Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why the scarlet letter is important.

Most of you may not have noticed the scarlet A I added to my site recently. Here is why I think it's relevant to India where while religiosity is rife there is no direct equivalent to the creationist movement in the Indian scenario. Creationism or not, religious scientific obscurantism is no stranger to our shores. And hopefully movements like these are beginnings of everyone, everywhere shedding their belief baggage.

The Indian religious right, the Sangh Parivar, is a protean, cynical and opportunistic beast and it as often attempts to envelop science as to reject it. The success of science is evident and invoking it is a way of garnering unearned legitimacy. Witness the absurd attempt to incorporate Astrology into our universities as a science.

Off course, science being, as it is in Flaubert's words "affranchissant esprit et pesant les mondes, sans haine, sans peur, sans pitie, sans amour et sans Dieu" occasionally doesn't quite fit the Hindu right wing agenda and it doesn't in the current Sethusamudaram fiasco. Or, off course, conveniently fits its desire to provoke people at a time when things at the center are teetering anyway, depending on how you see it. Incidentally this is the Sethusamudaram corporations website which suggests that the entire exercise was revived in 2001 after a long dormancy by the BJP led NDA alliance, I quote

"After several studies, the government took a concrete step towards the execution of the project when Rs. 4.8 crore was allocated for a feasibility study of the Sethusamudram Ship channel Protect in the 2000-01 Union Budget"

I don't know if the Sethusamudaram project itself is a great idea, there has been considerable opposition to it on environmental and economical grounds. It's these ground's that we need to debate these issues on. Sentiments and feeling as we have seen are notoriously changeable and should have no place in public discourse.

I do wish, like Krish, that we had public intellectuals willing to take a stand on the issue. But as we've seen before that can be a dangerous thing and freedom of speech in India is like our peace, contingent. What might be better still would be that people gradually gave up these beliefs or at least learned to treat them as just that, beliefs. False stories we concocted, to protect ourselves from the demons without. Stories we embellished to entertain and enrich our imaginations. So much easier if you don't believe to begin with.

Update: I think the wish about having academics/intellectuals chime in has been at least partially fulfilled. Now to get the MSM to treat them seriously and the 'aam junta' to actually listen!

Two great posts from Suvrat Kher on the science that shows the Ram Sethu is a natural formation: Ram Sethu : A Dummies Guide & Adam's Bridge. These posts lead to Sujai's blog and a few basics there: ABC of Ram Sethu and a lament on the silence of the lambs.

Links from Abi on DesiPundit


Atticus Finch said...

Unfortunately, environmental grounds don't swing votebanks in our beloved country... Throw Ram in, burn a bus and now we are talking :(

This is what I had to say in my Orkut profile:
"Yes!! Lord Ram did build Adam's Bridge... Coz Valmiki said so... That makes me either a demon or a monkey! I'd go with monkey coz the monkeys won!!"

Natasha Mhatre said...

Hey Atticus, hence the words cynical and opportunist to describe the what Abi calls the HRF. But it is about time that we begin to force the debate into other terms, in whatever way we can, whether its over blogs, coffee, Orkut, whatever. I guess it can only be useful

Well anyway, technically, we are monkeys, apes, to be exact, but primates. So nothing wrong there :)

Btw, I like the book you chose your name from, was sometimes called Scout...and used a misspelled Boo Ridley for my Yahoo! account name. Nice coincidence.

batt said...

well, astrology might actually be a science, albeit a statistical one having adhoc correlations between the zodiacal configurations and mental states!...

Natasha Mhatre said...

No, that would be a science that is a study of astrology.

Astrology doesn't make statistical claims. It makes actual causal claims. It makes the claim that planetary alignments actually affect our lives. With no empirical support, or attempt to provide it!