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India: Adam's Bridge, Infrastructure, Government and Religion

The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project proposes cutting through a formation known as Adam's Bridge or Rama Setu. Even as the environmental implications of such a project are being discussed, along its economic viability, the debate has been focused on the nature of Adam's Bridge. Is it a geological formation, or a man-made bridge? The latter becomes a consideration because the Ramayana indicates that the bridge was built because of divine intervention.

In effect, the controversy has become one of determining the nature of Ramayana and the sentiments of those who believe that this is a structure sanctioned by religion. Varnam discusses the historical Rama in this post -

While the Government is sure that Rama did not exist, historians disagree. A. L. Basham writes that Rama may have been a chief who lived in the 8th or 7th century BCE who did not have any divine attributes. He goes on to write that Rama and Dasaratha were insignificant chieftains, who were ignored by the Puranas, but whose exploits were remembered, elaborated and magnified by by bards.

The Government in an ill-fated affidavit stated that Rama was a mythological figure. Riding the Elephant discusses the project and the controversy.

This is a story that shows how the cauldron of religion, politics, ethnic groupings and regional differences that are a part of daily life in India can spill over into business and infrastructure development. The project involves dredging a shipping channel along the Palk Straits between the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the island of Sri Lanka, and it has been halted by a dispute that turns on the arcane point of whether an ancient Hindu god is part of mythology or someone who actually built a rocky bridge, now mostly submerged under the sea (bottom of map), across the straits in the path of the channel.

Reality Check India presents a fact-sheet on the Rama Setu, and the Government's affidavit.

This kind of brazenness in an affidavit is completely unbecoming of the government. Nobody asked the ASI to comment on the existence of Ram – they should have restricted themselves to stating whether the Ram Sethu has archeological significance to their organization.

Step back and ask yourself : What is the issue before us ? The hindus believe that Rama is God and that the bridge was built by his sena. Well, the arguments must end there. You just ran into a religious wall.

India Daily discusses the issue in its political context, as various political parties and lobbies attempt to state that Rama himself is a myth or that there is an element of truth to the Ramayana. Akhil points to DMK (a political party) ‘s comments, and kolkatabase writes on the Hindutva agenda. India Mahesh points to the historical context of DMK and Karunanidhi.

My Wierd Wired World discusses the infrastructural need for the project. Globonomics! on the other hand links to contrary opinion.

The article speaks of distance from Europe to Kolkata to be much lesser of 8 hours and 250 nautical miles and distance from Africa to Kolkata would actually increase by 3.5 hours with reduction in distance – a measly 70 nautical miles! He further quotes John from the Economic and Political Weekly as saying that the ships would be charged almost $5000 as per the project and they would find going around Sri Lanka cost effective.

Great Bong, with trademark humour and sarcasm dripping from his post, comments

No matter how disgusted I am at the ASI, I am however mightily pleased at how our national parties, more specifically the BJP and the other saffronites, have once again shown us that on the issues that really matter to the country [namely whether certain formations of rock on the sea floor were made by an army of dhoti-clad monkeys or not] they are right on the money and keeping an eye out for us.

Doing Jalsa and Showing Jilpa entertains with the criss-crossing of names and snippets from the epic. Proses Anonymitus has a hilarious post titled “On the Expected Effects of Imbibing the Scientific and the Political Spirit in India“. Nilakantan Rajaraman, a blogger, writes in a mainstream newspaper, an article about the nature of federal structures, questioning why the whole country should be consulted about a project that technically only affects Tamil Nadu.

Nanopolitan writes on faith-based attacks on science and the reluctance of the Indian scientific community.

What about the voice of the scientific community as a whole? By this I mean our science academies — of which we have three! Wouln't if be nice if they come forward with their opinion on Adam's bridge? Wouldn't it be nice if they explain what science has to say about its formation? Wouldn't it be nice if they also offer a strong argument for a scientific outlook to life in general and natural phenomena in particular? Wouldn't it be nice if they lend their collective support to ASI and its scientists? Wouldn't it be nice if they take a united stand for science and against superstition?

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