ASTROLOGY AS SCIENCE Sangh Ploy To Enter Universities
THE University Grants Commission, at the behest of the Union Human Resource Ministry no doubt, has dangled the carrot of monetary grants to the universities in India. In these hard times when the state is reluctant to spend much on education this is indeed welcome news. However as any market-savvy individual is apt to point out, nothing in this world is for free. The carrot of recurring monetary grants and other pecuniary benefits can only come about if the universities agree to set up courses in astrology both at the post-graduate and under-graduate levels.
This has predictably stirred a whole lot of people to enter into debates and discussions on the nature of science and whether astrology can be called a science. The UGC, in its infinite wisdom, has, in keeping with political correctness, announced that astrology courses would be renamed "jyotirvigyan'', no doubt keeping in mind that anything that has a science tag on it sells.
One cannot really blame the UGC mandarins on this count - they have been watching television and must have noticed that toothpaste and herbal capsules as well as fast cars and computers all carry the tag of science. Therefore, astrology should also carry the tag science or so goes the thinking at the UGC.
There are scholars who can on any given day prove, if proof were needed, that the nomenclature of science being sought to be endowed on astrology is a misnomer and that astrology is as good or as bad a science as magic and sorcery. Not only does astrology not satisfy the rigours of science in the sense that a scientist would ask for but also, more importantly, it is probably for the first time that a formal effort to get it registered as a science is being made. Astrologers were far more comfortable with the defence that there are things inexplicable but "real'' and astrology is far superior a subject simply because it stood so much above the mundane effort of the sciences and its inherent weaknesses.
Is it then an admission that nothing sells like science and, therefore, it is important to drop the pretence of spectacular predictions and rely on old-fashioned objectivity, verifiability and falsification - methods that are surely alien to astrology and their supporters?
I have a feeling that all this noise has nothing to do with matters of academic argument. This is a matter that is entirely political and is part of an effort that transcends the mere introduction of astrology in universities. But I must stop to raise a further quibble. In the responses to the UGC proposal the popular perception as made out in the media has been one of a sharp polarisation between those who believe in astrology and those who oppose it. This would lead one to believe that those who swear by science or have read it do not dabble in astrology and those who dabble in astrology are people who have no modern education. The split, however, is not so neat. It is not a zero sum game and lines ostensibly separating people on this count are far more fudged and untidy than one is willing to accept publicly.
There are thousands of people who have had a science education and would like to see themselves as "modern" - people who are in corporate, administrative and in other professions as well as those who are active researchers of science - nursing serious sympathies for astrology and things occult and magical. For many science is simply an activity that is carried out in laboratories, in languages different from common people and technical in nature. It is not something that one practices as part of one's everyday living and certainly is no philosophy by which one lives.
The issue of the introduction of astrology has gained space precisely because a great many of us have been missing the wood of the spirit of science for the trees. However, it would be also important to note that till now given these inherent contradictions and deep ambiguities, no effort was made to make astrology a serious business to be taken up within the formalised institutions of higher learning. That this effort should come now is precisely because we have a government at the centre that imagines the Indian nation state in terms of past glory being lost and in most likelihood sees the introduction of astrology as part of a wider and greater effort to recover and recreate history and tradition.
It is in a way the continuation of the destruction of the Babari Masjid of 1992 except that what the Parivar seeks to destroy here is the steady growth of the secular and scientific spirit among a larger number of Indians, especially in the rural areas. Therefore, the issue here is not really a contention of knowledge systems but one more effort at creating a specious argument cloaked in terms of science and rationality to further the political ends of a party that cannot by definition agree to a India that is multi-cultural and plural, scientific and secular.
The introduction of astrology must also be seen along with the Sangh Parivar efforts to have its own personnel at the helm of apex history institutions like the ICHR. Thus while history is being rewritten to conform to Hindutva and the excision of others from history, astrology offers another opportunity to enter the portals of the university where as the Sangh members would agree great intellectuals are not exactly dime a dozen on their side.
One, however, should take these threats of legitimisation of superstition and magic through the university system rather seriously. It is easy to see the threat that is posed by such propositions and the people who give birth to them. What is not so easy to detect is the slow but steady campaign of some intellectuals who, in the guise of recovering the essence of Indianness, have been for the past decade and a half trying to systematically devalue science and secularism through what they would like to term a cultural critique. Along with the pseudo-scientists rooting for astrology these fashionable critics of science, mainly seen on the foreign seminar circuit, must also be engaged with and the bluff called. Towards this end, natural and social scientists must get together to defeat the politics of superstition so that our children are not denied the benefits of a modern and rational higher education system that has taken root of India.