An explosive compound: RSS's latest plan to mix science and religion
Did aircraft really exist at the time of the Vedas? Was there a plastic surgeon who expertly attached an elephant's head on Hindu god Ganesha's body, as claimed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Well, India's scientists in the making could well go on to research on these ancient Indian 'scientific marvels' and enlighten the world about the Vedic sciences.
With several ministries on board and a pool of 10,000 scientists, Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA) – the science wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – will soon launch a digital mentoring initiative for school students to promote scientific research.
Named the Science India Portal, the initiative will kick off 15 October, the birth anniversary of late President and India's 'missile man' APJ Abdul Kalam. It will be supported by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Earth Sciences and Department of Biotechnology while the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) Hyderabad will be the knowledge partner.
VIBHA boasts of former Atomic Energy Commission chairperson Anil Kakodkar and ISRO ex-chief G Madhavan Nair as patrons. It advocates the synthesis of physical and spiritual sciences, and spearheads the movement for swadeshi sciences, including vaastu-vidya.
“The development of the country is dependent upon its scientific and technological advancement. Unless there is an environment and adequate infrastructure, the country cannot have good scientists. This initiative is aimed at creating that. It is to identify and nurture students into scientists,” said VIBHA Secretary-General A Jayakumar.
As much as regular sciences, the mentoring initiative would also focus on Vedic sciences and traditional Indian practices like Ayurveda and Siddha.
“The aim is to develop scientific temper in the country. But at the same time, the young generation should also know about traditional Indian sciences and the country's rich history in the fields of science and technology. So, the agenda is also to promote Vedic sciences,” said VIBHA member Arvind C Ranade, who is also a scientist in Vigyan Prasar (VP), a Government of India initiative to promote and propagate scientific and rational outlook.
Modi & Co. raving about Vedic science
Besides the Centre pushing for promotion of Vedic sciences in leading educational institutions, Modi and the saffron brigade have increasingly been raving about the country's scientific prowess in ancient times.
At an event in 2014 Modi cited Karna and Ganesha's cases from mythology in his bid to highlight India's past achievements in medicine.
“The Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother's womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time,” he had said.
“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.”
His Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh prescribed 'yogic farming' to “empower the seeds with the help of positive thinking”.
“We should enhance the potency of seeds by rays of Parmatma Shakti,” Singh was quoted as saying by the Indian Express in 2015.
Aims of the programme
The Science India Portal programme aims to reach out to at least two million students between Classes 6 and 12, who will be able to digitally interact with scientists and technocrats from various fields.
The portal will also contain detailed information on various scientific and mathematical theories, with special emphasis on Indian contributions. It aims to provide verified and authentic information about the country's achievements, including the Vedic period.
“There are only bits and pieces of information available about Vedic India's achievements in the fields science and technology. We will accumulate and compile all the information that is there on these subjects. The students, thus, will be able to access verified and authentic information about them,” said Saibal Das, senior scientist at the IICT.
VIBHA will also conduct Vidyarthi Vigyan Manthan (VVM), an all-India examination for students of Class 6-12, to identify bright minds keen on taking up science.
With a syllabus based on study material provided by VIBHA, the VVM will be conducted on 26 November.
Rationalists up in arms
Rationalists though see this project as an attempt to saffronise the scientific community, and warn about the consequences of mixing religious ideology with science.
“You can either promote scientific temper or Vedic sciences. They are diametrically opposed,” said D Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum.
“Besides being a blatant attempt to saffronise the scientist community, it is also an attempt to influence young minds with Hindutva ideology. People who believe existence of aircraft in the Vedic period, who swear by Mahabharata's plastic surgery, they are now talking about scientific temper. What can be more outrageous?” said Raghunandan.
The team of scientists is likely to have Dr BG Matapurkar, who was awarded a US patent on adult stem cells used for organ regeneration. He had earlier claimed that the science of cloning and test-tube baby was known to Indians of Mahabharata age.
The Kolkata-based Science and Rationalists' Association of India (SRAI), which promotes rationalism, expressed concern over the initiative.
“Instead of the Wright brothers, our students will now perhaps will read about Vaimanika Shastra. Instead of stem cells, they will be influenced to learn about how to create designer babies. After changing school text books to distort history, it's now science. The RSS-BJP brigade's march towards Hindu Rashtra continues,” SRAI General Secretary Prabir Ghosh said.
Prof. Bikramaditya Kumar Choudhary from Jawaharlal Nehru University added: “It is dangerous to mix religion with science, something which this project appears to be aiming to do. Students should be exposed to all kinds of knowledge. As much as one knows about a subject, he grows the ability to question it, analyse it and choose whether to believe it, follow it or otherwise.
“The aim should be to foster and satiate students' inquisitiveness. But today, we see this tendency to kill this inquisitiveness. One might be killed for asking a question, and killers will justify it, saying the question hurt their religious beliefs.
“It is about whether you want to make someone aware about a certain knowledge or imprint it on their minds.”