Ranjona Banerji: Enough of this monkey business

Published: Jan 24, 2018, 06:16 IST | Ranjona Banerji

What India needs desperately is someone willing to fight against the ignoramuses who control India, its education systems and its future

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

I have never watched an ape turn into a man. I have never watched a star turn into a red giant. I have never watched the Earth turning. I have never seen the dark side of the moon. I have never seen the bottom of the ocean. The number of things I haven’t seen, well, now it’s clear that they cannot possibly exist. Does the tree fall in the forest if I can’t hear it, and all that philosophical stuff.

Of course, when it comes to junior education minister Satyapal Singh, philosophy is not quite the stream of human development one would choose to go further with. Singh feels that since his grandparents had never recorded an ape turning into man, or even mentioned this in conversation, clearly Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is bunkum. He’s a man of science, says Singh. And he was once a police officer, so it is obvious why he finds the idea of eye witnesses vital, but I shall say no more about using this sole method of investigation to collect evidence in police work...

Meanwhile, neither my grandparents nor great-grandparents reported on this ape-into-man phenomenon. Mainly because my grandparents at least were not alive around 5 million years ago when the first Hominids are supposed to have appeared. This is my loss undoubtedly. I will be honest.

But is there a spot of illogic in Singh’s theory? According to the Theory of Evolution, it was a long slow process and it was about 8 million years ago that the lineages of apes and humans separated. And there were no humans around at that time to record what was happening to other apes becoming humans. Everyone was going through it. Besides, evolution is not just about humans. It is about all living creatures on Earth from the smallest insect to plants to the largest mammals.

But what is more serious about Singh’s grand declaration is that he is education minister and that he wants to get the theory removed from curricula and he wants an international discussion on the matter. He claims he is a man of science and yet he has not used a single scientific example to illustrate his point. That his grandparents never told him such tales is unlikely to be accepted by any scientist. Only perhaps a police officer obsessed with eye witnesses would accept such a contention: someone told me, so it must be true. Or someone who relies on WhatsApp as a primary source of information.

The only people who refuse to believe not just Darwin but the enormous amount of painstaking research and analyses since then into evolution, are extremely religious people. The religious believe the creation myths of their own religion. The creationists in America have fought against Darwin because evolution suggests God did not create the world in one week. They in effect are Singh’s main allies. However, it is unlikely that Singh believes a Christian Biblical theory. Perhaps Singh has actually read the Rig Veda, which offers some interesting theories about the creation of man. Or Singh is in sync with all the conspiracy theorists who know that the Earth is not a globe but is flat, or indeed he may think it is held up by an elephant standing on a tortoise. All those satellites ISRO keeps sending up, all the instruments on Chandrayan and Mangalayan, they could have proved that at least.

But alas. We are left with the tales Singh did not hear in his childhood from those older than him. Still, let us not blame Singh’s ancestors. The problem is much bigger because it affects us, it affects our children, it affects our future. The well-known American lawyer Clarence Darrow, who defended school teacher John Scopes in the dock for teaching evolution in Dayton Tennessee, said during the 1925 famous Scopes Monkey Trial: “We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States”.

What India needs desperately now is a Clarence Darrow. Someone who is willing to fight against the bigots and ignoramuses who control India, its education systems and its future. It is time for men and women of courage to come together. Whether or not they have seen an ape turn into a man. Because we have enough examples of how it works the other way around.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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