In a cleverly drafted affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Indian Government through its Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said that there was no evidence to show Lord Ram existed; nor was there any 'scientific evidence' to prove that the Ram Sethu was a man made structure. Claiming that it was a 'scientific and technology department' and that it approached the issue in a 'scientific' manner, the ASI even dismissed Lord Rama as fictional character in Valmiki and Tulsidas's Ramayan. A very scientific body indeed, this ASI ! We will see more about ASI's scientific approach later.
This irked Hindus of all classes and resentment spread quickly across the nation. An embarrassed government withdrew the affidavit the very next day and sought more time from the court to study the implications of the project.
The raging controversy is about a proposed shipway in the Palk Straits ' between India's southern tip and Sri Lanka that protagonists believe will reduce travel time for ships going to India's eastern seaboard. But the catch is that the proposed dredging will cut through the Ram Sethu or Rama's bridge that connects India and Sri Lanka. Hindus believe that Lord Shri Rama built this bridge to invade Ravana's Lanka to get back his wife Sita. Lord Shri Rama needs no introduction to anyone. Shri Rama and Ramayana are the heart and soul of Sanatana Dharma. To question the existence of Shri Rama is to question the very faith of a billion people around the world.
The proposed shipway has raised a series of questions that have not been addressed or have been ignored by the government. Scientists and environmentalists have collected data over several decades to show that the project will do more harm than good. Consider the following:
- In the controversial affidavit ASI has admitted, although inadvertently, that no 'scientific' study has been conducted to determine if the Ram Sethu is a man made structure. Yet it has categorically asserted that it is a natural occurrence. The loud claim of being a 'science and technology department' sounds so hollow when ASI has no scientific data to back what its affidavit states. ASI is not known to be an independent expert body. There have been calls to disband the ASI (See Praful Garodia, Daily Pioneer, September 18th 2007 for a list of cover ups, literally).
- Geological studies conducted by Dr Badrinarayanan, a former Director General of the Geological Survey of India have shown loose marine deposits below coral layer indicating that the structure was man made. The government has chosen to ignore this study because it affirms what Hindus believe.
- Surveys conducted for the Sethu Samudram Project have not incorporated latest findings / data from studies conducted by leading international and Indian experts - tsunami experts, geologists, earth scientists, marine biologists etc. For example, scientists have reported that the 2004 Tsunami has vastly disturbed the sea bed in the region that would now require a new survey. No new data collection / survey has been conducted after the 2004 tsunami.
- Canadian Tsunami expert Tad Murthy has cautioned that the project will expose the Indian peninsula to greater coastal damage/hazards from future tsunamis.
- C. P. Rajendran, Centre for Earth Science Studies, India, has raised doubts about the substratum and sedimentation surveys that have been conducted. He has called for a fresh inter-disciplinary study to assess the feasibility of the project.
Public interest litigations (PIL) have been filed in the courts when the government refused to listen to expert opinion. But why did the government choose to ignore valid apprehensions and go all out to hurt religious sentiments of the Hindus by planned destruction of the Ram Sethu? One would think it is counter intuitive for the government to create a lose-lose situation.
I think viewing ASI's affidavit in isolation misses the big picture. The Congress and the Left parties have caused enormous damage to the soul of India. On the other hand the abject nonchalance of the people and the middle classes in particular has only compounded the problem. For example, one would expect the scientific community to rise up in one voice against ASI's travesty in seeking 'scientific' evidence while ignoring available data.
The scientists - marine biologists, oceanographers, geologists and earth scientists - need to speak up, for their opinion at this juncture carries weight. This is about perversion of scientific data to hurt large sections of people to achieve short term political gains. This is about my future as well as the scientist's future, the future livelihood of thousands of poor fishermen ' Hindus, Muslims, Christians - who lead a hand to mouth existence and those countless Indians on the peninsula. More important, it is about the well being of our future generations - Hindus, Muslims & Christians. This is all about India. We need to be eternally vigilant against the shenanigans of a morally bankrupt political class that will stop at nothing to stay in power.
(The author is a US based Banker and the views expressed are his own and not of the organization he works for)