“Producing Priests”

Volume 26 – Issue 14 :: Jul. 04-17, 2009 issue of Frontline published a special feature on the University system–exposing the sham of de novo “deemed” universities–in India. Among other articles, Meera Nanda‘s “Producing Priests” stands out, as it touches the subject that most Indians are afraid of discussing critically in public media. Meera begins eloquently–rightly so–and I quote,

What is good for the market is proving to be good for the gods in India. The more material acquisitions the middle classes make, the more pujas and homas they feel compelled to perform. Every vahan (vehicle) must have its puja, as must every tiny plot of bhoomi (land) before anything can be built upon it. Every puja, in turn, must have an astrologer or two and a vastu shastri, too. And then, every astrologer and vastu shastri worth his/her name must know how to work a computer, speak in English, and be “scientific” about it all.

Watching India’s thriving god market, one cannot help asking a simple question: where are all these seemingly modern pujaris, astrologers, vastu shastris and other retailers of rituals coming from? How does the supply of ritualists keep pace with the bottomless demand 21st century-Hindus have for religious rituals of all kinds?

That was pretty much what ignited my interest in her forthcoming book, “The God Market: How Globalization is Making India More Hindu”, and I, now, am eagerly waiting for the book to land in my hands. A little search led me to the full Introduction of the book (by Meera herself).

The same issue (of Frontline) also published a boxed feature by A. G. Noorani that busts the il-famous cleverly made-up quote (by Dr. M. M. Joshi). In his party’s manifesto for the past elections, Dr. Joshi quotes from a “speech” delivered by Macaulay “in the British Parliament” on February 2, 1835,

I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation. —Lord Macaulay, on Feb .2 1835 in English parliament (according to Dr. Joshi).

Historical evidences say this:

Macaulay came to India in June 1834 and became Law Member in the Governor-General’s Executive Council. He returned to England early in 1838.

Funny, no?! 🙂

Atheist Quote of the Day

Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim…

“Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately.” — Scott Adams. Quoted from “Atheists: The New Gays

Scott Adams with his charater Dilbert

Atheist Quote of the Day

“I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.” —Katharine Hepburn in Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1991

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn

Whose lost boys?

Mohammed Hanif, the head of BBC Urdu service and the author of “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” explores the internal crisis in India and Pakistan as an afterthought to recent terror strikes in Mumbai. [cf. The Lost Boys, Tehelka]

He takes on Indian and Pakistani establishments and media agencies asking them not to point to the other country every time there is a terror strike in any one of those, saying (I quote):

This week might have been an opportunity for Pakistan to acknowledge its own internal crisis, to start looking for the lost boys who are destined for very short-lived violent careers on our small screen. For India there was a real opportunity to stop hankering for American-sized victim status and start counting its own lost boys. Instead, it has turned out to be a case of the blind accusing the blinkered and then both walking hand in hand into the smog created by the airwaves pollution.

Among all things said, he touches briefly on what the Pakistan media says about the religion of the strikers (terrorists):

That Kasav boy? That’s not even a Pakistani name. Maybe it’s Kasav? But, hang on, show a close up of his wrist in that picture. He is wearing what those Hindus wear for raakhi bandhan. A boy from Lashkar would never wear that thread. Come to think of it, he would never even dress like that.

Herein lies the entire problem: media, from both sides, claims essentially this: all terrorists from India are Hindus and all of them from Pakistan are Muslims. Now that we know that some Mr. Kasav from Pakistan was one of the criminals (international intelligence agencies, from MI5 to Mossad, agree on his Pakistan links and LeT training), Pakistan media tries to find loopholes in the ‘theory’ based on what Kasav looks like, wears and acts. Since he wore a thread on his wrist, he’s not a Muslim and so he is not a Pakistani. What kind of logic is that? For once, let me concur just for the sake of argument that he’s not a Muslim. Does that mean he is not from Pakistan? Aren’t there Hindus in Pakistan? Aren’t there Muslims in India?

Once again, it is clear that religion is blinding everyone, from governments to media, just like it blinds the terrorists.

