Pervasive religious narrowness in this scientific age is the irony of our modern society
With Chandrayaan-2 and Vikram lander constantly hovering in the back of everyone's head, many curiously watched the viral video showcasing craters on the moon. To everyone's surprise, an auto-rickshaw passed across the crater-laden surface. The video was enough for the civic authorities to move at rocket speed to cover the potholes which had been shown as craters in the initial seconds of the viral video. This happened in Bengaluru, the very city where ISRO scientists were losing sleep while trying to establish contact with Vikram. The apathy of authorities and governments to people's problems are well known. However, of late, the apathy of people in general to social problems has become a matter of grave concern since, notwithstanding all the chest-beating about the achievements of our scientists, it amounts to encouraging bigotry and irrational thoughts in this age of science. Otherwise, Zomato and JNU issues would not have arisen; Lok Sabha Speaker would not have ranted about Brahminism, which all go against the very fundamentals of our Constitution – the most sacred of all texts in our democracy.
The Constitution was drafted after careful thought that there should not be discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, community, religion, or economic condition. However, it is not happening. Even legislators reach the Assembly or Parliament using caste and community, religion and sects, etc., in addition to money and muscle. Justice and privileges for the rich and powerful are different from those for the poor, marring the equality of freedom of life and liberty for all.
Apparently, even the educated have reconciled to the situation; many are even adopting this culture. A young man from Jabalpur cancelled his food order with Zomato, with a vehement argument that it was contaminated with the touch of the Muslim delivery boy. Although he is entitled to his choice of food, the action of this educated man amounts to religious bigotry and human discrimination. Similarly, elsewhere, a man cancelled his request for an Ola cab, blatantly stating that he did not want to pay the "jihadi people", and even flaunted a screenshot of the cancellation showing the driver's Muslim name. Such people do not mind hurting human feelings and are unmindful of the fact that such app-based industries provide a livelihood to many youths in a gloomy economic scenario. These incidents draw familiarity to BJP supporters attacking churches, bars and discos; ensuring rustication of the Kashmiri students, and harassing Kashmiri businessmen after the Pulwama attacks as if every Kashmiri is a terrorist. It appears they are copying the thoughts of the 1857 Sepoys' Mutiny when soldiers refused to bite new cartridges suspecting them as made with cow and pig fat; though those were different days. This new culture of urban India has even invaded educational institutions, including the forward-thinking place like the JNU, and is endangering the spirit of enquiry, which is the very basis of academic life.
Even a renowned historian like Romila Thapar was asked to furnish her CV for extending her status as Professor Emeritus, with the ostensible argument that the past does not matter as long as she and others are not making any new contributions. The RSS and their ilk affirm that her work based on 'Aryan invasion' hypothesis to explain our ancient history is no longer valid, but feel shy of entering into a healthy debate with her. The fact remains that over a period, new facts might emerge and new theories might evolve. But, one cannot ignore that her inquisitive mind followed the facts and materials available in her times, and she did her best in the interest of academics.
Then, we have Om Prakash, who, in his capacity as Lok Sabha Speaker, is obliged to uphold and promote constitutional values of social, judicial and moral equality. But, speaking at an organisation of the Brahmin community in Rajasthan recently, he attributed an inherent superiority in the Hindu Order to all those born in the Brahmin caste, thus exposing his ignorance of the genesis of the caste system itself.
