By Ahona Chakrabarty, KIIT School Of Law, Bhubaneswar.

Astrology is based on the belief that astronomical phenomenon are related and affects or controls phenomenon of the human world. Various civilizations have developed several systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. In the West, astrology most often consists of a system of horoscopes purporting to explain aspects of a person’s personality and predict future events in their life based on the positions of the sun, moon, and other celestial objects at the time of their birth. The majority of professional astrologers rely on such systems. Throughout most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition. It was accepted in political and economic contexts and was connected with other studies such as astronomy, alchemy, meteorology and medicine. At the end of the 17th Century, new scientific concepts in astronomy and physics such as heliocentrism and Newtonian mechanics called astrology came into the picture. The word astrology comes from the Latin word ‘astrologia’ meaning account of stars. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, with roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. A form of astrology was practised in the first dynasty of Mesopotamia (1950–1651 BCE). Chinese astrology was elaborated in the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE).[1]

In the modern times, astrology as a method of predicting the future, a day, compatibility with partners etc. are gaining more and more importance. The youth of today, especially the females are regularly seen to follow their horoscopes, know the perfect match for their zodiac, determine their character according to characteristics of the zodiac they belong to. Not only so, in many of the families the older generations too believe and have believed in astrology for ages. Astrology determines the time when two people are to be married popularly known as the “shubh muhrat”   based upon the position of the celestial objects, when a Puja or a ceremony should take place and in almost every other sphere of one’s day to day life. It is so inherent to the human race that often we don’t even realize its existence or its control over our activities.

Television is a very important sphere as far as astrology is concerned. Often various aspects of astrology are especially highlighted, encouraged and promoted in several television shows. In the Hindi serials, on the astrology channels, in Bollywood and Tollywood, astrology is everywhere. It is a common sight in Hindi serials and movies where a ‘Pandit’ or a priest, predicts an uncertain event, an accident, a death and so many other things. Also, there are several astrology based channels or shows based on astrology which spread information about the movement of the stars and its effects on the lives of the people, how bad times can be avoided, how success can be obtained with the help of wearing particular stones or gems on rings. Here, the essential question that arises is what the effect of these shows is or the astrology based predictions and implications are, on the viewers or the public at large. Also, one has to look into the regulatory mechanisms regulating the various television shows to determine whether these astrology based shows are lawful or unlawful.

The prime legislation which determines the content of the TV shows is the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. It has various provisions and clauses which determine and fix standards of programs that are broadcasted on the television. Section 6 provides the Program Code and Section 7 provides the Advertisement Code. According to the Program Code, no programme should be carried on the cable service which offends good taste and decency, contains anything obscene, defamatory, encourages superstition and blind belief, denigrates women through the depiction in any manner of the figure of the woman, her form or body, or any part thereof in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to women, or is likely to deprave, injure the public morality or morals etc. The Advertisement Code lays down, any advertisement by the cable operator will not be allowed if it tends to incite people to crime, cause disorder or violence or breach of law or glorifies violence or obscenity in any way, projects derogatory image of women or portrays passive, subordinate image of women encouraging them to play secondary or subordinate role in the family or society or portrays women in a way which goes against good taste, decency and aesthetics, endangers the safety of children or encourages them to indulge in unhealthy practices or shows them begging or in an undignified, indecent manner or is indecent, vulgar, repulsive or offensive.

Here, the first question that might come to the mind is whether astrology based shows encourage superstition and blind faith which is prohibited under Section 6(j) of the Cable Television Network Rules. It could be argued here that there are several facts and things that the world believes and has accepted but which have no proper or direct proof. They may be conclusions drawn on the basis of deductions or even mere presumptions. For instance, the evolution of man from apes, or the evolution of the earth, the movement, speed etc. of various solar systems, the Gods and deities and so many other commonly believed things are often based on either assumptions, observations and calculation without having any direct proof. Hence, under such circumstances, if the astrologers claim the existence of certain effects of the celestial objects on the human world and if such conclusions are based on careful study, calculations and observations, there is no reason why they should be banned while all the other similar deductions allowed. In almost every part of India, or even the world, there is some religion that is followed, some God or higher power that the majority of the people of that area believe and have faith in. In West Bengal and many other parts of India for instance, Durga Puja is celebrated with huge enthusiasm and participation. It one of the major festivals celebrated in India. It is said that the Goddess Durga returns to her maternal house with her children during this time along with many other stories in that regard. Some believe these and some those. However, it should be noted that these are not based on any scientifically proven facts or experiments. Hence, if such festivals can be celebrated with huge popularity and encouraged, it is absolutely justified if astrological beliefs are allowed, which too are not based on experimental results but on assumptions, study and calculations. They are also not imposed or forced on anyone. It is usually a choice of those who believe in astrology and those who do not. Hence, there is no reason why those who believe in astrology should be deprived of television shows based on astrology or anyone else who is interested in it. Again, it is not only through television that people come across astrology. If astrology based articles or substance is allowed in newspapers, magazines and booklets, it is clearly unjust if an exception is made with regard to television shows unless and until such shows or the content of such shows or programs violate any other provisions of the Program Code, Advertisement Code or any other provisions of the law.

This issue was recently discussed in the case Sai Lok Kalyan Sanstha v. Union of India and Ors.[2] It was a Public Interest Litigation under Article 226 of the Constitution. The Petitioners claimed that broadcast of a large number of programs/advertisements based on astrology by so called self made astrologers who promise various cures in return for money are not based on any logic or scientific verification and are detrimental to public interest. The Court said that ” As far as astrology is concerned, astrology/ zodiac/ prediction/ forecast are to be found not only on television but also in the print and news media. Astrology is a subject being taught in the universities and is not confined to India alone. In fact the most popular international publication on ‘forecast’ is of a foreign author named Linda Goodman. We therefore do not find it appropriate to also prohibit astrological programmes/ advertisements to the extent they are not in violation of the Programme Code and the Advertising Code.”

Hence, it can be concluded that it is not justified to put a ban on astrology based television programs and shows unless it violates the public morality. Also, it has to be made sure that the content of the shows are not based on absolute false assumptions or promote beliefs which are wrong or detrimental to the growth and development of the society.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrology

[2] WP(C) No. 3252/2014