On 20th January 2018, Satyapal Singh, Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, and former Commissioner of Police in Mumbai, declared that “Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong. It has already been rejected by scientists some 30-35 years back. It is wrong to say that humans evolved from monkeys and such references should be removed from the science and history school textbooks. Our ancestors never saw a monkey turn into a man.” If it wasn’t bad enough that an Education Minister should spout such nonsense, RSS and BJP ideologue Ram Madhav tweeted in his support, citing a piece of ‘creationist’ propaganda against evolution from the Christian fundamentalist Right in the US.
It’s ironic that the BJP and RSS, who accuse most Indian intellectuals of being ‘westernised’ and cut off from the ‘genius of India’, are so enamoured of Christian fundamentalist propaganda. ‘Intelligent Design’ or Creationism – that is, a rejection of Darwin’s theory of evolution of species and an assertion that God, as claimed in the Christian and Islamic doctrine, created the world – commands a fair bit of support amoung Christian fundamentalists in the US; and in Turkey, the Islamic fundamentalist Government of Erdogan has in fact banned the teaching of evolution in schools, claiming it is “debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.” BJP and RSS who make tall claims of boosting ‘science’ and ‘technology’, actually do the greatest damage to scientific education in India by propagating fundamentalist nonsense. It is notable that while BJP and RSS are willing to kill Christians and Muslims in the name of turning India into a ‘Hindu Nation’, it is happy enough to borrow a leaf from the books of Christian and Islamic fundamentalist politics.
And rejection of Darwin is only one of the bizarre things the BJP is trying to do to scienctific education in India. Satyapal Singh also asked why IIT students are taught that about the Wright Brothers, instead of about the Pushpak Viman from the Ramayana. At the 72nd Foundation Day celebrations of the University of Rajasthan, Rajasthan’s education minister Vasudev Devnani declared that the law of gravity was discovered by Brahmagupta a thousand years before Isaac Newton! Devnani had also claimed that cows exhale oxygen.
The Prime Minister Modi himself has also voiced such Sanghi ‘wisdom’, telling a gathering of doctors, “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. The Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. …We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”
Some 3000 scientists have written to Satyapal Singh, pointing out that “It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community. On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights…You have also supposedly claimed that Vedas contain answers to all questions. Such an exaggerated claim cannot be substantiated with the evidence available and is an insult to the genuine research work on history of Indian scientific traditions. Vedic traditions through the Mimamsa discipline, teach us ways of analysing Vedas through rationality and logical reasoning. Your claims are at odds with the very traditions you claim to uphold….When a minister working for Human Resource Development in the country makes such claims, it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality through critical education and modern scientific research…Therefore, we urge you to retract the reported speech at the All India Vedic Sammelan with immediate effect and issue a clarification about the Ministry’s policy towards teaching the theory of evolution.”