New Hindu Right-Wing Agenda: Promote ‘Pseudo-Science’ At All Costs
Were dinosaurs mentioned in the Vedas? Nope. Then why is the Hindu right-wing promoting ‘pseudo science’?
Over the years, the annually-held Indian Science Congress has been in news for all the wrong reasons. The dais of the Indian Science Congress has become the platform of absurd claims made by Indian academics and politicians.
In the recently-held Indian Science Congress, the Vice Chancellor of Andhra University claimed that ancient India had fighter jets and airports, while another person claimed that the theories of Einstein and Newton are wrong, and yet another academic from Punjab claimed that dinosaurs found mention in the Vedas.
In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that plastic surgery existed in ancient India and cited the example of Ganesha as “proof”.
‘Pseudo Science’ Claims Are Quite Common
These claims are not an aberration; in fact, claims like these are quite ‘common, both in Indian academic spaces and popular spaces. One just needs to type ‘Hinduism and Science’ or ‘Scientific Hinduism’ on Google, to know that these claims are all-pervasive.
Similarly, there are several books with titles like Vedic Physics or Vedic Mathematics which are quite popular among the educated Hindu middle-class.
Several books by renowned physicists and academics, often of foreign origin like ‘The Tao of Physics’ by Fritjof Capra or What is Life? by Erwin Schrodinger, and many such books which aim at exploring the similarities between Vedantic philosophy, and the physical nature of reality in abstract terms, become tools in the service of the Hindu right-wing pseudo scientists to further their propaganda of superiority of Hinduism by making claims of its ‘being scientific’ in factual terms.
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The Hindu right-wing claims every new scientific discovery as already being in either the Vedas or subsequent Hindu religious texts. The methodology which they apply is that of ‘reading backwards’.
(Mis)Interpretation of Religious Texts and Scientific Works
Whenever there is a new development or discovery in the world of science, Indian pseudo scientists try to interpret them through some shloka or story from Indian religious scriptures. For this, they use multiple permutations and combinations of words from such texts.
For example, the geologist who claimed that Brahma had knowledge of dinosaurs and that they are mentioned in the Vedas, said that the Sanskrit word “Dino” means terrible, and it translates to ‘daayan (witch)’, and ‘saur’, which otherwise means lizard, is related to ‘asur (rakshas)’ – thereby ‘proving’ the existence of the knowledge of dinosaurs in the Vedas.
Multiple examples can be cited of similar claims made by Indian pseudo scientists and faux academics. But we must understand here that these claims or pseudo-science is not a novel phenomenon, and limited to merely India and Hinduism. Several similar claims can be found made by practitioners of other religions.
The roots of this pseudo-science can be traced back to nineteenth century British India.
The criticism mounted by Christian missionaries and the colonial apparatus on popular Hinduism, led to a reaction from the indigenous elites. The indigenous elites, while constructing their responses to the Christian missionaries and colonial criticism of popular Hindu religious practices, used ‘science’ and ‘reason’ as resources to draw up their responses to those criticisms.
Of Science and Reason
Both science and reason, as related and independent concepts/philosophy/methods had occupied a paramount position in 19th century, and any religion was tested on the whetting stone of science and reason. Indian intellectuals from Swami Dayananda Saraswati to Swami Vivekananda, and others interpreted Hinduism in light of science and reason, as they challenged both Christian missionaries and the Christian faith.
Claims of the scientific basis of all banal Hindu rituals and beliefs, and thereby of Hindu superiority (which we encounter today) had precedents in the 19th century, and were manifested through prominent intellectuals like Sasadhar Tarakchudamani and Krishna Prasanna Sen and others.
Another reason for this pseudo-science lies in the clubbing together of all Indian knowledge under the rubric of religion. This first happened during the 19th century, when the British colonial administration and orientalists started the classification and systematization of the Indian knowledge system, and even continues to this day.
Conflation of Religious and Scientific / Secular Knowledge
The separation of religious knowledge and secular knowledge, which was achieved in Europe in early modern period, completely evaded India for various reasons.
Unlike in Europe, there was no such separation or say antagonism between secular scientific knowledge and religious understanding of the cosmos in the Indian knowledge system. The religious and secular were enmeshed. The reason for this was primarily the absence of any single religious authority with total truth claims.
The second reason for the conflation of scientific secular knowledge and religious knowledge, was the nature of orientalist scholarship, which viewed everything Indian through the lens of religion.
Guided by their Brahmin interpreters, the orientalist scholarship completely failed to mark out any division between secular scientific knowledge and religious knowledge.
This form of knowledge was later used by Indian intellectuals to build their defense of Hindu religious system and philosophy. The maxim “Enemy of the enemy is a friend”, was employed by Indian intellectuals in their fight against the criticism of Hinduism, and in their project of projecting the supremacy of Hinduism at the world level, at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. Today this practice continues in academic spaces with several books written on the “scientific basis” of Hinduism.
Today science and technology have merely become tools in the arsenal of the Hindu right-wing forces in India to prove the superiority of Hindu culture vis-a-vis other cultures and religions.
(Harshvardhan Tripathy is a PhD research scholar at JNU. He tweets @chai_pioge. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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