Anti-ScienceReligion

Never get involved in a land bridge in Asia…

Thanks to Rebecca for letting me contribute to Skepchick!

One of the Skepchick readers sent in this article about the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. In 2005, the Indian government launched a project to create a canal in the sea that separates India from Sri Lanka. The canal will create a navigable sea route close to the coast and reduce travel for freighters by more than 350 nautical miles. It could transform the area and provide major shipping industry to several coastal cities.

Cool, no? Technology leading to progress and economic growth once again. Indian innovation at its finest. It seems too good to be true.

Which it is. Read the article’s headline.

Report on Hindu god Ram withdrawn

And the subtitle:

The Indian government has withdrawn a controversial report submitted in court earlier this week which questioned the existence of the Hindu god Ram.

Sigh.

See, the proposed canal will go through a chain of limestone shoals between the islands of Mannar, near northwestern Sri Lanka, and Rameswaram, off the southeastern coast of India. Most geologists agree that this is the remainder of a land bridge that connected India and Sri Lanka at one point. Hindus, on the other hand, believe that Lord Rama got his army of monkey warriors to build the bridge to rescue his love, Sita, from the evil demon king Ravana. The Hindu nationalists are therefore protesting the canal project on the basis that it will… wait for it… destroy an ancient protected monument. The issue is being debated by the Supreme Court.

Read those three concepts together: Monkey warriors. Demon king. Supreme Court.

Queasy yet?

Ignore the supreme court part for a second. Let’s say it was built by monkey warriors. Wasn’t Sita already rescued? Isn’t it prudent to destroy the land bridge before Ravana comes back across it looking for vengeance? It’s underwater anyway right now. You know how monkeys hate to get their fur all wet and matted. I don’t think evil demon kings like it any better.

ANYWHO… The Archaeological Survey of India tried to help by submitting an affidavit saying there was no historical evidence to prove the existence of Lord Rama or the events depicted in the Ramayana. It said that Adam’s Bridge “is merely a sand and coral formation which cannot be said to be of historical, archaeological or artistic interest of importance.” The area could therefore not be declared a protected monument.

At that point, the howler turds really hit the fan. Big ol’ bag of Rhesus pieces, if you know what I mean. Leaders of Hindu nationalist organizations and the Bharatiya Janata Party (one of India’s major political parties) went nuts.

“This is sheer blasphemy,” said senior BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotr. “It’s an insult to the Hindu faith.”

“The government has set in motion the process of questioning religious beliefs. We will launch a nationwide movement if it does not withdraw immediately this blasphemous submission questioning the very existence of Lord Rama,” said BJP chief Rajnath Singh. “The government has made an assault on Hindu sentiments, which cannot be tolerated at any cost.”

That’s right – a nationwide movement! Last week, Hindu demonstrators blocked roads across the country in major cities and along major highways and disrupted train service in several areas. And in ‘negotiating with the terrorists’ style, the Indian government backed down, withdrew the report and asked for three months to think about it all. The court said they would take up the case again in January.

India prides itself on being a secular society. This is a blow to that pride. And the fact that the government is backing down, supporting religious myth over scientific fact, shows how powerful the religious community is in India. This issue has grown over the past few days to the point where it may actually lead to an early election in India. Science versus religion. What an issue to polarize an electorate.

At least I live in the U.S. now, where we’re immune to that sort of backwards, 10th-century thinking…

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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16 Comments

  1. I’ve got a problem with de-facing holy sites for money.

    I don't think the situation in India and the one you mention in the US are equivalent.

    In the US we have immigrants who took over the land from the inhabitants without permission and with much violence. With that background, the destruction of a "holy" site for money is much more complicated because we're talking about one group of people who really had no right to the land in the first place, defacing it in the view of the original inhabitants. So it really has less to do with the sacred nature of the sites and more with the historical bitterness of the immigrants stealing the best parts of the land and forcing the indigenous people into reservations made up of the crappiest parts of the land. Unless, of course, you're talking about one group of Native Americans arguing with another. But that doesn't sound like what you meant.

