations would have witnessed it and told the current generation about it. Since they did not it is clear to Mr. Singh that Darwin was wrong. One may excuse Mr. Dang since criticizing Darwin is a staple of creationists and Bible thumpers who believe the literal words of the Bible that the earth was created by God in six days. But the reasoning Mr Dang came up with is certainly novel.


It is noteworthy that several sessions of the Indian Science Congress after the BJP came to power in 2014 have been devoted to making fanciful claims about the achievements of the ancient Indians in all sorts of technical fields, like aeronautics and interplanetary travel. This has brought the Indian Science Congress, an old established body with a respectable record in the scientific field, into disrepute and made it into a laughing stock of the profession.


One can dismiss these rantings, that lie somewhere between comedy and lunacy, were it not for their deleterious impact on Indian science and particularly science education. It is clear that the Hindutva ideologues are least bothered by loudly publicizing these idiocies. But the impact on science students at various levels of the curriculum can be very harmful.


Indian scientists, from the late 19th century onwards, had made notable contributions to all fields of science. The names of J.C. Bose, Acharya Prafulla Ray, C.V. Raman, S.N. Bose, Birbal Sahni, M.N. Saha, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Homi Bhabha and others are synonymous with the development of indigenous science in the country. Most were rationalists and secularists who believed in science both as a means to further knowledge and for India’s development. They were not looking for scientific inspiration in the Vedas or in obscure Sanskrit texts.


We are now facing a situation where many research bodies in science and the humanities, especially educational institutions, are falling into the lap of RSS pracharaks or those close to them. The central government that controls these institutions has no hesitation in appointing directors whose only qualification is their proximity and fealty to RSS and BJP. In the long run, this can only spell disaster for science in India if the rule of Hindutva continues.

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