Tag Archives: Indian Constitution

A Few Remarks On The Absence of Scientific Temper in the Land of Bose, Raman, and Salam

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

[I must begin with a “thank you” to the Indian Diaspora of Washington DC* and to Razi Saheb for letting me say a few words here. It is an honour for me to share the dais, even if virtually, with Gauhar Raza and Pervez Hoodbhoy. I was stressed about Razi Saheb being a stern time-keeper. So, I decided to jot down what I have to say. But the flip side is that I did not know at the time of preparing these notes what Gauhar and Pervez would say. Please bear with me if what I say turns out to be redundant in the light of what has already been said, or if it appears tangential to the concerns of the organizers or of the other two speakers.]

Let me first get some elementary considerations out of the way. The title refers to the land of Bose, Raman and Salam, which might betray an assumption that a scientist is guaranteed to possess scientific temper and he is influential enough to leave an imprint on the society. In an ideal world, perhaps, that ought to be the case. But even scientists do not live in an ideal world.

Take the example of Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest icon of science, whose genius did put its final and authoritative seal on the Scientific Revolution. Running away from plague in Cambridge to his native village, the young and solitary scholar single-handedly laid the foundation of modern science. He accomplished this during a mere 18 months of his anni mirabiles of 1665-66 when he formulated his laws of motion and his theory of gravitation. In addition, he also invented calculus during the same months. But, after that, he devoted a large part of his long life to the practice of alchemy and to the theological labours of interpreting the Bible. He denounced what he thought were corruptions of Christianity – such as trinitarianism – and adopted a radically puritanical version of Arianism that considered the Bible as an exact Revelation about the future. Nothing in Newton was of normal proportions – neither his scientific genius nor his rigid dogmatism and confident superstitions.

If you think I am being unfair to Newton – after all he could only be a product of his times – you are already conceding part of the point I am driving at. But let me cite a few examples from more recent times before I try to peep into the relationship between Science and Scientific Temper. Pascual Jordan, a pioneer of Quantum Mechanics, was an active Nazi who continued to hold his fascist views even after his rehabilitation in post-war Germany. Physics Nobel laureates Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark too were active Nazis and confirmed anti-Semites. A little earlier, the great mathematician, Emmy Noether, had been prevented from becoming a faculty in the mathematics department of the University of Gottingen just because she was a woman. An exasperated David Hilbert famously said, “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as a privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bathhouse.” And a scientist friend of mine reminded me the other day that our own Sir C V Raman, one in the title of this program, was opposed to a woman being admitted as a Ph.D. student, because, in his views, women were unfit to do science.

I am not here to withhold the certificate of scientific temper from being awarded to eminent scientists. My purpose is to examine whether lack of scientific temper comes in the way of doing good science. Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote a book some thirty years ago. The book is called “Islam and Science”, and the subtitle is “Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality”. In the book he cites a telling example. Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam – the same Salam who too is in the title of this program – came up with one of the greatest physical theories of 20th century – the unified quantum theory of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. They invented this theory independently of each other and shared the Nobel Prize for it. Weinberg was an avowed atheist; Salam was self-confessedly a believer. Salam wrote the foreword to Pervez’s book in which he concurs with the author that being a believer made no difference, one way or the other, to his coming up with the theory. There you have it from the horse’s mouth. What, then, is the relationship between science and scientific temper?

The scientist does not live by science alone. Even a scientist’s mind is not entirely colonised by Scientific Reason. I do not know if, like the brain, the mind too has two separate but interconnected lobes. But allow me to use a simple-minded metaphor. Scientific temper, it seems to me, has something to do with the rational side of the mind trying to influence the emotional side. This may give rise to a reasonable and cultivated individual, but it can also result in disaster. With the rational side meddling too much with the emotional side, it may give rise to a rather childish adult, if not a veritable Dr Strangelove.

Scientific temper is a tricky business. It involves a very intricate game between Reason and Culture. Neither side of the game we understand very well. There are those who think that Reason is transparent, whereas Culture harbours dark corners. The opposing side points out that this is a false picture. It labours to show that Reason has murky origins – it did not result from an immaculate conception. And, it is not at all self-aware – it does not know that it is inextricably entangled in structures of power.

