Say no to the quacks
The Hindustan Times
May 1, 2001
BOMBAY UNIVERSITY deserves to be congratulated for rejecting the UGC's proposal to introduce a course in astrology. It is probably the first academic institution to respond in this obviously sane manner to the UGC's weird move, which is evidently guided by saffron political considerations since astrology is not the only subject it favours. It comes with a package which includes equally contentious topics like Vedic mathematics, Vedic rituals, etc. It is not surprising, however, that Bombay should be so quick in saying 'no' to astrology. The eminently rational reaction has much to do with the city's cosmopolitan nature. Not only that, both Bombay and Maharashtra have been in the forefront of the social reform movement in India for more than a century.
Savants like M.G. Ranade, his disciple for a period G.K. Gokhale and Pandita Ramabai are known for the battles they waged in the 19th and 20th centuries against the dead weight of orthodoxy, often at a huge cost to their personal lives. Ranade, for instance, was treated as a social outcast for a long period. Among other such reforms, the brave efforts of Behramji Malabari can be mentioned for his role in supplementing Ram Mohun Roy's campaign against sati. Given this proud history, Bombay University can be said to be upholding a tradition directed against bigotry and superstition.
It has to be remembered that the claims of astrology to be a 'science' have been laughed out of court by any number of academics in the scientific institutions in India. They include such front-ranking names as Raja Ramanna, Jayant Narlikar and Yash Pal. Astrology is not only a craft akin to voodoo, but spawns other such quackeries as well, such as the wearing of special stones and amulets to ward off the 'evil' effects of the stars and planets. It is undeniable that a 'pseudo-science' like astrology can bring in its train all other kinds of weird subjects, promoting dangerously irrational beliefs in witchcraft and exorcism. Bombay University's lead, therefore, must be emulated by other universities.