Science and Superstition

Pragya Singh Thakur, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian who is an accused in the Malegaon blast case and is now out on bail, has come out with the claim that important BJP persons like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Babulal Gaur died owing to the black magic by the opposition. Arun Jaitley and Susma Swaraj had long been severely ill before their death and Babulal Gaur, at the time of death, was eighty-nine. It is well known that Pragya Singh Thakur, ahead of the poll results, lauded Nathuram Godse as a patriot and yet was fielded by her party as a parliamentary candidate, and she won. A person with minimum scientific temperament can dismiss Pragya's suggestion as ridiculous, but what is worrying is that such superstitious, unscientific assertions, both verbally and in writing, are allowed to be made patently under the patronage of the ruling party. This is not unexpected, however. Rubbish, unscientific speeches, are being made for quite some time. This is clearly a concerted drive to place superstition above science, blind faith above rationality and false claims above real achievements.

A few examples are needed to illustrate the point. These Hindutvawallas claim that there were aeroplanes in ancient India in the Vedic age. When the aeroplane was invented by the Wright brothers, it transpired that they could accomplish this task after acquiring a good deal of knowledge about Newton's laws of motion, Bernoulli's formula of atmospheric pressure and the attributes of various metals. There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that such knowledge was there in the ancient scriptures. A second example of such foolishness was provided by Mr. Narendra Modi himself. He, before the last polls, argued that plastic surgery must have been there in ancient India and said that the image of Ganesh (the mythical god of wealth), which shows the head of an elephant superimposed on a headless human body must be an example of the latter. Now ask the leading plastic surgeons of the world whether such a superimposition is possible at present or ever in the future, and they will definitely reply in the negative. The reason is that plastic surgeons, unlike superstitious ministers, have to take into consideration the achievements of their discipline, and hence cannot affords to indulge in loose talks. Of course, there was the practice of anatomy and surgery in ancient India, but it went into decline after the Brahminical edicts came to dominate the society. P. C. Ray, one of the most brilliant chemists of modern India and founder of the famous national industrial enterprise, Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works put it succinctly in his celebrated book "History of Hindu Chemistry" - "The drift of Manu and later Puranas is in the direction of glorifying the priestly class which set up most arrogant and outrageous pretensions. According to Shushruta, the dissection of dead bodies is a sine qua non to the students of surgery and this high authority lays particular stress on knowledge gained from experiment and observation. But Manu would have none of it. The very touch of a corpse, according to Manu is enough to bring contamination to the sacred person of Brahmin. Thus, we find that shortly after the time of Vagbhata, the handling of a lancet was discouraged and Anatomy and Surgery fell into disuse and became to all intents and purposes lost to the Hindus." (Ray, Ibid, Quoted in D P Chattopadhyay, History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, The Beginnings, pp 9-10). Rajnath Singh, some years ago, went on to suggest that the idea behind Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty first occurred to Heisenberg after his discussions with Rabindranath Tagore on the Vedas. Here the minister showed his ignorance of the fact that Heisenberg came to India in 1929, two years after the results of his research in Quantum Physics were published. Talking nonsense and implicating Rabindranath Tagore in it is a crime, but to persons like Rajnath Singh, it is all right. In a similar vein, it was claimed by these myth-makers that the Higgs-Boson particle was a discovery of Vedic India. This is palpably an insult to Satyendra-nath Bose, definitely one of the all-time greatest scientific talents of India. It is not that all these talks, numerous other instances of which can be given, are insane prattle by some powerful persons of the ruling party. They are, on the other hand, a concerted attempt to promote superstition and destroy scientific temper in this country. A latest example may be given. On 27 August, the day before the penning of this editorial, the Human Resources Development Minister said at the convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, that the Ramsetu, the mythical bridge supposedly created by the monkey followers of Rama was a reality and was built up by engineers of ancient India, while the world was awe -struck by this example of engineering skill. Of course, making any assertions without caring for evidence is a habit with these followers of Hindutva. They, however, won't ask any engineer living in India or abroad whether stones could be kept floating in water. What is deeply distressing is that all the dignitaries present at the convocation listened to the HRD minister without raising any voice of dissent. When Professor Meghnad Saha, one of the most eminent physicists of modern India, first acquired a little international fame, a lawyer of Dacca with well-established legal practice, asked him about his theory. When Saha tried to explain it in simple language, he commented that it was nothing new, it was all in the Vedas. Saha asked him to show where it was in the Vedas, he replied that he had never read the Vedas, but it was his belief that this sacred book contained all that Saha was telling. Such stupidity was thus always there, but what is dangerous today that these people are now wielding power and are trying to ram this unscientific nonsense down the throat of their countrymen.

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Vol. 52, No. 11, Sep 15 - 21, 2019