The need of hour is not just counting the lost boys and knowing what religion they belong to. It is rather knowing what makes them choose the path. Economics is closer to the center of the problem than Religion. Work on your economy and education more than you work on religions. Why did Kasav and the likes agreed to carry out the attack? Because he was a Muslim and he saw atrocities on other Muslims? Maybe. One can’t be certain on that. But, what one can be certain on is that he quit school after 4th standard and hardly ate all the meals of the day. Yes, there are some who have had best of the education and were born with silver spoons in their mouths, e.g., Bin Laden et al. They are psychopaths. Religion can affect only a fool and it is these people from whom Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Religious sentiments take over ones thought process when there is not much to do: the poor and uneducated or riches. Hardly anywhere in the entire world history have the working middle class is seen getting involved in such bigotry. So get you people educated, get them jobs and you’d have solved the problem to a large extent. Then the bigots like Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Masood Azhar won’t get those easy recruits.

Kickass news of the day: ‘Sanjivani Booti’ found in Uttarakhand

How gullible can Indian press and population be? Here is an example quoted from a vernacular daily, ‘The Hindu’:

‘Sanjivani Booti’ found in Uttarakhand: Ramdev’s trust

Dehra Dun (PTI): Baba Ramdev’s yog trust has claimed to find “Sanjivani Booti” from Drongiri Parvat in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

Describing it as a big achievement, Baba Ramdev thanked the team members led by Acharya Balkrishan, who found the herb following a trek to the hill.

Acharya Balkrishan said Sanjivani Booti has properties of four different herbs like Mrita Sanjivani, Vishalaya Karni, Sawarn Karni and Sandhani.

Prof Hariram Pandey, an ayurveda expert and Kaushal Kumar had accompanied the team which trekked to Dronagiri early this month. The team returned to Haridwar yesterday.

Sanjivani Booti gets mention in the holy Ramayana when Lakshaman was injured during the fight with Meghnaad. To revive him, who fell unconscious, Hanuman flew to Drona Parvat and brought the Sanjivani.

Reading this news item, one of my friend asks if this country can get any  stupider? Little does she know that it is not stupidity. I, myself, found “Amrit” while I was trekking, but chose not to bring it back with me, for I think it is more interesting to live and then die than to live forever.

Anyhow, Ramdev is the man! I believe it is mentioned in Ramayana, with Pictures and taxonomic rank classification of all the herbs they used, so Ramdev‘s men could precisely identify Sajeevani Booti.

Put the past behind, and let me be savor this moment of joy as a result of the discovery of 21st century. Finally, we have found the cure to everything! Rest of the world can go ahead and develop its biological/nuclear warfare and go to hell.

Vanaras in Ramayana

A very good friend of mine asked if it could be possible to find some reality in Ramayana by explaining the existence of Vanaras as neanderthals? I have the following response.

Paleolithic period, or Old Stone Age, is the earliest period of human development and the longest phase of mankind’s history. It is approximately coextensive with the Pleistocene geologic epoch, beginning about 2 million years ago and ending in various places between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, when it was succeeded by the Mesolithic period. Human evolution studies have established that the Neanderthal (Homo Neanderthalensis) or Neandertal was a species of the Homo Genus that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia starting about 230,000 ago, during the middle Paleolithic period. Modern humans (Homo Sapiens Sapiens (HSS)) came into existence only after that. Further, any of the species among Homo Genus arrived in the Indian subcontinent not before 100,000 years ago. Clearly, the age of Treta Yuga (1.7 million years ago), when Rama is supposed to have reigned, belongs to mythology and so would be the other characters and events in the Ramayana. But then, refuting Ramayana raises some doubts, viz,

  1. Rama was not a HSS. Why then, in Ramayana, is he any different than Vanaras then or even Dasharatha who was not an Avatara? I had to bring Dasharatha, for some theist could claim that Rama was an Avatara and ‘Gods’ can appear in any Avatara they wish to. Even the thought of Rama being an Ape sends chills down the spines of ‘the believers’, does it not? 😉
  2. Valmiki fucked up the chronology very badly! Why should one believe his to be history, and not a story, then?
  3. Let us, for the sake of argument, we believe 2 is true, i.e., Valmiki fucked up with the dates. Which concludes that Rama and Vanaras coincided in their existence and Rama was a modern human. Well then, there is the following big problem! Even the concept of society (a civilization) came just a few thousand years ago, much later than the evolution of HSS and after the neanderthals ceased to exist, let alone the concept of a kingdom which is known to come even later.

