Degrees of Pseudo-Science

sickle_s.gif (30476 bytes) People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXV

No. 14

April 08, 2001

UGC’s Latest Proposal

Degrees In Pseudo-Science

R Ramachandran

THE University Grants Commission (UGC)
on February 23 wrote to Indian universities announcing its clearance for the introduction
of regular courses in Vedic Astrology in universities under its purview from the coming
academic year. This move is seen as a n attempt to legitimise pseudo-science and

The Commission, according to the letter,
had approved the proposal on January 25, based on the report of a committee that was set
up to prepare guidelines for the scheme. According to a member of the Commission, this
committee (which included two members of the Commission) was set up at the instance of UGC
Chairman Hari Gautam when the matter came up for discussion on June 16, 2000. The meeting
also considered a proposal for introducing degree courses in Karmakanda (ceremonial
rituals performed by priests), and this too was approved.

The Commission, the letter says,
approved the guidelines and decided that Vedic Astrology should be given the name
“Jyotir Vigyan”. (Karmakanda will be referred to as Purohitya.) Universities
interested in setting up a department of Vedic Astrology and starting a course were to
send in their proposals by March 15. According to R.P. Gangurde, Additional Secretary,
UGC, several universities had sent in proposals for both Vedic Astrology and Karmakanda
courses, and the list of universities selected should be ready by the last week of March.


The UGC will set the syllabus. It
expects that the course will benefit “students, teachers, professionals from modern
streams like doctors, architects, marketing, financial, economic and political analysts,
etc.” The degree courses will have a duration o f three years and the post-graduate
courses will be for two years. According to the UGC’s guidelines, certificates will be
awarded to candidates who successfully complete one year of the course at the graduate
level, diplomas will be awarded upon success ful completion of two years of the course,
and degrees will be awarded to those who complete the three-year course successfully. Ph.D
and other research programmes will be similar to those in other disciplines.

Understandably, the proposal has
agitated the scientific community. An appeal to the UGC signed by scores of scientists
reads: “We the members of the Indian scientific community feel that the
proposal by the UGC to introduce Vedic Astrology (Jyotir Vigyan) and Vastushastra in
Indian universities is a giant leap backwards, undermining whatever scientific credibility
our country may have so far achieved. We request the UGC to abandon this ill judged course
of action.”

According to observers, it is one thing
to study with academic rigour the place of astrology in the history of cultures and in the
history of sciences, the evolution of astronomy in particular, and another to give the
subject the legitimacy of a science. The name Jyotir Vigyan indicates a bid to emphasise
its nature as a science. Conclusive proof of astrology being nothing but mumbo-jumbo was
provided by a double-blind test carried out by Shawn Carlson of Berkeley University in
1985 which showed that seemingly successful astrological predictions were no better than
random hits.


A clamour from astrologers to accord
astrology a place among the sciences started some years ago. The attempt to saffronise
education and educational institutions at all levels at the behest of the Minister for
Human Resource Development, Murli Manohar Joshi, that has been evident over the years, and
the Hindutva agenda of the Union government in general, would seem to have suited the
lobby of obscurantists to influence decisions in the education sector.

Consider the following passage from the
UGC’s letter: “… there is an urgent need to rejuvenate the science of Vedic
Astrology in India, to allow the scientific knowledge (sic!) to reach the society at large
and to provide opportunities to get this important science even exported to the world…

“Two prominent scientists who are
members of the UGC, S.K. Joshi, physicist and a former Director-General of the Council of
Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and Sipra Guha-Mukherjee, a plant molecular
biologist from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), seem to have given their silent consent
to the move.

When asked about the move, S.K. Joshi
said that the manner in which the decision was taken – by constituting a committee and
placing just the recommendations of the committee before the Commission for approval – did
not permit any meaningful discussion. “And I normally do not place any dissenting
note to the decisions of the Commission even if I disagree,” he admitted.

Guha-Mukherjee refused to discuss the
matter with the press and said that what transpires at the meetings of the Commission
constitutes confidential information.


According to S.K. Joshi, the proposal
relating to Vedic Astrology was not on the agenda of the June 16, 2000 meeting. Apparently
there was a letter from a Professor at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on a proposal for
courses in ethics and value education . In the process of discussing that letter the topic
of Vedic Astrology came up. “The report of the committee was not placed before the
Commission during the January meeting for a proper discussion,”
says Joshi. The
UGC letter, however, says: “The guidelines (were) approved by the Commission.”

Apparently the following arguments were
projected in order to push through the proposal.

One, such courses were already being
offered by some universities, though not under the UGC system: the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,
the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi University, the Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit Vidyapeeth and the
Indian Council of Astrological Studies.

Two, Vedic Astrology is being accepted
in the West and a study of it is in the same spirit as a study of yoga and,

Three, it will provide fresh avenues for


Yash Pal, the eminent physicist, said
rather sardonically:

According to the UGC the study
of time is best done through Vedic Astrology. Atomic clocks, biological clocks, carbon,
uranium or potassium dating were never invented. Copernicus, Newton and Einstein never
happened. In any case, not being Vedic they are not perhaps as holy or valid as Vedic
Astrology. If you want to know the age of the earth or the universe itself all you need to
do is to consult the appropriate places in texts of Vedic Astrology.”

