Official bodies must abstain from propagating myths and beliefs as facts

A joint project of ISRO and ICHR will try to establish that the country has historically been a world leader in the advancement of science on the basis of claims made in mythological scriptures

Official bodies must abstain from propagating myths and beliefs as facts

Dr Arun Mitra

Recent reports that the Indian Space Research Institute (ISRO) is collaborating with the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) to study India’s contribution to science and to establish that the country has been ‘Vishwa Guru’ (world leader) in the advancement of science are a matter of huge concern.

As reported in The Hindustan Times, the ICHR and ISRO will shortly sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to take up the project titled ‘History of Indian Science and Technology’. The project will cost Rs 1.5 crore.

The information about India’s history of science and technology will be collected from the ancient religious scriptures. RSS outfit Vijnana Bharati, which promotes ‘swadeshi science’, had conceived the idea of ‘Akash Tatva’ conference with the aim to introduce the youth to the ‘wisdom of ancient science along with modern scientific advancements’.

It is always a matter of pride to trace one’s history in every field including in science. But all such work has to be based on evidence and not on

prejudiced beliefs. Looking at the track record of those who are out to promote such ideas, one wonders whether such an exercise will be purely scientific as is being said or only to eulogise our past with the aim to arouse ultra nationalist feelings.

In a society where belief system is very powerful, it is not difficult to mobilise people on myths. A convincing example of this is when in 1995 the statues of Lord Ganesha suddenly started ‘drinking milk’. There was a mad rush outside the temples to offer milk to such statues to earn favours and blessings. Then suddenly, the statues stopped ‘drinking milk’.

Who conceived this idea is still not known. But message is that in blind belief, people get swayed even by an absurd idea like this.

Many controversial papers have been presented at the Indian Science Congresses (ISC) – the largest gathering of its kind in the country in the recent years. In 2015, at the first ISC held after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, there was huge controversy when one speaker invited to the plenary claimed that ‘planes were invented in the Vedic Age by a sage’.

Even before the speaker finished delivering the talk, an online petition endorsed by 200 people had demanded that the scheduled lecture should be cancelled as it ‘mixes mythology with science and misleads people’.

In 2019, Andhra University vice-chancellor G. Nageshwara Rao and independent researcher K.J. Krishnan also made a series of unfounded claims such as that the Kauravas referred to in the Mahabharata were ‘born with the help of stem cell and test tube technologies’; Ravana had ‘24 types of aircraft and airports in Lanka’; and that ‘guided missiles were present in India thousands of years ago’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also said that the science in India was so developed in the past that we could transplant the head of an elephant on the human body. No wonder gaumutra and cow dung were promoted as cure for COVID and non-evidence based Coronil produced by Ramdev was promoted by the former Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

That some scientists and educationists subscribe to such ideas is a matter of serious concern. Astrophysicst Jayant Narlikar has criticised these Indian scientists who have made outlandish claims about scientific knowledge that ancient Indians had. This only diminishes the respect for achievements that are backed by evidence.

“But we shouldn’t claim things of which there is no evidence or proof as it reduces the credibility of what our scientists have achieved in the past. Even the West recognizes the knowledge of mathematics held by Indians. If we start making outlandish claims, the scientific community of world will not look up to us as it does now,” he said in 2015.

We all are proud of the contributions of our scientists in the ancient times. We have on record the contribution of Aryabhatta (476 to 550 AD)

author of several treatises on mathematics and astronomy; Charak, the physician who lived around 100 BCE; Sushruta, the surgeon around 800 BCE. The concept of zero which Indian mathematician gave to the world is a matter to be proud of.

The civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjedaro are amazing. We have marvellous archaeological monuments. The paintings in Ajanta Ellora are a big scientific feat in addition to the art they exhibit. One gets astonished how at a time when we had very little technology, all this happened.

Science is a dynamic process. It has taught us that everything is in motion. Science is never dogmatic and amenable to accept newer ideas, thoughts and developments. For example, the smallest particles in the ancient times were considered to be panchbhuta (earth, water, fire, air and space).

But with the advancement of science we have come to know that the much smaller atomic particles form the basis of all living and non-living matter in the universe.

Mankind has progressed from the primitive times to the modern human society through human labour. Every step forward taken by the human society from the primitive time is based on contemporary scientific work. Primitive man used stone as the basic tool. He learnt to kill the animal with that tool which he had to do earlier with hands. He learnt to light the fire by striking two stones against each other. The process never stopped.

Much of scientific developments occurred during the period of renaissance in Europe. The speed of scientific developments changed from time to time. With the present technology of microchips this speed has increased in multiples.

Spreading falsehood persistently will make the upcoming generations to believe in these things as truth. More so because opposite ideas will be made to disappear from the discourse in the media or even scientific gatherings.

Scientists have lot many challenges in the present times and have to make a louder voice to call spade a spade and expose the subtle designs of these forces. It is unfortunate that even several doctors and scientists were out in the streets to ‘clap’ and ‘bang thalis’ in the belief to quell the Novel Coronavirus at a call given by PM Modi. This was probably yet another test of people’s mindset after the incident of statues ‘drinking milk’.

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