Skip to content

A garbha sanskar event organized in Kolkata got challenged in the High Court by doctors over its claims to create super babies. This is a most welcome development in a country fast drowning in superstition.

There is a trend these days to sell superstition in the name of science. As though faith is not enough to do the absurd, there are claims of scientific evidence backing absurdities. But they use a very basic model of fooling people. I've started calling it the "Emperor's new clothes" business model in honor of the Emperor. If you can claim that some nonsense is backed by science confidently enough, few people take the time to examine it, and instead have blind faith in the claim (ironic, no?).

The latest such confidence trick to make news is when "Garbha Sanskar" program of Arogya Bharti ran into trouble in Kolkata when their event was challenged in court based on the claims they had made. While the court did not find enough evidence to ban the programme alotgether (because it does little more than mumbo jumbo to begin with), it specified that specialists could lecture but not treat anyone there (no problem, no one is treated there) and attendees couldn't be charged. Note, the "Garbha Sanskar" programme is basically a collection of ritualized superstitions that claim to create "super babies" - their basic claim is that while genetic engineering is done "in vitro" garbha sanskar is the "in vivo" method already given to mankind through vedic knowledge.

When I tell this to you like this, it is easy to see the absurdity of it. If vedic knowldge didn't give superbabies in so many thousands of years, the chance of a superman flying out of your loins within a few months is negligible. But when you are surrounded by the gullible hopeful in a room where the authority figure tells you this, it sounds like some secret key to the universe is handed exclusively into your hands. And no one pauses to ask why of all the people in the world, fate would choose such a lazy custodian who did little more than pay Rs. 500 to deserve such a potent miracle. Because our conceit enjoys hearing that we are special. And we don't mind playing a few dozen harmless games to enjoy the illusion for longer.

Here are some quotes from various garbh sanksar claims, teachings and so on.

Garbh sanskar can produce genius babies.

This is usually accompanied by some tall anecdotal "evidence" of what is possible "if you do it correctly" - so if you have an ordinary adorable baby waving arms wildly and blinking unfocused eyes on birth, you must have missed adding the superhero cape somehow.

60% of the brain development is complete in the womb (or some variation of it)

60% of a chicken's formation is completed in the egg. This doesn't mean you pay 60% of the price of an adult chicken for an egg, right?

But this is actually a very popular line to convince parents that they need to act urgently if they want a super baby. But here is the thing. 60% of brain development doesn't mean 60% of lifetime intelligence. These are biological processes and the foetus in the womb does all the "learning" it needs to do by figuring out how to move limbs and so on. It doesn't need to understand language since the most important sounds around it are generated by biological processes. It may recognize the mother's voice as it vibrates through her own body as well, but it doesn't understand meaning. Nor is the brain developed enough to link sounds together and make sense of them - even newborns don't figure it out for quite a few months after birth. That is simply how the brain creates connections and develops more complex functionality. the 60% is about the brain's ability to function and not intelligence.

Looking at art or listening to music is no more likely to make your child the next art world celebrity than driving all through pregnancy is likely to make him a driver or eating several meals a day during pregnancy is going to make him prone to overeating (or able to eat at birth). This is nonsense and I have met several garbh sanskar children and found them no more or less remarkable than other children - their parents are another story.

 

Will add more of the absurd claims here when I get time, but frankly it isn't rocket science. It is pure mythology applied to life and if you have the slightest ability for critical thinking, seeing through this rubbish is a breeze.

Basically what happens here is an authority figure makes claims of religious mythology being backed by science without providing robust evidence. But because we are conditioned to not question "scientific proof", we decide to believe it - this is the opposite of science. When you cannot verify something, it is called "unverified" not "probably they are right and let me obey to be safe". There is no such thing as science that cannot be questioned.

The Emperor's New Clothes business model is an old brainwashing tactic and it is refreshing to see doctors challenge it in courts instead of merely allowing it to proliferate stupidity in the guise of "harmless belief".

2

Narendra Dabholkar was a notable rationalist from Maharashtra who quit a flourishing medical practice to devote time to social reform and had founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti to combat superstitious beliefs among people. He was brutally murdered after receiving threats from religious fanatics for many years. Extremists condemn him for opposing Hinduism. Liberals endorse him in principle. Yet, given that most of his work happened in Marathi, most Indians commenting on him have little idea of what thoughts the man promoted.

This marks the first of hopefully many efforts to make his thoughts accessible to a wider audience and my small contribution to promoting rationalism among people.

This is the first of three parts translating the speech into English..

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lokahitawadi (Gopal Hari Deshmukh) was born in Maharashtra in 1823 and Prabodhankar Thakeray died in 1973. Maharashtra has a 150 year tradition of social reformers who examined prevalent folk traditions. There were Lokahitawadi, Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule, Dnyanoji Mahadev, Godkar, Ranade, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj, Tukadoji Maharaj, Ghadge baba, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar, Hamid Dalwai and Prabodhankar Thackeray. Such an unbroken stretch has not been the fortune of any other state in India. And if we consider them to be schools of learning for social reformers, each headed by a learned guru, then Mahatma Phule was the learned guru of them all.

