Time to Recover Our Resplendent Rational Heritage to Focus on Present
ISRO chairman S Somanath recently came out with a startling claim.
ISRO chairman S Somanath recently came out with a startling claim. He said, all the scientific discoveries and inventions that have shaped the modern world were made by our ancestors who had made Vedas the repository of this priceless heritage. This knowledge was stolen by plagiarising foreigners who claimed it as their research. This isn’t the first time that such conspiracy theories have been mouthed. What makes this case distressing is that a man of science sitting at the pinnacle of cutting-edge technology has lent support to these ultra-patriotic beliefs, blurring the lines between science and superstition, myths and historical facts. One can immediately jump to support the space scientist and enter the caveat that history is written by victors and, for thousands of years, they have erased memories of our glorious past. An ambitious project not only to rewrite but to recreate history is underway; that is the subject of another debate though.
Ancient Indian history and vedic studies may not be rocket science, but the ISRO chairman needs to be reminded that these, too, are specialised fields of study, requiring painstaking scholarship to command expertise. We don’t know if the scientist in this case has even a nodding acquaintance with subjects he decided to pontificate about. It isn’t as if, in the past, distinguished scientists have not enriched their work with knowledge of Sanskrit, sacred books of India, and folklore, myths and legends.
DD Kosambi was one such polymath. His ideological predilections placed him in a minuscule minority, but this didn’t inhibit him from engaging in lively intellectual debates with his adversaries. The trouble is that Kosambis come once in a blue moon while ambitious science administrators, who are eager to jump
on the bandwagon hitching a ride with the rising star, are dime a dozen.
The writer of these lines loves Sanskrit and has studied it traditionally as well as for his graduation before taking up ancient Indian history and culture for post-graduation. He is no less proud than anyone else of the resplendent heritage—cultural and scientific—of the ‘wonder that was India’. But to blindly believe that ancient seers had envisioned and compiled all there is to know in the universe is an insult to the memory of great men who displayed unmatched intellectual rigour in their quest for knowledge. Vedic mantra and metaphysical dialogues in Upanishads bear testimony to this.
Unfortunately, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a passing reference to ‘head transplant’ on Ganesha, while addressing the science congress, the servile scientists eying high positions in government labs/departments have taken it to be the declaration of open season on scientific method and temper. Even before this, rich nuggets like vedic mathematics and principals of vastu shastra and ayurveda had been dug up. No one can deny that ‘roots of science’ are encountered in the Vedas and other non-liturgical texts like Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. But to take a giant leap of faith to state with a straight face that our forefathers know all while the rest of the world knew nothing can only land the aspiring Vishwagurus flat on their faces.
Airbrushing Newton, Darwin, Einstein out of school textbooks can’t liberate us from the Western mindset resulting from a sinister conspiracy. Alas, judges and senior civil servants who have studied science in younger days also expand patently absurd theories about procreation of peacocks. Taking everything literally, and that too from a narrative received second-hand, is injurious to mental health.
The inauguration of the new Parliament building should have been a moment of shared joy and celebration. Triangulation of this circle has ended up in pointless wrangling about heritage relegated to the margins before the BJP rose to power, reclaiming the lost heritage and pride.
What took our breath away was a tweet by a serving IPS officer, an IG in Bihar, who gushed over how appropriate was the day chosen for the inauguration: Veer Savarkar’s birthday. For good measure, he added that now Sanatan Dharma could be gloriously established in the land. What is amazing is that a bureaucrat can get away with such comments without any fear of disciplinary action for violation of conduct of service rules. Can one imagine that blatantly partisan officers can or do discharge their duties and constitutional obligations without fear or favour?
In recent months, there has been a raging debate about the tug of war between the judiciary and legislature. Few have had time to look closely at the rot that has set in the bureaucracy. From raids to encounters to deliberate delays caused to prolong the judicial process, most bureaucrats have shown themselves to be pliant, to say the least. What was once referred to as the steel frame has rusted and twisted. But the crooked nail can still crucify an innocent, helpless person.
Superstition can neither ensure a bright future nor liberate us. It’s time we recover our resplendent rational heritage to focus on present problems.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University