Our wise ancestors used several strategies for the well-being of society – like preoccupying people with pujas, rituals, festivals, etc., and adding the concept of re-birth for instilling a sense of fear and responsibility in individuals. They declared Vedas as infallible and not to be questioned, with an underlying rationale of regulating the mostly-illiterate society. But, since all the eulogies of God are in Sanskrit, a language alien to the common man, the priests became repositories of this knowledge and assumed the role of intermediaries between people and God. This supremacy of knowledge morphed them into a class apart initially, and then into a caste in course of time, like the people of other castes who followed certain professions. They, in turn, converted their monopoly over rituals into a commercial activity. However, accepting their superiority, people continued to bow and touch their feet in reverence. Although loathsome, it is thus not surprising that Dr Raman Singh, as CM of Chattisgarh, touched the feet of Yogi Adityanath on a public platform, although the entire country is aware of how hundreds of people have been killed with Yogi's blessings, by cow-vigilantes and by police in encounters. Thus, when a Brahmin had thus created an exalted status for himself, the Speaker's acceptance of the supremacy of a born-Brahmin only speaks of his retrograde thinking.
In fact, for a person holding the post of Speaker, constitutional provisions should take precedence over Vedas or any other religious text or practice. Impartially, he should raise his voice against any kind of discrimination. However, the likes of Om Birla remain mute spectators when people are killed in the name of religious practices.
It did not pinch him or other BJP leaders even a bit when Pehlu Khan was killed by cow-vigilantes; when Subodh Singh, SHO, who tried to conduct impartial investigations in the case against cow-vigilantes, was shot dead by the religious bigots; when a total of 120 incidents of mob lynching by cow-vigilantes occurred, killing over 40 people; when Muslims and Dalits were killed in thousands of encounters; when people assaulted Mullas and pulled their sacred beard; when Prashant Kanojia was arrested on the petty charge of forwarding a social media message against the CM of UP; when Tabrez Ansari was stoned to death by a rabid mob of Hindus. Even gruesome incidents were never condemned such as when a gang of armed people killed innocent tribespeople at Dhond; when a BJP legislator who had raped a minor girl at Unnao along with his gang also tried to kill her; when Swami Chinmayand was raping young girls regularly, and so on and so on. The country has never heard Modi and other leaders speaking against such atrocities, unlike our ancestors for whom the welfare of humanity, in general, was the goal. Ironically, they glorify scientific achievements when their minds are utterly unscientific.
We have soared in science and technology, not because of present leaders but because of the vision of people like Nehru who had created the institutions. BJP is not only usurping the credit but is even far ahead of others in the use of technology for political purposes – be it WhatsApp, Facebook, or any other. At the same time, all efforts of the past in the creation of CSIR for promoting scientific outlook and rationality are being reduced to naught, pushing our national character of secularism down the drain. Their leaders look up to our sages for glorifying the past but are oblivious of the fact that the sages were rational human beings, and gave us the concepts of 'atom', 'zero', etc., based on their inquisitive minds and fertile imagination. But, in the process, they expose their imbecile irrationality, saying that Ganesha is an example of plastic surgery; man descended from 'rishis' and not from apes; cow exhales oxygen; Kauravas were test-tube babies, etc. But, these people cannot answer the question of where our rishis came from, while science has established the origin of life from the basic elements of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus. Our Constitution also says, "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform". Unfortunately, we are passing through times when superstition, legends and myths are superseding rationality, bigotry and dichotomy. Irrationality has now overwhelmed even the educated minds and institutions.
Institutions of higher education are meant to foster free-thinking. However, aggressive commercialisation of professional education has pushed humanities and social sciences, which potentially expose students to ideas of social justice and equity, to the dump yard. As a result, the screening of a national award-winning documentary film is forcibly stopped by a rightwing student organisation; teachers are prosecuted for exercising their right to protest; students are slapped with sedition charges; brainwashing of students by re-writing history and culture has become the agenda. Free-thinking, expression and inquisitiveness are wholly inhibited. With a fear psychosis possessing the academia and students, research, critical thinking and scientific temper have become the casualties.
It is time we realise the infinitesimally small existence of man in this universe and come out of irrational thoughts and the dangerous dichotomy of religious narrowness that militate against our philosophy of oneness of mankind. Since the rulers think otherwise for their narrow political ends, it is for the people to come forward to redeem the status of our country from being among the unhappiest lot.
(Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal)
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