Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tsunami: A Challenge to Science and Religion
Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

From 26th December 2004 onwards, the word Tsunami entered into a vocabulary of common people of India. It is reported that more than one and half lakh people are washed away by this and people who survived had lost everything. There was no mark of their thatched houses nearby the shore. Most of them were the people depending on the sea for everyday survival other than the morning walkers on the beach side or the people came to spend their trips at beach resorts. More over it has created a violent mark on the minds of people. It is an experience of nightmare. The word still hunting and even after seeing a small wave fisher folk got frightening. Fisher folk are known for their heroic deeds on sea and especially for their skills in negotiating with sea. Now after this incident suddenly lost the confidence to venture into sea. Some how he picked up the confidence and managed to get fish, there is nobody to buy it. The consumers caught in irrational fear that fish is likely to be contaminated. Altogether livelihood is at stake and lost the direction. They are looking after the people who are coming in their help. Apart from the state and its machinery, now they are surrounded by NGOs, Religious organizations and some political organizations. Here I’m not questioning anybody’s sincerity and commitments for the fellow being. But at the same time every group has their own agenda and like take advantage out of the crisis ridden situation of people at shore. For NGOs they got the cause to serve the people and got a chance to get funds from donor agencies. We are hearing the news that the competition of all the religious organization to establish their base among the victims of Tsunami. The RSS, ISCON, Seva Bharathi, Ramakrishna Mission, Buddhists and Christian Missionaries are actively involving in this philanthropic work. There are media reports of conflicts among these religious groups in a way coming close to these people. One may accuse me for criticizing this phenomenon rather than helping the people who are in need. I have my own ideas and concerns for people and not momentary. I would like to see this Tsunami and after effects from the peoples point of view in keeping in mind long term solutions which can promise the better livelihood and dignified life .
One may wonder to ask is this natural calamity called Tsunami is a challenge to science and religion. In one sense I would like to affirm that, yes, it is. Here I’m not particular about any one religion, but the concept of religion as a whole. This includes every religion. You are all aware that Science came in opposition to the very conception of religion. Science got prominence with the enlightenment and its influence on society in understanding it naturalistic way. Science came as a modern enterprise stand opposite to the traditional life supported by religion. The modernity sought to demolish and replace established forms of knowledge dependent on religious authority such as the theory of creation of the world. This new forms of scientific knowledge depended exclusively on experience, experiment and reason. Historically until 18th century religion has a hold over human life in many aspects. The knowledge about the creation of the world, man’s place in the world, his duties and destiny was dominated and determined by the religion. Knowledge is continually referred to scriptural sources and transmitted through schools, colleges, institutions of religion. Science made an attempt to emancipate man from the ties of superstition and ignorance. Science had conscious efforts to reveals the mysteries of nature. It had a serious blow on the feudal social relationships which is hand in glove with religion. Scientific approach helped in understanding of social phenomenon on the basis of human experience. It played a role in improving human life. However, both religion and science had a tremendous impact on human society. Both of them provided a form of knowledge to understand man and the world in a distinctive manner. Some body may point out knowledge can not distinguished as religious or scientific. This may be true partially. Our knowledge came out of social necessity. Man struggled with nature for his survival. Out of his struggles knowledge got evolved. He worked out to get control over nature. He made an every effort to explain the natural phenomenon. Where he failed to explain he surrendered to the natural forces. There religion got importance, it came to rescue him. It consoled him when he was weak. It gave him security in times of uncertainty. It gave a hope when man feels life is miserable and man had a fear of death. In early stage one can not distinguish science and religion. Now we are using these terms in sense of different world view. At present in our commonsensical understanding we are using it with different connotations.
Then, one may ask how come you treat both of the terms in a same plane. Let me clear my position. When I’m saying Tsunami a challenge to science, I’m not belittling or questioning the credentials of science. I’m pointing only the process of production of scientific knowledge. How scientific knowledge is produced at the contemporary times. Further whose benefits it is carried out. I’m only questioning the existing relationship between scientific enterprises, state and society. My intention is that our science and technology should be people centric.

