Wednesday, 22 October 2008

India Grasping the Moon by Chandrayaan Moon Mission

With the launch of Chandrayaan 1, India has made clear her intention of being recognized as a modern 21st century country. 

The emphasis on the scientific and research aspects of India’s first moon mission launch are not out of sync with the Indian national character and historical heritage. India has given birth to four major religions of the world, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Ignoring hotheaded fundamentalists, these religions generally do not have any inherent conflict with science or scientific reasoning. Thus, it is not strange that the tradition of scientific thought has a history in India longer and richer than most other places.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The scientific achievements of India are fascinating. Iron was known in the Ganga valley in the mid second millennium BCE. 

The Indus-Saraswati Civilization built planned towns with underground drainage, civil sanitation, hydraulic engineering, and air-cooling architecture covering a region about half the size of Europe. Weights and linguistic symbols were standardized across this vast geography, for a long period of over 1,000 years, from around 3,000 BCE to 1500 BCE. Textiles and steel were the mainstays of the British Industrial Revolution. Both had their origins in India. Textiles turned out to be the first major success of the Industrial Revolution, and Britain replaced India as the world's leading textile exporter. The technology, designs and even raw cotton were initially imported from India.

Why is India obsessed with a moon mission?

Is it competition with China, a flexing of muscles, a desire to claim India’s ‘rightful’ place in the community of nations or a genuine scientific pursuit of knowledge? Though ‘official’ history has, since the ascent of the West, been very biased towards a Western point of view, questioning minds have started correcting this propagandistic tilt of perspective by their open-minded studies and findings.

Why do we continue teaching in schools that Copernicus was the first astronomer to formulate a scientific heliocentric cosmology to challenge the Church’s view of Earth in the centre of universe, when the Indians, the Chinese, the Muslims, the Sumerians, the Mayas, and other civilizations had held these views centuries or millennia earlier?

Many people argue that India sending moon probes is a terrible misallocation of resources. They argue that India should be feeding the poor, cleaning the environment and removing poverty. The fact that this can be a strong and vociferous public debate in India on this topic shows that there is freedom of speech and a functioning democracy. So, how should wealth be distributed? This is a very contentious topic and answers depend on who you ask. But, there are two basic theories of wealth distribution.

Photo source:

Two Theories of Wealth Distribution

There are basically two theories of wealth distribution.

  1. According to one theory, the rising tide lifts all boats, and everyone benefits (even if unequally) from rising prosperity. 
  2. The second theory says that some boats are anchored and will sink when the rising tides come in. 

The graph above would show that wealth distribution of Gini-coefficient as it is measured is rather good for India, unlike many other countries of the world.

Many of the vigilant organizations like NGOs and social enterprises in India are the watchdogs trying to detect the anchors and make sure that anchored boats are freed to rise with the tides. Unlike somewhere else, where these NGOs and watchdogs would be in prison, they are doing their best to make sure that the rising tide of prosperity lifts all equally in India.

Previous initiatives like Indira Gandhi's Garibi Hatao, or abolish poverty were dismal flops in India (4% of all funds allocated for economic development actually reached the three main anti-poverty programs), but this new wave of prosperity has improved the lives of more people than before.
A country or culture, which does not have bold and far-reaching dreams, stagnates, while a country obsessed by mad visions is a concentration camp of misery. 

Visitors in India say that the overall mood in India is generally very upbeat after decades of stagnation. 

Visitors to North Korea have not reported such feelings.

Read more about the technical aspects of the mission here.


Vishal P said...

All Indians are very proud of this great achievement. This is a scientific mission and scientific approach can help in solving problems of poverty also. Good post.

Janice P said...

I am shocked by this news!

It is a crime for a developing country like India to waste money on space programs when million starve.

Mohamed Taher said...

Congrats Rana. I dont deny that this post is balanced and provocative. Thanks for this job.

Janice thanks for the 98 cent wise words. My post on the level of prosperity in India, posted on Blog Action Day, is enuf to tell EVERY thinking soul that the glitter is good for the luxury-sake.

But the real ends do not meet nor can ever meet at the moon-site. The real needs of clean, fresh, unpolluted, uncorrupted quality life are down to earth and demanding now more than ever.

Further, in India of today there is a gradual decline of transparency--it has to do with the maintenance of a democratic civil society, a society in which universal human rights and individual political representation are guaranteed. See the state of chaos in dealing with Christian, Muslims, Dalits, and how the administration Deals with such scenarios in Orissa, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc.

For the well-off this is a moment of joy, melodrama, entertaining, and pride. So be it. Who cares for the naked fakir (the Mahatma as he was called by the rulers of the day)!!!

Rana Sinha said...

Thanks Vishal, Janice and Mohamed for your comments.