But as we clap on hearing his name, I'd like to share an example. We know that Savitribai [Phule] had started teaching girls and those who opposed her used to throw filth on her clothes as she passed on the way to school. So she used to carry a spare sari to change into for teaching, on reaching school. But what we don't know is that at that time, there were pamphlets circulated in Pune, which if I tell you now, you will laugh. They said that this Phule says women should be taught to read and write, but women must not be taught to read and right at all. Why? Because if women learn to read, they will read bad/obscene books. No idea how the man who learned to read knew this... Women who learn to read will read inappropriate books and women who learn to write will write naughty letters to their husbands.

You are laughing, Phule's father didn't laugh. He called Phule and ordered him to stop teaching girls. Phule asked, "Why?". He replied, "Our religious tradition says so. Learning isn't a woman's work, her arena of work is the kitchen and children.". Phule retorted, "Whatever was written in religion may be written, I have decided that I will teach women." Phule's father said that that wouldn't do and that everyone had to obey religious strictures.  Phule refused to obey. His father said that if he wanted to teach women, then it would not be in his home.

And because a 21 year old Mahatma Phule and his 18 year old wife Savitribai Phule stepped over the threshold and left their home in order to teach women, you 40-50 women [in the audience] are sitting here confidently.

Which brings me to this incident. A woman from the pardhi community from Amravati, who didn't have water where she lived, filled water at the school next door. The school headmaster thrashed her badly. Ignore that she was beaten. She was beaten, there was police investigation of the headmaster's actions, that is not the point. What was worse was that because a woman was touched by a man not related to her, their caste panchayat excommunicated the woman, her husband and her two children, didn't allow them to live in the settlement, forced them to sit under a tree and fined them 31 thousand rupees. Of this, they were able to pay only ten thousand. Ashok Pawar, an anti-superstition activist from that community wrote the story of this injustice for the Sadhana weekly magazine which I edit. I was astonished to find that a reader I had never met, a retired teacher called Bhigde, sent me 21 thousand rupees in cash, requesting that it be given to the caste panchayat "because our community will take at least another 500 years to repay these sins." Where is Mahatma Phule? The money was sent to the caste panchayat. This is the reality.

Today, we are fighting for an anti-superstition law, the bill for which is before the upcoming winter assembly, what is it called? It has the name of our subject.  Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2011 (it was passed in 2013, after he was murdered). The discussions you are having about inhuman and inappropriate traditions, how long has it been since the law has been proposed? Only 18 years. It has been approved by the Assembly five times in these 18 years.

In 1829, Lord Bentinck passed a law banning sati practice and our shastris and pandits went to court claiming that the immolation of the wife after the death of her husband is our religious tradition. Lord Bentinck did not agree. The pandits asked, what would happen of her character/reputation? That is when Lord Bentinck started a seven rupee pension. He faced criticism over meddling in matters not of his religion or trade. He replied that if he saw a woman burn and did nothing, he'd be useless as an administrator.

Even today, people throw stones when a wish is fulfilled [speaking of specific orthodox tradition]. If I threw stones, I'd be arrested for stone pelting, but thousands throwing stones is appreciated as religious faith. And there is no law for this. They ask, which law should be used.

It needs to be understood. Not all traditions are bad. Dharma-shastra (religious rules) say that a Ganesh idol should be of the earth (made of mud/clay) and it should be immersed in flowing water. In earlier times, there was plenty of mud and rivers had plenty of flowing water. Make a nice clay idol, and the texts prescribe that it shouldn't be larger than the span of a palm, and use it for worship. Then, return what was taken from nature back into nature. But a hundred years ago, you didn't have plaster of Paris, toxic paints and gigantic idols. Maharashtra's population had not reached 11 crore. Can the same practice be continued now?

We suggested, that the idols not be immersed in the river. If you see the Mula Mutha in Pune, it is more like a sewer than a river. But people would throw the idols in there. Then we decided that we would take the idols as donations after the religious rites were over. Senior scientist Vasantrao Gowarikar and I stood there to accept donated idols. People who called themselves protectors of Hindu religion came and stood next to us, with loud religious bells and whenever we started to speak, they'd ring the bells loudly so that we couldn't be heard. Their did not accept our questioning of their religious tradition to dispose off idols in flowing water.

Then we went to the High Court, and Supreme Court and all the decisions were in our favor, and now, what we were suggesting is an official order from the environment ministry.

What does this tell us? We need reform.

Narendra Dabholkar's speech on tradition and superstition - English translation Part 2

Part 3 coming soon.

