Fact and Fiction

From dissing Darwin to yogic farming: A short history of the BJP’s brush with pseudoscience

What happens when the country's top leaders peddle mumbo jumbo?

In 1954, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described big dams like the Bhakra Nangal project “the temples of modern India”. As Nehru made it clear, science and technology – manifested in dams, colleges, heavy industry – would be India’s civic faith, quite in contrast to its twin, Pakistan, which had religion at the core of its identity.

This Nehruvian vision has been wearing thin in recent years. That was evident most recently on Friday, when the minister of state for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh, claimed Darwin’s theory of evolution is “scientifically wrong”. The minister, whose department oversees the functioning of India’s education system, argued that since no one saw “an ape turning into a man”, it was proof that modern biology had got things mixed up. He said that textbooks should be changed to reflect his own thinking on the matter.

This is, unfortunately, not a one-off event. Several high-ranking members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls the Union government, have found it difficult to separate scientific fact from religious mythology. Here are some other examples.

Plastic surgery in ancient India

In the matter of fake science, the BJP leads from the top. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke of how the story of the Hindu god Ganesh from the epic Mahabharata proved that ancient India was proficient in both plastic surgery as well as reproductive genetics. Modi was referring to a tale where Ganesh was decapitated, after which an elephant head was attached to his body, giving rise to the form in which he is worshipped – a feat that science even in 2018 would be unable to achieve.

The Ram Setu miracle

The Ramayana speaks of a bridge from India to Sri Lanka built by the simian armies of Lord Ram. Should this influence India’s shipping and transport policy in 2018? The BJP thinks so and is resolutely against any plan to build a channel through what is today called “Adam’s bridge”. The Sethusamudram shipping canal project would reduce shipping time and save money – but it would also destroy a part of Adam’s bridge.

Cow dung products

Given the sacredness of the cow in various schools of Hinduism, even the faeces and urine of the cow is thought of be a medicinal product by some Hindus. This view does not have a lot of science backing. Despite this, last year, the Science and Technology ministry set up a committee to conduct research on the medicinal qualities of Panchgavya, a beverage made by blending, amongst other things, bovine faeces and urine. Panchgavya is often sold by Ayurvedic companies and Ayush minister Sripad Naik has also vouched for their effectiveness. In Parliament, a BJP MP from Gujarat decided to max out the stakes and claim that cow dung and cow urine could cure cancer, a disease that modern medicine often struggles to treat.

Another Union minister, Maneka Gandhi, in 2015 proposed that cow urine be used as a floor disinfectant. In the same year, a government-run hospital in Rajasthan, a state with a BJP government, decided to actually start using cow urine to mop its floors with.

Even more miraculously, a BJP minister from Rajasthan claimed that cow dung can absorb radioactivity.

Ancient Indian aeroplanes and nuclear weapons

In 2017, Union minister Satyapal Singh, proposed that Indian engineering students study the Pushpak Vimaan, a flying chariot mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

The Pushpak Vimaan is one of Hindutva’s lodestars and one of the most frequent arguments used to prove that ancient India – before rule by Muslim kings – was a high-tech wonder.

Another BJP appointee has gone a step further and even postulated that ancient India had nuclear weapons. Y Sudershan Rao, the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research opted for a literal reading of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and inferred that the weapons described in them were the result of atomic fission and/or fusion. He also said that stem cell research was present in Iron Age India.

As a result of this thinking, the Indian Institute of Technology is likely to add a course on “Vedic science”, reported the Telegraph.

Climate change is just old people feeling cold

Climate change is the burning issues of our times where science and politics collide. In the United States, conservative politicians have often denied the science behind climate change, preferring to hide behind irrationality in order to delay taking tough decisions. In 2014, months after becoming prime minister, Narendra Modi himself took a stab at the geoscience behind rising temperatures”. “Older people – 70, 80 and 90 years old – say in winter ‘this time it’s colder than last year.’ Actually, it’s not colder,” the prime minister claimed. “People lose their ability to tolerate the cold as they grow older. In the same way, the climate hasn’t changed. We have changed.”

Source of Ganga

Given that the Indian subcontinent was mapped out geographically under the British, there is little doubt that the region’s largest river, the Ganga originates in the state of Uttarakhand. However, this scientific fact it against some tough competition given that it contradicts Hindu mythology, according to which it flows down from Tibet. To solve this curious paradox, Union Water Resources minister Uma Bharti has directed the National Institute of Hydrology to explore if Ganga does not instead originate in Tibet.

Yogic farming

India has one of the lowest farm productivities in the world, with falling farmer incomes leading to socio-political upheaval across various states. The Union minister for agriculture’s solution? Yoga by farmers that would “give vibrations of peace, love and divinity to seeds and his farm land”.

If hard-boiled rationalists scoff at such talk, Virendra Singh, the BJP MP from Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh offered up another way to tackle to the farm crisis. Speaking in the Lok Sabha in 2016, Singh said that havans, a ritual burning of ghee and food stuffs, would bring better rains, since “havan of ghee produces Oxygen and havan of agricultural produce produces Hydrogen”, the two elements that constitute water.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.