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Science, superstitions and media

Science, superstitions and media

Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, prominent India astrophysicist, few years ago conducted a statistical test in Maharashtra challenging the credibility of astrology inviting astrologers all over the country.

The horoscopes or birth charts of 100 bright school students and 100 mentally retarded school students were collected and the charts were mixed and randomized. They were then given to the 27 astrologers who took part in the challenge to test their predictive ability. Each participant was given a random set of 40 birth charts and asked to identify to which group, bright students or the mentally retarded students, each chart corresponded. About 90 per cent of the predictions were wrong; all the 27 astrologers failed in their tests. The incident occurred at a time when activists including Govind Pansare protested demanding laws for fighting superstitions. Social activist Narendra Dabholkar who was murdered by the fascist lunatics, was also present along with Narlikar. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had recently decided to impose a ban on astrology shows on Kannada TV channels to tackle superstitions propagated by astrologers. While speaking at a conference of the Dalit Sangarsh Samiti to felicitate veteran Dalit leaders, he said that such shows were going overboard and disillusioning people and therefore the government was mulling over forming effective laws to curb superstitious practices. Siddaramaiah added that scenario at his home was no different. His concerns cannot be seen as a mere statement to attract appreciation. The anti-superstitions Bill that his government failed to pass two years ago is reportedly getting ready to be presented in the state Assembly as the Karnataka Prevention of Anti-Superstition Bill 2015. If astrology comes under this law as well, ‘predicting the future’ would then be a crime. The local TV channels sharply reacted against the CM’s statements. Besides ensuring the support of the Opposition parties including the BJP to resist the move, some TV channels even aired astrological programs the whole day while the others brought in Hindu fanatics to oppose the ban.

The fortune tellers have a good market in the country with their shows highly popular on TV channels earning good TRPs and revenue. Such shows that compete with other programs aired on channels help the astrologers to promote their ‘business’ on television. Last year in August, an astrology show aired on a local Kannada channel triggered a huge controversy by predicting the likelihood of rape. The famous astrologer in the program predicted how a person might get raped, when and by whom based on the zodiac sign. While those with the star sign of Virgo might get raped between the ages of 14-20 at their home, those born under the sign of Pisces could be raped by their neighbour’s husband and Capricorn, by their parents or collegues. So goes his predictions. The astrologer even suggested remedies to prevent rape. The program led to a huge uproar on social media and protests with activists demanding legal action against the channel and the astrologer. But the program continues to be aired with decent TRPs. Even though several organizations had approached the court demanding a ban on astrology shows on television channels, there hasn’t been a favourable ruling so far. The Delhi High Court during a verdict stated that it was the responsibility of the government to take the required steps for curbing such shows. There is no dearth of laws in the country to put a rein on such shows. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), Press Council of India and the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have several times issued guidelines in this regard. But the television channels neglect them and continue to air such programs encouraged by the stance of the government as well as the parties. The Central government in 2012 told the Bombay High Court that astrology was pure science and that it couldn’t be categorized under the Magical Remedies Act. The Constitution stresses nurturing awareness about science as the responsibility of the citizens. This includes media as well. Along with imposing restraint, it can strive to create awareness about such shows that fool the people.

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