The government has removed the chapter on Charles Darwin’s “Theory of Biological Evolution” from the NCERT textbook for Class 10 under the guise of a “curriculum rationalisation exercise.” This decision raises questions about whether it is part of a genuine rationalisation process or a larger ideological plan to promote certain beliefs.
The government’s selective deletions and unwanted inclusions in the curriculum, such as the deletion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory and the introduction of the Bhagavad Gita in schools last year in most of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled States, prompt one to consider whether there is an unwitting but significant connection between these seemingly unrelated decisions. This pattern may be symptomatic of a plan to spread regressive ideas of the Sangh Parivar in the field of education.
A closer analysis reveals the relevance of these two regressive decisions to the case at hand.
The erasure of Darwin
The BJP has previously targeted Darwin’s theory of evolution. Five years ago, the then Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Satyapal Singh, claimed that Darwin’s theory of evolution was scientifically incorrect and should not be taught in schools. He dismissed it as unscientific, basing his argument on the premise that “nobody had seen it”. He further asserted that since humans are seen on Earth, they have always existed as humans. In other words, he strongly advocated the idea of creationism, which posits that humans were created and not a product of evolution.
This is the basic tenet of creationism, a theory of the origin of the world that holds that all species of animals and plants were created by a divine act and have existed since creation, similar to what the minister stated. This literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis, has been used to justify creationism as a science. Creationists have opposed Darwin’s theory of evolution and demanded that creationism be taught as a science on par with the theory of evolution.
For some time during the last century, Darwin’s theory of evolution and creationism were seen as opposing theories, with one pitted against the other. The United States has grappled with the debate between creation science and the theory of evolution. Proponents of creation science have sought equal priority for teaching evolution and creation science in schools. In fact, the state of Arkansas passed a law to this effect. While they did not blatantly claim that evolutionary theory is not science, as Minister Singh did, they attempted to portray creation theory as scientific. The constitutionality of the Arkansas law was challenged by scientists, and in that case, unlike our minister, the judge ruled out creation theory as science.
Enter creation theory
Similarly, Hindu theology contains its own creation myths as documented in the Puranas and the Gita. These myths not only depict the creation of mankind as a divine act, which contradicts evolutionary theory, but they also assert that along with the creation of mankind, the four-fold caste system and Brahminical rituals were also created and bestowed upon humanity. The recent move by the BJP government in India to introduce the Gita in the school curriculum and the deletion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory from textbooks cannot be seen as unrelated actions. The link between these seemingly disconnected moves is the unscientific theory of creationism.
The Gita, a theological text consisting of 700 shlokas (verse-forms) divided into 18 chapters, has gained popularity in the world of Hindu thought. While it is often lauded for promoting karma yoga, a path of selfless action, it only refers to Vedic karmas and yajnas (rituals and sacrifices of the Vedas performed by the Brahmins). Moreover, it presents the four-fold caste system as a creation of the Lord himself.
This is highlighted in Chapter 4, verse 13, where the Lord proclaims:
tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhyakartāram avyayam
(“The four-fold caste was created by Me according to people’s Guna and Karma. Although I am the Creator of this system, know Me to be the non-doer and changeless.”)
B.R. Ambedkar (in Chapter 13, Volume 3 of his writings and speeches published by the Maharashtra government) argues that the Gita is a counter-revolutionary text that offers a philosophical defence for regressive views and dogmas. In fact, he contends that the Gita fails even in that regard and actually defends one dogma by appealing to another. He provides examples to illustrate this point, citing Chaturvarnya (the four-fold caste system) and specifically referring to the above-cited verse.
The idea of creationism is further invoked in the context of how mankind was created by Prajapati along with all the yajnas (sacrifices or rituals conducted by Brahmins), as mentioned in Chapter 3, verse 10:
saha-yajñāḥ prajāḥ sṛiṣhṭvā purovācha prajāpatiḥ
anena prasaviṣhyadhvam eṣha vo ’stviṣhṭa-kāma-dhuk
(“Having created mankind in the beginning together with yajna, the Prajapati said: ‘By this shall you prosper; this shall be the giver of your desires.’”)
This is how the Gita extends the idea of creation and legitimises caste and rituals by proclaiming that they are created by the Lord himself, without providing any argument for acceptance of this claim. By introducing the Gita in the school curriculum, a form of creation theory is being introduced, which is central to the Gita and has been emphatically proclaimed. However, this form of creationism is regressive and obnoxious, especially when compared to the creationism that prevailed in the West, as it includes the idea of caste and associated rituals as part of the creation process. This makes the ideas of the Gita unscientific, anachronistic, and opposed to the evolutionary theory of science.
With the introduction of the Gita in schools, students will naturally come across the specific forms of creation myths presented in the text, which goes against the idea of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The evolutionary theory provides a strong counter to the theological beliefs on the creation of the caste system. In order to avoid such conflicts, some may suggest deleting evolutionary theory from the curriculum. However, such decisions, including the deletion of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the introduction of the Bhagavad Gita in the school curriculum, may actually rationalise the caste system, rather than addressing the issues with the curriculum itself.
The author is former faculty of philosophy at IISER, Mohali.