Sethusamudram Project And BJP's Pseudo Science

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39


Sethusamudram Project And BJP’s Pseudo Science


Amit Sen Gupta


THE Hindutva brigade and their drumbeaters have
decided once again to indulge in their favourite pastime. In the last couple of
weeks they have been fuelling a campaign that attempts to resurrect the bogey of
a “conspiracy” that supposedly negates evidence of “Hindu” India’s glittering
past ― this time focusing on the Sethusamudram project that will damage the
“bridge” supposedly built for Lord Rama’s army to cross over to Lanka. In
different guises, the Hindutva brigade has attempted to mix science, history,
mythology and faith, in order to hoodwink the Indian people and foist upon them
their divisive and sectarian agenda. It is an extremely convenient and canny
potion, and the Hindutva brigade have perfected the art of concocting it. If we
dispute their own scientific arguments, then they fall back on the argument that
science cannot override faith. If we question their interpretation of history,
we are faced with the contention that mythology and history are inseparable, and
in cases of dispute the former will always prevail!


It is neither possible nor intended here to conduct
the debate within this slippery terrain, where the contours of the debate shift
continuously to suit the doublespeak of the BJP and its cohorts. Let us,
instead, examine the facts surrounding the present controversy about the
Sethusamudram project.


The project — known as the Sethusamudram Ship Channel
Project (SSCP) — is designed to create a channel between Sri Lanka and India,
that is navigable. At present, ships going to the East coast of India,
Bangladesh, China etc. and coming from the West coast of India and other
countries to the West, have to navigate around Sri Lanka. Primarily, this is due
to the presence of a shallow region known as Adam’s bridge, located southeast of
Rameswaram, which connects the Talimannar Coast of Sri Lanka.


The Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project envisages
dredging of channel across the Palk Straits between India and Srilanka. The will
allow ships to have a straight passage through India’s territorial waters,
instead of having to circumvent Sri Lanka and it is projected that this will
lead to a saving of up to 424 nautical miles (780 Km) and up to 30 hours in
sailing time. Two channels are proposed to be created —— one across north of
Adam’s Bridge, South-East of Pamban Island and another through the shallows of
Palk Bay, deepening the Palk straits. The total length of these two channels
would be 89 Kms.




The principal objection raised by the Hindutva
brigade, including the BJP, is that the project will damage the shallow sand
banks, which lie just below sea level — which is also known as Adam’s bridge.
They contend that these structures are actually man-made and are remnants of the
“Ram Setu” — the bridge that the Ramayana talks about, which was built so that
Rama’s “Vanar Sena” could cross over to Lanka. In fact, a few years back, the
Hindutva brigade had declared that photographs with the NASA (the National
Aeronautical and Space Academy of the United States) “proved” that the Adam’s
Bridge was a man made structure and that it was about 17.5 lakh years old. The
Hindutva lobby had, at that time, mounted a huge publicity campaign regarding
this scientific “proof” through the media and websites.


Unfortunately this, so called, “evidence” was
immediately refuted by the NASA. In October 2002, NASA official Mark Hess had
said: “Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit cannot provide direct
information about the origin or age of a chain of islands, and certainly cannot
determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen.”
He had further added: “The mysterious bridge was nothing more than a 30 km long,
naturally-occurring chain of sandbanks called Adam’s bridge.. NASA had been
taking pictures of these shoals for years. Its images had never resulted in any
scientific discovery in the area…The images reproduced on the websites may well
be ours, but their interpretation is certainly not ours”, Hess had added,
referring to NRI websites run by Hindutva aficionados, which carried the NASA


Again, after the present controversy became public,
the NASA has reiterated its position. NASA spokesman Michael Braukus clarified
recently: “I am not aware of any carbon dating..”, thus refuting claims by the
BJP that the agency had the Adam’s bridge carbon dated as being 17.5 lakh years
old (carbon dating is a method of determining how old a certain structure is by
calculating the decay of radioactive carbon in the remains). He further added:
“Some people have taken pictures taken by our astronauts to make their claim. No
position can be taken on the basis of these photographs in any way… The age,
substratum, geological structure or anthropological status of the ocean bed in
Palk strait cannot be determined by the astronauts’ photographs. So there is no
basis for these claims.”


It may be remembered that the only “proof” the BJP and
its cohorts have made public in support of their contention that Adam’s bridge
is really the “Ram setu” are the photographs from NASA. Even after NASA’s
refutation, however, the BJP continues to propagate its falsehoods. The BJP,
clearly, believes in the notion that if you persist in repeating the same
falsehood endlessly, there will be some people who will start believing you!




