Rationality for societal harmony
Promoting scientific temperament in the nation is imperative to curb pervasive, narrow-minded ideologies that disturb societal well-being
One cannot but sulk at the happenings that are causing a crisis of unity in our pluralistic society in recent years when we learn about the inspiring example of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, where episodes of Ramayan are played mostly by Muslim actors in its capital, showcasing their cultural plurality and cultural harmony. In this background, the recent achievements of ISRO and CSIR only propel our thoughts to a comparison of science, spirituality and religious practitioners. Science promotes rational thoughts and works for the general welfare of humanity; and sages and apostles of religion, who were all rational human beings, also promoted the idea of the welfare of humanity. It is only the perverse and narrow-minded yogis, mullahs and other religious practitioners who divide the society, as is evident from the crude defence of cow-vigilantes and bigots in the killing of a SHO, by Yogi Adityanath, and the silent support of BJP leaders.
Describing the incident of the killing of the SHO as only an accident, the ochre-robed UP CM denied that there was any incident of mob-lynching, although an unbridled communal mob, instigated by the Bajrang Dal, took cow-vigilantism to the next level when it attacked a police station at Siyana village in Bulandshahr district. They practically hunted down the station house officer and shot him dead, and burnt police vehicles. The reason being a tractor loaded with some cow carcasses claimed to have been recovered from a forested area nearby, a fact yet to be ascertained. The fact not to be missed is that the prompt action by the same officer had led to the arrest of some of the accused in the shocking Akhlaw murder by local gangs of the Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva outfits in 2015 on rumours of beef storage at Dadri. Such blatant defence, and over 1900 questionable police encounters targeting minority community and Dalits in just one year of his reign, appear to have emboldened these bigoted criminal gangs, who are spinning the false narrative that Hinduism is in danger in India. Unfortunately, the so-called champions of Dalits like Ram Vilas Paswan, have not even protested. This culture of impunity and the barbaric behaviour go against the grains of a civilised society – rationality, restraint, patience, civility and responsibility. Inculcation of scientific thought thus becomes essential, since it is science that has broken many myths and beliefs in recent centuries.
It were the men of science and rational thoughts who changed the world with their discoveries and innovations. Looking at a ship coming towards the shore, its mast, sail and the hull as seen one after the other at the distant horizon, Pythagoras (550 BC) speculated that earth is spherical, as against the belief till then that earth was flat. Galileo was treated as a rebel when he found that the universe was not earth-centric, but the earth was only revolving around the sun. Until a couple of centuries ago, people only relied on the legends – like, the Sheshanag or the Varahavatar holding earth on its head or horns, causing quakes when they move their heads as believed in India; the great spider carrying earth on its back caused earthquakes as believed in Japan. It was the Blandford brothers, and the father-and-son duo of Oldhams working in the Geological Survey of India on our very Indian soil, who gave the right explanations – the liquid core of the earth, the tectonic movement, the continental drift, the primary, secondary, and long waves; seismographs would not have been used for measuring the quake and there was no way to find the extent of coal, oil and gas reserves in the earth. Apart from the mind-raking Theory of Relativity, Einstein proved the inter-convertibility of matter and energy with his equation E=mc2, that has changed science and technology altogether (Just one gram of mass can be converted into 21,500 million kilocalories of energy; to produce this much energy by conventional means you will need 3.3 million litres of petrol!).
Similarly, the stars would still be only shining diamonds in the sky, and not heavenly bodies, had there been no new thought process. Our own Meghnath Saha gave a solution to the riddle of spectra from stars by proposing the presence of ions of elements. Nineteen-year-old Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar solved the riddle of varying brightness of Sirius A, the brightest star in our Milky Way, by calculating that its twin Sirius B, the Earth-sized White-dwarf, is so dense that a matchbox-full of its matter weighs some 12 tonnes, and it pulls away from its giant neighbour and shadows it periodically. They are all geniuses we should be proud of, and children should be taught to emulate; not the yogis, gurus, and others who only play with emotions and gullibility of people.
