"Yes, the Airplanes Too": Against the Hindutva History of Science

21 July 2016

Words Matter: Writings Against Silence is an anthology of essays by various writers, thinkers and intellectuals on the freedom of expression, which advocates for critical thinking as a way to combat discrimination. Edited by the Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan, the collection includes work by the historian Romila Thapar, the scholar Ananya Vajpeyi, the journalists Amrith Lal and Salil Tripathi, among others. The idea of this book, writes Satchidanandan in his introduction, emerged when several Indian writers, artists, scholars and scientists, alarmed by the silence of the government and its bodies, collectively rose in protest against what they believed to be “a growing culture of intolerance.” They returned their awards, resigned from their government posts, or issued strong statements. “The purpose of this book, then, was to collect sober, democratic voices that wished to speak out against these silences,” the poet writes. The collection opens with essays on the life and works of slain rationalists Narendra Dabolkar and Govind Pansare, as well as the scholar MM Kalburgi, clubbed with selected excerpts from their writings. It includes writing on the legacy of caste oppression, on the ideas of “tolerance” and “dissent,” on the decline of secular culture and on India’s tradition of dialogue and diversity. 

In the following excerpt from the book, from the essay titled 'Against the Hindutva History of Science,' Meera Nanda, an academic and a historian of science, examines the validity of recent attempts to locate modern science in ancient Indian texts.

The constant drumbeat of “we already knew the answers” has inured us to the dangers—to science as well as to history— of appropriating modern science for assertions of Hindu supremacy. Science is endangered when the real contradictions between scientific and the spirit-drenched Vedic world view are resolved not in favour of the critical method of science but, instead, science is turned into a cheerleader for the latter. History is endangered when the internationalist and crosscivilisational enterprise of modern science is distorted to fit into nationalistic frames. [. . .]

Surabhi Kanga is the web editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Hindu Hinduism science Vedas ancient text Ganesh surgery Words Matter freedom of speech