While conducting an interactive session last Sunday at a local youth club on the eve of Science day, I was astonished at the kind of queries my next generation put forth. I was up for a discussion on topics ranging from the ‘Raman Effect’ up to recent advances in medical sciences but definitely not prepared to tackle issues like plastic surgery of a theriocephalic mythological religious deity.
February 28th is observed as National Science Day each year as it was on this day in 1928 C V Raman announced to the world his discovery of the Raman Effect which later won him the Nobel Prize. This year the Govt. of India conducted events titled ‘Vigyan Sarvatra Pujyate’ to mark 75 years of independence. The events were held at 75 locations across the country featuring 75 expositions, 75 films, 75 posters, 75 radio talks etc.
“Vigyan Sarvatra Pujyate” means that science is revered all over. Now the question is that does science really needs to be worshipped and that too in a trivia of 75 counts? The science which centuries ago cross-examined religion and busted many Godly myths; the science which prospered on the spirit of enquiry; the same science is being turned spiritual and saintly by this tagline. This was what I understand of Vigyan Sarvatra Pujyate.
Article 51A of our constitution makes it a duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper. This is akin to critical thinking which can only be achieved by developing the habit of questioning. Only a true democracy gives an elbow space for this sort of counter check mechanism. Alas, India seems to be going the other way.
If an applicant’s belief in the existence of ghosts and the ability to drive these evil spirits away with chants from Gita gives him an edge over other candidates to be selected as director of IIT Mandi, political ideology has definitely overpowered the affairs of science. This dangerous intrusion was more evident during the pandemic with the then Union Health Minister, a qualified doctor himself, was seen promoting quackery by promoting an ayurvedic drug, Coronil as an all-inclusive remedy for prevention as well as treatment of Covid.
Scenes of floating bodies and mass graves were the result of a regime that had a single point agenda of distracting the masses from a scientific and logical approach to the pandemic whilst fostering local and magical cures which started from the Taali- Thaali episode by the Premier followed by unending mystical remedies by his coterie. The only comparison to this phenomenon is the catastrophic effects of Lysenkoism on the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. By rejecting international advancement in genetics, Stalin endorsed Lysenkoism terming it indigenous similar to the current Hindutva regime promoting age-old cow dung/urine magic cures as native therapy. The consequence was a famine imposed on the Soviets at that time and a pandemic turned into pandemonium in India last year.
It is not that science has been backburned. In fact, it has been deliberately and mischievously camouflaged by pseudoscience. Theories like Kauravas were test-tube babies postulated by none other than a University chancellor and that too at the Indian Science Congress speaks of the regression of research. The same platform declared that ancient Bharat was the repository of all modern knowledge some of which is yet to be invented in this century. With the central education minister questioning Darwin’s theory and a state education minister claiming that cows exhale oxygen, it is this decaying ecosystem that forces students pursuing higher studies to foreign shores.
Propagation of pseudo/anti-science serves a dual purpose to existing rulers. First, it subjects the spirit of enquiry and questioning to a slow death. After all, no regime likes to be cross-examined. Secondly, it helps to re-establish orthodoxy and die-hardism which is undoubtedly the ultimate aim of Hindutva forces. This is apparent from a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research whose lead author Kristina Lerman concludes that anti-science views are aligned with political ideology, specifically conservatism.
Things have come to a point that science is only being used by the government to further its interest. It is being used to reveal the public’s privacy to the state contrarily concealing the state’s facts from the public. Science is being used to snoop into our social media activities with software like Pegasus and many others which we don’t even know yet. Science is also being used to distort facts, manufacture false and fabricated data to befool the public. For a commoner, science is rendered as a subject of devotion. He has to let go of his sense of why, what, when and how to focus only on symbolically celebrating important days in the science calendar. We had hundreds of school students dressed up as Einstein vying the Guinness world record at the India Science Festival while the Indian Science Congress was questioning the theories of Einstein.
Rather than an ambush on science, it is a planned and sustained attack that is gradually choking the inquisitive sense of everyone. The silence of scientists on bizarre statements made by politicians as well as politically polarised researchers is giving fuel to the fire of pseudoscience. Lobbying has made genuine scientists feel like they are a cog in machines. Aren’t the current day Aryabhattas able to calculate the losses incurred upon us by the right-wing anti-science squad. Will our scientists remain, mere spectators, while our freedom of thought gets imprisoned and is thrown in the dungeon by fascist forces?
Meanwhile, I have made up my mind to do my homework on Yagna Chikitsa, cow excreta, holy smoke, and astrology in addition to a short course in mythology before venturing out to discuss science with the WhatsApp university generation. Lest I am rendered outdated.
Dr Jas Simran Kehal is an orthopaedic surgeon at Nangal dam, Punjab and a Masters’s in Journalism and mass communication.
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