Prof Narendra Nayak feels the government did not introduce any anti-superstition bill, and says it is just a bill against inhuman practices and black magic, which are a tip of the iceberg of irrationalism. The godman debunker, who has earned enemies from superstitious and religious fanatics, feels superstitions can be eradicated only by proper education, developing critical thinking and humanism. Excerpts:
Do you think rationalism is getting enough importance in today’s society?
Voices of reason and scientific temper are going at a premium nowadays. All want benefits of technology, which originates from scientific thought and methodology. But, these are quietly relegated to the backburner, while technology itself is made use of and glorified. Those who question are branded anti-national and given various such labels. Instead of answering with logic and reasoning, ad hominem attacks are made. The Article 51 of the Constitution, which states that it is the duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and humanism, is not given the importance it deserves.
What needs to be done to inculcate scientific temper among people?
It should be made part of the education system. Children should be trained to develop critical thinking from a very young age. They should be allowed to conduct experiments hands on, and come to their own conclusions. Having worked for decades among children that was also recognised by the Bal Vikas Academy of Karnataka who gave me a state award, I realised long back that children should be allowed to grow up with a rational approach to life.
Coastal Karnataka is considered to be communally sensitive. Do you think the need to instill scientific temper is more here compared to other regions?
Having lived all my life here, I have seen forces of communalism at work here for decades. It was Congress at one time and later the present ruling dispensation. In my younger days according to us, all sources of evil and corruption were those with the ruling party, Congress. The opposition were the Communists whose presence was confined to workers. The rest of the opposition were the present ruling set-up. So, those who wanted to oppose the misrule of Congress naturally aligned together -- this was seen during the Emergency of Indira Gandhi when those opposed to her authoritarian misrule were the opposition. That was the turning point for them and the open growth of communalism and polarisation in this region. The forces fed each other and helped grow.
Sometime ago, the state govt introduced an anti-superstition bill. Do you think it will help do away with superstitions and blind beliefs?
The government did not introduce any anti-superstition bill. It was the bill against inhuman practices and black magic. These are just the tip of the iceberg of irrationalism. I had put forward a proposal for such an Act in August, 2013 in a public meeting protesting the assassination of Dhabolkar. Later, the demand grew. But the bill leaves a lot to be desired, but as I always said, something is better than nothing. Superstitions can be eradicated only by proper education, developing critical thinking and humanism. Anyway the act is just in books.
Do you think educational institutions and authorities are doing enough to instill scientific temper among people?
No. Like it is said -- one who pays the piper calls the tune, which can be modified as one who pays the grants. That is always the ruling party. The whole system of education would be dancing to their tunes. Even the rational elements in textbooks have been modified. While banning things like hijab alleging that religious practices have no place in the classroom, such restrictions should be applied to all such practices, including prayers and religious ceremonies in schools and public places. While having a religious belief is one’s fundamental right, all such should be practised in private places -- which should apply for all things starting from offering namaz on public roads to building pandals for pujas obstructing traffic. When noise pollution is that, whichever religious place it emerges from, turning a blind eye to one and trying to stop the other is incorrect.
Is the popular media, especially cinema, working towards building a society that is based on science and rationality?
The popular media is divided into two types -- fiction and nonfiction! The news media should be unbiased and not twist their output to suit vested interests. We see a strong bias in the reportage. This happens because of what I mentioned already... one who pays the piper calls the tune. One playing the tune, those listening and the milieu it is played to are all conditioned by the communal, majoritarian propaganda. Fiction like TV serials and movies should be strictly considered as that and not confused with reality. A society in which such distinctions are blurred becomes prey to events shown in movies. In reportage, ethics prescribe that all points of view should be given an opportunity which is rarely done. In case of fiction, a viewer has a right to express views. Filing blasphemy cases against such people to silence their voices is not acceptable in a democracy. Anyway, the so-called blasphemy law or Section 295A was passed by the British.
Attempts to reform society through works of fiction have been going on for decades with movies like Achhut Kanya, Patita, but have not eradicated untouchability. Science and technology helps producers make better movies which could convince the gullible to accept it as reality, but not necessarily more rational. We are a nation with a 21st century technology superimposed on a 16th century mindset. This is a dangerous combination. If something happened in the 16th century, it could have probably taken years to reach people if they are some thousands kilometres away. Today, it can happen in a few minutes. That makes all the difference.