Governments Encourage Irrationality

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

IHN: With India seeing a steady rise in income, there is also, it seems, a greater interest in religion and rituals. Is there any correlation between wealth and religious beliefs?

PMB: I do believe there is a correlation between illgotten wealth and expression of religious beliefs. People who acquire such wealth believe that they can wash off their sins by engaging in religious practices, and also obtain people’s support by, for example, building places of worship.

IHN: Starting with Sathya Sai Baba, there are any number of godmen in India. Though time and again evidence of their criminality is published, a lot of people continue to follow them, and in fact their numbers are rising. To what do you attribute this phenomenon? How can it be curbed?

PMB: The reason why so many people continue to believe in godmen such as Sathya Sai Baba, is that these godmen have Government support. It is in the interest of the Government to encourage irrationality to cover its own irrational actions. I have no doubt that the number of believers in godmen will fall drastically if the Government would start taking the action it should against the godmen who exploit people openly and, often, act against the law of the land. In fact, the Government is expected to do that as by our Constitution, it is expected to be committed to scientific temper, which denies the possession by any human being of special powers that godmen profess to have. Incidentally, I do not believe that the number of people who believe in such godmen is rising.

IHN: In the face of so much media attention towards religion, how can Humanism make its presence felt in India?

PMB: By popularising the scientific method and its use in everyday life as we did in the Method of Science Exhibition in the late 1970s and early 1980s which, it is believed, changed the way some two million people thought.

IHN: How can the trend of scientists following superstitions like seeking an auspicious time for launching a satellite be curbed?

PMB: By Government action against anything and everything that is contrary to scientific temper.

IHN: Do you think our education system fosters a belief in rationalist thought? You have had a role in creating text books. How has that experience been?

PMB: Not as a rule. There have been some exceptions such as the national text book on science we wrote for Class VI in 1978 or so. However, such exceptions generally run into trouble. Our book somehow escaped the axe and was the prescribed national text book for Class VI in English, Hindi, and Urdu for many years. We have documented reasons to believe that it had a substantial impact on the 11 and 12 year-olds who studied it.

IHN: There is a resurgence in belief in ancient healing systems like yoga and ayurveda medicine, without any serious effort to examine their efficacy. How can the people be persuaded to view these systems with a more critical eye?

PMB: By making modern health-care (primary, secondary and tertiary) available to every citizen in the country within an ethical framework. As of today, the 70 percent of Indians that live in villages do not have access to such medical care. Secondly, the extent of corruption (financial and moral) that has permeated the practice of modern medicine tends to take people away from the system. People then go to alternative systems of medicine which are easily available and are far less expensive even though they may be, more often than not, ineffective.

IHN: What steps did you take as Vice Chairman of India’s Knowledge Commission to help strengthen the scientific temper in India?

PMB: The rest of the Commission did not recognise the importance of scientific temper, and I had to leave the Commission mid-way. We lost a golden opportunity which will probably never come again.

IHN: Though India’s Constitution explicitly mentions that it’s a secular state, we have all sorts of people in public office participating in religious ceremonies, both privately and publically. Even the Cabinet reshuffle has to be done at an ‘auspicious’ time. How can we revert to the secular ideal that Jawaharlal Nehru

PMB: By the civil society exercising pressure on the Government to follow the dictates of the Constitution in this regard.

IHN: How do you look at the Hindu-Muslim divide in India? Many residential buildings and neighbourhoods in the metros, even in prosperous localities, do not permit Muslims to live there. How can this social trend be reversed?

PMB: By redesigning our school education system appropriately and thus, over a generation, producing citizens who would no longer be prone to such discrimination. When that happens, the Government will also be forced to act against such unlawful discrimination.

IHN: M N Roy was of the opinion that India needs a philosophical revolution, along the lines of the
Renaissance in Europe, before its citizens can be truly emancipated. What is your view?

PMB: In principle, M N Roy was right, but such a revolution in India can only come through what I have said in the previous answer. Our renaissance, to last, will have to follow a different path. The case of Bengal, the only place in India where there was some kind of renaissance in the 19th/early 20th century, provides us with many useful lessons in this regard. For example, why did the renaissance in Bengal fade away later in the 20th century? This is a question that needs to be examined in detail.

Governments Encourage Irrationality . International Humanist News, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *