Respected Dr Bhargava,
This letter comes from an ordinary citizen of this country who thinks that Padma awards are given to those Indians who are regarded as jewels in the crown of India and who have added glory to the Nation by their exceptional contribution in some fields that make India a great nation. When I read the news reports that you have returned it, I wondered what you were trying to convey. Is it because you no longer consider your contribution as a worthy something or you consider that India is not a worthy nation to have you honored?
In your letter of return to the President you have cited the reason as “an expression of my concern at the currently prevailing socio-politico situation in the country.” (The news report that I read is produced at the end of this letter). So you think that the prevailing conditions in the country are not good; in other words you think our country is not doing great. By returning the award do you mean to convey that India is not a worthy nation to have you as a jewel of honor? Or you don’t want an honor from a country that is “divisive, unreasonable and unscientific” – the description you have given to the RSS for which the BJP is the political front, to quote your words.
According to the news report you go on to quote Mr Mohan Bhagawat on what he thinks on the role of woman (‘that marriage is a contract according to which the woman is supposed to be only a housewife and not work outside’). I don’t know in what context Mt Bhagawat had said that, because technically speaking ‘Vivaha’ is a contract of complementary roles for the partners to run a household while fulfilling their Purusharthas. If one works outside, the other works at home. But what struck me was that you have taken objection to this as a reason for returning the Padma award!
Looking back in time when you received this award, Dr Bhargava, there was a huge controversy raging on Shah Banu case. You received the award in 1986 and in the same year the Rajiv Gandhi Government overturned the Supreme Court verdict on alimony to the hapless Muslim housewife and enacted a new act that was divisive, autocratic and yielding to religious bigotry. The same President who conferred the award on you sanctioned that act. I don’t know which happened first, you receiving the award or the act that changed the fate of Muslim women.
My question is where were you and your sensibilities when such a draconian act was enacted purely based on the tenets of a religion? Why didn’t you refuse the award then or return the award at that time itself? After all, Mr Bhagawat’s comment is not going to change the life of an average Hindu housewife. But the Shah Banu act did spell doom on countless Muslim women and for all the years since then. Where was your humanism and spirit of inquiry at that time? Or was it developed by you only later and has woken up now on hearing Mr Bhagawat speak?
The Hindu report then quotes you calling the Dadri incident as a plan controlled by the BJP. May I ask you the proof you have in hand to make this accusation? You are a person steeped in scientific temper and rational thinking and therefore you cannot be expected to make claims without proof. What is the proof you have for this that made you take an extreme step of returning the award which was not returned even in 1986 despite the more provocative Shah Banu case?
I have another question for you in this connection. If the ruling Governments are responsible for the incidents like the Dadri one, would you in the same breath take the Congress party and the Government in Karnataka to task for the lynching of Prashanth Poojary? Have you at least expressed your displeasure over the killing of Poojary? Why this hypocrisy for you and your fellow intellectuals and awardees?
Quoting the Dadri case you have lamented that the BJP wants to control what we eat, what we read and so on. But your attention must in fact turn to those places where even naming one’s child is controlled by the Government. Dodn’t you know that one cannot name one’s child as Rama in Saudi? (Read here). But In India there are many Hindus who voluntarily name their kids with Christian and Muslim names. But you won’t come across an Indian Muslim or Christian naming his child as Rama or Krishna or any Hindu name. Such is the level of tolerance among them – the minorities for whom your heart was bleeding when you returned the award.
You said, ‘Minorities are made to feel that they are second class citizens of the country’. You invoke the clause ‘intolerance’ in this context. I know that you are a pioneering head of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) of Hyderabad. CCMB has earned an eternal name in having discovered the ANI and ASI genes (excuse me for the colloquial terms) as mother of all Indian population. An ordinary citizen that I am, this kind of researches led me to know more about the genesis of minorities in India. You as one engaged in such studies must have very well known that the Muslims of India whom you call as minorities were indeed culturally transformed ones and not genetically different from the Hindus.
A reserach study published in 2006 by Ramana Gutala, Denise R. Carvalho-Silva, Li Jin, Bryndis Yngvadottir, Vasanthi Avadhanula, Khaja Nanne, Lalji Singh, Ranajit Chakraborty and Chris Tyler-Smith did show that Muslims of India were indigenous people culturally changed into their present religion. It was found out that “Islamization in India did not involve large-scale replacement of Hindu Y chromosomes”.
Similar results were published in the Journal of Human Genetics in June 2009 by another group of researchers consisting of Muthukrishnan Eaaswarkhanth, Bhawna Dubey, Poorlin Ramakodi Meganathan, Zeinab Ravesh, Faizan Ahmed Khan, Lalji Singh, Kumarasamy Thangaraj and Ikramul Haque who said that ‘the spread of Islamic faith in the Indian subcontinent was predominantly cultural transformation associated with minor gene flow from West Asia’ and that they are closest to the geographical neighbors of the Hindu communities – implying that these Muslims were originally Hindus and were converts later.
Yet another study by the Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, University Park, Miami, done on the mtDNA of Sunni and Shia Muslims of Uttar Pradesh showed that they are of Indian origin and when integrated with Y chromosome results showed the Indo Hindu to Islamic conversion in those two populations of UP (abstract here).
