"Why are students not taught that before the Wright brothers, an Indian called Shivkar Bapuji Talpade was the first to invent the airplane? This person invented the plane eight years before the Wright brothers. Are our students taught these things in IITs or not? They should be.”

This gem is from the MHRD minister, Satyapal Singh while speaking at an award ceremony. Such utterances have matching policies which are influencing the direction of our research-teaching in the field of science and technology.

Not too long ago, Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan formed a high level committee to undertake research and to promote the benefits of Panchgavya. This Panchgavya is a mixture of cow’s urine, dung, milk, curd and ghee (purified butter). IIT Delhi will be the nodal institution for ‘research’ on this.

There are reports that the Madhya Pradesh government has plans to set up astro OPD (Out Patient Department), consultation centers, where astrologers will be giving predictions about their illness to the patients. This is planned to be done under the aegis of the state sponsored institution in Bhopal.

The Uttarakhand Government, in collaboration with AYUSH of Ministry of Health, has started the hunt for magical Sanjivani booti. This mythological herb was the one for which Lord Hanuman had to fly with the mountain as Lord Ram’s younger brother, Laxman, had become unconscious.

The prestigious IIT Kharagpur is not only planning to introduce Vastu Shastra in their undergraduate teaching program but also have a center for Vaastu Shastra, to advise people to install the statues of Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman in front of their houses to ward off evil.

These policies are the outcome of the understanding which the RSS inspired BJP leaders have. Just a couple of years ago, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating a Modern Hospital in Mumbai drew the attention of his audience to the great strides which India had made in ancient times. He said:

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realize that Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb… We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, who got an elephant’s head grafted on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

These magical-fictional things have been making their way into the school books being introduced by BJP governments in different states. One Mister Dinanath Batra’s book Tejonmay Bharat is an example. The book teaches the students:

“America wants to take the credit for invention of stem cell research, but the truth is that India’s Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar has already got a patent for regenerating body parts…You would be surprised to know that this research is not new and that Dr Matapurkar was inspired by the Mahabharata. Kunti had a bright son like the Sun itself. When Gandhari, who had not been able to conceive for two years, learnt of this, she underwent an abortion. From her womb a huge mass of flesh came out. (Rishi) Dwaipayan Vyas was called. He observed this hard mass of flesh and then he preserved it in a cold tank with specific medicines. He then divided the mass of flesh into 100 parts and kept them separately in 100 tanks full of ghee for two years. After two years, 100 Kauravas were born of it. On reading this, he (Matapurkar) realized that stem cell was not his invention. This was found in India thousands of years ago. (Page 92-93)”

Mythology is becoming the basis of science in India today. While mythology has the beauty of fiction, to place it in the realm of proven fact defies the scientific spirit, the spirit of scientific temper.

On similar lines the assertion is that we had television as Sanjay narrated the battle of Mahabharata to Vyas, or that since Lord Ram used Pushak viman, so the aeronautical technology was in vogue. These defy common sense.

No doubt ancient India has made a massive contribution to science in the form of contributions of Sushrut, Charat and Aryabhat. But to claim that science was subservient is an ideological manipulation to construct ‘our’ greatness’. Ideologues of the freedom movement came to lay special emphasis on the development of a scientific temper, as the foundation of India that was then enshrined in our Constitution.

Muslim Nationalism and Hindu nationalism saw history as that of great kings belonging to a particular religion, and their scriptures having all possible knowledge. Today Hindu nationalists occupying the seats of power are out to destroy the gains of scientific achievements during the last seven decades and bring in faith based fantasies in the area of scientific enquiry, knowledge and technology. This is a retrograde move.

It is precisely in protest against this that we saw scientists and rational thinkers take to the streets on August 9 to emphasize that pseudo science should not be permitted in the areas of research and scientific learning. These multi-city protests also called for enhancement of the budget for science and education.

The distinction between science and pseudo-sconce is obvious; science encourages critical questioning, while pseudo science resorts to hearsay, faith and suppresses dissent. The choice is clear.