The stated objective is so
shallow as to be almost a caricature
,” says Romila Thapar, the eminent historian.
How can any educationist seriously argue that astrology helps us to foresee
events and therefore removes the worries, tensions and frustrations of life? Even those
whose lives are dictated to by astrology would not endorse such a statement.

To call astrology ‘scientific knowledge’
and to say that this ‘important science needs to be exported to the world’ is to make fun
of scientific knowledge, for, however important astrology may claim to be, its
fundamentals are not in conformity with scientific knowledge,” she adds.

According to the UGC guidelines, the
proposed departments could seek academic collaboration with departments of Sanskrit and
Oriental Studies. “If there was a serious interest in astrology then the obvious
collaboration would not be with these alone, but would have to be primarily with
departments of Mathematics and Astronomy. However, the latter departments may well reject
Vedic Astrology as a discipline
,” points out Romila Thapar.

I have no objection to studying
the sociology and the anthropology of the era in which astrology was born and the
influence it has had on human history,”
says Yash Pal. “This was an
important step in the growth of human cognition. This needs to be studied and understood
better. But all this is best done in one or more of the existing departments, preferably
in collaboration with each other. This is very different from establishing structures to
apply, with a utilitarian passion, the received wisdom of the distant past. Setting up,
almost like religious seminaries, separate departments protected from other sensible ways
of thinking would be a horrible mistake. I hope no self-respecting university would ask to
start such a department.”

P.K. Srivastava, a Professor of Physics
and director of the Centre for Science Education and Communication (CSEC), Delhi
University, has similar views. “But here it is an attempt to close the process of
,” he says. “The UGC is telling us what astrology is and what the
course should be. This is yet another prescriptive structure being imposed by the UGC. In
this respect, it is no different from the other new courses that have been introduced in
the recent past, like those in electronics and computer applications. My opposition to
this proposal is more from the larger perspective of the UGC telling us what is right and
what we should do,”
says Srivastava.

Romila Thapar concurs with this view.
Usually when new disciplines are introduced at the university level the
request comes from the university departments which have studied the discipline in depth
and prepared the pedagogy and structure of the subject. In the case of Vedic Astrology the
procedure has been reversed, presumably because the HRD Ministry is instructing the

It is surprising that such a
proposal has gone through the Commission
,” says Naresh Dadich of the
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). “Should the
academic members of the Commission not be obliged to state their case clearly t o the
academic community they are supposed to represent?”
he asks.


The guidelines that the UGC has
formalised include details of staff requirement (one Professor, one Reader, two Lecturers,
one library attendant and one computer operator), the funds that would be available to set
up the departments, the fees to be charged at the graduate and post-graduate level
(Rs.3,000 and Rs.4,000 respectively a year), and so on. The main intention would seem to
be to provide jobs for a large number of astrologers (there is also a provision to rope in
guest-lecturers, who will be paid honorarium at UGC rates) and to provide a major
financial outlay of Rs.15 lakhs for each department (non-recurring) to establish a
library, an observatory, a computer laboratory and a horoscope bank. The salary for the
staff will, of course, be paid by the UGC.

Says a statement issued by the
Democratic Teachers Front (DTF), Delhi University: “The UGC proposal is at once
ridiculous and dangerous. It is ridiculous because it seeks at the beginning of the second
millennium to pass off astrology as a science. It is dangerous because it seeks to use the
powers of the UGC to pressure universities to introduce such courses.

“In sharp contrast to the
large-hearted support offered for the course on Vedic Astrology is the step-motherly
treatment meted out by the UGC to the departments of modern Indian languages and
literatures as well as its lack of concern for developing the natural sciences.”

The scientific academies are
contemplating ways to respond to the development. The Astronomical Society of India (ASI)
will issue a statement, according to S. Ananthakrishnan of the National Centre for Radio
Astronomy (NCRA), Pune. If what P. Balaram, Editor, Current Science, wrote in the
November 10, 2000, issue of Current Science is an indication, the Indian Academy of
Sciences should also soon make its stand clear. He wrote: “As in the fight against
creationism (in the U.S.), Indian scientific bodies have a responsibility to express a
collective and reasoned view. The Academies and Associations must not adopt the expedient


The Stated Objectives

Following are excerpts
from the guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission for setting up departments
of Vedic Astrology in universities:

“Vedic astrology is not only
one of the main subjects of our traditional and classical knowledge but this is the
discipline which lets us know the events happening in human life and in universe on time

“The distinguishing feature of this
subject is that it makes us familiar with time, its nature & feature and its effects
on human life and other events and that way it helps us to manage and make optimal
utilisation of time.

“It is a common feature that
despite best methods adapted for estimation, the events happen in different way and add to
worries, tensions and frustration in life. Here Vedic Astrology can help to see the
unforeseen, it being the subject dealing with time.

“Starting of the courses in Vedic
Astrology in universities will not only impart the knowledge of this subject to the people
but will also add a new dimension for research in the fields of Hindu-Mathematics,
Vastushastra, Meteorological Studies, Agriculture Science, Space Science, etc.”


(Courtesy FRONTLINE)


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