Hosur Narsimhaiah : Crusader against superstitions

Hosur Narsimhaiah : Crusader against superstitions

J Hanumanth Sastri Hosur Narasimhaih was born in a poor family on June 6, 1920, at a small village Hosur near Garibudanur in Kolar district of...

J Hanumanth Sastri Hosur Narasimhaih was born in a poor family on June 6, 1920, at a small village Hosur near Garibudanur in Kolar district of Karnataka. His father, Hanumanthappa, taught in a private school, and mother Venkatamma was a daily wage earner. Yet, Narasimhiah's achievements were remarkable. He was a brilliant student. His teachers Annadata MN Narayana Rao and Thyagisananda Swamy recognized his merit and encouraged him. Narasimhaih joined the National High School, Basavanagudi, Bangalore, for B Sc (Hons). And M Sc in physics and passed the examinations in first class. In 1946 he joined the National College, Bangalore, as a Lecturer in Physics and served until 1957.

Then he proceeded to Columbus College. Ohio University in the USA and did Ph D in nuclear physics for three years and got doctorate in 1960. During 1961-72, he served as Principal of National College, Basavanagudi, Bangalore. In 1962 he founded the Bangalore Science Forum, which has since conducted public lectures on science topics every week and helped nourish scientific temper in people. During 1967-1968, as a visiting professor he taught at the Illinois University in the USA. He served as Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University from 1973-1977. He served as a member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly for a term. Popularly known as HN, he was simple, always wore khadi and lived in a small room in the National College Hostel, Basavanagudi.

According to HN, education should aim at personality development. Scientific temper, humanist outlook, real issues of life should form the cardinal principles of education. We need efficient and expert teachers at the primary, secondary and college levels. We need to give due importance to professional training. Institutes of higher learning should not become ivory towers. Extracurricular activities should become part of the education system.

With this vision, HN, as Vice-Chancellor, started diploma courses in drama, music and dance, physical education and psychology, and encouraged publication of science books, and set up "Bangalore Science Forum" in 1962. He arranged lectures by eminent scientists at 1,200 places. He got screened more than 400 science-oriented films. He encouraged sports and games, and got established Bangalore Lalita Kala Parishad, created facilities for training in various arts, and conducted job mela.

HN gave his all to the National Educational Society, got four colleges, five high schools and two primary schools started. He argued: "Today students study theory of evolution in the class, but do things diametrically opposite at home. They quarrel about the supremacy of their gods. Students need a correct direction. While I was in America working for my Ph D, the encouragement I received filled me with wonder. The discipline and dedication of Americans were admirable and kindled new thoughts in me. Many teachers in our country neglect their allotted duty and offer tuitions at home. In such a situation a change for the better is doubtful." HN felt that a university should have serenity away from the bustle of the city. So he got the university campus shifted from the central college campus in the heart of the city to Jnanabharathi outside the city. There was uproar from students and teachers that the new campus was away from hotels, homes and cinema halls. H N persuaded students to adjust themselves to the near surroundings.

Anybody, anytime, could call on HN at his office. There was little furniture. On the wall behind his chair, there hung Einstein's photo. There was a big question mark on the wall, signifying the spirit of enquiry. HN explained the question mark thus: "A few thousand years ago the Buddha had expounded 'Do not believe anything without questioning. My motto also is "Do not accept anything without questioning'". His office was adorned with a quotation from Einstein: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." HN did not accept anything unless it appealed to his logic. He said: "In my village some people once in a while used to keep at a path-junction a lime and a small pot to ward off the evil eye. It was believed that one would come under the evil spell if one trod on them or crossed them. As a boy I trod on them with no harm". Again, "when my father passed away, relatives forced me to get myself tonsured. I questioned what the link between my tonsure and my father's death was. However, to please them I agreed to get myself tonsured. Against this background, Einstein is a great saint."

HN was a tireless crusader against superstitions. He was a rationalist, who exposed god men who cheated people with so-called miracles, magic spells, etc. As a student of science, he felt it was his duty to question. His fight against miracle men was intellectual and rational, not personal. He questioned miracle men whether it was really possible to have things materialize from vacuum. If they really had the power, why had they not got things he wanted to materialize? He questioned why they had been able to have only such things materialize as could be concealed with the hand; why they could not bring forth a huge cucumber. "We had not seen miracle man like Satya Sai Baba, Siva Bala Yogi cause rains in drought-stricken areas, ward off disaster, sow seeds, grow crops and distribute the harvested grain to the poor." He wondered whether it was wrong to seek answers to such questions. The Constitution had aimed at developing scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform; directed universities to investigate unscientific practices, expose fraud and educate people.

HN began exposure of fraud when Uma Shankar Dikshit was Chancellor of Bangalore University. He had the backing of the Chancellor. When Govind Narain, a devotee of Sai Baba, became Governor of Karnataka, he tasted the Governor's wrath. Five days after the new Governor had taken charge, HN resigned his post. HN felt concepts like God and religion should be purely personal. Beyond that they would be dangerous to society. He opined that we were facing many problems due to them; that there was no answer to the age-old question whether God created man or man, out of fear and superstition, created God.

The Buddha had meditated for 50 years. When his disciples asked him about God, he remained silent. HN was curious about what God was not. He could not help laughing when people in this scientific age ran after stones and trees. He felt that for ages in this country there had been exploitation in the name of God and religion. Many massacres had taken place. The poor and the ignorant became victims of religious fraud. He said it would be welcome if social service was done in the name of God and religion.

He thought that God, who could be gratified with worship and homage, was no better than one who took bribes. He said we were modern only outwardly but inwardly we were no better than aborigines. He advocated scientific attitude. He intended that God and religion should not be used to make people superstitious; science was neither pro-God nor anti-god and there was no room for God in science. The analysis of the origin of man and the universe proved the traditional views wrong. He opined that science was the only prop to know the secret of the universe. In his boyhood, he felt drawn towards the ideals of Gandhi and Nehru. But his inclination for social service, his patriotism and his stay in Ramakrishna Vidya Mandir and Swami Vivekananda's revolutionary thoughts made him decide to remain a bachelor.

HN felt that a nation immersed in superstitions needed nationalism to redeem and salvage itself. The nation needed people with a modern outlook to work for noble gods. HN was honoured with Padma Bhushan for education; he became the president of National Educational Society; was decorated with a Tamrapatra for participation in the freedom struggle. For popularizing science and scientific outlook, he won the Mokshagundam Visweswaraya Award. He was the only Indian on the committee for "Scientific Investigation of claims of the paranormal" set up by Paul Kurtz in the USA. Though an admirer of Einstein, HN did not believe that religion is blind without science, science is lame without religion. HN was an uncompromising rationalist. This freedom-fighter and educationist died after prolonged illness on January 31, 2005.

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