National Law against Superstition

Shubashree Desikan

Atish Dabholkar physicist and head of high energy physics and cosmology division at Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy, said a national anti-superstition law is desirable, but it was important to have public action too.

Speaking on Science and Superstition, at the Ramanujan Auditorium of The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, on Tuesday, organised by theTamil Nadu Science Forum, Prof. Dabholkar, the nephew of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, spoke at length about his own part in the work of Andhashraddha Nimulan Samiti (ANiS) towards ushering in the anti-superstition law in Maharashtra (Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman Practices and Black magic Act 2013).

He addressed common allegations against the law that it was anti-Hindu and anti-swadeshi with the statement that in the whole bill there is not one word against God or any particular religion. He recalled at this instance, the Lokayata philosophy and the Charvaka system to underline that rationalism is very much part of Indian tradition.

Contribution of scholars

Even the Rig Veda expresses an attitude of questioning, he argued, sharing a quote from the verses of the Rig Veda. He mentioned the contributions of great scholars from the Indian tradition such as Madhava, Susruta, Aryabhata and others. There is nothing not swadeshi about science, rather, it is because of a Eurocentric writing of history that such an impression comes up,he said. He deprecated the colonial way of devaluing Indian contribution to science. At the same time, he stressed that while being proud of Indian science it was needless to claim knowledge of plastic surgery in olden times, just because Lord Ganesha has an elephant head.

He recalled his uncle Narendra Dabholkar to be as a very gentle person who never raised his voice against his opponents, believed in the Constitution. The very fact that he asked people to be rational was so threatening. He expressed his happiness that even after the latters death, ANiS continued the work vigorously, with 100 branches and 2,000 volunteers. They followed in the words of Marathi rationalist Agarkar To tell what is right and do what I can, he said.

The initial part of the lecture set the philosophical base for the whole talk where he explained the difference between beliefs and facts. For 50 years after it was postulated, the Higgs boson remained only a belief until its existence was proved by a theory, he said. Scientific beliefs are founded on statistical reasoning, and science speaks with a degree of confidence that depends on the evidence found, he said. Depending on the degree of evidence, you call it a fact, and that is the kind of philosophy you need to approach a superstition.