The leading voices in science studies have argued that modern science reflects dominant social interests of Western society. Following this logic, postmodern scholars have urged postcolonial societies to develop their own “alternative sciences” as a step towards “mental decolonization”. These ideas have found a warm welcome among Hindu nationalists who came to power in India in the early 1990s. In this passionate and highly original study, Indian-born author Meera Nanda reveals how these well-meaning but ultimately misguided ideas are enabling Hindu ideologues to propagate religious myths in the guise of science and secularism.
At the heart of Hindu supremacist ideology, Nanda argues, lies a postmodernist assumption: that each society has its own norms of reasonableness, logic, rules of evidence, and conception of truth, and that there is no non-arbitrary, culture-independent way to choose among these alternatives. What is being celebrated as “difference” by postmodernists, however, has more often than not been the source of mental bondage and authoritarianism in non-Western cultures. The “Vedic sciences” currently endorsed in Indian schools, colleges, and the mass media promotes the same elements of orthodox Hinduism that have for centuries deprived the vast majority of Indian people of their full humanity.
By denouncing science and secularization, the left was unwittingly contributing to what Nanda calls “reactionary modernism.” In contrast, Nanda points to the Dalit, or untouchable, movement as a true example of an “alternative science” that has embraced reason and modern science to challenge traditional notions of hierarchy.