For someone who has a degree in physics, or any degree at all, Mr Sanjay Paswan, the Union minister of state for human resources development, is incredibly uneducated. His answer to those who criticized him for entertaining a motley assortment of 51 witch doctors, occultists, sorcerers and faith-healers was that he is stainless, since the World Health Organization acknowledges faith-healing as a valid method of healing. The eminent gentleman went as far as to walk on burning embers and brandish swords in order to impress on his guests — probably in the hope of an admiring populace — that his heart was in the right place.
The uneducated are truly dangerous when they have the illusion of power. Mr Paswan is planning to introduce witchcraft as a course in the school syllabus. This could have been dismissed as the frothing of a lunatic if Mr Paswan had not cited the need for children to learn about the traditional ways of healing in their country. The ministry under him spends a hefty amount in its science and technology department in order to battle superstition. Mr Paswan is very much on track, making explicit the unique duality in the educational and cultural plans of his political masters. Learn the computer and revere the snake — that is the perfect Indian model. Doubtless Mr Paswan has gone rather over the top, with or without the high command’s approval. Witchcraft courses still seem a little remote, as do his proposed centres for the research on and preservation of witchcraft and faith-healing. The frightening thing — more frightening than the snakes, swords and fires — is that such things are now actually being said by a minister who looks after education in the country, and who is flaunting his closeness to quacks who threaten and exploit the poor and ignorant. Superstition destroys minds and lives in India on a scale unmatched by any country that aspires to development. It is an evil that has to be fought at every level, a mental fetter of which children can be freed only by healthy education. If Mr Paswan’s mind, exhausted by the struggle with physics, can no longer take in general ideas, perhaps he could remember the very concrete fact of the number of women who are regularly hounded out and killed as witches. But then, blind folly in its proactive state cannot be expected to pay attention to inconvenient detail.