Moreover, there are several incidents in Ramayana that do not stand scientific inquiry, e.g., two independent scientific agencies, namely the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Space Applications Centre (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and individual geologists have conducted detailed studies on the geological formations associated with Ram Sethu (or Adam’s bridge) and all have established conclusively that Ram Sethu is not a man-made (or a monkey-made) structure.

Of course, one can easily conclude that evolutionary theory is wrong, claiming that Ramayana is correct. But let me ask: On what grounds can one prove it to be wrong? A hyperbole (although a masterpiece of Indian literature) like Ramayana? Yes? Then let me ask, “On what basis is Ramayana correct?” Is it not often the case that a story turns into a hyperbole if it is told over and over, from one generation to the next? It does! You can perform an experiment in this regard: Line up of 10 of your friends. Tell the one standing at one end the following statement, “AG is a skeptic. He doesn’t believe in sacred texts,” and ask him to tell it privately in his/her ear to the person next, and so on. The last person to listen to the statement would tell you something entirely uncorrelated, so much that the meaning, words and even the context would be entirely different! And we are talking of Treta Yuga when there was no concept of ‘written manuscripts’ (Scientifically, the art and science of writing was discovered in ancient civilizations that are no more than ten thousand years old).

I agree that the Geological and Palaeolithic studies may have many flaws, and I, myself, do not completely agree with their conclusions. But they are the ones that one can believe to any extent, until something that explains everything and does not have flaws comes along. Those studies, at least, stand the reason to some extent, quite considerable for that matter, rather than something that doesn’t stand reason at all, e.g., Ramayana!

The only problem I have with Ramayana is that people take it on the face value of what it says. They never try to learn what, as a story of morals (although, I doubt even that), it teaches.

Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists in India

The Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists Project –by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College, Hartford Connecticut— is aimed at conducting a series of surveys in countries with differing cultures, in order to learn who today’s scientists are and to compare their thinking about a range of contemporary social, economic, cultural, moral and ethical issues. Under this project, first survey was conducted among Indian scientists. According to the project website, India was the first country chosen mainly because of its growing global importance in science and technology and in the education of scientific, medical and technology professionals. Among the 7,500 contacted science and technology majors, about 1,100 (~15%) from 119 institutions responded. Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur had the largest number (58) of participants.

The survey resulted in some very interesting trends. For example, a majority thinks that they studied sciences for personal interest and curiosity, something which, for some socioeconomic reasons in India, is hard to fathom. A majority thinks that India today does not fulfill its constitutional duty (viz, “to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”). I belong to that majority. A majority had faith in current economic policy in India, that of a mixed economy. Majority also believed that there are less women in science due to the cultural influence. I would like to see the response from US or European scientists to the question whether they endorse Evolutionary theory or not, for I think, in India, 88% concurring with the theory is too less for scientists. The most surprising response (to me) was to the question whether there is any efficacy in alternative curative and diagnostic techniques! I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to see that half the scientists in India believe that Homeopathy is effective, and close to half believe that prayer is effective! Moreover, 44% approve astrology. There was a very interesting question in the survey, viz, “In 2005, space scientists went to Tirupati to seek the blessing of (some) lord before a launch. Do you approve the decision?” The response was shocking! 41% approved that action!

Needless to say, majority among the respondents (66%) said they were Hindus. Only 10% were in Atheists/Agnostics/No Religion category. 26% believed strongly in God and its existence. 28% believed that God does miracles. Majority of scientists were spiritual.

Most of the respondents were practising scientists. I’d also like to see such a survey conducted among students, not just in sciences, in India.