All these information, known to me from news paper publications must have been known to you as one in the related scientific field. What is the message these studies convey? Are they not a proof of integrated India where Muslims are not minorities but are natural sons of this soil whose ancestors were not as fortunate as the Hindus in their surroundings in having escaped from the atrocities heaped on them by the invaders? Why your scientific temper and urge for things scientific failed you to understand the cultural history of Muslims? If I were in your place I would have striven for unifying Hindus and Muslims as one stock using more and more of such studies and have truly lived up to the Padma honour given by the country.
You are known for the spirit of inquiry and humanism. Where were they when you quoted Charaka Samhitha? You attributed the following to Charaka Samhitha: “The flesh of the cow is beneficial for those suffering from the loss of flesh due to disorders caused by an excess of vayu, rhinitis, irregular fever, dry cough, fatigue and also in cases of excessive appetite resulting from hard manual work” How many Hindus, do you think subscribe to this remedy? The spirit of inquiry taught by Krishna is not to accept even his teaching verbatim but to think and act. Even if it is true that Charaka Samhitha gave this prescription, don’t you think that this sounds too general and not specific as a medicine for the said diseases? I never heard of anyone who ate beef for getting relief from dry cough and nor have known any Ayurvedic doctor prescribe beef for rhinitis or fever. The spirit of inquiry must teach us what to follow and what to discard.
More than the spirit of inquiry, it is compassionate humanism that must dominate our thinking if something like eating beef is prescribed by the scriptures. Ahimsa is the supreme Dharma declared by Hindu scriptures. The Swasti Vachan of Vedas wishes good will for all plants, bipeds and quadrupeds besides wishing peace at all levels of existence. Such being the compassion and care for all beings in our surroundings, how can a Hindu medical scripture subscribe a cure that can be got through violence? I expected you to condemn and not concur with this passage from Charaka Samhitha –as one known for reformist and humanist tendencies – and denounce beef on compassionate grounds.
Your thirst for scientific inquiry also seems to have taken a back seat, as you seem to have ignored the many research findings on harmful and adverse effects of beef on human health and environment. Just before you returned the award, WHO and UNEP published their findings on need to avoid eating beef. How come you failed to take note of them?
From your comment that the present government is least knowledgeable and least concerned about science, it is known that this government is not up to your level of knowledge. Let it be so. But couldn’t you have exhibited the knowledge of the highest order by recognizing the right to life for the cows and other animals who share most of our genes? Why couldn’t your knowledge of biology infuse a sense of love and respect for the fellow living things with which we share our space? You must have been in the forefront of promoting compassion for other lives.
That four lettered word b… was a bad word even to utter for the Hindus not because the Hindus were less knowledgeable or low in scientific temper. It is because they have a heart full of compassion and gratitude for the animal that gives them food and livelihood. Knowledge makes one powerful, but compassion makes one Godly. Knowledge that does not teach compassion is a waste. Don’t you agree Dr Bhargava?
The article from The Hindu that made me write to you:-
P.M. Bhargava sends back Padma Bhushan award to President
Well-known scientist and founder-director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) P.M. Bhargava has returned the Padma Bhushan award, received by him in 1986, to President Pranab Mukherjee in protest against the direction in which “today’s Government run by the BJP is driving the country”.
Mr. Bhargava sent the award to the President on November 6. Explaining the reasons for his decision to return the award, he said in a letter to Mr. Mukherjee: “it is with much regret that I am, with this letter, returning the award of Padma Bhushan that I had the privilege of receiving in 1986 from the then President of India, Shri Giani Zail Singh. This award has been very dear to me. My returning it to you, for whom I have much respect and admiration, is an expression of my concern at the currently prevailing socio-politico situation in the country. I am deeply concerned that the Bharatiya Janata Party which is ruling at the Centre and several States, has deserted the road of democracy and is driving my beloved country on a path that would make the country a Hindu religious autocracy, somewhat like Pakistan with Islam replaced by Hinduism”.
He said “no one would be more aware than you that, de facto, BJP is the political front of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and functions under the leadership of the RSS that is fully committed to the ideology of Hindutva, which I find divisive, unreasonable and unscientific”.
Referring to the Constitution (Article 51 a(h)), he said that one of the duties of citizens was to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. He said: “Steeped in superstition, unreason and irrationality, much of what RSS and BJP do goes against the grain of scientific temper. An example would be the recent statement of Shri Mohan Bhagwat, who heads the RSS, that marriage is a contract according to which the woman is supposed to be only a housewife and not work outside”.
Dr. Bhargava said “The Dadri incident in which Mohamed Akhlaq was lynched to death in a pre-planned manner (probably by fringe elements that are related to BJP) showed the control that BJP wants to have on what we may eat and what we may not, just as it wants to control what we may wear or whom we may love or what we may read."
“Incidentally, our scriptures put no bar on our eating beef. Charaka Samhita says: “The flesh of the cow is beneficial for those suffering from the loss of flesh due to disorders caused by an excess of vayu, rhinitis, irregular fever, dry cough, fatigue and also in cases of excessive appetite resulting from hard manual work”.
He also expressed his concern that the space for dissent, “which is the hallmark of a democracy is decreasing and intolerance increasing. Minorities are made to feel that they are second class citizens of the country. There are organised attempts to impose Hindutva agenda across the country. Cultural intolerance is a dominant element in the functioning of the present government”, he said.
Stating that he was a professional scientist with an experience of 65 years, he mentioned that he had the occasion of interacting on matters of science with the governments at the Centre since Independence. “I find the present government the least knowledgeable and least concerned about science. The climate of religious conservatism that we have today is a major obstacle in the functioning of science and thus in meeting developmental objectives”, he added.