In India, the road towards primitive controls on the thinking mind is being cemented further with each passing day, writes Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd.

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Features Opinion Friday, January 06, 2023 - 18:06

Ever since the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) backed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed the Union government in 2014 and subsequently came to power in several states, the conflict between science and faith has occupied central space in the national discourse. Any critique of the beliefs of those who consider themselves as seriously religious, be it Hindu or Muslim, gets politicised in no time. Litigations around issues of hurt religious sentiments have increased several fold in the country. With faith being projected as the core value of the nation, science as a process of human thinking is not taken seriously, nor is it considered nationalist. 

While this is the general atmosphere in the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on January 3 that India must produce more innovative science. He was speaking at the inauguration of the Science Congress. If he does not warn his own folks to not rush into every science vs faith conflict as agents of faith, how will innovative science develop? We have never seen RSS-BJP cadres and leaders defending science when there is a conflict between science and faith. They do not allow individual thinking in their ranks. The Arab rulers, or the rulers of Pakistan or Afghanistan, do not stand by any science-centred ideological position. If the present trend continues, India too will enter this trap of all faith and no science.

Today, there is a heightened tendency to project faith as nationalist and scientific thinking as anti-national. Ironically, the ruling BJP says that India is developing in such a way that it will be capable of challenging China and the West in the near future. They seem convinced that killing scientific thinking and the critical thinking abilities of children and adults is part of India’s civilisation and should become India’s agenda in the future. They also seem to be engaged in serious competition with far-right nations that treat scientific thought as blasphemy.

What is forgotten in the process is that human life takes form through a scientific process, and grows and develops with the help of scientific treatment in childhood. For example, when a child is born, feeding milk or other forms of food is a scientific process. From the breastfeeding stage to the solid-food-eating stage, faith does not enter a child’s life. Faith forms in a child’s mind either by observing a parent’s faith-related practices, or through a specific instruction process, like the schooling that the gurukulas and madrasas conventionally did. These institutions have no concept of scientific teaching. But the modern school is different.

The modern school system is meant to teach science and as part of it, some amount of faith-related subjects. If faith becomes the central theme of school learning, the human mind cannot work in scientific laboratories, because faith does not accept experimentation. The present political trend, which is heavily inclined towards faith, does not accept experimentation. If India is ruled by faith and faith remains the central theme of nationalism for long, the country is bound to retreat to the mediaeval age. The right-wing is likely to introduce laws that stop Indians from thinking scientifically, with the excuse that it is un-Indian and/or anti-national. The road towards primitive controls on the thinking mind is being cemented further with each passing day.

For the average Indian voter, a faith-based, non-scientific lifestyle will appear as the only way of life. We may use the science, engineering, medicine, or technology that emerged from the scientific thinking of the West as long as the supply chain from the West lasts, in the same way that we depend on oil pipelines from Russia or West Asia. Once their scientific thinking becomes inaccessible to us, we will start walking, return to primitive food habits, and live in old sheds, and still justify it all as our great civilisational values. This is inevitable as our own children are not allowed to think critically at home or on the streets. Once the young minds are not allowed to question their own and others’ practices, where will we as a country end up?

When our children see critical thinkers being attacked through TV channels and newspapers, they will begin to think that they should learn to not think like the ones their fathers abuse or mothers dislike. They too will surrender to faith and hate science. From such houses, one may become an engineer, a doctor, or a so-called scientist, through routine training. But there is no hope of developing a critical and creative mind in such a house that will, once put in a factory, hospital or lab, produce original innovations. Only the kind of faith-based ideological campaign promoted by the RSS-BJP will find acceptance in those spaces.

When there is only praise for the saint not for the tiller of the land; when there is only praise for the religious teacher not the teacher of science, from whom will a child want to learn? The leaders and cadres of the ruling RSS-BJP want to show the world the path of faith while other nations are busy expanding their base in science. 

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. He has been campaigning for English-medium education in government schools across the country for the last 30 years. Views expressed are the author's own. 

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