The Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Indian Constitution cast upon every citizen an obligation to “develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.” Far from it, the society continues to be soaked in superstition, even seven decades after Independence. This was amply evident during Thursday’s solar eclipse, when the country virtually came to a standstill. People refused to stir out of their houses or even consume food, while temples and restaurants remained closed. As an eclipse is believed to be inauspicious, many even purified their houses and offices after the celestial event. While pregnant women were told to remain indoors as the “harmful” rays of the sun could lead to deformed babies, in Kalaburgi district of North Karnataka, some children were buried neck-deep in mud in the hope that doing so during the eclipse would cure them of their disability.
Scientists have dispelled all such superstitions while stressing that the only precaution to be taken is to avoid looking at the sun directly with the naked eye, during an eclipse or otherwise. One of the main culprits responsible for promoting superstitions by instilling a false sense of fear in the minds of people are astrologers on television channels. This is in stark violation of the Programming Code of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, which states, “No programme should be carried in the cable service which encourages superstition or blind belief.” In 2017, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), an independent regulatory body of entertainment channels, had issued an advisory to broadcasters to prohibit shows that depict “occult, superstitions, black magic, exorcism and witchcraft.” With channels following this more in the breach, the Siddaramaiah government had proposed to ban astrological shows on television, but the idea was shot down by his own ministers. Now, people will finally have an opportunity for redress with the Karnataka High Court directing the government to set up monitoring committees at the state and district levels to ensure that programming and advertising codes as mandated by the Cable TV rules are not violated.
While people have every right to follow their customs and traditions, all of which may not be scientifically valid, they should guard against falling prey to superstitions and those who will exploit their fears. If we do not develop a scientific temper and question everything before believing, we will only travel back to the dark ages.