IIT Kharagpur has published a calendar for the current year on the theme of “Recovery of the foundations of Indian knowledge systems”. Scientists have called it pseudo-science, if not mumbo-jumbo. Scientist and science historian Bikash Sinha dissects this IIT venture with Subhoranjan Dasgupta, professor of human science.
Sinha: Before you, as the interviewer, pose questions for me to answer, I myself shall pose a basic query. The question reads: “Why has IIT Kharagpur been chosen for propaganda (based on) such nonsense with a strong colour of Hindu chauvinism in the name of science?”
I myself shall give the answer, which is that the powers that be are determined to distort the essence of science and its dissemination, for which the IITs were created. I would regard this venture as another example (of a project) whose aim is to distort and disfigure the image of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru under whose patronage the IITs were established.
I am not at all surprised that scientists and technologists throughout the country have condemned this exercise as a puerile example of mythmaking and fake science. Even IIT alumni have expressed this view. The calendar goes back repeatedly to the Rig Veda and in that sense tries to equate it with the Koran or the Bible. This over-dependence on the Vedas, the Rig Veda in particular, reminds us of the sterling disapproval of the illustrious scientist, Meghnad Saha, who angrily retorted, full of irony, that “Bedey sab achhe”, that is, you can find everything in the Vedas.
Dasgupta: What has perplexed me is the near-total absence of the glorious Upanishads. Can we create or highlight an Indian knowledge system by excluding the Upanishads, especially the Isa Upanishad and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad? Why this exclusion?
Sinha: Frankly, the whole approach is motivated. The Upanishads are a powerful amalgamation of holistic science and profound philosophy. These constitute, perhaps, the highest spiritual narrative and enquiry of the world. So, these obviously cannot find a place in the agenda of a narrow view based on just Hindu chauvinism. The logic and fervour of the Upanishads do not serve the purpose of the calendar-makers. The latter got carried away along this narrow path so much that their emotional burden grotesquely underestimated Indians’ intelligence and general perception level.
Our literature, Rabindranath Tagore’s in particular, our enlightened outlook as a product of the Brahmo Samaj, comes out of the essence of the Upanishads, more so the Isa Upanishad. It is both beautiful and deeply moving. Fake science must be frightened by it.
Dasgupta: While exploring this pseudo-science or mumbo-jumbo, filled with terminology like “cosmic symmetry: the septuplet chord”, which particular pages of the calendar struck you as starkly deceiving examples of pseudo-science?
Sinha: (The pages for) February, March, April and August deserve special mention. Here in Bengal, there is a distinct Bengali calendar that was used abundantly until recently and is very different from the calendar of the West. So, I don’t see the point in using the high-sounding concept of “cosmic symmetry” or, for that matter, the “septuplet chord” in a simple object like a calendar, and that too only in (relation to) specific months.
I suspect that the entire scheme is designed to confuse even the already enlightened and mature Indian people. I’m afraid that this exercise has no chance in hell or heaven. The Indian people have a fairly robust basic intelligence that has matured over long years.
Dasgupta: The calendar recognises that there is a close connection between Sanskrit and languages of the West, for example, Italian and German. This broad recognition should reject the accusation that the West captured and subjugated the East or the East captured and subjugated the West at the level of epistemology.
Sinha: You are absolutely right. What took place was a well-coordinated confluence of language systems, known as the famous Indo-European school of languages. One is, of course, reminded of the great confluence that inspired Tagore to write the immortal lines “Dibe ar nibe, milabe milibe jabe na phire/ Ei Bharater mahamanaber sagar tire”.
This mutual enrichment of the language systems proves beyond doubt that imperialistic cultural domination was not the only process and method. What mattered was the spirit of confluence. Take the example of the Asiatic Society and William Jones.
The primary aim of this entire, questionable (calendar) exercise is to grant legitimacy to the Hindutva agenda which depends on “the recognition of the secret of the Vedas”, “reinterpretation of the Indus Valley civilisation” and “rebuttal of the Aryan invasion myth”.
In this context, one must not overlook the fact that when Indian civilisation was at its peak at the time of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, the West was submerged in the darkness of ignorance, superstition and crippling prejudices. This cyclic process will go on. I can see the West is already waning and the East is rising from the deep slumber of centuries. Tonnes have been written on the “reinterpretation of the Indus Valley civilisation” and “rebuttal of the Aryan invasion myth”, so I will not repeat it.
But what is the so-secretive element of the Vedas? After Max Mueller’s phenomenal contribution there remains nothing secretive about it. One only needs to learn Vedic Sanskrit to explore its content.
Dasgupta: There are some stylistic and theoretical inaccuracies as well….
Sinha: Two gross mistakes scar the book (calendar) — one in the sphere of language and the other in the sphere of content. I think such mistakes should be avoided in a text apparently devoted to a knowledge system.
The language mistake is the use of the word “evidences”. “Evidence” is an abstract noun, so “evidences” is a wrong expression. "Evidences" is sometime used in academic research papers, but what we have here is not purely academic but pseudo-academic propagation. As far as content goes, Hitler’s totalitarianism did not encompass or include the supportive role and contribution of the Anglo-Saxon world (as the calendar seems to suggest). Rather, the Anglo-Saxon functioned in sharp opposition to the Nazi Aryan worldview.
Before concluding, I shall draw your attention to my last statement, which brings me back to my first question. IIT Kharagpur was chosen to give a thoroughly questionable ballast of science and technology to this futile exercise. That is, support myths with the supposed emblem of science. There is no doubt that such methods do not add in any way to the programme and reputation of the IITs.