Decimating Scientific Temper

By Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra

Extolling virtue of scientific temper, in the fifth edition of India International Science Festival, PM Modi had said that the society in which scientific temper gains strength, develops faster. Scientific temper eliminates blind belief and reduces superstition. Scientific temper gives societal progress a boost and encourages experimentation. Indeed scientific temper as a fundamental duty is enshrined in the Constitution. These have not been mere words .While reinventing India as a Republic; our leaders had actually articulated the cultivation of scientific thinking as a priority for its people.

The Article 51A of the Indian Constitution that lists the fundamental duties, clearly states that, “it is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”The term scientific temper was coined by the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his book the discovery of India. In this he suggested that scientific temper is the attitude to :-(1) search for new bodies of knowledge,(2) not to accept anything without a proof or a test,(3) have the ability to change one’s stand in light of new evidences and(4) not to rely on pre -conceived notions in lieu of observational evidence.

But, unfortunately, despite technological advancement, colossal scientific progress, Indians are unable to think scientifically. . In reality, Indians are not considered as the modern and forward-looking, knowledge-based society we claim to be? This is more manifested in present lockdown period. Indeed, the use of scientific thinking to understand even simple natural phenomena is absent. Religious fundamentalism is outweighing scientific temper. Religious congregation in large scale in any particular place despite having more risk of death, accident in particular day is due to lack of scientific temper.

But what is disconcerting is that in reality, under present political dispensation, the science deficit in our society has raised its ugly head and scientific temper is decimated. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s adore for acronyms is well known, but less discussed is his proclivity for often alluding to the mythological incidents. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, while referring to Hindu mythology had said that he believes that Lord Ganesha was the first ever example of plastic surgery. Karna, a character of the epic ‘Mahabharata’ was born due to genetic engineering.

In fact, not just PM Modi but many prominent members of his party who hold important positions have made a slew of statements seeking to highlight the supremacy of ancient India in the realm of science and technology. In doing so, they have made statements ranging from plain erroneous to downright bizarre.  Minister of State for HRD Satyapal Singh triggered uproar and much amusement by asserting that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is scientifically wrong because no one saw an ape turning into a man.  Before he made the infamous Darwin comment, had in September 2017 said that students in premier engineering institutes like IITs must be taught about ancient Indian discoveries and inventions such as  Pushpak Viman which is mentioned in the Ramayana.

The story does not end with this.  Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 3, in a video message urged the people of the country to stand united in the fight against coronavirus epidemic. In a new appeal to the countrymen, Modi asked people to switch off the lights in their houses for nine minutes at 9 pm on Sunday, April 5, and light lamps at their doors or balconies to challenge the darkness spread by the coronavirus crisis, introducing it to the power of light.  He also further stated that the light from the lamps will show that we are together in this battle, and   nobody is alone. The PM stated that the Diya lighting was meant to establish a sense of solidarity among Indians.

However, opposition leaders did not seem convinced of the effectiveness of the move in terms of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Opposition parties have made scathing attack on prime minister calling his video message a mere “symbolism” and terming same as nothing short of a gimmick and a mockery of the plight of millions of workers, peasants as well as health workers and others providing essential services.

It was expected that on April 3,  PM’s will announce some schemes, benefits for poor, hungry migrant , unorganized workers who are facing  colossal problems especially struggling to eke out their basic existence. Due to lack of preparation in nationwide lockdown to impede the spreading of coronavirus, large sections of the workers including migrant workers, agricultural workers and poor peasants, have lost their livelihood, income and are dragged in to quagmire of starvation and squalor. According to the Indian Society of Labour Economics, assuming that about 20 crore households will require cash assistance, the total quantum of assistance will be about Rs 3,60,000 crores over three months. But he belied all hopes of poor and wretched.

Even, it is alleged that on April 5, BJP completes its 40 years of existence as it was found on April 6, 1980. So, to celebrate it, such decision has been taken. Actually, all most all people are united to fight this dreaded virus because survival of humanity is at stake. The PM has already declared lock down for 21 days starting from March 25, which has been religiously adhered by citizens. Even before PM declared lockdown, all most all state government had declared different forms of lock down or restricted the free movement, migration.

However most important thing is scientific aspect of prime minister’s decision? As a citizen, one should not dishonor prime Minister’s appeal, but one has right to raise question about the impact and scientific implication of such decision. Will such decision enhance research and scientific temper and encourage scientist to invent medicine to cure it. People’s trust will be undermined and they will tend to fall back into their stereotypical beliefs, superstitions.

Questions creep in mind: how switching off the lights and light lamps for only 9 minutes will dispel darkness spread by the coronavirus crisis. If lighting lamps for only 9 minutes will keep coronavirus at bay, then what is the necessity of nationwide lockdown for such longer periods? If it is scientific, then why is there one day only and for 9 minutes? Why not every day? Many engineers in India’s power sector are now grappling with question: what will happen when 130 crore Indians switch off lights in their homes, together. They think that it’s like suddenly putting a brake of a car in motion, or suddenly pushing the accelerator to the floor…it is difficult to predict how the car will exactly behave.

His advice for not crossing Lakshman Rekha of social distancing – which may be actually termed as physical distancing- is appropriate. But some powerful even belonging to his own party are violating it. Further, how it will dispel the darkness from those people, who are homeless, jobless, lost livelihoods and languishing under poverty , starvation, squalor and leading a wretched life. How can hungry, jobless, homeless, serious patients, people losing livelihoods exhibit solidarity? Can government explain? India is not a country of 30 crores of people but 130 crores of people.

It may be noted that Indians observed “Janata Curfew” on March 22 to regard Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call and demonstrate unity in the fight against Covid-19 and show gratitude towards our medical workers. This concept was emulated from Spain and Italy. However, many unscientific things happened and were encouraged too on that day like clanging; banging plate and mass processions, gathering contrary to philosophy of “Janata Curfew” What is surprising, many top people are found banging plate.

Even literature was circulated in social media and was accepted by many educated masses that the cumulative reverberations “enhanced blood circulation in the body” and “rendered the virus ineffective”. A story snowballed on social media that the virus had indeed “receded” as per satellite data gathered by NASA. This was just the one in a series of such superstitious acts by present political dispensation.

Nobody is opposing lock-down as it is necessary for our survival and it is scientific and in congruent with medical science. But what for kirtan, clapping, banging plate, lighting. Such acts are meant for deriving political mileage from religious sentiments of majority of Indians. An individual can cater to such idea but not a state.  Actually, it is baffling to think whether  Indians are asked to show united strength against grisly, ghastly corona virus or to servile attitude to political prowess of present political dispensation when they have no mental strength to question  and protest government’s decision .

Actually under present political dispensation scientific temper, research mentality, reasoning has been decimated. Cow urine is claimed to be a treatment for Covid-19 and has become a part and parcel of a deep-rooted deficit of scientific temper even in our educated populace. People have drank cow urine as a preventive against the virus (even as they held their noses) and applauded by people from higher echelons of the society. Needless to say, such actions got an indirect boost up when the department of science and technology earmarked funding for research on “Products from Indigenous Cows: SUTRA-PIC India Program.”

Actually, Science is taught as a subject and not as a way of life. Our educational and societal system emphasizes a culture of unquestioning obedience.  Reasoning, analytical mind, dissent is discouraged.  Now dissent is treated as treason, anti national. Normally when dissent, questioning ability, reasoning is discouraged, it destroys creative thinking, scientific temper scientific progress and innovation and encourages superstitions as well as religious fundamentalism.


*The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of  Sambad English.

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