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Criticism after claims ancient Hindus invented stem cell research | India News

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The organisers of a major Indian science conference have distanced themselves from speakers who made some unusual claims during the five-day event held in the northern city of Jalandhar.

The speakers, one of whom was the vice chancellor of a South Indian university, claimed Hindus invented stem cell research thousands of years ago and said Einstein’s general theory of relativity was wrong.

“We had 100 Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell and test tube technology,” Andhra University Vice Chancellor G Nageshwar Rao said, referring to a story from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

Rao also told the group of schoolchildren and scientists he was addressing that a demon king from another centuries-old Hindu epic had two dozen aircraft and a network of landing strips in modern-day Sri Lanka.

“Hindu Lord Vishnu used guided missiles known as ‘Vishnu Chakra’ and chased moving targets,” Rao, a professor of inorganic chemistry, told the crowd.

Rao was not the only scientist who made outlandish remarks.

A scientist from a university in southern Tamil Nadu state questioned both the general theory of relativity by Albert Einstein and the theory of gravity by Isaac Newton.

Following the comments, the organisers of the event, the Indian Scientific Congress Association, expressed “serious concern” and distanced themselves from the speakers.

“We don’t subscribe to their views and distance ourselves from their comments. This is unfortunate,” General Secretary of the Indian Scientific Congress Association Premendu P Mathur, told AFP news agency.

“There is a serious concern about such kind of utterances by responsible people.” 

‘Hindus capable of genetic engineering’

It is not the first time controversial remarks have been made during the annual congress.

In 2015, a paper was presented which said Hindus discovered the Pythagorean theorem but that Greek scientist Pythagoras had taken the credit for it.

A speaker at that year’s event also said aircraft were invented by Hindus in ancient times and that they had discovered the technology behind interplanetary travel.

A year earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Hindus in ancient times already possessed the capabilities of genetic engineering and cosmetic surgery.

“We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata,” Modi said.

“If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time,” he had said.

“That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”

Modi also said cosmetic surgery must have been possible, as shown by the Hindu deity Ganesha.

“We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

In 2016, former chief minister of the state of Uttarakhand and member of parliament Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank called “astrology the biggest science” and that it “should be promoted”.

Nishank also said Hindus in ancient times had knowledge of nuclear science.

“We speak about nuclear science today. But Sage Kanad conducted nuclear test one lakh (100,000) years ago,” Nishank said during an interview with local media.

Those comments were all heavily criticised by scientists.

In 2017, thousands of scientists and their supporters marched across India to promote their work and demand that the government invest more in the field.

Not only did those marching call for more funding, but they also called for the end to “propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance”, as well as better adherence to Article 51A of the Constitution, which states that it is the duty of every citizen to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.


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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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