Which side is more important for a successful and at the same time a meaningful life? Which side should sit in judgement? It is a debate that is hard to settle. There are funny episodes, for example, of scientists sitting in judgment over poetry. Paul Dirac, one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century once told J R Oppenheimer, another great scientist and a polymath, “I don’t see how you can work on physics and write poetry at the same time. In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already, in words that nobody can understand.” The judgements of poets about science, on the other hand, are usually not so funny. They are often much darker – prone to denouncing the supposed soullessness of science or mocking it as one mocks the childishness of a grown-up.

With this much as a background, let me now come to the topic of the day. I do agree with the assertion that scientific temper is largely missing from the societies and cultures that form a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent. But, I am less surprised that it is missing despite scientists likes of Bose, Raman and Salam. I am more surprised that it is missing despite someone like Jawaharlal Nehru. To my mind, Nehru was the best and the wisest proponent of the desirability of scientific temper. Let me quote a passage from The Discovery of India even if it consumes a precious minute,

“Science deals with the domain of positive knowledge but the temper which it should produce goes beyond that domain. The ultimate purposes of man may be said to be to gain knowledge, to realize truth, to appreciate goodness and beauty. The scientific method of objective inquiry is not applicable to all these, and much that is vital in life seems to lie beyond its scope – the sensitiveness to art and poetry, the emotion that beauty produces, the inner recognition of goodness. The botanist and the zoologist may never experience the charm and beauty of nature; the sociologist may be wholly lacking in love for humanity. But even when we visit the mountain tops where philosophy dwells and high emotions fill us, or gaze at the immensity beyond, that approach and temper are still necessary.”

I might also add that the Indian Constitution is the only Constitution in the world which prescribes developing “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” as a fundamental duty of every citizen.

All this, however, may sound too philosophical and too idealistic. How can one be sure that scientific temper really matters to a society or a civilisation? I think history has provided a very real example. Let me dwell on it for a minute.

Pervez’s book that I have already mentioned opens with a parable of “a team of Martian anthropologists visiting Earth sometime between the 9th and 13th centuries”. They find that “the civilization with greatest promise is the Islamic civilization with its Bait-ul-Hikmah, astronomical observatories, hospitals and schools”. Then they visit again towards the end of 20th century and find that “their earlier prediction had turned out to be wrong. The part of humanity which once seemed to offer the greatest promise now appears inescapably trapped in a state of frozen medievalism, rejecting the new and clinging desperately to the old. On the other hand, the former retrogrades have climbed the evolutionary ladder and are now aiming for the stars. Was this stunning reversal of roles, ask the visitors, the mere misfortune of one and the good fortune of the other? Was it due to invasions and military defeats? Or was it the result of a fundamental shift in outlook and attitudes?”

With minor variations the parable may apply equally well to the fate of the subcontinent. If the Martians were to visit here sometime during the 17th century, they would be dazzled by the Navratnas (nine jewels) in Akbar’s court and they would marvel at the fact that the subcontinent accounted for nearly one third of the total world production. However, on their second visit at the turn of the millennium, they would be equally disappointed with this civilisation.

Perhaps the real question to ask is: why and how did the West pull ahead? That may shed easy light on why everyone else got left behind. The answer is obvious, but, like the case of the elephant in the room, there have been reasons for ignoring the obvious. Looking for deeper causalities behind the long trajectories of history may no longer be the intellectual flavour of the day. After all, this is the era of suspicions about grand narratives. We who got left behind can derive satisfaction from the all-round denunciations of colonialism and imperialism and attribute all that we suffer from to their crimes. We may rejoice that those in the high chairs of western academia are raising an intellectual storm against science and modernity which, supposedly, have been nothing but handmaidens of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. The postcolonial theorist may continue to uncover sinister doings of the long dead colonialism. But someday we will have to ask – what is in it for us on the subcontinent? These critics are definitely making the western societies better, more cultivated, more democratic and more multicultural. But they already had science and modernity; they had already pulled ahead. How should we find our path out of poverty and superstition? What kind of future should we visualize for ourselves?

