Reaching out to the younger generation is our priority number one. All our efforts are to reach out to this generation. The older generations with their fixed mindsets they are either with us or against us. Some fence sitters may need a push or pull from us to come our way. But, most of the times it is preaching to the converted or nonconvertible!
Over the past few months we have had excellent opportunities to reach out to the younger generation. I would like to share these with you. It was due to a combination of circumstances that we got to them. One of these is the effort of the Kanataka Rajya Vigyana Parishath to have district level programs for bright students from all over the district to come to the headquarters of the district to attend a two day Meet-the-Scientist program. In these, the students of the age group twelve to fourteen years got the opportunity to interact with eminent scientists working in prestigious research institutions, to develop a liking for basic sciences and to follow up that with a career in these. I too was invited to speak to these students about cultivation of scientific temper. Though I had been already invited for my usual tours all over the country, the distances being short, since all these were to be in our state of Karnataka, I could attend quite a few and interact with the younger generation.
The first one among these was in the month of September,2009 and was at Karwar which is about 250 kms to the north of Mangalore, the place where I go back to when I am not on tour (or that’s what my better half always complains about!). The interactions which were supposed to go on for ninety minutes went on for two hours and had to be stopped by the intervention of the organisers who complained that I was eating into the next speakers time. That was not the end of the story. I was forced to stay there for a day longer as some of the local schools wanted me to interact with their students. For those who may not know the district of Uttara Kannada where Karwar is the headquarters, it is a hot bed of superstitions including a ‘world famous’ miracle of lamps at a place called Chigalli, burning without oil for 25 years and their authenticity being ‘certified’ by no less a person than the Dalai Lama. The Lama had visited the place and allegedly verified their authenticity and is also supposed to have donated a good sum for its upkeep (we do not understand what is meant by the upkeep of these lamps as the main consumable here is oil which these lamps do not need!). My overnight stay at this place enabled me to photograph a wonderful sunrise over the Kali river, which is reproduced here.
The next opportunity came when I was coming back to Mumbai after a visit to Kathmandu, Nepal. From there I had to come to Bangalore where I was picked up straight from the airport to be taken to a place called Pandavapura, where I had to go from the car to the stage directly as there were many young people waiting to interact. It was also a program for the inauguration of the Science Center. From Pandavapura we went to a place called Chitradurga which has a large religious institution called as Murugarajendra Math headed by a very interesting swami who is an atheist! He has conducted quite a few programs of ours at this place and appreciates very much our point of view! The children’s Meet- the-Scientist program was to be inaugurated by me and he was to be the Chief guest. However, he was in a great hurry as it was getting late for his next program and that was a seminar- 2012- NOT the End of the World! The TV channels of India have the tendency to sensationalize all sorts of stupid things such as the idea that the world is going to end in 2012. The publicity stunt of the producers of the eponymous movie had been swallowed hook, line and sinker by these channels, gone overboard with airing all sorts of footage from old movies as if they were documentary footage! The gullible people have believed these and we have been having a tough time to convince people otherwise!
Some areas of Karnataka make a lot of demands on my time! One of them is what is called the Hyderabad – Karnataka area, comprising of the districts of Bidar, Gulbarga, Raichur and a few others. Here a type of ‘black magic’ called Bhanamathi is allegedly practised. We have been having sustained campaigns in this area exposing that. The older generation is so much into this superstition that it is very difficult to convince them otherwise. But, we have hope for the younger generation. I recall an incident in a girls college where a sobbing girl told me “sir, I am fully convinced about what you said, why don’t you convince my parents too?” pulling on a cord round her neck she showed me half a dozen talisman of various shapes and sizes. She told me that she hid them inside her blouse to escape ridicule! It was not that her parents were illiterate! Both of them were school teachers. But that did not prevent them from falling prey to such stupid superstitious practices. In a place like this, one should not be surprised if anything happens!
