Sethusamudram Project And BJP’s Pseudo Science

  Sethusamudram Project And BJP’s Pseudo Science

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 photographs.

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.