Explanations about why and how did the West pull ahead fill entire libraries. But, in some ways, the answer is too obvious: West did it with the help of science and modernity. Of course, both were born along with capitalism and colonialism. But one should not throw the baby with the bathwater. It is truly astonishing that there exist high theories declaring that all claims of science about universal truths, objectivity and uniqueness of scientific method are false; that all cultures and communities in all ages had equally valid claims to knowledge and method. In India a simple way has been found to support such theories – all one has to do is to claim that everything that modern science has accomplished, and will ever accomplish, is already there in the Vedas.

In any case, West did not accomplish the miracle of Great Divergence only through capitalism and industrial revolution. Enlightenment and Modernity played an equally important role. I have already referred to the complex interaction between Science and Culture. In 18th century Western Europe this imparted an added acceleration to history. And it took nearly two centuries after the advent of modern science for scientific temper to seep into western culture. Enlightenment was the name given to this process of seeping in.

Enlightenment and Modernity cannot just be imported or imitated. This is because of the fact that science is one but cultures are many. All cultures must find their own ways to imbibe science and animate modernity. Among those who were left behind, there have been a few successful examples of catching up with the West. Soviet Union used to be one such example but it collapsed. Russia, in any case, was too close to the European civilisation to count as a distinctive example. In the East, Japan earlier and China now have been such examples. What has stopped the subcontinent from being another such example?

This too is an enormous subject and an extraordinarily complex one. It is said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. But let me rush in nevertheless. Among many millennial historical processes that have gone into the making a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent, one is special and unique. Elements of it may be found in other lands but on the subcontinent it has played role like no other place on the planet. This, in my opinion, has been the single largest obstacle to scientific temper seeping into our culture. Let me conclude by pointing a finger at it.

I am alluding to the fact that nearly all religions on the subcontinent took, in varying degrees, a mystical-devotional form, comprising of numerous sects led by gurus, pirs, mahatmas and other god-men – all engaged in the task of paving a plebeian road for a direct access to God without the mediation of priests or books or other intermediaries. On the Hindu side it emerged in the South as the Bhakti Movement and spread to the North in the second millennium. On the Muslim side it made its way through Afghanistan to the north-west of India and spread through sufis, dervishes and pirs. The phenomenon also gave rise to a new religion – Sikhism. It is this phenomenon of Bhakti, Sufism, Sikhism and assorted mystical-devotional movements that is at the heart of a distinct civilisation on the subcontinent.

This phenomenon has been judged favourably by nearly everyone. It has won praises from the religious and the non-religious, from traditionalists and modernists, from the right-wing as well as the left-wing. Nearly everyone prefers heterodoxy to orthodoxy. There is no denying that in many ways it has contributed positively to the culture and civilization on the subcontinent. And yet, there is a very large negative fall-out that has been largely ignored.

This phenomenon triggers processes that obstruct the advance of scientific temper and modernity. It encourages blind faith at the cost of a genuine sense of wonder; prevents religiosity from turning genuinely spiritual and becoming philosophical; prevents the philosophical from becoming reasoned; prevents Reason from seeping into Culture. It has been the principal vehicle of unreason, blind faith and superstition in our part of the world. George Orwell once said, “Saints should always be judged guilty until proven innocent”. An ironical meaning has been added to Orwell by today’s India where god-men do not lose followers even after being convicted as rapists and murderers.

Even Nehru fails to grapple with the civilizational consequences of Bhakti Movement. He harbours contradictions. He admires Vivekanand, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Einstein – all at the same time. He was a great man – a visionary, a leader, a thinker, a statesman. Like Whitman he could perhaps say, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. He failed because the weight of the past was too heavy. He could not speak bare truths because he had to carry his people along. That is why, sometimes, you need to listen to small men too. They can speak the bare truth as they are spared the onerous task of carrying Nehru’s burden.

This is where I will stop.

