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'You are ruining an entire generation'

March 13, 2024 09:54 IST
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'We are calling companies to set up assembly plants for mobile phones while all the components are imported.'
'Only the last turn of the screwdriver is done here. And you call it self-reliance, Atmanirbharta, etc.'

'Unless you invest in research, you will not climb up the ladder. But this government is happy getting sub-contract work.'

IMAGE: The dancing robots Natya Mandap show off their moves to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Robotics Gallery at the Science City in Ahmedabad, September 27, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Along with the rise of Hindu nationalism, the voices of the proponents of pseudoscience also got louder. They want people to believe that all the scientific advances which you talk about today had happened in ancient India, much before modern science discovered them.

A few samples...

Like the Kauravas were born out of stem cell and test tube technology.

Ancient India had invented the Internet.

Gau mutra can cure cancer.

Lord Ganesha had advanced plastic surgery to fit an elephant's head on a human body.

The list goes on...

They did not stop at just issuing statements, soon they wanted to infiltrate into scientific institutions and even textbooks.

They deleted chapters on the periodic table and Darwin's theory from school textbooks.

Many Indian scientists are alarmed, but the powers that be are not bothered about their concerns about the diminishing of the scientific temper.

A 12-member panel of scientists and citizens issued a statement, endorsed by a larger meeting in Delhi. expressing their concern.

"When the same student applies to a university abroad, who will give admission to a student who believes in such rubbish? What kind of science will he pursue if he doesn't have a questioning mind?", D Raghunandan, former president, All India Peoples Science Network and currently with the Delhi Science Forum, tells's Shobha Warrier.


The statement said India is currently facing a systemic threat to its scientific and educational institutions. Systemic threat is a very strong expression.
Have you been feeling this way for the last decade?

Yes, it is very evident over the last decade. The reason why the statement said, systemic threat was, earlier it happened one day or in some place, but now it is clear that it is happening across the board and across institutions. So, it is becoming a systemic problem.

Pseudoscience, anti-science statements, false narratives, boasting about various imaginary things that happened in India 8,000 years ago... all these are happening on a regular basis and across institutions.

Directions have gone out even to retired scientists not to criticise government policies.

The point is, any policy is open to criticism based on evidence. Evidence should be the criterion, and not simply saying I agree with you or do not agree with you. But now they say, even if you have evidence, you cannot oppose government policies.

Can you believe even retired scientists cannot speak against the policies?

I can understand when they ask scientists who are working in a government institutions to not oppose government policies even though in the past, we have known many cases where working scientists have said, it is not a correct policy when they felt it was not correct.

But now airing your opinion is not possible and it is not allowed!

Just because somebody sits there and writes, dasavatharam is a better theory of evolution than Darwin's theory, it doesn't become the truth.

That's why the statement said there is a systemic threat.

When science teaches you to question, here you are asked not to ask questions. How much will this affect the scientific temper of young minds?

Yes, you should foster a questioning attitude in the young. You should foster an attitude which says, I will accept ideas based only on evidence.

But what this government is doing is, questioning the evidence itself. It is presenting a narrative without evidence.

You claim the Internet was present in the Mahabharata, pushpaka vimana undertook inter-planetary travel 6,000 years ago etc. But if a student asks, what is the evidence for all these?, the answer will be, we say so. It is as if what they say is the only truth.

Why did you remove Darwin's theory from the textbooks? Because you don't agree with it?

Obviously, if children are brought up like this, they will believe that Darwin's theory is wrong. They cannot think differently and if they think differently, they will fail in the exam.

Forget about examination, when the same student applies to a university abroad, who will give admission to a student who believes in such rubbish?

What kind of science will he pursue if he doesn't have a questioning mind?

So, you are ruining the lives and careers of an entire generation.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

The Constitution says it is the fundamental right of every citizen to develop scientific temper. So, that's being denied...

Exactly. Here, the government itself is undermining scientific temper.

That's why we issued the statement pointing out that these were not isolated incidents, and that they show a trend where systematically the scientific attitude of questioning is being undermined.

What does right wing politics achieve by popularising pseudoscience?

The idea behind popularising pseudoscience by the right wing is that nobody should question what they say. You should accept what is said by the self-appointed authority. And who is the 'authority'?

The prime minister himself said that Lord Ganesha was the proof that ancient India knew plastic surgery ...

And you cannot question the statement also. Those who questioned it at the Indian Science Congress, were attacked immediately as Westernised, anti-national, and non-believers in Indian science.

There is no Indian science or Western science; there is only Science.

In India, even before this government came to power, there had been many studies done on science in ancient India. The Indian National Science aAcademy has published well documented, multiple volumes.

Professor D P Chattopadhyaya has written volumes on this. There is so much history available on the real achievements in science in ancient India.

What you should popularise is, science is the common heritage of humankind. It is not my science, your science, Iranian science or Asian science. Science has evolved through interchange of knowledge between cultures. This is what we have been saying.

IMAGE: People clang utensils in Bikaner during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note the image has only been posted for representational reasons. Photograph: PTI Photo from the Rediff Archives

Do you feel slowly, Indian society itself is moving towards non-scientific behaviour?
For example, during the pandemic as instructed by the prime minister, even educated people banged on plates to drive the virus away...

Not only educated people did this, but the very next day, right-wing groups wrote on social media that NASA had recorded vibrations from space at that time.

Interestingly, even behind pseudo-science, they want the approval of NASA!

People banging on plates just because the prime minister asked, is pure hero worship.

In fact, this practice of going to the balcony and clapping hands or singing started in Europe during the lockdown to restore human communication. It was not to drive the virus away.

IMAGE: Aryabhata -- the astronomer and mathematician of the fifth century. Photograph: Kind courtesy 1940368 Hemateja/ Commons

The far-right wants to say that ancient India had achieved everything that modern science discovered thousands of years later.
Is it to achieve false pride that they follow this narrative?

One is false pride. But behind false pride, there is an additional reason too which is, everybody should obey the supreme authority and never question. Who are these self-appointed 'supreme authority'? High-ups in the ruling establishment?

Don't read books. Don't do research. Don't question. Just listen to the supreme authority. Then, everything will be alright.

This is what happened in Europe in the 1930s. Look at what happened in Germany. What happened in Italy. Nobody should question.

The statement spoke about the government cutting down expenditure on research in academic institutions....

Unfortunately, expenditure on research is going down and down. Universities are not doing any research.

We are investing only 0.6% of the GDP for R&D compared to 3%b to 4% by China, South Korea.

This is the knowledge era and only those who have knowledge control the economy. But India is going on an economic path where knowledge is not the lever.

We are calling companies to set up assembly plants for say, mobile phones while all the components are imported. Only the last turn of the screwdriver is done here. And you call it self-reliance, Atmanirbharta, etc.

Who makes the money in the mobile phone business? Not even those who manufacture the phones. But those who own the Intellectual Property Rights behind the hardware and software. Apple is a top company in the world, but it does not even manufacture its own brand phones but makes money through its Intellectual Property.

Unless you invest in research, you will not climb up the ladder. But this government is happy getting sub-contract work in India.

How long can you progress with screwdriver technology? Maybe 6 or 7 years. After that, we will be left way behind. And it will take a lot of time and investment to recover from this.

IMAGE: D Raghunandan

If this is the reality, what will happen to the future generations of India?

I am sorry to say, I see a very bleak future for the future generations, for science, for social sciences...

Studies have been devalued everywhere, in schools, colleges and universities.

The future of a whole generation is in danger.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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