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India’s War on Science

Summary:
For India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, religion is not a matter of personal belief, but a key feature of traditional identity politics and crucial to maintaining social order, ensuring discipline and conformity, and preventing radical change. Science and rationality threaten all of the party's goals. NEW DELHI – India’s junior education minister, Satyapal Singh, recently declared that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was “unscientific,” on the grounds that “nobody, including our ancestors, have said or written that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.” It was a startling statement – and just the latest salvo in the current government’s attack on science. The Year Ahead 2018

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For India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, religion is not a matter of personal belief, but a key feature of traditional identity politics and crucial to maintaining social order, ensuring discipline and conformity, and preventing radical change. Science and rationality threaten all of the party's goals.

NEW DELHI – India’s junior education minister, Satyapal Singh, recently declared that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was “unscientific,” on the grounds that “nobody, including our ancestors, have said or written that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.” It was a startling statement – and just the latest salvo in the current government’s attack on science.

According to India’s constitution, the development of “scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform” is the duty of every citizen – and, implicitly, the responsibility of the state. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, argued that unlike religion – which tends to produce “intolerance, credulity and superstition, emotionalism and irrationalism” and “a temper of a dependent, unfree person” – a scientific temper “is the temper of a free man.”

Yet, for India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, such ideas are no longer fashionable. Its leaders and acolytes want to teach schoolchildren that evolutionary theory is just another hypothesis about the origin of life, equivalent to religious propositions. Their goal is to keep it out of school curricula entirely.

Darwin is not the only target. Earlier this year, Rajasthan’s education minister, Vasudev Devnani, another BJP stalwart, claimed that the cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen. The veneration of the cow is something of an obsession for the BJP and its followers, who have assaulted human beings in the name of protecting the animals. But this was a bridge too far even for many BJP sympathizers.

Both Singh and Devnani are educated people: Singh has a degree in chemistry, and Devnani is a trained engineer. Yet neither learning nor leadership apparently is enough to discourage flagrant pandering to ignorance.

The same goes for former Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court – reportedly a science graduate himself – who suggested in an interview last year that India’s national bird, the peacock, “is a lifelong celibate” that impregnates the peahen by shedding a tear. He cited Lord Krishna’s use of a peacock feather as proof of its celibacy.

Shashi Tharoor
MP for Thiruvananthapuram. Author of 17 books. Former Minister of State,Govt.of India. Former UnderSecretaryGeneral,UnitedNations. RTs do not imply endorsement

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