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India’s War on Science

For India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, religion is not a matter of personal belief, but a key feature of traditional identity politics and crucial to maintaining social order, ensuring discipline and conformity, and preventing radical change. Science and rationality threaten all of the party's goals.

NEW DELHI – India’s junior education minister, Satyapal Singh, recently declared that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was “unscientific,” on the grounds that “nobody, including our ancestors, have said or written that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.” It was a startling statement – and just the latest salvo in the current government’s attack on science.

According to India’s constitution, the development of “scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform” is the duty of every citizen – and, implicitly, the responsibility of the state. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, argued that unlike religion – which tends to produce “intolerance, credulity and superstition, emotionalism and irrationalism” and “a temper of a dependent, unfree person” – a scientific temper “is the temper of a free man.”

Yet, for India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, such ideas are no longer fashionable. Its leaders and acolytes want to teach schoolchildren that evolutionary theory is just another hypothesis about the origin of life, equivalent to religious propositions. Their goal is to keep it out of school curricula entirely.

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