This article was prompted by the ruling government’s (BJP) push to hold a nation-wide online exam on *drumrolls*: cows.
The Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Examination, conducted by the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), a government body set up for cow welfare, is to be held from February 25, 2021 and is supposed to become an annual affair. “Cow is full of science that needs to be explored. It plays an important role in 5 trillion economies of the country,” said RKA Chairman, Vallabhbhai Kathiria, at a press conference, as reported by the Hindustan Times.
There is much to unpack here. The RKA-prescribed ‘syllabus’ would be hilarious if not for the sobering reality that people do lap up (pun unintended) everything it has to say. The savarna ecosphere, that ‘prides’ itself on dominating premier academic institutes, peddles and consume ‘facts’ like “Whenever any unknown person comes near desi cow, she will immediately stand(sic).”
From the inability to solve actual problems that cattle rearers and animal activists have to face, to the obliviousness to people’s problems, (Umm anyone remembers we’re still in the midst of a pandemic?) this nation-wide ‘exam’ is absurd, to say the least. Not to mention the ease with which lynch mob-led murders of alleged ‘cow smugglers’ and ‘beef eaters’ have been felicitated or forgotten.
At a time when the science behind vaccines is having to contend with nationalism and pride in India, the BJP and the Hindutva ecosphere’s track record with science is questionable at best.
Can’t say we didn’t see this coming. PM Modi, in 2014, at the inauguration of a hospital no less, claimed the existence of test-tube babies in the Mahabharata epic and of plastic surgeries and Hindu gods. Coming back to the cow leitmotif, in 2017, then Rajasthan education minister, Vasudev Devnani, said “Gai ekmatra prani hai jo oxygen grahan karta hai, aur oxygen hi chodta hai (the cow is the only animal that takes in oxygen and also releases oxygen).” Science, under the BJP’s regime, has taken a hit. Science and Technology Minister, Harsh Vardhan, in 2018 claimed that cosmologist Stephen Hawking had said the Vedas have a theory that is superior to Albert Einstein’s equation e=mc^2 (He didn’t).
Institutions and professions that are, to put it very simply, supposed to work for the benefit of society, seem to have abandoned all sense of duty. At the 106th Indian Science Congress held in 2019, “A vice-chancellor claimed that the Kauravas were test-tube babies and that the ancient Indians not only had guided missile technology but Ravana had 24 types of aircraft.”
“They first questioned the valour of our soldiers & are now unhappy that the two vaccines to get DCGI nod are made in India,” tweeted Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Isn’t this line of reasoning unnecessary at a time when we’re all scared and desperately waiting for a medicine that will help us end the pandemic? With ‘vaccine nationalism’ having (unfortunately,) entered our vocabulary, it’s all the more important that we push back in the face of misinformation and disinformation, and not conflate demanding transparency with convoluted ideals of patriotism.
The pandemic has taken an unimaginable toll on all of us, and work on the vaccines have come a long way in a very short period of time. But, this progress was possible today because decades of research by scientists helped nudge us closer to a possible cure. Not patriotism, not unquestioning and misplaced faith. The adage, “Half-baked knowledge is worse than ignorance” could not be more true today. Whatsapp and the proud propagators of such untruths have done a lot more damage than nay-sayers who have only ever called for transparency.
This Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Examination is only one manifestation of everything wrong with where ‘scientific temper’ and rationality stands today. It’s all the more important that we connect the BJP (and our own) attitudes towards ‘scientific temper’ with the danger of misinformation in a country that desperately needs science and rational thinking.