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Dr Ravi Sinha, Theoretical Physicist, Activist, Scholar, associated with Progressive Movements and Writer

[* The Indian Diaspora Washington DC Metro, USA organised an online panel discussion on the theme ‘Absence of Scientific Temper in the Lands of Scientists Raman, Bose, Abdus Salaam on 19 th November 2022.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, Eminent Physicist, Prominent Public Intellectual, Civil Rights Activist, Author, Columnist from Pakistan ; Dr Ravi Sinha, Theoretical Physicist, Activist, Scholar, associated with Progressive Movements and Writer ; Mr Gauhar Raza, Former Chief Scientist, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Civil Rights Activist, Poet, Documentary Filmmaker both from India shared their ideas at the programme which was followed by discussion.

Prof Razi Raziuddin, Scientist, Founder, Indian Diaspora, Washington DC Metro, USA shared welcoming remarks. ]

Letter to Chief Minister of Karnataka: Concerned citizens

Letter to CM of Karnataka by by a group of concerned citizens based in Karnataka

June 24, 2022

To Shri Basavaraj Bommai,  Chief Minister of Karnataka

Sub: Concerns about peace and harmony within Karnataka and the urgent need to restore the state to a “sarva janangada shantiya thota

Respected Chief Minister,

We have been trying to secure an appointment with you through your office for over a month. We wished to present this letter to you in person. Since we have not succeeded in our efforts, we have decided to issue it as an open letter since we believe that it concerns matters of public importance. We consider it our duty as citizens to bring our concerns and suggestions to your attention. We hope you and the government you head will take due note of it.

The letter follows:

We are a group of concerned citizens from different walks of life based in Karnataka who, like lakhs of fellow citizens, are deeply disturbed by recent developments in the state that threaten to destroy the peace, diversity and pluralism for which Kannada Naadu has long been known and admired. We believe it is our duty to bring our concerns and suggestions to your attention for corrective action. Continue reading Letter to Chief Minister of Karnataka: Concerned citizens

CAA and dissent – the mere passing of a law does not imply democratic consensus: Abhik chimni

Guest post by ABHIK CHIMNI

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) is a legislation which along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC)  gives rise to a legal regime which is not consistent with the tenets of the Indian Constitution.

The CCA/NRC violates the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, primarily the equality clause and the principle of secularism embedded within the constitutional framework.

I further argue that Fundamental Rights are in fact dissenting rights.

The Indian Constitution – A story in three parts

The Constitution can be broadly divided into three parts.

The first accounts for protection of individual liberty through the fundamental rights chapter stipulated in Part III of the Constitution.

The second seeks to create independent institutions such as the constitutional courts, the Election Commission, the Comptroller Auditor General and the Governor’s office etc.

Continue reading CAA and dissent – the mere passing of a law does not imply democratic consensus: Abhik chimni

The Indian Constitution too was Demolished Along With Babri Masjid 25 Years Ago

Twenty five years ago, on 6 December 1992, the structure of Babri Masjid was brought down by a mob of vandals, presided over by the top leadership of the BJP/RSS/VHP, as the Congress government led by prime minister Narasimha Rao looked on benignly. As did the Supreme Court before which a commitment was made by the Kalyan Singh (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh – to the effect that nothing would be allowed to happen to the structure of the mosque.

Journalist Sajeda Momin, covering the demolition, recalls the scene thus,

I can still see the thousands of saffron-clad ‘kar sevaks’ clambering atop the 16th century mosque and pounding it with shovels, iron rods, pickaxes and anything they could lay their hands on. I can hear the screeching of Sadhvi Uma Bharti egging them on shouting “ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do” through the microphones from atop the specially-built watchtower for the BJP/RSS/VHP leadership. I can visualize the three domes of the mosque collapsing inwards one by one at intervals of roughly an hour on that cold, wintery Sunday afternoon.

Everyone knew who were the dramatis personae at each level – and practically every bit of evidence that would ever have been required exists, captured in videos and photographs. Our present prime minister was said to be  one of the key organizers of the of the Rath Yatra that led up to the demolition and can be seen holding the microphone in his  hands in the photograph below.