    I don't really know about the specific situation in India, but it sounds like it's Indians of differing ideas about reality having an internal disagreement. This seems more parallel to the idea of Brits, for an example, being divided between rationalists and religionists, and fighting over whether creation or evolution should be taught in government-run schools.

  2. Point scored DD,

    What I'm hoping for here is that the Indian government willl continue, as they have been in the past, be somewhat sensitive to stone age cultures.

    I feel you , but we tend to kill off stone age people (and by them I mean many of my relatives) in a fashion that inspired Adolf Hitler. (True thing, He LOVED what we did to the Indians. To him, we were kindred spirits and he NEVER wanted to fight us).

    I've probably missed the point, I'm getting that feeling, I"m sorry if I have.

    This is personal to me and I've already said that I don't have an answer.

    I"m just hoping for better than the U.S has done in the past, which shouldn't be too hard to pass.

    Let's all hope for that.

    Perhaps I just need a nap, a very long nap…

    500 years is sounding pretty good,

    rod

  3. As a one quarter Amercan Indnian,

    I’ve got a problem with de-facing holy sites for money.

    As a thee quarters boxer/Engineer,

    I don’t see why those brave sailors should face death when a shorter path could be possible.

    I’m having a big problem here. I don’t have the answer.

    The Indian government is better than most at this sort of thing.

    Since my great grand father actuallly fought the union and lost, over this issue, I’m going to hope fore calmer heads and cooler hearts to prevail.

    I’ve given up on that sort of comprimise for Amerikkka, for problems like this anyway, but it might be possible in India. It just might. It just might.

    Something to make everyone happy?

    Well, one can dream.

    That’s free, so I hear, (But I haven’t read the whole Patriot Act yet…)

    rod

  4. Wow, I thought the Bible was silly. Monkey warriors and a demon king? As writerdd so eloquently put it in another post: Oy vey. Oh pain!

    I’m not sure if I should welcome you, if you post such disheartening news. ;o)
    (But seriously, welcome. Brainy chicks are da bomb!)

  5. I read about this story last week at A Wide Angle View of India. The author takes the view that it is wrong for the government to criticize religion whether it is scientific or not. I was surprised by the response as Nita describes herself as "a non-religious, liberal thinking person with a capitalist ideology and an intense desire to see India developed" (and I find this to be true in her posting). While I agree that it's a silly issue to keep the land bridge over a myth, I admit I can't see it from her perspective and perhaps it's a deeper issue.

  6. Monkey warriors are only stranger than Bible stories to us because we are more familiar with the latter in the US.

    I can't help envisioning the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz when I read that, though! :)

  7. Let's be clear – this wasn't an attack on religion. It was an attack on science. All the Archaeological Survey of India said was that there was no historical evidence to prove the bridge was anything other than a natural formation. I know I'm somewhat splitting hairs here, but it's important. The government didn't withdraw or deny religious testimony, the withdrew a scientific analysis.

    It is certainly a deeper issue, though. At the end of the day, I doubt that it's really about the monkey warriors – it's about a political play by the Hindu nationalists to gain power and appear like they're under attack to gain support.

    The other issue, which has been lost in the monkey fray, is the fact that there may be other, non-religious reasons to stop the canal. See the Salon article:

    There are significant non-religious reasons to oppose the project. Environmentalists believe the massive dredging involved will cause significant damage to marine life, while others are skeptical that saving just the few hours required to circumnavigate Sri Lanka is worth all the trouble. The strait is also considered to be something of a cyclone magnet.

  8. Masala Skeptic, I agree.

    I wasn't clear from Nita's article what exactly happened, but I was bothered by the thought that the government was telling a religious group they were wrong. Now that's not to say that it can't be true that a religious group is wrong. I'm all for telling people when BS is BS, but it did set off my religious freedom alarms a bit simply because the government was involved.

    I think it's very difficult in these situations to keep perspective, especially when the conflict is between religion and science gets political. It'd be really interesting to read what the science community is saying on the issue of not just the land bridge, but the environmental concerns.

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