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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saffron Science

Saffron Science

Vol - L No. 6, February 07, 2015 Anand Teltumbde 
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      Anand Teltumbde ( is a writer and civil rights activist of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Maharashtra.

      Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.

      – Albert Einstein

      The culture vultures belonging to the Sangh Parivar have long been preying on every kind of lie and falsehood about the history of the subcontinent to establish their supremacist claim. The roots of the current Hindutva project may be traced to the intellectually rich incipient initiatives of the early stalwarts of the so-called Hindu Renaissance in Bengal – from Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to Swami Vivekananda – towards Hindu revivalism. But the palpable beginning of this supremacist project can only be traced to the intellectual juvenility of the Chitpawan reconstruction in Maharashtra, provoked mainly by the fall of Peshwai. It was articulated by Bal Gangadhar Tilak (The Arctic Home in the Vedas), Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History), the progenitor of Hindutva, and the likes of Purushottam Nagesh Oak (claiming Taj Mahal as a Shiva temple and a Rajput palace named Tejo Mahalaya, this in his book, Taj Mahal: The True Story). Bordering on lunacy (or idiocy), Oak claimed that not only every medieval structure but also the Kaaba in Mecca as an ancient Hindu monument.

      These claims implicitly included Hindu supremacy in the sphere of science and technology, but they were never voiced aloud in specific terms, and in such an august forum as the 102nd Indian Science Congress (ISC), held recently in Mumbai under the aegis of the University of Mumbai. The shrillness of these claims was particularly discomfiting in the wake of a series of Hindutva overtures such as "love jihad", "ramzade – haramzade", "Bhagavad Gita as national scripture", "Madarsas as dens of terror training", "Godse as a patriot", etc, that have been played out by the saffron brigade accompanied by the deafening silence of the state.

      Comic Claims

      The ISC was formed on the lines of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, with the initiative of two British chemists, J L Simonsen and P S MacMahon, to stimulate scientific research in India through an annual meeting of research workers. Right from its first meeting that took place from 15 to 17 January 1914 at the premises of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, with Asutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University, as president, it has been conducted rationally, discussing actual research in the sciences supported by empirical evidence. The ISC has never provided a platform to anyone unrelated to science. Given this convention, it is symptomatic that the ISC in Mumbai, the homeland of Hindutva, has given a platform to Hindutva ideologues to present their bizarre wares before the scientific community. On the second day of the Congress, a symposium on the "Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit" had been scheduled, inviting eight speakers to speak on ancient Indian botany and topics like the "Neuroscience of Yoga", "Scientific Principles of Ancient Indian Architecture and Civil Engineering", ancient Indian aviation technology, and ancient Indian surgery.

      On ancient Indian aviation technology, one captain Anand Bodas, a retired principal of a pilot training facility, delivered a 30-minute speech based on a paper he co-authored with a lecturer at Mumbai's Swami Vivekanand International School and Junior College. He claimed that the sages Agastya and Bharadwaja had invented jumbo aeroplanes in the Vedic age, 7,000 years ago. These planes flew not only from country to country but also to other planets; not just forward, but backwards and even sideways. They used various types of metal alloys in their construction and were piloted by men wearing "virus-proof, water-proof, and shock-proof" jackets made of fabric from underwater vegetation.

      Bodas exhorted the younger generation to study Bharadwaja's book Vimana Samhita, make the alloys in India and save foreign exchange. The radar system, called rooparkanrahasya, presented the actual shape of the aeroplane to the observer, instead of the mere blip. He claimed something which nobody on this earth seemed to know, that in 1895, a "full eight years before the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA", a Marathi couple, "Shivkar Bapuji Talpade and his wife gave a thrilling demonstration flight on the Chowpatty beach in Mumbai". It is a different matter that the technical basis of the "Vedic Ion Engine" supposedly used by Talpade was trashed by researches that examined the technological feasibility of such flights (H S Mukunda et al, "A Critical Study of the Work 'Vymanika Shastra'", Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) way back in 1974.