Today, we are all revelling in the successes of ISRO. Chandrayaan-II is the offing. Gaganyaan preparations are in progress to send three Indian astronauts into space, thereby gaining mastery over rocketry and spacecraft re-entry, all with indigenous technology. And there are many more plans. Also, it is no mean achievement that our Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is ranked 9th in the world among a total of 1207 government institutions for its ten exciting achievements in 2018. Since its inception in 1942, CSIR has been working on scientific capability, excellence and research in a wide range of areas – molecular biology to mining, medicinal plants to mechanical engineering, mathematical modelling to metrology, chemicals to coal, DNA finger-printing, deep-sea mining, superconductivity, and so on. As a stated objective, CSIR also has been popularising science and helping in the inculcation of scientific temper in the country by taking it to the doorsteps of the masses.
Even our ancient people gave us ideas of flying (the Pushpak Vimaan), atom as the smallest matter, 'zero' in mathematics, etc., using only their searching eyes and inquisitive rational minds. Illiterate masses were told to worship rivers, with the rationale of protecting them; but, we worship blindly while polluting them, whereas, in the West, people keep them unpolluted without any worshipping. Yes, they made errors, because of their limitations. And thus, everything of what they said was not right. But, we need to take lessons from their rational minds and scientific outlook and thoughts, and fertile imagination. Apart from this, those who fall back on Vedas, religion, and our past for every inhuman act they commit, should think of the rationale behind the religious practices.
As and when religions got steeped into irrational rituals and practices, the apostles rose up as beacons of light and made the course correction. Buddha rebelled against the prevailing practices and rituals of Hinduism. So was Christ who set an example of sacrifice. Prophet spoke about universal brotherhood. Guru Nanak rebelled against irrational rituals and worked for equality of all humans, and strove to become a symbol of harmony between the Hindus and Muslims. They were all men of rational thoughts, and like science, worked for the welfare of humanity in general.
As against the efforts of our ancestors and apostles to unite people of the world, politicians, the narrow-minded yogis and gurus, the power-seeking men of religion, promote hatred and divisions in society. They even eulogise killings in the name of intra-gotra marriages and Sati. The entire country knows that the Sati of 18-year-old Roop Kanwar was only a daylight murder. In the name of religion, the bigots lynch people, attack bars and discos, desecrate churches and chapels, etc. And, the degeneration of their thoughts has gone to such an extent that, at the recent prestigious Science Congress, only based on mythological stories, some rabid thinkers have stated that Kauravas were test-tube babies, Ravana had 24 aircraft, and some have even condemned Newton, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking. Alas! It is a travesty of science. One should be aware that it is only the progressive thoughts and rational minds that are indicators of a country's progress, as Sardar Patel and Nehru envisioned.
But, it is an irony that we erect the tallest statue for the Iron Man of India when we care a hoot for his precepts. While working for territorial integration, he focussed on the integration of the different communities into a single nation, believing in creating a new way life and bringing about a change of heart and a change of outlook. Further, he cautioned against the dangers of politicising the civil services of India. But the great man was disillusioned in his last days about the declining standards of politicians, their power-hunting, and malfunctioning of Indian democracy. The leadership of the present regime that believes in authoritarianism has no moral right even to touch the feet of the great democratic leader.
The man set his foot on the moon that is only a satellite of the earth. Yet, we continue worshipping it as a revered God. Irrational rigidity at the cost of rationality endangers society and deters progress. Therefore, CSIR needs to be given a fillip in the task they are already performing in promoting scientific temperament since India cannot survive without inclusiveness and cultural pluralism. For this, the ultimate goal should be what is enshrined in our ancient texts, "May all be happy, may all be free from disease, may all look upon one another with love and may no one be stricken by suffering and sorrow."
(The author is a retired IPS officer and former member of the Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)