India has had its share of man-made calamities since we won Independence. The Partition, the Chinese invasion, the repeated terrorist attacks on Mumbai and Delhi, to mention only a few. But none of these posed the danger that we face now. It is from the enemy within, that too from a force that claims to be super-patriotic.
I am referring to the 85-year-old Dina Nath Batra, the former principal of a school and the founder of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti who sees himself as the saviour of Hinduism and Hindu culture. This zealous warrior has many victories to his name. He got Penguin to pulp Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History and got Aleph to drop her volume, On Hinduism. His threats made Orient Black Swan undertake ‘a comprehensive assessment’ of Megha Kumar’s book, Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 (actually it was a reassessment after the book was out.)
Now he has won his greatest victory so far. The Gujarat School Textbook Board has approved nine of Batra’s books for schoolchildren. We have now decided to wilfully enter the dark ages. Indeed we seem to have declared a black-out on light itself, on the incandescence of verifiable knowledge, history, geography and science, scientific speculation and technology.
Our great saints like Kabir, Lalla, Basawanna, Dnyneshwar and so many others from as early as Vedic times have warned us against ignorance and superstition as the deadliest enemies of mankind. What we have today are false messiahs who in the name of venerating our ancient texts, do grave injustice to our past; to its exuberant openness and to the extraordinary powers of observation, analysis and insights that flowered in the great philosophical texts and commentaries like the Upanishads, the Panini grammar, the Kamasutra, the medical texts, the wonderful Sanskrit imagination and literary works. But how can we air-brush the fact that we also have a parallel history of discrimination, black magic, bigots, babas, gurus and charlatans, and that we invented the caste system, which still continues to be the bane of our country.
Batra’s take on Indian science, history and culture are familiar: The proof that the very first aeroplane was flown in India is in the epic, Ramayana where Ram’s plane was called Pushpakviman; western science appropriated the technological scientific discoveries and inventions made by Indian ascetics thousands of years ago; the epic Mahabharata was the first to understand stem cell research; taking care of cows eliminates infertility; the map of Bharat should be redrawn to include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Tibet, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, among other assertions.
Fortunately many Indian historians, thinkers and scientists have condemned this hokum. But one of the most troubling facts about this is that not only are all the books lauded by the then Gujarat chief minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but there is a deliberate silence on the part of BJP elders like LK Advani and Jaswant Singh, and new converts like MJ Akbar. What has happened to Arun Shourie who was so brave and articulate in the Emergency days?
That is indeed a matter of grave concern. There are already signs of various forms of censorship at work. Exclusion is nothing but an extension of censorship and conversely appointing someone only because she or he belongs to your party is little less than nepotism. Not even two months in power and we find the Centre turning down the collegium’s nomination of a highly respected lawyer like Gopal Subramanian as a Supreme Court judge. What the current government wants, it appears, is an echo chamber in both Parliament and the judiciary.
If there is one thing that still holds true in India including Gujarat, it is our belief in education as a universal good and of course the route to a good job as well as an improver of the quality of life. Sadly, the Batra doctrine subverts the Modi government’s own mantra of ‘development’. The first prerequisite of any kind of education, whether it’s economics, IT, history or science and technology, is truth and integrity. The problems facing the country are humungous. Four examples will suffice: Malnutrition among the children of the poor that the UN says amounts to genocide; TB is at its peak; we also want to create lakhs of jobs; we need a new and even more productive green revolution if we are to feed one and a quarter billion people.
You can’t breed the best scientists or economists if they are brought up on a diet of lies and falsehoods, and expect them to contribute innovative solutions. How does false history affect science? If you don’t know the history of science and the preceding work on a subject, you will not know where to start. But there is an even more urgent matter. This government’s idea of development has two premises. Their role model is the unfettered free market economy and any form of dissent, like Greenpeace or the anti-nuclear movement, has to be scotched. George W Bush would be happy to learn that we too follow in his steps: ‘Either you are with us or you are against us’. Secondly, right now we are hell-bent on ignoring the gravest problem facing the entire human race: Climate change, but our only hope is to wake up to it at the earliest and act on it forcefully.
India needs not mere innovation but truly inventive solutions like far more efficient and economical ways of creating and utilising alternative energy sources. Rigour is of primary importance. Fraudulent solutions like carbon trading and mouthing platitudes, and following the Batra model will only make sure that huge chunks of the subcontinent will go under water and others will suffer from appalling droughts. No point depending on the developed countries.
Are we up to it? Not, if we rear generations on the Batra hokum.
Kiran Nagarkar is the author of Ravan and Eddie and Cuckold
The views expressed by the author are personal