Jaspreet Oberoi: The Hindutva War On Science

Under Modi's BJP, there has been a constant attempt to rewrite history while belittling and trivialising modern scientific progress

Jaspreet Oberoi
May 27, 2021 | 5 min. read | Opinion

Science in India is falling victim to the Hindu right.

Since the 1970’s, India has been known for exporting scientists, doctors, and engineers to the world. Especially in the US and UK, Indians have made a global name for themselves and their community by exemplifying modern science and research. 

Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan, Kamlesh Lulla, Sunita Williams and Dr. Rajendra Kapila are just a few of the numerous examples of giants in their respective fields which range from computer science to engineering to space science to medicine.

Until a decade or so ago, India was being regularly touted as the next superpower with talks about its increasing technological and research prowess. India’s previous Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, a world-renowned economist, was widely respected amongst fellow world leaders and garnered fans across the globe, including President Obama. During Manmohan’s tenure, President Bush praised India specifically for promoting science and math in their education system, calling them the subjects of the 21st century.

In contrast to the promising past, the India of today seems to be at the crossroads with science and its proponents.

The incumbent regime of India, the Modi-led BJP, has long cherished the idea of Hindu resurgence and Hindutva. Since its inception, the BJP has accused the West of robbing India of its heritage and intellectual capital. For them, “westernization”, which is treated synonymously with “modernization”, is mock-worthy. 

The Hindutva ideology, on which the functioning of BJP is based, seeks to establish a Hindu nation-state and order. Thus, under the current Indian government, there has been a constant attempt to rewrite history while belittling and trivialising modern scientific progress.

A glaring example of this was the 2019 session of the Indian Science Congress which was inaugurated by PM Modi. ‘Isaac Newton did not understand gravity’, ‘Albert Einstein misled the world’, and ‘India pioneered the science behind test-tube babies thousands of years ago’, were few of the many outlandish theories proposed there.

Renunciation of science and logic under any circumstances is ill-advised and imprudent, but it becomes especially dangerous if done during pandemic times like today. 

It has been out in the open for the world to see that the Modi government’s COVID response has been dismal, and largely driven by the whims and opportune thinking of decision-makers.

This became apparent when the forum of scientists, appointed by the government itself, divulged that their warnings and suggestions were completely ignored which thereby resulted in a devastating second wave. The chair of the scientific group stated, ‘I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy’.

In addition, BJP leaders like Pragya Thakur have been shamelessly exploiting the pandemic to propagate the Hindu-nationalist agenda of cow benevolence. Addressing the party workers last week, she claimed, “I consumed cow urine daily and it is a kind of acid which purifies my body. It also purifies the lungs and saves me from COVID-19 infection. I don’t take any medicine against corona but I am safe.”

Similarly, Surendra Singh, BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, made a video of himself drinking cow urine, while suggesting that it protects from Covid-19.

Another BJP MLA, Suman Haripriya from Assam has claimed that consuming cow dung can cure COVID-19.

The government has done absolutely nothing to refute these claims or set the record straight, on the contrary, it has started to stifle the voices speaking against these harmful ideas. 

The Manipur police have booked a journalist and an activist under the National Security Act (NSA), which provides for detention for up to a year without trial, for saying cow urine and dung do not cure COVID-19. According to the police, they were arrested for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony. 

To augment it all, the Hindutva ecosystem outside the government has been working in tandem with them. 

Baba Ramdev, the poster boy of Yoga and Ayurveda (Indian alternative medicine), started propagating his quackery-laced COVID-19 solutions in June last year when his company Patanjali released Coronil as a cure of Covid-19.

After an FIR by a private individual, the government asked it to be cleared by the drug authorities and halted its sale. Though misbranding a drug is a criminal offense, no action was initiated against Ramdev’s company by the ministry.

In February this year, Ramdev organized an event where, in the presence of two federal ministers from BJP – Dr. Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari – he declared that Coronil had received certification from the World Health Organization (WHO).

In spite of WHO giving out a statement clarifying that no such clearance had been given, Patanjali was awarded permission by the Indian government to sell Coronil as an immunity booster against COVID-19 (a step-down from the earlier label of COVID-19 cure).

While earlier Ramdev was trying to profit from the COVID-19 related suffering and fear of the Indian population, he has now started to create paranoia and hysteria against the medical science treatment of COVID-19 and research-backed vaccines.

While addressing his followers last week he said, ‘Allopathy is a stupid and bankrupt science. First Chloroquine failed, then Remdesivir failed, then their antibiotics failed, then steroids..’

He then went on to mock the frontline workers who died fighting COVID-19. 

He laughed and smirked while stating, “1,000 doctors have died even after getting the double dose of corona vaccines. What kind of doctors are they if they could not save themselves?”

Also, last month when lakhs of COVID-19 patients in India were fighting for their lives amid oxygen shortage, Ramdev was a part of the concerted efforts to shift the blame away from the Modi government. 

He came online and openly scorned those gasping for breath and blamed them for spreading negativity.

“How can there be a shortage when God has filled the atmosphere with oxygen?” he said in the video. “Fools are looking for oxygen cylinders. Just breathe the free oxygen. Why are you complaining about the shortage of oxygen and beds and crematoriums?”

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), a body that represents the country’s doctors, has come out strongly against him. They have served a defamation notice to him for his “disparaging remarks” and demanded an apology within 15 days or a $137m compensation.

To this, Ramdev’s response has been, “even their father can’t arrest Swami Ramdev”.

If this all was not shocking enough, instead of taking suitable action against him, the BJP government in Haryana state announced this past Monday that it would procure and distribute his quackery-based “immuno booster” Coronil kits among COVID-19 patients free of cost.

A wise man once said, ‘Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.’

It might not be too late for India yet but BJP’s mindless promotion of Hindutva has adversely affected the scientific temperament of India and it will take years if not decades to set it back to normal.  


Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.

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