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APP
February 24, 2021

Modi govt ridiculed for promoting religious pseudoscience about cows

National

A
APP
February 24, 2021

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government postponed plans for a national student examination on cows that critics said used spurious claims and substituted religion for science, according to a leading American newspaper.Indian students were preparing hard for the big test on cows, reading that India’s cows have more emotions than foreign ones, and that their humps have special powers, The New York Times said in a report from New Delhi published Tuesday.

But facing widespread ridicule, it said the government abruptly postponed the first exam based on a new curriculum, pushed by Modi’s government. Students at public universities and public schools had been asked to brush up on material that scientists and others dismissed as baseless, accusing the government of promoting religious pseudoscience about cows, which Hinduism considers sacred, to unwitting students, the Times said.

Critics said that the curriculum, devised by the National Cow Commission, set up by Modi’s government, was an especially bold move by his ruling party to push its ideology and undercut the secularism that is enshrined in India’s Constitution but seems to be increasingly imperiled with each passing day. “This is very weird, this exam,” Komal Srivastava, an official for the India Knowledge and Science Society, a nonprofit educational group, was quoted as saying in the report. “They can say anything about cows: that radiation is reduced by its dung, which is unscientific. If we want to teach kids about cows, it has to be scientific knowledge and not mythology.”

Since Modi came to power in 2014, his party has embarked on a steady, intense and divisive campaign to make India more of an overtly Hindu state, it was pointed out. Government bodies have rewritten textbooks, lopping out sections on Muslim rulers.

They have changed official place names to Hindu from Muslim. And a little more than a year ago, the Parliament passed a citizenship law that openly discriminated against Muslims, provoking searing nationwide protests that lasted until COVID-19 hit. Cows have become a special flash point, the Times highlighted, adding that since Modi came to power, Hindu nationalist lynch mobs have killed dozens of people in the name of protecting cows. The victims are usually Muslims or other members of minorities, and the killers often get away. Many academics see the fact that a government body tried to push a curriculum on cows “one that included many completely unsubstantiated claims” as evidence that the government has increasingly fallen under the sway of Hindu supremacist groups like the RSS, in which Modi and many top officials were once active.

In 2019, Modi’s government established the National Cow Commission with the express purpose of protecting cows. Its website lists, among other objectives, “proper implementation of laws with respect to prohibition of slaughter and/or cruelty to cows.”

Many Indian states, but not all, ban the slaughter of cattle. The study material in the new course was designed by the cow commission, which falls under the Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, and was widely circulated online in several languages, including English.

The first online exam was supposed to be Thursday. The material has chapters on cow entrepreneurship and sayings from Hindu scriptures, the report said. The course delves into breed improvement, bioenergy from cow dung, pesticides, medicines from cow urine, the concept of promoting cow tourism, using cow dung instead of plaster of Paris for ecological reasons and the difference between Indian and foreign cows.

The commission is headed by Vallabhbhai Kathiria, a surgeon and former member of Parliament from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The material that students were asked to absorb for the exam, according to the report, made baseless claims, like one that inside the hump of the Indian cow “there is a solar pulse which is known to absorb vitamin D from the sun’s rays and release it in its milk.”

Hump-less ‘Jersey’ (foreign) cows, the material said, don’t have such powers.

Another part of the curriculum said that indigenous cows were “emotional toward humans and other living beings,” but that in foreign cows, “none of these feelings were exhibited.” Indian cows are ‘alert’ and ‘strong,’ the material said, but foreign cows are ‘lazy.’

Critics across the country urged the cow commission to call off the exam, saying students would feel pressured by the government to take it. They said parents would urge their children to take the exam, because the government was planning to issue a certificate that could be helpful to the students’ future careers. The commission also dangled prize money for top scorers.

But on Saturday, the commission announced that it was postponing the exam, without providing a future date, saying it had been delayed for administrative reasons. "Like those in many other countries, schools in India have been sucked into the nation’s ideological battles," The Times said.

Nivedita Menon, a professor of political theory at one of India’s premier educational institutions, Jawaharlal Nehru University, was quoted as saying that the government was trying to ‘completely undo research and critical thinking.”