6

Lalu Prasad Yadav's candid remark on "Even Hindus eat " appears to have shocked Sushil Kumar , and he's asking Sonia Gandhi and Nitish Kumar for explanations, as though there is something difficult to comprehend about a four word sentence.

While the is busy rewriting and and science and textbooks to studiously insert belief everywhere and anywhere, and undermining organizations of learning by installing carefully mediocre (read incompetent) people to key positions, surely the supposed gatekeepers are not unaware of the fact that Hindus can and do eat beef.

I personally know several Brahmins who have eaten beef. I know plenty of Hindus abroad who eat beef. My first taste of beef was a can of corned beef on a trek - brought along by someone whose father was a senior leader of a BJP affiliate party. That too a girl. And this is the Brahmins. The supposed vegetarians, all mentioned so far. Plenty of non-vegetarian friends eat beef. In my late teens and early twenties, I went to the bhendi bazaar almost religiously every Friday, to pick up cheap and interesting things - particularly art materials. One of the friends on the group - a CKP - a meat eating considered very upper caste and equals of Brahmins was a total beef fan. If he went to Bhendi bazaar, it was impossible to get him out without eating beef in one of the restaurants there - I forget the name now. I have had beef several times with him, though at that point I was mostly a vegetarian and lived in a Brahmin society, so these experiences came largely in the company of other meat eaters - not just beef, even chicken or other meat.

Kerala BJP leader Surendran enjoying parotta and beef
Kerala BJP leader Surendran enjoying parotta and beef
Over the years, I have heard of countless Hindus eating beef. Perhaps Sushil Kumar Modi is not aware, but there are photos of BJP leaders eating beef as well. In Kerala. In 2013, BJP Tribal leader Devlal Dugga sacrificed a cow to a tribal deity in his native village of Khadka in Narayanpur district of Chattisgarh - against the wishes of local villagers and in a place where animal sacrifices had been banned. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, BJP leader in - Khurshid Ahmed Malik (probably not Hindu unless gharwapsied) threw a beef party protesting the beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir and invited Hindus and Muslims. In 2012, dalits organized a beef eating festival in protest of a beef ban imposed on the college campus at Osmania University. ABVP activists even gatecrashed and got violent there, so it isn't as though BJP didn't know. If you look at the campaign page of the beef and pork eating campaign at JNU, you will notice that most of the profiles listed sound Hindu.

Beef is happily eaten in the northeast tribes, in West Bengal. Countless Hindus have openly stated on various social that they do eat beef in the last few days. Like waving "hello! Hindu here. Eats beef."

And this is hardly a new thing.

Here's Savarkar for you.

When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.341)

This is Vivekananda:

If we did not eat beef and mutton, there would be no butchers. Eating meat is only allowable for people who do very hard work, and who are not going to be Bhaktas; but if you are going to be Bhaktas, you should avoid meat.

The Brahmins at one time ate beef and married Sudras. [A] calf was killed to please a guest. Sudras cooked for Brahmins.[Source]

There was a time in this very when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race. Therefore the practice was stopped, and a voice was raised against the killing of cows.[Source]

Vivekananda is even alleged to have eaten beef himself (though he has also given contradictory quotes claiming no Hindu eats beef - worth a separate article to examine what he said and to which audience).

So, either an organization claiming to speak about Hindus is ignorant about Hindus, or it pretends to call everyone it can lay its hands on as Hindus, but in the end will only recognize its core upper caste cartel as real Hindus. BJP has to decide whether beef eating castes and tribes it claims under Hinduism are Hindu or not. It has to decide whether the Buddhists it calls Hindu are Hindu or not. If yes, then Hindus most certainly eat beef. If not, they must stop lying in election campaigns and propaganda about the holy cow and Hindu Rashtra. Though of course, Sushil Kumar Modi may not think of beef-eating dalits as Hindus, given how his name was implicated in support to murderers of dalits from the Ranvir Sena. Surely a son of wouldn't endorse of Hindus like some invading Mughal?

Surely the messiahs of Hindus wouldn't do the most harm to Hindus with beef bans?

Because, even Savarkar had the nature of upper caste zealotry nailed, and himself being atheist and uneasy with and had explicitly said:

…When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.341)

Ring any bells about Dadri and zealot leaders recommending murder on national television?

But then that is exactly what BJP is doing, no? Creating an artificial "truth" of Hinduism, that excludes non-upper-caste practices and herds everyone into following the "dharma" their leaders are best at defining for everyone - with carrot and stick?

