Get that temper!

Get that temper!

In the 60s and 70s there was a strong rationalist movement led by people like Dr Abraham Kovoor and civil society groups. Today, of course, there are...

In the 60s and 70s there was a strong rationalist movement led by people like Dr Abraham Kovoor and civil society groups. Today, of course, there are still some groups like Jana Vignana Vedika which are fighting hard to question obscurantism. Dr Abdul Kalam used the phrase 'scientific temper' while speaking at an event in Hyderabad this week. It is quite sometime since anyone used the phrase and high time. Many children who are born and brought up after the 90s may not even know what it is. Living in the high-tech driven new millennium it is strange that we are surrounded by so much science in our daily lives and are also drowned in unprecedented levels of obscurantism. It is all over, affecting us in myriad ways. The primary vehicle for it is undoubtedly media. The flaunting religiosity as by definition 'goodness' began with celebrities visiting temples and getting publicity on ever-hungry media. Amitabh Bachchan and family being one prominent name that comes to mind. Paradoxically, the coverage of the family increased hugely around the time of his son's marriage to Aishwarya Rai. After the popular film Lage Raho Munna Bhai thoroughly debunked the superstitions of the better off middleclass families in India about horoscopes, numerology and lucky stars, the Bachchan family was widely reported to have gone through remedial rituals to deal with the bride's 'manglik' status. Ironically, it was the son who acted in the role of defying the superstition in the film. If it was only a rumour, then it was the duty of the superstar's family to correct the perception in the larger public interest. There are also routine reports in media of industrialists like the Ambanis and Mallyas visiting the Tirupati temple. The crowning glory of this capitalist enthusiasm for the gods was the visit of Mr Gali Janardan Reddy and his mutli-crore gift of diamond studded crown for the god. This, however, did not seem to have shielded him from the vagaries of the law of the land. Today, most aspirant and current politicians have begun sporting the tilak. Telling us that they have prayed before leaving home? And that licenses them to break laws of the land as god's on their side?
While the celebrity insecurity and the insecurity of big money can well be understood, the most baffling is the insecurity of the scientist. Each time a rocket is launched, the boss of the space project is seen on news pages dutifully visiting the Tirupati temple. Sometimes gifting innovative things like mini-rockets to the god. One does not know if the sarkari scientists will lose their jobs if the mission fails for some reason. The risk of failure is well understood in the industry. Is it not? And one wonders if the Russian or NASA scientists visit the church/mosque/synagogue/whatever, before a launch. The favourite pursuit of our highly trained professionals is also to convert myths into history and spread a peculiar strain of chauvinism in an already superstitious nation. There are doctors, engineers and other professionals (some are NRIs) who are part of various religious outfits. They circulate jingoistic information about Indian achievements from pre-historic times via emails and Facebook accounts. Some of them believe in eugenics, a la Hitler. Some do not recognize lower caste groups as human beings. As a part of this God-given duty to rescue India from evil forces of secular/liberal thought (including the Constitution, perhaps), some are actively adopting village temples and schools in remote areas to 'educate' them about our heritage. Since they bring generous quantities of money along, can the average politician be far behind? Some of the mainstream channels and newspapers are also giving more time and space to superstitious content uncritically. While some of it is incorporated into programmes in the name of religion and cultural practice, much of it comes as advertising. Advertising of rudrakshas, coloured semi-precious stones and making them out to be solutions to health and social problems, is not just irrational but also illegal as per the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act. If the son is not getting admission into a top college, will more hours of work help or will a topaz in a copper ring on the middle finger help? By making religion and culture as marketable commodities, we now have akshayatritiya and karwachaut in south India. We see middleclass marriages in the south also incorporating mehendi and sangeet. All these cultural practices also have backward linkages to the market, which compel us into conspicuous consumption. Have no money? Use the credit card. Take a bank loan. Buy now, pay later. During the monopoly days of Doordarshan, there would be severe criticism if religious events were covered extensively on it. Today, religious rituals are not only covered, there are niche channels catering to various faiths. What happens on these channels is sometimes bordering on the bizarre. We have all been regaled for a few days by the magical capacity of a preacher to invoke rain and to arrest it at will.Miracle cures, rituals, direct dialogue with god and what have you, are all being peddled. When we can do all these through "hustler's prayers", why is the department of science and technology the most highly funded branch of the government? Not all preachers are comical creatures though. There are some very articulate and impressive personalities who grace the channels. On one of the devotional channels, a very articulate pandit was holding forth on "Sundarakanda". He suddenly veered into the women's issue, saying that the central idea of it is that women have no prescribed worship or prescribed practices that define their life. Women's only identity lies in whether or not they have experienced man (!).At a time when the country is traumatised by precisely this attitude of men towards women, the same ideological hegemony is being spread through such channels. If we pause to think about this, are we saying that women have only one role in society thus defined? What are all these ladies doing, driving scooties, going to college, dropping children at school, catching buses or driving to work as scientists and teachers, working in banks, air force, hospitals? According to our pandit, what have the favourite puranas got to tell men about this 21st century woman? His last word�? In the 60s and 70s there was a strong rationalist movement led by people like Dr Abraham Kovoor and civil society groups. Today, of course, there are still some groups like Jana Vignana Vedika which are fighting hard to question obscurantism. If media at least refrain from creating role models out of retrogressive people, it will help. Finally, are we realistic in expecting a genuine social transformation that respects human values if we do not address the role of religious bodies? With incalculable resources got through small contributions from a large number of the poor faithful, they have a nexus with big business and politics.Informally, if their word is law, will they not be the biggest hurdlesin bringing abouta scientific outlook in society?
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