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In praise of scepticism

In praise of  scepticism

Photo for representational purpose only. iStock file photo



CV Sukumaran

AS she accompanied her chirpy girl to school on her birthday with chocolates for distribution in her class, the mother had a word of advice: ‘Look, today if someone asks you your age, don’t reply’. ‘Why should I not, mummy?’ asked the little one inquisitively. ‘Because disclosing your age on your birthday will bring you bad luck,’ mummy said. Seeds of superstition are sown in the child’s innocent mind which was until then a ‘tabula rasa’ — a clean slate.

A neighbour has gone a step further. He will not divulge his age on any day of the year, not merely on his birthday. What is more, revealing the age of even his kin is anathema to him. The other day, when I ran into him, I found him in a cheerful disposition. He said his son, who works abroad, was coming home with his daughter-in-law and grandson to celebrate the little one’s birthday. ‘First birthday?’ I enquired. He pretended to have not heard me. I repeated the question. He changed the subject and talked about rising temperatures. Revealing the age of anyone in the family is not merely inauspicious but disastrous, he thinks.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was an ardent advocate of scientific temper and free thought, and our Constitution bats for logical and rational thinking. Alas, messages after messages on social media tend to suggest that there is enough room for superstition, a tendency to find a pseudo-scientific basis for all irrational beliefs. We can’t underestimate people’s gullibility.

Examples of superstitious beliefs and practices are uncountable. A disgusting and disturbing news report mentioned that four infants died in Madhya Pradesh’s eastern districts of Shahdol, Umaria, and Anuppur after they were branded with hot bangles and iron sickles when they fell sick; the cruel practice was considered to be a remedy for all infantile disorders.

Among all kinds of superstitious beliefs, this one takes the cake: A friend vouched for the veracity of a claim on WhatsApp that ‘urine therapists’ had treated cancer patients by administering cow urine in the right doses at the right time of the day for a few months. This method has been found effective where conventional treatment did not work, he added. However, oncologists have junked the claim as it contradicts reason and logic and has no scientific evidence. I told him: ‘We could sit here and argue about cow urine therapy without finding a middle ground, but it is not going to substantiate your claim.’ Obstinately unyielding, he asserted: ‘Once the therapy becomes popular, oncologists the world over will be given a run for their money, while the urine therapists will be laughing all the way to the bank.’


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