Regardless, at least at this date, it cannot be denied that Hindus do eat beef, which BJP is trying its hardest to deny and prevent. One wonders why, if BJP is supposedly pro-Hindu. One wonders why BJP claims to care about Hindus at all, when its agenda is Hindutva, affiliates of which are happy to Hindus who don't conform to their zealot agenda for India. When the poison fed by nationalists and their profiteering hits the roof so bad that retired veterans are assaulted by state controlled , and BJP leader's son incites a murder by lynching with a manufactured accusation of beef eating - against the family of an Air Force warrior of India, where the Air Force chief is moving the family threatened by the murderous rage unleashed by BJP's insanity to its own secure base to protect them.

You can wake up one who is sleeping, not one who pretends to sleep. You can reason with one conflicted over information, not ones seeking to interpret anything and everything and photoshop where not available to incite civil war in a country they pretend to love. Where they report to an organization giving open calls to people to have arms in their home. When there is massive political profit to be reaped from threatening the safety of people and winning by polarizing the greater number of people in a direction you represent, what is the small sacrifice of truth, safety, life?

Is that not the plan? To raze India to the ground and build a Hindu Rashtra on its carcass?

What does it matter that fundamental rights be overruled, bitter hatred be spawned among communities, violence warp Hindu minds till they think of nothing beyond hostility to Muslims. What does it matter? Riots win elections. That is all that matters to abject greed. BJP leaders will be unable to see Hindus who eat beef. They will redefine Hindus, attack them as "not real Hindus" or "anti-Hindus", recommend murders for "secularists", anything, everything to avoid that four word sentence Lalu Prasad Yadav threw out. "Even Hindus eat beef."

It is true.

1

Once Maharashtra was the land of progressive thought. Now it is the land where progressive thought is killed. After Narendra Dabholkar's murder in Pune, Comrade Govind Pansare was shot in Kolhapur. He has succumbed to his injuries.

This is the man who hosted events asking dangerous questions like "Who killed Karkare?" or protested the powerful IRB Infrastructure Developers. Over decades of service, he has stood up for all kinds of rights of people. He faced virulent hate propaganda from fans of Nathuram Godse more recently (Nathuram godse is Mahatma Gandhi's murderer) from Sanatan Sanstha and others.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Govind Pansare is dead. Murdered brutally to silence. His killers roam free. Where is justice?[/tweetthis]

In a state where the supporters of the ruling parties are the most venomous haters of progressive thinking activists, there appears to be no point expecting justice. In a country where the state machinery works to free killers and frame activists, there appears to be no point expecting rule of law. What is justice anyway? Two or ten worthless souls put behind bars cannot compensate the social loss of progressive thoughts being proliferated time and again.

Justice for the murder of a thinker can only come from the proliferation of their thoughts. Voices that resonate with ethics become louder because they speak the hearts of many, address the needs of many. They can be silenced by guns, but they cannot be refuted. Thoughts let lose in the world cannot be reeled back in.

We all die one day. The fearless die once.

When Narendra Dabholkar was murdered, I was overwhelmed with shame for having agreed with his views, but never taken the effort to add my voice. From that day, I remain committed to speaking out against superstition.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]We all die one day. The fearless die once. One dead Pansare spawns many more.[/tweetthis]

Today, it seems the commitment needs to be wider. There are so many things that need voices speaking truth to power. So many voices that going around with a gun becomes unfeasible. In the absence of deterrent for criminals from the state, the strategy of minds insisting on progressive thought must evolve to build in deterrents. This is one.

I promise to continue speaking. Loud and clear. Against superstition. Against corruption. Against exploitation and inequality. Against communal hate.

It is but one voice and the task is huge, there is no alternative but to grow to meet it.

Walk along. Let not voices of reason be a few heads sticking out in a crowd that can be shot out of the picture.

A year and a half after the brutal murder of Narendra Dabholkar on 20th August 2013, another Communist leader and Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti activist Govind Pansare and his wife Uma been shot in a similar manner in Kolhapur today.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Attacks on progressive thinkers are on the rise and this is not acceptable[/tweetthis]

Govind Pansare faced considerable anger from Hindutva extremist groups as the main organizer of the talk "Who killed Karkare?" based on the book by former Inspector General of Police, Shamshuddin Mushrif and was an active leader of the Communist Party of India from Kolhapur.

Who killed Karkare?
Who killed Karkare?

Govind Pansare is said to be gravely injured on his neck. He is admitted in Kolhapur's Austere Adhaar Hospital with severe blood loss and is being operated upon. Close aide Nivas Salokhe has told Indian Express reporter that he is undergoing surgery. His wife Uma is said to be stable.

News still coming in. Post will be updated.

[tweetthis]Remembering the initial news of the attack on Govind Pansare. He died of injuries.[/tweetthis]

Anti-superstition activists are increasingly under attack from right wing extremists in Maharashtra.

Protesters in Pune after attack on Govind Pansare

Protests in Pune after attack on Govind Pansare
Protests in Pune after attack on Govind Pansare. Photo: Sameer Khan

Much of the news compiled here, unless otherwise mentioned, is from @AlkaDhupkar on Twitter.