As cows exhale oxygen, let's shed peacock tears for scientific temper

In the year 2015, Haryana’s state government prescribed minimum educational qualifications for contesting Panchayat elections in the state. The Supreme Court later upheld this law. Those who did not possess the basic minimum qualifications (Class 10 pass for men, Class 8 for women, Class 5 for Dalits) were declared unfit to represent the people in a village. Critics pointed out that this law infringed on the concept of universal suffrage but the SC ignored the criticism. This meant that the State valued education as a criteria for leadership and responsibility.

On Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court suggested to the Union of India that cow be declared the national animal and cow slaughter invite life imprisonment. Justice Sharma later caught up with TV reporters outside the court and in an interview to one channel, he stunned the country by saying, "Peacock too has his qualities. He is a lifelong celibate. He does not indulge in sex with peahen. The peahen gives birth after it gets impregnated with the tears of the peacock. A peacock or a peahen is then born... Lord Krishna used peacock's feather for celibacy of the bird."

Earlier this year, Rajasthan’s education minister (no less), Vasudev Devnani had given another “scientific” theory when he claimed that cow was the only animal that inhaled and exhaled Oxygen. (They don’t.) The same claims were repeated by Rajasthan HC judge as well.

While Justice Sharma did his graduation in Science, minister Devnani is a trained engineer. Education does not seem to have cured ignorance in these two cases.

Is it a rarity to see two prominent public personalities in important positions feel emboldened enough to say such patently unreasonable things? Not quite. Particularly since 2014.

On 25 October 2o14, PM Modi inaugurated a hospital in Mumbai and claimed that ancient India knew genetic science. 

"Mahabharata says Karna was not born out of his mother's womb. This means people then were aware of genetic science. There must have been a plastic surgeon who fixed an elephant's head on Ganesha," he said.

One of the fundamental duties of the people of the Republic of India, as per the Constitution is "To develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform". Scientific temper was one of the favourite themes of India’s first PM, Jawahar Lal Nehru who wrote about this in his book, Discovery of India, in 1946.

While religion tends to close the mind and 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”.

Nehru even commented that religious methods were the opposite of scientific methods and were misapplied "to everything in life, even to those things which are capable of intellectual inquiry and observation."

In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, BJP supporters often gave short shrift to the educational qualifications of UPA government ministers. It was asserted that the Indian economy was in a mess “despite their degrees”. In March, famous physicist Stephen Hawking said that the world is witnessing “a global revolt against experts.” Indians could’ve reminded him that we saw this much earlier than the western world.

When important people like a Prime Minister, a high court justice or an education minister say things - which can at best be described as theories on a conspiracy blog - what does it indicate? Can it be ignored?

When the new Republic was created post independence, our founding fathers decided to consciously break away from the past and build a new, modern India with a scientific outlook. PM Nehru underlined this when he said that dams, steel and power plants and research institutes were the temples of modern India. They tried to set us on a path where religiosity would give way to scientific temper and a modern outlook would govern our lives. 

For some sections of Indian population, this was a betrayal. This was a disavowal of the supposedly brilliant scientific achievements of ancient India. This was a denial of greatness to the all-knowing, all-inventing ancient Indian civilisation. In this civilisation, cows exhaled oxygen, gods performed plastic surgeries while others flew planes. As kids, our grandparents would tell us stories from Ramayana and inform us with Asaram Bapu like calmness that we even had planes in ancient India as Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya sitting in the Pushpak vimaan. As kids, we were amazed by India’s permanent greatness. What happened next? Well, some of us grow up but others build on this make-believe past.

Our history may be contested but our mythology is certain. And it is great. The RSS, representing this group of people who are angry with Nehru for having denied ancient, mythological India its greatness, has a two pronged strategy to correct Nehru’s ‘blunders’. On the one hand, it tries to ‘correct’ our history books and on the other, it tries to remove the line that separates history from mythology, because in mythology the ancient land of Bharat was a ‘golden sparrow’.

Justice Sharma, PM Modi and a Devnani come from this school of thought. In this school of thought, India has been subjugated for centuries, Muslims are outsiders, cow is mother, ancient India was more advanced than Germany in 2017 and peahens get pregnant by swallowing a peacock’s tears.

When Y Sudershan Rao was appointed as the Chairman of ICHR, historians argued that he did not have the credentials for a post as important as this one. This was dismissed as usual protest by  “leftist” historians. In a 2007 blog, Rao did not see the caste system as a social evil. Rao wrote that rigidity and distortions that had crept into the caste system were the result of Muslim invasions and rule.

ICHR under Rao wants to get a study done to find whether Ram Setu is a natural phenomenon or a man-made structure. Ramayana says that the bridge was built by Lord Ram’s vanar-sena. This represents a blurring of the line between history and mythology.

Was Rao appointed despite his lack of credentials or because of it? We don’t know. Justice Sharma and many others may have held this views all their lives. Like the RSS, they might have felt oppressed to read history which did not mirror Hindu mythology.

This injured-Hindu narrative shows a lack of confidence in ourselves as a people. It tries to invent a glorious past to bestow material greatness on an ancient India. This is the mark of insecure people who want to live in a mythical past, rather than prepare for the future. This is the act of a pigeon that closes its eyes when faced with danger. Instead of acknowledging our monumental challenges of Dalit oppression, poverty and malnourishment, it tries to distract us by telling us how perfect, developed and modern, ancient India was. 

Instead of confronting the stupidity of treating the cow as mother goddess that cures diseases with her urine, they seek to embrace it and make a show of it. Like a peacock. Dissing real expertise is shown as an achievement. Pseudo-science, pseudo-economics and pseudo-history are proudly embraced  as we saw when the government decided to demonetise 86 per cent of currency, choking an already slowing-down economy.

In their quest to get back at Nehru, they are only dumbing us down further, putting our future in cowpardy. As cows exhale oxygen and scientific temper gets buried, one can only shed tears, hopefully not like a peacock.
Twitter: @bhayankur

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