Last year during the solar eclipse some Muslims buried to the neck some children with paralysis of the limbs under the belief that it would be cured. The scared, screaming children were buried up to the neck in pits for the entire duration of the solar eclipse. In these districts a sustained campaign over the past few years has now yielded some results. About five years back in one of the villages, a six year old girl was kidnapped, flayed and sacrificed in search of ‘hidden’ treasure. Though the villagers knew that the girl had been kidnapped by some Bhanamathi practitioners, they had no courage to confront them. After a few training programs there and a sustained campaign there has been some change. Last year when a gang kidnapped a young boy for a similar ritual, the villagers who came to know of it rescued the boy thrashed the kidnappers and handed them over to the police. I was in Gulbarga when this incident happened and was very happy to note this change of attitude. This was the result of a sustained campaign which has been going on since years under a special committee constituted by the Karnataka Rajya Vigyana Parishath and a one month road show by dedicated activists who went around villages in a truck and performed the miracle exposure programs in nearly hundred villages and convinced the people that no one had any supernatural powers. Here I was happy to address school children from the two districts of Bidar and Gulbarga about superstitions and their ill effects.
On the 1st of December, 2009 I was at Bidar to address the young people from a number of schools of this district about the need for critical evaluation of any phenomenon labeled as ‘ supernatural’. This was followed by a Q & A session in which there were a good number of queries. However, like all these Meet- the-Scientist programs, we could not totally satisfy their curiosity due to the paucity of time. On the next day it was the same at Gulbarga. Here the problem was with overcrowding. While the expected number was 200 participants, 200 more had turned up causing problems for the organisers! The interaction with this mass of children was spirited. However the questions posed here were more about the superstitions of the urban areas and less about Bhanamathi. On the next day our program was at Haveri another newly formed district of Karnataka. Here, the local organisers had made all arrangements to make good use of my trip. I was first taken on a tour of the district to deliver lecture demos to rural schools. In the evening, the Meet- the-Scientist interaction was organised. Here we had interactions with the children who came from all over the district. The discussions went on for quite long as ours was the last program of the day. On the next day I was taken around the district to all the taluk headquarters on a newly started program called as HN Chaitanya Yatra, in memory of Dr.H.Narasimhiaha one of the doyens of the movement in Karnataka, more about which will be reported separately. One more interaction under this meet the scientist program was in the district of Hassan at Karnataka. The organisers here were Swami and Srinivas Natekar (he is the one who played the role of godman in the physical feats filmed by Discovery channel). The interactions were very good. On that same day as well as the next we had meetings with young students from nearby schools and a college.
The next program was in the second week of December organised by the Social development Foundation at a place called Vengurla in coastal Maharashtra. Here there were about 30 young people from all over the country to be trained in leadership. It is very much needed for the leaders to have scientific temper. V.B.Rawat, Leena and Negi were taking very active roles in the organisational work. Somu and I represented the FIRA here. We ended up taking the themes of developing leadership and also scientific temper. Some older people had also participated and it was a shock to me to see the colossal ignorance of some of them and also the arrogance that they knew ‘science’! That needs a separate write up by itself and I propose to do that too. The issues concerning this were particularly with respect to ‘Gau matha’. The Sangh Parivar specialises in this field of spreading disinformation about the holiness of our Indian cow breeds!
In January we had interaction with the 12 th year students of a school, on consumer rights. That too has been a part of our activity of promoting scientific temper. The activity in this field has been in our list for a long, long time. Dr.K.P.S.Kamath had started the movement in Udupi near Mangalore and we have followed suit. I shall be writing more about that later as it deserves a more detailed treatment.
The solar eclipse was celebrated with the children of a Government Junior College at a place called Pandavapura near Mysore, on the 15th Jan. The Karnataka Govt. had not officially declared it as a holiday for schools but almost all the districts of the state had declared it as one with the exception of Mandya where Pandavapura is situated. So, that gave us the opportunity to meet the children and show the eclipse to them with special glasses. Hundreds of them patiently lined up for that. They also ate under the eclipsed sun just to demonstrate that nothing would happen if they did that. I always wonder what happens to the enthusiasm of these children when they grow up!
The end of January was in Periyar Maniammai University with interactions about Martyrs day etc. more about which I shall write in my next update.