Promotion of faith-based knowledge is undermining scientific temper in India

The Indian Science Congress has for the last many years been accepting papers that have no scientific basis and are based on mythology. Pained by this all prominent scientists came together and issued a statement calling upon the government to stop the undermining of scientific methods and thinking

Dr Ram Puniyani Mar 09, 2024
Representational Photo

With the Hindu nationalist BJP in the saddle of power for the last decade, there has been a deliberate promotion of a pattern of policy-making in education, which is based more on faith and glorification of those aspects of the past that are not verified by reason. As such, the Indian past has seen a good development of rational thought in the past. Charvak contributed to rational philosophy while Charat and Aryabhat contributed to medicine and astronomy in a very significant way. What is glorified today are aspects like plastic surgery being used to plant elephants' heads on Lord Ganesha or Karna being born from the ear being the example of genetic science. Not to be left behind aviation technology is also attributed to the ancient glorious past when Pushpak Viman and even interplanetary travel prevailed. Such claims from mythology being true abound.

Such things are not only being taught in the schools but they are also determining the allocation of funds for science and technology research. We saw huge funding being coordinated by IIT Delhi for research into Panchgavya. This is a mixture of five products from cows: milk, curd, ghee (clarified butter), urine and dung. This is supposed to be a panacea for the treatment of various diseases. The cow urine is being promoted separately as being of medicinal use. Even before this government came to power in 2014, its parent organization RSS had floated many organizations to promote faith-based knowledge through school education.

One Dinanath Batra has been heading the RSS outfits, Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti and RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) for many decades. His nine books have been translated into Gujarati and introduced in 42,000 schools in Gujarat. The sampling of Batra’s books gives a good idea of what is being implemented currently. A quote from one of the sets of books, ‘Tejonmaya Bharat’, (Radiant Bharat) tells us about one Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar whose research has been inspired by the Mahabharata. As per him from Gandhari’s womb, a huge mass of flesh came out. (Rishi) Dwaipayan Vyas was called. He observed this hard mass of flesh and then he preserved it in a cold tank with specific medicines. He then divided the mass of flesh into 100 parts and kept them separately in 100 tanks full of ghee for two years. After two years, 100 Kauravas were born of it. On reading this, he (Matapurkar) realized that stem cell technology was part of our heritage. (Page 92-93)

As per him Indian rishis (sage) using their yoga vidya would attain divya drishti (divine vision). There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this… In Mahabharata, Sanjaya sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his divya shakti (divine power) would give a live telecast of the battle of Mahabharata… to the blind Dhritarashtra. (Page 64) What we know today as the motorcar existed during the Vedic period. It was called anashva rath. Usually, a rath (chariot) is pulled by horses but an anashva rath means the one that runs without horses or yantra-rath, which is today a motorcar. The Rig Veda refers to this. (Page 60)

RSS has also set up a consultative body called Bharatiya Shiksha Niti Ayog (BSNA), whose policies are guiding Modi’s government to “correct or Indianize” the national education system. Now organisations like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and the National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) amongst others have got heads whose qualification is not excellence in their disciplines but their proximity to the ideology of the ruling dispensation.

We recall one Y.Sudarshan who was appointed as chief of ICHR. He was out to prove the Historicity of our great mythological epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. With this government in the saddle, all this bypassing of rational thinking and scientific methods has become the norm. This government has been promoting Baba Ramdev in a big way. We recall how his Coronil, claiming to be a treatment for COVID-19 was promoted. The Supreme Court has recently given a verdict whereby Ramdev has been warned not to advertise irrational products and misleading ads about the modern system of Medicine.    

The Indian Science Congress has for the last many years been accepting papers that have no scientific basis and are based on mythology. Pained by this all prominent Indian scientists came together and issued a statement calling upon the government to stop the undermining of scientific methods and thinking. “They point out that this attitude has been particularly evident in the government's promotion of unverified or unscientific ideas, exaggeration of ancient Indian knowledge, and certain responses during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Further the statement “… emphasizes the need for a united front among scientists, academics, and policymakers to combat the erosion of scientific integrity and promote rational, evidence-based discourse in the country.”

While our Constitution mandates the promotion of scientific temper, the present regime in matters of policy-making is bypassing the rational approach not only in science research and education but also in matters related to social policies. In the New Education Policy 2020, there is a focus on traditional Indian knowledge systems. This means the promotion of a faith-based understanding of knowledge related to material and social sciences.

Those political streams that support the movement for social change towards equality try to adopt rational and scientific approaches to knowledge and social issues, the major examples being Gautam Buddha, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Nehru in particular. Throughout Indian history those who want to impose the status quo of social relations, and those who want to maintain the relations of inequality generally resort to faith-based knowledge, take mythology as the gospel truth and impose it on the society. The communal fundamental streams accept the technology with great avidity, while they equally dislike rational thinking and scientific spirit. Our Constitution emerged from the anti-colonial struggle; and looked at the future policies as a guiding light for social change, so the Constitution had incorporated promotion of scientific spirit as an inherent part. Today’s regime is opposed to the equality of castes, genders, and religions. No wonder it bypasses this core spirit of the Indian Constitution.

The welcome statement of these outstanding scientists is a timely urge to restore our path of social and science policy founded on reason on scientific temper.  

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.) 

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