Appeal to observe National Scientific Temper Day on 20th August, 2022 (NSTD 2022)
All India People's Science Network (AIPSN) will observe National Scientific Temper Day, for the fifth consecutive year, on 20 August 2022. On this day five years ago, right-wing Hindutvavadi extremists murdered Dr.Narendra Achyut Dabholkar in Pune. Dr.Dabholkar was a fervent champion of a scientific outlook among the people and struggled relentlessly against superstition and unreason. Apparently the same extremist group subsequently also murdered social worker Govind Pansare, historian M.M.Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh for similar work promoting rational thought and a scientific temper. These murders were preceded by a prolonged and increasingly violent campaign by forces allied to the above group, and supported by the ruling dispensation, to suppress critical thinking, freedom of expression and plurality of opinion in Universities such as JNU, University of Hyderabad, IITs in Chennai and Mumbai.
Unscientific and a-historical views on science in ancient India were also, and continue to be, propagated in various forums and official events, including by senior Ministers in the Centre and the States, and ruling party personalities. Fantastic claims have been made such as the existence several thousand years ago of inter-planetary travel, the internet, and advanced cosmetic surgery as evidenced by Lord Ganesha’s elephant head sitting perfectly on a human body. Such claims form part of an artificially constructed ancient and exclusively Vedic-Hindu past which led the world in science and all forms of knowledge till India was invaded and conquered by Muslim and later European forces. In turn, this forms the basis for an ultra-nationalist, majoritarian and unitary view of contemporary culture in India, ignoring or devaluing all other cultures and traditions in the composite, diverse and tolerant Indian civilization that the world knows and admires, and which defines the Idea of India enshrined in the Constitution. The Indian sub-continental civilization did indeed make major contributions to the universal body of science and knowledge from ancient times onwards and also absorbed much knowledge from other civilizations. These achievements have been well established through peer-reviewed research following methodologies widely accepted by the academic community the world over. India does not need imagined past achievements for which there is no historical or other evidence, and only opens itself up to international skepticism if not ridicule.
All those who contest such views and demand evidence-based reasoning continue to be branded pro-Western and anti-national, thus not only substituting history with myth but also actively undermining the scientific method and approach.
Yet, these above efforts have now become systemic and institutionalized in different government bodies, premier educational institutions and lately in school text books. The Indus Valley Civilization is gradually being re-named the Saraswathi
Civilization after the legendary river without scientific basis, and works costing several hundred crores of public money are underway to “revive” the river by digging up a new canal and filling it with water from existing rivers! Endeavours continue to manufacture a theory of, and supposed “evidence” for, an origin of Aryan peoples. A newly created Centre at IIT Kharagpur has released a calendar highlighting supposed ancient scientific knowledge in India, again without historical, textual or other evidence. Recently, some school text books have proclaimed the well-known and undisputed Pythagoras Theorem to be “fake news,” and many different attempts are being made to project vegetarianism as an essential part of the Hindu culture, despite well- documented evidence that over 70% of communities in India are non-vegetarian. In many parts of the country, this perspective is being used to pressurize or even compel other people to adopt these food habits. Such a monolithic “Hindi-Hindu-Sanskritic” is also being pushed through the National Education Policy.
In governance itself, evidence-based reasoning is actively being undermined. During the Covid pandemic, many decisions were taken without any scientific basis. Indigenously developed vaccines, which should have been an achievement celebrated all over the world, instead came under a cloud of suspicion due to their being given approval without accepted due process of published and peer-reviewed clinical trial data. Even in other fields, government has either claimed it has no data or has put forward dubious data to justify pre-conceived decisions. Effect of all these has been not only problematic decisions or knowledge outcomes, but throwing doubt on reason tself.
It is becoming clearer by the day that the ruling dispensation and allied forces are vigorously pursuing their assault on critical thinking and a scientific outlook. These efforts are being pursued alongside concerted attempts to subvert the very foundations of India’s Constitution providing safeguards for India’s diversity and pluralism, which are vital to science. Trends towards authoritarianism are only too visible, and history teaches us that such tendencies have always worked to attack reason. As India commemorates the 75th anniversary of independence, and faces multiple challenges, the need to defend a scientific temper and reasoned thinking is all the more vital.