Founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, PM Bhargava, who recently returned his Padma Bhushan protesting ‘increasing Hindutva intolerance’ tells Tehelka, “The absurd paper on Shiva is part of a larger agenda to establish a ‘Hindu religious autocracy’. Shiva is not an entity. By attributing certain qualities to a non-entity, you are questioning the basic premises of modern science.”
As pointed out by Meera Nanda, historian and philosopher of science, attributing scientific traits to Hindu sacred books and epics is integral to the Hindutva project. In her analysis on Hindutva science during the Vajpayee regime, a time period when the fascist discipline gained an unprecedented and full-fledged governmental support, Nanda writes, “Nearly every important discovery of modern science was read back into Hindu sacred books; explosion of nuclear energy became the awesome appearance of God in the Bhagvat Gita, the indeterminacy at quantum level served as confirmation of Vedanta and atomic charges became equivalent of negative, positive and neutral gunas or moral qualities.” She adds that the Sangh Parivar played a double game by presenting themselves as “great champions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into Vedas”. Simultaneously they condemned a secular world view of modern science as ‘western’ or ‘semitic’.
The Modi government has also carefully followed the legacies of the previous NDA government by repeating and polishing the strategies experimented during Vajpayee’s times. On several occasions, Modi has himself led the Hindutva science juggernaut. For instance, Modi once went on to claim that plastic surgery and genetic science had always existed in India, citing the examples of the elephant headed god Ganesha and Karna, the character from Mahabharata, who had a permanent armour attached to his body.
Critical observers feel that by presenting Shiva as a historical figure and the greatest environmentalist, Hindutva forces are trying to legitimise ‘saffron environmentalism’ which uncritically celebrates an imagined glorious Hindu past. As argued by Mukul Sharma in his book Green and Saffron, environmental politics driven by Hindu nationalists share several similarities with some noted sections of apparently radical environmental groups. Sharma writes that some of these traits are “nationalism and ultra-nationalism, the yearning for a Brahminical Hindu religion, tradition and culture, emphasis on authority, social order, unity and discipline, an implicit hostility towards Muslims, Dalits and Christians.”
By treating society as a “natural ecosystem”, Hindutva environmentalism justifies traditional inequalities like the caste system. Sharma gives the example of Anna Hazare’s activities in Ralegan Siddhi, a model Gandhian village in the 21st century. Hazare’s environmental world view is said to be heavily influenced by saffron environmentalism. Dalits in Ralegan Siddhi have been persuaded to give up their meat eating habit and endorse a caste Hindu dietary culture of vegetarianism, an important component of Hindutva environmentalism.
In his controversial paper presented at the Science Congress, the author Akhilesh K Pandey celebrates Shiva for his capacity to supply purified drinking water to human beings. Shiva, the earth dweller among important Brahminical gods, is also presented as the ultimate model of the natural ecosystem. Pandey also reportedly told a newspaper that “Lord Shiva’s family would use animals such as peacocks, rats and bulls for conveyance and coexisted peacefully with animals”. This is the context he used for advocating a “peaceful coexistence of humans with plants and animals.” It would have merely been a simplistic explanation of things in some private discussion but, to present it as a paper in the country’s premier science event only reflects the kind of reductive space that Hindutva science conceptualises where myth, history and reason collide with each to give shape to a threatening absurdity.
In this narrative of Hindutva environmentalism, it is easy to identify the ‘eco enemy’, the minorities and Dalits whose dietary practices are different from caste Hindus. However, senior RSS pracharak Mohini Mohan Mishra, has a different take on things. “Modern science has proved that several references in Hindu sacred books are scientific. So instead of rubbishing all claims as unscientific, the scientific community should do serious research on such claims,” says Mishra.
The obvious question here is the same one that Ziauddin Sardar pointed out years ago in the context of Islamic science: Should we waste public money to verify the authenticity of “cranks masquerading as scientists”?