Rath Yatra – precursor to the demolition, image courtesy Quora.com

Worse was to follow the demolition. The  demolition of the structure of the mosque was over that day but the process of the demolition of the Indian Constitution that had begun with what was called the ‘Ram janmabhoomi movement’ continued. By ‘Constitution’ I do not simply mean the book that embodies the law of the land but rather the very weave that came to constitute Indian society as a result of the new contract that the document called the Constitution embodied. Constitution, therefore in a triple sense. The document called the Constitution too was not merely a book of laws; it was rather, the only existing, largely agreed upon, vision of a modern India. It was a vision which was put in place through the long process of struggles, debates and contestations over the long decades of the anticolonial movement and finally given shape in, in the Constituent Assembly. There was nothing benign or innocuous about it – every bit of it had to be achieved through a fight. And yet, in the end, that was the document that embodied the vision of modern India. The only political current that stood far away from both the anticolonial struggle and had no role in the creation of this vision is the political force that rules India today.

The RSS and its numerous offshoots were neither fighting the British nor joining in the anti-caste and anti-untouchability struggles through the period since they came into existence in the mid-1920s. No wonder leaders of the Sangh combine think the anti-colonial/ national struggle was about cow-protection. That they neither subscribed to the anti-British agenda nor to the anti-caste agenda around which struggles of that period took shape, is not just a matter of historical record but is also visible in the way its leaders and ranks conduct their politics today. Every single step taken by the Sangh leaders is a step out of sync with the vision of the future spelt out by the social contract of modern India. That the Sangh attributes this vision to the Congress is an expression of its own illiteracy about the diverse forces in struggle throughout that period.

Even though it is conducted in the name of Hindus, there is nothing ‘Hindu’ about its agenda. Sangh and Sanghism is the name of a malignant political machine that seeks to destroy the very body of society in the name of an ancient past. That is the political machine we confront today. That is the political machine that we must fight today with all our vigour.

Left, Hindutva and Indian nationalism: Pritam Singh

Guest Post by PRITAM SINGH

Triggered by the recent events at JNU, it is inspiring that the Left and genuine liberal voices in India are standing up to the Hindutva fascist onslaught. However, I find it very disappointing that the current Left leadership and some left intellectuals and sympathisers (especially belonging to the CPI and CPM) are succumbing to the pressure of chauvinist Indian nationalism. One would be shirking one’s responsibility if one were not to criticise that misguided and seemingly scared Left for its pitiable practice of for ever chanting mantra of ‘unity and integrity of the country’ in a self-defeating game of competitive Indian nationalism. The Left is beating its breast and going to the town chanting that we are ‘desh bhagats’ in a foolish retaliation against Sanghi’s charges of left being desh dirohi. Tomorrow, the Sanghis will say that you are ‘Ram dirohi’ when you oppose the building of the Ram Mandir. Would you then start saying: we are Ram Bhatkas? Let us not succumb to Sanghi’s brow beating tactics. Let us openly proclaim that India is not one nation but a historically determined territorial space of many nations, nationalities and emerging/potential nations and nationalities. As capitalism expands in India and the regional diversity of India flowers further, new voices of national self-determination would start becoming more articulated.

Continue reading Left, Hindutva and Indian nationalism: Pritam Singh

Ambedkar’s Ideology – Religious Nationalism and Indian Constitution: Ram Puniyani  

Guest Post by RAM PUNYANI

In order to gain larger legitimacy, RSS has been making claims of sorts. One of that which was made few months back was that Gandhi was impressed by functioning of RSS. Now on the heels of that comes another distortion that Ambedkar believed in Sangh ideology (Feb 15, 2015). This was stated recently by RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. There cannot be bigger contrasts between the ideology of Ambedkar and RSS. Ambedkar was for Indian Nationalism, Secularism and social justice while the RSS ideology is based on two major pillars. One is the Brahmanic interpretation of Hinduism and second is the concept of Hindu nationalism, Hindu Rashtra.

Where does Ambedkar stand as for as ideology of Hinduism is concerned? He called Hinduism as Brahminic theology. We also understand that Brahmanism has been the dominant tendency within Hinduism. He realized that this prevalent version of Hinduism is essentially a caste system, which is the biggest tormentor of untouchables-dalits.

Continue reading Ambedkar’s Ideology – Religious Nationalism and Indian Constitution: Ram Puniyani