The false scientific claims made during Modi’s first term

26 June, 2019

The glorification of ancient India has been a recurring theme of the Hindu right-wing discourse in India. During the prime minister Narendra Modi’s first term, this even filtered into the domain of science, saturating the media with dubious scientific claims. From Modi’s suggestion that the Hindu god Ganesh’s elephantine head proves that plastic surgery was prevalent 2,000 years ago, to Pragya Singh Thakur, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, claiming that cow urine can cure cancer, the past half decade was marked by various kinds of falsity. Below is a list of the most egregious pseudo-scientific claims made between 2014 and 2019.

Cow urine cures cancer

While speaking to the television network India Today in April 2019, Pragya Singh Thakur, a current Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament and an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, claimed that “a mixture of gau mutra”—cow urine—“and other cow products cured” her breast cancer. A mix of milk, cow dung and urine formed the alleged healing concoction. Oncologists later debunked her claims. She also said that rubbing a cow in a certain way can help reduce an individual’s blood pressure.

Hindus conducted stem cell research

In January 2019, speakers at the 106th Indian Science Congress claimed that it was ancient Hindus who pioneered stem cell research. “We had 100 Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell and test tube technology,” G Nageshwar Rao, the vice chancellor at Andhra University said, referring to the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata. “It happened a few thousand years ago. This was science in the country,” he added. Subsequently, the organisers distanced themselves from the conference speakers, describing these comments as unfortunate.

Guided missiles and aircraft were present in ancient India

Did the Hindu god Vishnu operate guided missiles? G Nageshwar Rao said so at the same Indian Science Congress. Rao added that Vishnu used guided missiles in the form of his weapon called the “Vishnu Chakra,” which was advanced enough to chase targets and terminate them before it boomeranged back to him. The vice chancellor added that Ravan, the antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana, possessed 24 kinds of aircraft and operated several airports.

Brahma discovered dinosaurs

In January 2019, while presenting a research paper at the 106th Indian Science Congress, Ashu Khosla, a geologist and associate professor at the Panjab University, said that it was the Hindu god Brahma who had first discovered dinosaurs. He said a dinosaur named “Rajasauras had originated in India.” He added that the god’s documentation of such findings may be located in ancient Indian scriptures.

Ancient Indians invented the internet

In April 2018, Tripura’s chief minister Biplab Deb used an example from the Mahabharata to claim that the internet was invented by ancient Indians thousands of years ago. He said the fact that one of the characters in the epic, Sanjaya, had been able to give a blow-by-blow account of the Kurukshetra battle that was taking place miles away to the king Dhritarashtra proved that India had the internet and satellite technologies.

Vedic theory is greater than the theory of relativity

Harsh Vardhan, the current Minister of Science and Technology, claimed that scientist Stephen Hawking said that the Hindu vedas had a theory which trumped Einstein’s theory of relativity. The minister made this remark while addressing the inaugural session at the 105th Indian Science Congress in March 2018.

Faulting Darwin

In January 2018, Satyapal Singh, the minister of state for human resource development at the time, claimed that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was “scientifically wrong.” While visiting a university in Assam, he said, “I have a list of around 10 to 15 great scientists of the world who have said there is no evidence to prove that the theory of evolution is correct.” He stated that school curriculums need to change to reflect this. He added, “Since man is seen on earth, he has always been a man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.”

Peacocks reproduce by swallowing tears

In May 2017, Mahesh Chandra Sharma, a judge at the Rajasthan high court, said that peacocks do not mate. “A peacock is a lifelong celibate,” he said. He claimed that a peahen gets pregnant and reproduces after swallowing the tears of a peacock. “Lord Krishna carried the feather of a peacock on his head,” he added. The judge made these remarks shortly after delivering a judgment in which he recommended that the cow be declared India’s national animal.

Purifying the environment with a yagya

In October 2016, Hindu priests from India performed a yagya, a ritual of sacrificial offering, in Tokyo, in order to purify the environment. This involves burning wooden logs by a fire fed by ghee, and leads to the production of carbon dioxide and smoke. A similar mahayagya—or great sacrifice—was held in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh in March 2018, in which a group of nearly 350 Hindu priests burnt 50 metric tons of mango wood to curb pollution.

Gold detected in cow urine

In June 2016, researchers at the Junagadh Agricultural University claimed that in their analysis of urine samples from 400 cows in Gujarat’s Gir region, they found 3–10 mg of gold in every one litre of urine. “The urine contains 5100 compounds, out of which 388 have medicinal properties,” Dr BA Golakia, a scientist, told News18. “Range of gold varies according to the age and feed it has consumed. Morning cow samples have better gold content than evening. Calves have maximum content of gold.” However, as The Wire explained, “Cows can’t synthesise metals in their bodies, let alone a precious metal like gold.”

A sage wrote guidelines for airplanes

In January 2015, at the 102nd Indian Science Conference in Mumbai, Captain Anand Bodas, a retired pilot, told audience members that a Hindu sage named Bharadwaja had given guidelines on making aircrafts 7,000 years ago. He said the sage even mentioned a diet for pilots—the milk of buffalo, cow and sheep—and that pilots of ancient India’s planes had to wear clothes made out of vegetation grown underwater. He further claimed that India had interplanetary aircrafts thousands of years ago, along with sophisticated radar systems that were superior to what we have today.

Astrology trumps science

In December 2014, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, the incumbent minister of human resource development, said that “science is a dwarf in front of astrology.” He was speaking during a debate in parliament. He added, “Astrology is the biggest science. It is in fact above science. We should promote it.” He further claimed that a Hindu sage had conducted nuclear tests 100,000 years ago.

Ganesha proves plastic surgery existed in ancient India

In October 2014, while speaking to a gathering of doctors and other professionals at a hospital in Mumbai, Modi implied that plastic surgery existed in ancient India. “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time,” he said. He added, “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant's head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”