The day after Christmas, we have seen this tragic happening. This tsunami killed the people of all religions-Hinudus of India, Christians of Nagapattinam, Buddists of Srilanka, Muslims of Indonesia and a people of no religion. I’m not generalizing, but it happened to be mostly poor people whose livelihood based on the sea were killed. The people of well constructed houses nearby sea and people away from the sea were managed to escape from this to certain extent. After happenings of Tusnami not only the people living at shore and others are also terrified. They become insecure. Some where the question striking in their mind, what our God is doing? What sin we did to punish like this? The lady running away from the sea has scolding the sea and God. What all our gods doing? We totally believed and developed blind faith and prayed, submitted ourselves and kneeled in front of gods. We even never suspected his existence. The conscious youth are asking, what our government is doing? Can’t they predict earlier. In IIT Chennai the students feel guilty for not providing people centred technology and put a poster on the institute notice boards. Nowadays for every government information technology is a buzz word. What information has passed for the people at risk. The statement that we are lining in the world of information age has to be checked. Tsunami touched coast of Indian Ocean ranging from Indonesia to Somalia via Srilanka, but media not in a position to capture the images lively. The video images of amateur Thailand photographer is only proof and played time and again in our channels. Media is running along with the political functionaries, its priorities are quite different.
Religion had clever enough in accommodating contrary arguments and finds escape routes. The concept of God is central to religion. God is created this world. God is identified as omnipotent, and omniscience. He is benevolent, all kind and had the qualities of all good of our world. He is the moral Governor. He is ultimate authority in all our human affairs. He should not be questioned. Everything is determined by him.
The first objection is that if God is so kind and all good, why he has committed this act to kill this poor innocent people who struggling to live on sea. Then there is a doubt God lost control over nature. Believers of religion won’t accept nature and men are not in his control, in fact they used to say that he had created this world and everything happening only on his will. Then it can be understood as the god is so cruel and merciless. Nobody is ready to accept. The reply for this is, God knows everything. This is the God’s plan since the world is so corrupted and God taught to teach a lesson to his people. The other form of this argument is it is just fate and depends on one’s karma. Why the corruption of world is attributing only to these people. What karma has done the innocent children who died in this Tsunami. There is just contrary argument is that it doesn’t like to brand these people as corrupt and holds the argument that God decide to take these people into his world of heaven from this corrupt and miserable world. This argument stretched further, those people who killed will definitely get the moksa or liberation which is highest ideal of life, the ultimate purushartha. The religious organizations and its believers are praying for this.
We are listening many stories both in media and oral traditions in further strengthening blind religious beliefs. No body in a position to gave up their subjective positions, their beliefs, and prejudices. Religious beliefs rather down playing their arguments they are sharpened their arguments and try to keep the status quo position. Religion had a double edged sword; the believers use it either way. In this religious garb it won’t allow you to question any thing relating to God and religion. Other than providing the above standard religious arguments, it won’t allow even to think about any naturalistic explanation. Why is it happen? What are the scientific reasons for Tsunami. Rather asking the questions about very conception of religion and god, it may circulate stories of great human concern that people of all communities without any distinction taken shelter at mosque, church, and temple-religion in the name of concern. Further it takes advantage in exploiting the crisis times. Many religion organizations came forward to adopt the villages. One can see overplay of religious symbols and big banners in their names. Media is value neutral, it also play a role of sharing or strengthening dominant religious notions. One can understand that religion can provide hope in helpless situation. This doesn’t stand for the test of rationality.
Tsunami is not such mysterious phenomenon that first time happened. History reveals that many times it happened prior to this 26th December 2005.Why our governments are not taken note of it? At first, Tsunami is not beyond the scientific apprehension. One may predict earlier. Secondly, the volcanic eruption to reach the shore it takes certain time. In this mean time the consequence of the dangerous wave may informed to people on shore and government can make alert. Is our sea untouched by the research? This is not true. There are many efforts from MNCs to exploit the resources of the sea. There are studies and research carried in that direction. The big question is why there is no serious research in relating to Tsunami. Why we are not produced need based and people centric technology.
I would like to argue that scientific knowledge and technological innovations could not develop on its own. Though they develop from social necessities, it needs proper encouragement from the state. The priorities of the state always matters in scientific enterprise. The state is concentrated more on Defense technology and spending more in persuasion of such scientific innovations and technology. Most of our budget allocation is done for this purpose. It doesn’t have any concern for the people centred technology and the needs of the people. The other reason might be people affected by the natural calamities like Tsunami is mostly belonging to poor. The state doesn’t have serious concern for these people. They are much worried about the nuclear reactors at Kalpakkam and nuclear bombs and missiles. The unaccountable money is spending in this venture in the name of nation’s threat and security. The ultimate decision makers in the development of science are not scientists but the state. In other words, the politicians occupied the office of state. State intervenes in the production of knowledge systems. And our knowledge and the fruits of science are not reached the people. Still it maintained as a secret. Science has to taken to popular level. One should not forget that without any warning from the state or advantage of technology, lakhs of people saved on their own from Tsunami just by common sense. At least our science should take note of common sense and it should reach at common sensical experience of the people.
On the other hand the people affected by the Tsunami are not much interested in clothes, food packet , some provisions of immediate needs but they are very much worrying about their future. Any way government is not in a position to create an alternative employment to this fishing folk. They require confidence to lead their life at shore. They have love and hate relations with sea. They have to be educated about these kinds of natural calamities like Tsunami rather preaching religious conformativism. It is not the fate or decision of the God, it can be explained. State has to take such responsibility in enlightening people and in inculcating scientific spirit. Technology has to be developed that can give confidence in people and in understanding the relationship of man with nature.
The people living at shore are not at the mercy of the state. This is their right to get the livelihood and to lead a dignified life since fisherfolk contributing to our economy. Because of imposition of religious ideas and lack of scientific education again people are forced live in chaotic and miserable life. The conflicts among the victims of different castes (Dalits and fishermen) are due to this religious conservatism. The situation demands the dignified life, it is possible only through the politicization of the victims of Tsunami .The community centred science is helpful to realize this rather existing ideologies of religious faith and ‘unconcerned scientific knowledge’.
In case the state is not much concerned about poor fisherfolk, at least it has to show its concern to raise the economy through tourism by attracting the tourists. To have a safe and secure life for tourists at beach resorts, state has to take care of tsunami. Even to protect our Defence technology and Nuclear reactors,( which are happened to be located at nearby sea shore), state has to consider seriously to encourage science and technology to protect from natural calamities like Tsunami.

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