Why the Indian Scientific Community is to Blame for the Lack of Science at the 102nd Indian Science Congress

08 January 2015
An illustration of a Shakuna Vimana, one of the flying vehicles mentioned in Vyamanika Shastra, which was cited at the 102nd Indian Science Congress.
Courtesy: Wikipedia
An illustration of a Shakuna Vimana, one of the flying vehicles mentioned in Vyamanika Shastra, which was cited at the 102nd Indian Science Congress.
Courtesy: Wikipedia

Amidst the noise that has surrounded the 102nd Indian Science Congress, with assertions and counter-assertions flying back and forth about our ancient heritage, it seems to have escaped our attention that the Indian scientific community has shown a complete lack of spine when faced with the manipulation of the truth by the proponents of Hindutva.

The media focus, by and large, has been on a few absurd papers presented at the Congress. What no one seems to be asking is how such papers were accepted and presented despite a screening process in place. Why have the office bearers of the Indian Science Congress failed to speak out against this mockery of the idea of science?

Consider the paper that has attracted the most attention—Ancient Indian Aviation Technology—presented by Capt Anand J Bodas, a pilot, and Ameya Jadhav, a lecturer. It was part of the symposium “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit.” The excessive media limelight on this particular paper was not out of some perverse desire to denigrate the conference, it was because the organisers of the Indian Science Congress and the political class had sought this focus. It was the only session on January 4 which was attended and addressed by a Union Minister, in this case Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change. He did so even as Nobel Laureate Ada E Yonath (Chemistry 2009) from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, addressed the undoubtedly less significant issue of "Ribosomes, Resistance to Antibiotics and Origin of Life" at the plenary session that was underway at the same time.

The contents of the Bodas paper were no surprise to the organisers. The Science Congress has an explicit procedure in place for accepting papers: “All papers submitted for presentation at a Session of the Congress shall be checked by the General Secretary (Membership Affairs), in regard to the standing of the authors of the papers as members of the Association. Each paper together with a copy of its abstract shall be sent by Sectional President concerned to the General Secretary (Membership Affairs), after screening and acceptance, if found suitable. All reports of referees shall be confidential. The decision of the Sectional President regarding the acceptance of any paper shall be final.”

The paper in question had been duly screened by referees and found acceptable. The paper claims that aviation technology in India dates back to Vedic times and had been documented in the Vyamanika Shastra, purportedly authored by Maharishi Bharadwaja. It should have not taken long for any referee to come across a 1974 paper, ‘Critical Study of the Work Vyamanika Shastra’ published in the journal Scientific Opinion in 1974, by HS Mukunda, SM Deshpande, HR Nagendra, A Prabhu and SP Govindaraju from the Indian Institute of Science.

Hartosh Singh Bal  is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada.

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