Let us turn now to the BJP’s contention that Rama
lived 17.5 lakh years ago, and by inference that a developed civilization
existed in what is now India at that time. According to the scriptures Rama
lived in the Treta Yug, approximately 12 to 24 lakh years ago. What does the
scientific evidence say in this regard?


The most widely accepted view among current
anthropologists is that Homo sapiens (the species to which modern human beings
belong) originated in the African savanna (grasslands) around 200,000 BP (Before
Present). They descended from Homo erectus — the first species descended from
apes that could stand erect and use their hands to use objects as tools or
weapons. Homo sapiens are believed to have colonised what are now Asia, Europe
and Oceania (Australia, SE Asian islands, etc.) by 40,000 BP, and finally the
Americas approximately 10,000 years ago.


As the Homo Sapiens spread across the continents they
displaced other species descended from Homo Erectus, the prominent one being
Homo neanderthalensis (known in popular language as the “Neanderthal man”). The
Neanderthals are believed to have colonised Europe and parts of Asia about 20
lakh years ago. Fossil records and other archaeological evidence show that the
Neanderthals were far less evolved than the Homo sapiens, with a much lower
cranial capacity and intelligence, but lived in communities. Caves in which they
lived show evidence of some development of socialising skills, rudimentary art
forms and the ability to use primitive tools. The Neanderthals were primitive
hunter gatherers. The Homo sapiens are believed to have displaced them because
of their superior intelligence and ability to use tools much more effectively.


Thus the only humanoids (human like) which could
possibly have existed 12-24 lakh years ago are the Neanderthals, though no
fossil records of their presence in the Indian sub-continent have been
discovered. But the Neanderthals were very different from modern humans, with
coarser features and more ape like characteristics, and incapable of building a
civilisation as depicted in the Ramayana. Homo sapiens, even after having
displaced the Neanderthals, existed in the hunter-gatherer stage till about
10,000 years ago. It was only after the advent of settled agriculture, and the
development of more sophicticated tools, etc, that they started living in
settled communities and building complex societies. Clearly, the gap between the
BJP’s myths and reality is huge.




It is also known that Sri Lanka and India have been
joined by a natural land bridge, in several periods in the past. This is because
the sea level changes continuously over time, based on the amount of water that
is sequestered in ice caps and glaciers in the two poles of the earth. The earth
sees periodic changes in the average temperature of the planet. When the
temperature goes below a point it is known as an ice age.


Within the ice ages (or at least within the last one),
more temperate and more severe periods occur. The colder periods are called
glacial periods, the warmer periods interglacials. Glacials are characterised by
cooler and drier climates over most of the Earth and large land and sea ice
masses extending outward from the poles. Sea levels drop due to the removal of
large volumes of water above sea level in the icecaps. The Earth is now in an
interglacial period known as the Holocene. It was earlier believed that an
interglacial period lasts about 12,000 years, but new evidence suggest that it
could be longer.


Thus, during periods of lowered sea level over the
last 100,000 years, the two land masses have been intermittently connected. This
would have allowed the colonising humanoids to move freely between the two. It
is thus not necessary to look for a mythical Ram setu, in order to explain free
communication by land between Sri Lanka and India in the past.




This, then, is what the scientific evidence says. The
present controversy erupted when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court stating that there is no
archaelogical evidence suggesting that Adam’s bridge is man made. The Supreme
Court is hearing a petition asking for the Sethusamudram project to be scrapped
because the Adam’s bridge would be damaged. The ASI’s affidavit in this regard
is perfectly in line with the scientific evidence we have discussed earlier. The
ASI, somewhat unnecessarily, also opined that there is no historical proof for
the existence of Rama. It was unnecessary as it did not have anything to do with
the case itself and also because science and evidence and mythology work at
different plains.


The Sethusamudram project needs to be evaluated, based
on scientific evidence and facts. These clearly show that no man made structure
will be damaged by the project. Issues related to the environmental impact on
the local flora and fauna, that may be disturbed by the project, would need to
be addressed with due seriousness. As would the need to address the issue of
loss of livelihood of local fisherfolk. These are real issues that need
consideration. But the BJP’s objections have nothing to do with the real issues
around the project. It is linked to its cynical use of pseudo science to
propagate its communal and divisive agenda.