      Similar fantastic claims were made by other speakers. One ayurvedic physician, a general practitioner in Mumbai, described the advances made by Indian surgeons "thousands of years before the rise of the modern surgery". Indians had developed 20 types of sharp instruments and 101 blunt ones for surgeries. The former "were so sharp that they could split a human hair". Another presenter spoke of how "ancient Indian engineers had adequate knowledge of Indian botany and they effectively used it in their construction."

      The "forte" of this symposium was such that most ministers of the Modi government at the conference heightened its significance. For instance, Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Science and Technology, said,

      Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem, but we ... gave credit to the Greeks. We all know that we knew 'beejganit' much before the Arabs, but selflessly allowed it to be called Algebra.

      Such irrational claims by intellectuals of the Sangh Parivar were not unusual but they were now being made in a science forum before the scientific community. The claimants were surely emboldened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who said at the dedication of a hospital of the Ambani Group in Mumbai on 25 October last year that the existence of Ganesha and Karna proved that plastic surgery and genetic science had existed in ancient India.

      National Phantasm

      Some scientists did publicly protest against the inclusion of such a pseudo-science in the ISC programme. The online petition initiated by an Indian scientist working for the US government agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was signed by about 1,500 scientists. But there were obviously many in the ISC and outside who condescended.

      None asked such simple questions to those comedians as to how and when this ancient treasure trove of knowledge had vanished to leave historical India pitiable on every conceivable count. All people are endowed with the capacity of generating and possessing knowledge which comes about in face of challenges. Indians, because of the rich natural endowment of the country, perhaps did not face as big challenges as others did and hence they did not have to use their capacity to invent/discover things. Moreover, this complacent state was fossilised by the contrivance of the caste system which permanently blocked the majority of people from access to knowledge.

      India did contribute to the pool of scientific knowledge in certain branches that were monopolised by the parasitic class of Brahmins who maintained an exclusive dominance over knowledge. For instance, they wove intricate philosophies and developed cognitive constructs and systems which covered astronomy, astrology, mathematics, and alchemy. The zero – largely acknowledged as India's contribution – necessarily falls in this class. It is in the abstract sphere that India seems to have made a significant contribution but in spheres that interface with labour, she had little contribution to make.

      India lagged in science and technology for production as it was cut off from the sphere of formal knowledge. For example, it did not know the arch, the most efficient curve in engineering, which made the superstructure with heavy cross-beaming too heavy for the foundation, eventually to collapse and vanish. It is therefore that India does not have any architectural evidence of her "greatness", including, of course, the interplanetary aeroplanes and surgical instruments. It perhaps did not know about the stitching of clothes until medieval times.

      Fascist Stratagem

      All these things, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's shocking proposition for making Bhagavad Gita the "national scripture" or Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani's outrageous move to impose Sanskrit on the school curriculum are actually part of a well thought-out strategy of the Sangh Parivar. This is to transform India into a fascist state as fast as possible. Jingoistic cultural nationalism is a proven vehicle to create a national community required to realise the fascist motto of "one people, one culture, one leader". Projecting a development focus, promoting super power discourse, posturing with rhetorical bravado, picturing a glorious past, shadow-boxing an enemy, all this with massive inputs of lies and falsehoods, and with a deliberate anti-intellectual stance, are also established characteristics of the fascist modus operandi.

      If this is understood, there may not be any more surprises about the raw antics of certain constituents of the Sangh Parivar and silence of the so-called saner people within it. The process necessarily involves "othering", which is served well by these antics. They are meant to communally polarise people so as to consolidate and expand the Parivar's Hindu constituency. Adivasis and Dalits, a potential threat to the Hindutva project, having been Hinduised and Brahminised, respectively, the other minorities would be terrorised into submission.

      The project of speedy saffronisation of all institutions is in full swing. Space to pseudoscience presentation in the ISC is just a gauge to assess it. A minor protest of a thousand odd scientists in an online petition in a country that boasts of the second largest pool of scientists and engineers in the world reveals that the danger of fascism is close upon us.


    • The space given to pseudoscience of the Hindutva variety at the Indian Science Congress must be viewed as part of the ominous process of all-round saffronisation that is presently underway.

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