The successful soft-landing of Chandrayaan3 undoubtedly marks a historic achievement for ISRO. This is the first time a lunar mission has landed in the Moon’s south pole which is expected to open up further prospects of study and exploration of the lunar reality. A major milestone of India’s scientific prowess like this also has the potential to inspire India’s overall forward march in the realm of science and technology in general and space exploration in particular. It is also heartening to note that this success has been achieved at a modest cost of 600 crore rupees which, going by the latest CAG report on India’s road construction, is less than the expenditure that has been incurred for every three kilometres of Dwarka Expressway. Members of the Chandrayaan3 mission and the entire staff of ISRO and other organisations that have contributed to the success of this mission definitely deserve our hearty congratulations.
The Modi government is busy claiming credit for the success of Chandrayaan3, but a closer look will tell us that the mission has actually succeeded in spite of the government’s neglect. To take one example, employees and engineers of Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi, who prepared the mobile launching pad for Chandrayaan3 and delivered it before the scheduled time limit, have not been getting their salaries for eighteen months. The HEC has been the mother plant which has also contributed immensely to the construction of India’s public sector steel plants. Today it has been pushed into a state of sickness with the Modi government denying it the necessary infusion of working capital and even the salaries of the staff. Yet when the mission succeeded, Narendra Modi was all over the TV screen hogging the limelight and delivering a speech when millions of Indians were glued to their mobile phones and computer and TV screens to witness the historic moment of India’s Moon landing.
In its desperate attempt to milk the lunar mission for political propaganda and electoral dividends, the Modi government is treating it not just as a publicity platform for the Prime Minister, but also creating a strange admixture of religious superstition and modern science. Instead of using the lunar mission as an inspiration for the promotion of scientific temper, every attempt is being made to link it up with religious superstition. PM Modi lost no time in naming the landing point of the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the founding spirit behind India’s space research) Shiv Shakti point, to give it a clear Hindu religious overtone. While Modi stopped at invoking Lord Shiva, a Hindu Mahasabha leader has taken the cue to demand that the Moon be declared a Hindu Rashtra with the Shiv Shakti point as its capital! If this sounds too extreme, take a look at the patronising projection of the women scientists associated with the lunar mission that highlights their religious beliefs and presents them as ‘ideal Indian women’ to whom science is firmly linked, nay rooted in religion.
The breakthrough made by ISRO is the result of decades of research and perseverance. Not all missions have resulted in success, but scientists have taken their lessons from failures. The failed Chandrayaan2 mission paved the way for the success of Chandrayaan3. Most of the members of ISRO’s scientific community are products of the system of public-funded education and research that modern India started building in the first few decades after independence. Like the public sector, the system of public-funded education is also being systematically neglected and weakened today with the increasing push for privatisation of education and research. And almost across the spectrum, the spirit of enquiry, academic freedom and campus democracy is being stifled to promote the culture of superstition, sycophancy, fear and silence in institutions of higher education and research. No wonder that scientific temper is being sacrificed at the altar of bigotry and hate, and the alarming result is staring us in the face.
The Muzaffarnagar video of a classroom where the principal of a primary school is instructing pupils to beat up a seven-year-old Muslim fellow pupil for apparently not doing his Mathematics homework, while the principal verbally abuses Muslims in general, can only remind us of how Jewish children used to be humiliated and persecuted in the classrooms of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. From trains to streets to television studios and digital platforms to classrooms and campuses, hate is threatening to overtake the whole of India after seventy-five years of independence. Muzaffarnagar was the epicentre of the 2013 riots orchestrated by the Sangh brigade in the name of combating ‘love jihad’. The farmers’ movement succeeded in overcoming that hate and divide and forging renewed ties of unity and solidarity. Today once again, that unity is being challenged by the forces of hate and violence in western UP and Haryana and the farmers’ movement and all peace and justice-loving forces will have to put up a determined resistance to foil this conspiracy.
BJP leaders have openly sided with Tripta Tyagi, the offending principal of the school that became a theatre of hate and torture. The school has now been closed down and students are reportedly being absorbed in other nearby schools. The family of the traumatised and tortured student is however under pressure from the dominant social and political forces, and unfortunately also some dubious farmer leaders, to avoid litigation and arrive at a compromise. Reconciliation in such matters can only be achieved on the basis of, and certainly not at the cost of, truth and justice. While the dispensers of hate and perpetrators of violence are being protected, once again fact-checker Mohammad Zubair is being targeted for drawing public attention to this horrific incident.
We should understand that the children who were encouraged to participate in this violence or watch it are also victims of this fascist horror along with the traumatised and tortured child who found himself subjected to it. The hate campaign conducted daily by fascist propagandists, whether operating under political or religious banners or as television anchors or opinion builders or influencers on various social media platforms, has now reached classrooms in primary schools to vitiate the impressionable minds of India’s children. Ignoring this alarming sign can only invite much bigger perils in the days to come.