The ideologically loaded and politically motivated New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which was very conveniently introduced in the shadows of the pandemic, is now being implemented through drastic and large-scale revision of school textbooks.
If the erasure of the profound contributions of Muslim ‘aggressors’ to India’s art and literature, science and social ethos, economic progress and administrative streamlining – and what not – was carried out openly and boastfully as a great feat of nationalism, the surgical removal of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has been executed, as far as possible, on the sly. In the face of widespread criticism in India and abroad the authorities also came up with an apologetic explanation: although it has been removed from class X textbooks, students will still study this part, as before, in class XII. What is sought to be suppressed is the fact that only those students will have this opportunity who fulfill two conditions: (a) joining the science stream after class X and (b) choose biology as one of the subjects of study in the higher classes. Those who do not fulfill both conditions, will be deprived of this opportunity – this right to learn the basics of science. The same will be the fate of the large number of students who are forced by circumstances to drop out of school after the secondary stage.
Thus, the amputated version of the curriculum in biology (as in history) leads to a vast majority of students missing out a critical part of essential learning. And where the scheme gets muddier is the sneaky method adopted to bamboozle the nation. These changes were introduced as a temporary measure to ‘reduce the load on the students’ in the aftermath of the Corona pandemic, but they are being continued even when schooling has gone back to normal. Yet another stinking instance of Modi-style turning a crisis (for the people, specifically students in this case) into an opportunity (for the BJP, at the cost of students)!
Anyway, it is easy to understand why the Islamophobic fanatics are head-bent on mutilating and distorting the history of India from a Hindutva perspective. But why this attack on science? Well, in all their avatars fascists have always been against science and rationalism, since these are anathema to the blind acceptance of distorted, aggressive religiosity and robot-like obedience to authority, on which fascists rely for fulfilling their agenda.
Still, of all great scientists, why Darwin as the first target? Because his discovery (not so much his individual persona) was, and remains, the most formidable enemy of all those who live and prosper on mazhab ki siasi dukandari (political business in religion). Let us explain.
Basing himself on the works of his predecessors and contemporary biologists, Darwin demolished the almost universal belief that this earth, with all plants and animals on it including the human race, was created by God, by whatever name one may call Him. He demonstrated that life began billions of years ago in its primitive form, and its evolution into myriad higher forms has been continuing ever since, till date, by natural – not divine – selection. He never uttered a word denying the existence of God, but his scientific work made God superfluous.
For the common people, this was at worst something absolutely unacceptable, an awful shocker. But the religious fundamentalists and obscurantist groups immediately recognized him as a direct challenger – the contemporary Galileo Galilei and Bruno Bauer rolled into one – who had committed the grave crime of blasphemy. On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, published in 1859, earned the honour of being the eternal punching bag of generations of those forces of darkness, reaction and regression around the world.
But the epoch-making volume was also warmly welcomed by the best minds of the time. Among them was Karl Marx, whose A Contribution to the Critic of Political Economy was published in the same year as Darwin’s magnum opus. Both Marx and Engels studied the book with rapt attention and great admiration. Next year Marx gladly declared in a letter to Engels: “This is the book that contains the natural history groundwork for our own views.” When Volume I of Capital was published in 1873, Marx sent a signed copy to Darwin. The latter thanked Marx and wrote, “Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge and that this in the long run is sure to add to the happiness of Mankind.”
How true! Although they were miles apart in almost everything, the two were comrades in the great mission of enlightenment and, thus, emancipation. Years later, Engels pointed out the golden thread that bound them together: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.”
And this is why Marx and Darwin have common enemies everywhere. In our country, ‘Acharya’ Deendayal Upadhyaya counterposed his (and BJP’s) ‘philosophy’ of Integral Humanism to the Darwinian doctrine: “Darwin considered the principle of survival of the fittest as the sole basis of life. But we in this country saw the basic unity of all life…” Such a stupid assertion is not worth a rebuttal, save that the great biologist never considered survival of the fittest as the basis of life – sole or otherwise.
The onslaught on science continued, and was intensified with direct state patronage when the Sanghis came to power. In 2014, Prime Minister Modi set the ball rolling when he declared that Lord Ganesha’s elephantine head is an evidence of plastic surgery and Karna’s mysterious birth that of genetic science in ancient India. The myths and other falsehoods were being propagated ad infinitum, and in 2018, minister of state for human resources development Satyapal Singh made a stunning declaration. He said that Darwin’s theory of evolution was scientifically wrong because “no one had ever seen a monkey turn into a human”. The three premiere science academies in India came together to condemn this brazen attack on the great scientific discovery. Raghavendra Gadagkar, the former President of Indian National Science Academy, and an internationally recognised biologist, was spot on when he commented that Satyapal Singh and the BJP/RSS project is not about science but about politics. Speaking to NDTV, he said it was “politically polarising science and scientists” which is “the real danger we must guard against”. Under pressure, the government had to beat a retreat and disown the minister’s statement.
But this was a temporary retreat, a prelude to a more well-planned campaign. BJP’s second coming to power, this time on its own strength, saw a spurt in pseudoscience activities in research institutions and universities aimed at providing a ‘scientific’ glamour to myths in the name of research on ancient knowledge. In 2019 itself, vice chancellor of Andhra Pradesh University Nageswara Rao Gollapalli chose the podium of the 106th Indian Science Congress to assert that the mythological concept of Dashavatar (which claims that humans evolved through incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu) gave a better theory of evolution than Darwin’s. At this meeting ‘papers’ were also presented debunking theories of Newton and Einstein. Under directions from the top, funding agencies like the Department of Science and Technology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) were providing generous support to research on subjects of ‘ancient science’, such as cow urine, cow dung, spiritual farming, medical astrology. It is as a part of this thriving ecosystem that the NEP 2020 was formulated and is being implemented, as we have narrated above.
This time too, there was no death of protests. The ‘Breakthrough Science Society’, an independent all-India group of scientists and educators, issued an open letter signed by more than 1800 scientists, science teachers, academics etc. on 20 April this year. After explaining why the changes in syllabus are unacceptable, it went on to say:
“Knowledge and understanding of evolutionary biology is important not just to any subfield of biology, but is also key to understanding the world around us. Evolutionary biology is an area of science with a huge impact on how we choose to deal with an array of problems we face as societies and nations from medicine and drug discovery, epidemiology, ecology and environment, to psychology, and it also addresses our understanding of humans and their place in the tapestry of life. Although many of us do not explicitly realise, the principles of natural selection help us understand how any pandemic progresses or why certain species go extinct, among many other critical issues.
An understanding of the process of evolution is also crucial in building a scientific temper and a rational worldview. The way Darwin’s painstaking observations and his keen insights led him to the theory of naturalselection educates students about the process of science and the importance of critical thinking. Depriving students, who do not go on to study biology after the 10th standard, of any exposure to this vitally important field is a travesty of education.
We, the undersigned scientists, science teachers, educators, science popularisers and concerned Citizens… demand to restore the theory of Darwinian evolution in secondary education.”
Now we have to take a call. Shall we allow our beloved nation, whose secular, syncretic values and scientific temper we cherish so much, drift bit by bit into an abyss of darkness? Nope? Then let us all, our student and youth comrades in particular, join the 18000-plus signatories in our respective fields of work and turn back the chariot of ignorance, obscurantism and anti-science. Let us fight for wholesome education, for science and reason.