VIEW: Science and the space age belief systems —Dhirendra Sharma - Saturday, April 02, 2011

Source :\04\02\story_2-4-2011_pg3_6

According to the Space Treaty, all human life is sacrosanct. And no celestial entity will be subject to appropriation by any sovereign government, neither by means of space-land use or occupation, nor by military force

The struggle against discrimination, poverty and injustice is common to all nations irrespective of caste, creed, region or religion. Though there are historical and religious factors behind violence, the conflict is essentially between science and cultural belief systems. Neo-conservatives of all colours are inspired by a non-scientific exclusive identity crisis, not confined to the Indian subcontinent. The chauvinists are using narrow regional jingoist politics to stay in business when the masses, in the 21st century space age, would not be seeking divine dispensation since knowledge (science) is now freely available over the internet to all humanity, irrespective of gender, caste, region and religion. Moreover, today a citizen’s identity is determined by blood group, not by gender, caste, class, race, region or religion. And there is no exclusive blood group that separates Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Arabs, Tamils and Sinhalas, Marathas and Biharis, Sindhis and Baloch, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris, or Pakistanis and Indians.

The conflict is really between science and religion. There is no faith, race, region or religion whose members have not violated the human rights of women and the weak. If the priests at Tirupati Temple had not allowed the entry of Dalits, non-Muslims are not allowed inside mosques. The Hindu Laws of Manu deny the right of women and Dalits to education (stri-shudro naa adhiyataam). It was only in 1928 that the British parliament granted women the right to vote, and Oxford and Cambridge universities did not admit girls till the late 19th century. Our struggle against discrimination and poverty, therefore, is common and universal, not caste, region or religion-specific.

The Concerned Scientists had observed in their 21st Century Space Age Manifesto for Global Peace that members of no race, region, religion, caste, class or creed are free from wrongdoings. And Mahatma Gandhi had said, “All religions are imperfect because they are created by men.” Paradoxically, regionalism and religious chauvinism had reappeared in the garb of democratic power politics.

Nonetheless, the 21st century space science is rooted in the knowledge gene of humans. From the very beginning of civilisation, the scientists (rishis) had explored the earth and heaven. The Indian, Greek and Romans mythologies are evidence of our never-ending quest in the unknown universe. The earlier researchers and explorers took advantage of the discovery of the unknown world as they colonised the landmass of the continents. But today, in space research, scientists are primarily inspired by the Upanishadic dictum of “Tamso-maa jyotir gamayah (Lead us from darkness to light)”. Today, scientists want to know what is still unknown in the cosmos. But landing on the moon would not qualify the earthlings of any country or state to appropriate the moon or any other planet. Thus, space exploration poses a complex legal problem. Whose national laws should govern the space regime? To this effect, there is an Outer Space Treaty of 1967, ratified by 98 members of the UN. According to the Space Treaty, all human life is sacrosanct. And no celestial entity will be subject to appropriation by any sovereign government, neither by means of space-land use or occupation, nor by military force. In the space age, therefore, it would be irrational political reasoning to fight for an exclusive space zone based on any cultural belief systems of the planet earth.

For instance, if a Muslim team landed on the moon, would it be governed by the blasphemy laws? Or what will happen if, in a space station, followers of different faiths get into an argument? Would there be Shia or Sunni observation? Or would the Raj Thackerays or the temple priests govern life in space? Such are the complex socio-cultural and legal issues that call for a totally fresh thinking by the preachers and the popes of all faiths, as well as the social scientists of the UN. In the age of cybernetics, techno-scientific problems can be solved digitally. But in science and in space there can be no exclusive (eastern or western) cultural zones. Living conditions, clothing, food, medicines and civic routine would be common, irrespective of gender, caste, class, race, or religion. Neo-conservatives of all colours and faiths would find it hard to agitate for exclusive rights in the space age regime.

The writer is the director of Centre for Science Policy and convenor of Concerned Scientists & Philosophers, based in Dehradun, India

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