As a child, every time I’d travel on the Hauz Khas road of New Delhi towards AIIMS, I’d notice the gate of what I now know is one of India’s premier institutes of technology, IIT Delhi. Back then, I did not know what it was. I simply used to observe it while traveling with my family. It was a habit, like most children have, to gaze at anything and everything outside the window of our car.
There was nothing unusual about the place except for the long queue of cars on the road that used to keep us waiting. Children don’t like sitting in a standing car, especially during summers. They like to hang outside their window, if allowed, and feel the cool breeze blowing on their face.
It was during one such travels that my father pointed out a small hut-like shape outside the gate of IIT Delhi. We were waiting for our side of the traffic queue to get the green light, as usual. He said, “Do you see that? It’s a small temple right outside the ‘Indian Institute of Technology’. What an irony! That is why we still lag behind as a country.”
I looked at the structure and saw an even smaller idol of God, black in colour, seated within the hut. From my social conditioning, I knew it was of Shani Dev, the angry deity who, if not pleased, can cause trouble in your life. The temple was built on the pavement right beside, yet, very close to the main road.
My father continued, “No police officer dare touch or remove this temple. We are a country that is governed by religion. Even though the idol is small right now, very soon, it will grow bigger, and one day, I profess this temple will become a huge issue for traffic on this road.”
It did become a huge issue for traffic on that Hauz Khas road in the coming years, but only on Saturdays. The rest of the days, the traffic was as usual, each side waiting for their turn to receive the green signal. Saturday is the day when people worship Shani Dev. They offer him black sesame seeds and oil to bathe in. It’s believed that this makes the deity happy and he incurs no wrath in your life.
Probably, with this belief, hundreds of people began to visit the small temple outside IIT Delhi, with their cars parked on the road itself and causing traffic. No one was there to check, no one cared. Within my sight, the small hut grew into a full fledged, properly furnished temple, with even a priest assigned to manage the offerings.
A number of posh and expensive cars stood in a poorly created line on the road. To facilitate the owners of these cars, a mini market was also opened adjacent to the temple. In case you forget to bring the offerings or don’t know what to offer, the sellers, recommended by the priest himself, are at your service.
Most importantly, the Saturday traffic began to be managed by the traffic police posted on the red light. It was a perfectly collaborative nexus between the owner of the temple, the police on duty and the authorities. After all, what can be better than spreading the word of God? Interestingly, the visitors of the temple were not just people from all around the city; some came from within the institute itself.
Once, while passing by, I happened to see a couple come out from the campus gate and pay their homage to the angry deity. It made me wonder, “Probably my father was right.” It indeed is an irony that a temple could so easily grow bigger right outside an institute of technology.
Of course, I am not naïve enough to understand that this was possible because of the power of faith in our country, but it made me wonder even more, whether all this construction was legal at all. Driven by this curiosity, I decided to do some research and found out that in January 2013, the Supreme Court of India issued an order to ban the encroachment of roads, sideways and pavements by construction of religious structures such as temples, mosques or churches.
The order also ruled out the installation of statues on any kind of public property. It was passed on the premise that unauthorised religious structures obstruct roads and cause inconvenience to residents in all Indian cities and towns. It also, often, leaves room for land grabbing cases to increase.
Despite the apex court giving power to municipal and government bodies to prevent unauthorised construction, it’s not executed sincerely, either due to the local political and religious interests or the personal bias of the officials themselves. The problem, as it’s put to us, was clear for everyone to understand, but there was more to be understood.
While the Constitution of India states, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop scientific temper,” how much of it’s practiced is a question I often ponder upon.
It made me realise that the root of the problem lies in our educational curriculum, something we tend to be least critical about. In India, our school curriculum is designed in a way that it does not promote scientific temper. It’s used as an instrument by the state to foster both its political and religious ideology.
Earlier this year, senior RSS leader J Nanda Kumar suggested that Hindu religious texts be used to form India’s economic policy, stating that “it will prevent the islamisation of West Bengal.” In another instance, the current ruling party’s MP Satyapal Singh demanded the compulsory teaching of several Hindu religious texts in schools to promote Hindu values and beliefs.
All this, when Article 28 of the Indian Constitution clearly states, “No religious instructions shall be provided in any educational institution.”
I call it the second irony of science in India, the first being the temple outside IIT Delhi.