[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he count of bodies that have been lynched during the past half-decade in India is easily accessible and subject of much attention. But the count of minds lynched by misinformation and double speak is neither possible nor the subject of much debate. Even thoughts and questions that one used to easily ask of our political leaders make one shudder with the fear of being tagged anti-national or the newly coined term “urban-naxal”.
In a recent interview, noted scholar and historian Professor Romila Thapar, while discussing the onslaught of the present government on academia, expressed the view that another five years of the present government would result in a virtual shutdown of the Indian academic world. In the past five years, various irrational, illogical and scientifically impossible remarks have been propagated and defended by various political leaders, constitutional functionaries, scientists, judicial officers and above all the Prime Minister of India himself.
Most recently, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party candidate from Bhopal parliamentary constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Pragya Thakur, claimed that she had cured her cancer by consuming a concoction of cow urine, cow dung, milk, curd and other things. She even went ahead and claimed that stroking a cow from its tail towards its head helped control blood pressure. Though these unscientific claims might be alarming, they are certainly not first from elected representatives, public figures and top constitutional functionaries, including the Prime Minister, who described global warming as a “state of mind”.
Unscientific claims and nationalism
Any discussion about unscientific claims during the last five years must also include the numerous statements of the Chief Minister of Tripura, Biplab Kumar Deb, who claimed that ancient India had internet connectivity and satellite technology by citing incidents in the Mahabharata as evidence. When confronted with the impossibility of his claim he invoked national pride and described his critics as narrow-minded who wanted to “to belittle our own nation”.
Coincidentally almost all such unscientific claims come from elected representatives belonging to the BJP – the most shocking perhaps from the none other than the Minister of State for Higher Education, Satyapal Singh, who rejected the Darwinian theory of evolution saying no one had ever seen an ape turn into a man. Or last year, on the floor of the Uttarakhand Assembly, the State’s Minister for Animal Husbandry, Rekha Arya, who claimed that the cow was the only animal that not only inhaled but also exhaled oxygen.
This increasingly loud narrative of pseudo-science mixed with nationalist and jingoist propaganda is not only limited to political leaders. Former Rajasthan High Court Judge Mahesh Chandra Sharma made the headlines in 2017 when he claimed that a peacock procreated by shedding a tear. He even rejected the idea of the need for scientific evidence saying is claimed was backed up by religious texts.
The onslaught on science
Perhaps the most worrying state of affairs is the complete takeover of the Indian National Science Congress – an event meant to promote a constitutionally mandated scientific temper and spirit of inquiry
Claims by the vice chancellor of a prestigious university of the Kauravas, from the religious epic Mahabharata, being test tube babies is just another example of religion being used to peddle unscientific and irrational claims and the propagate the narrative that religious texts are superior to science and those that contest it are anti-national. This is perhaps the most chilling damage to Indian academic thought that has been caused during the past five years.
While the effect of the lynching of bodies might be readily visible in the form of protests or even riots, the effect of the lynching of minds and intellectual thought will be hardly visible and most difficult to cope with, especially when these claims are making impressions on young children and students.
What is ironic is that while on the one hand, the Modi government claims to invoke modernity promoting Digital India, on the other hand, his ministers and allies promote unscientific ideas and justify them either in the name of religion or nationalism.
This irony has perhaps been best portrayed by the famous British novelist George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, where he terms this idea of governments switching to science and pseudo-science when it suits them as “double-speak”.
He portrays the dystopian world of Oceania, being ruled by the Ingsoc or the English Socialist Party with its supreme leader a resounding picture of Big Brother that is watching all, as a fascist regime that does not care about its citizens, that tells the citizens not only what to do but also what to think, where enemies and allies change every day depending upon what is more beneficial for the party, where it is ensured that the proletariats do not progress, where science often takes a back seat to give way to the often unscientific actions of the Party, a nation that thrives on the motto “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”.
While describing to Winston, a lower party member who is tortured for a thought crime, the following lines by his tormentor O’Brien explaining what to expect from the Party, are most fitting for what might lie next for India and her progress:
“There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent, we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”