Fahad Zuberi, a freelance contributor to Outlook Magazine and The Leaflet, has asserted in a Facebook post that the ISRO Chief K. Sivan ought to be ideally sacked or penalized for “consulting astrologers/priests in the matters of ISRO’s recent launch”. He should at least be ridiculed, says Zuberi.
Zuberi provides two reasons for his claims. Firstly, “He violates the Secular ethos of the constitution by involving worship in a government project.” And secondly, “he violates the constitution where the government is to encourage, observe, and uphold scientific temperament.” He adds, “In his capacity as the ISRO chief, it’s a violation. At his personal level, he can pray to the celestial orbs that he is tasked with demystifying himself, all he wants.” In the postscript, Zuberi implies that by “consulting astrologers/priests”, the government is discriminating against other faiths.
There doesn’t appear to any evidence to suggest that the ISRO Chief consulted astrologers for matters related to the launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. However, a report by IANS recently quoted an unnamed retired official from ISRO saying that the scientists have their own superstitions and beliefs, therefore, they try to avoid countdowns during the time that is considered inauspicious.
As for Zuberi’s claims that the ISRO Chief consulted priests, it has been a long tradition at the institution to offers prayers at a Temple before the launch of every significant space mission. K Sivan was as much practising his own religious faith as he was upholding the tradition set by his predecessors.
Regarding Zuberi’s claims that the ISRO Chief deserves to be ridiculed, one wonders why he ought to be considering the fact his beliefs are extremely ordinary and commonplace. That apart, there are not too many people who are qualified enough to criticize a person who heads ISRO, an organization that has given the country a lot of occasions to be proud of in recent times.
Zuberi appears to be a ‘New Atheist’ in the mould of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. He has written columns eulogizing Hitchens and asserted that section 295A, which is essentially a law against blasphemy, be abolished. He has also written on the necessity to ban Islamic practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). However, as is the case with most ‘New Atheists’, they take their worldview beyond the realms of what can be considered sensible.
Furthermore, the ‘secular ethos of the Constitution’ is not violated if scientists in their individual capacity visit Temples and worship the Gods. Scientists have as much right to practice their religious faith as anyone else in the country. Justice Nariman of the Supreme Court is himself a priest of the Zoroastrian religion.
It’s not only Zuberi who has been voicing his concerns against the practising Hindus at the ISRO. Numerous ‘New Atheists’ and ‘Rationalists’ have been making the same arguments since years. However, we can all agree that sacking or penalizing one of the most brilliant minds of the country because of his religious faith is taking ‘rationalism’ way too far. It’s the point at which ‘rationalism’ stops making sense.