Astrology is not, unfortunately, limited to the western world. People have looked to the sky for portents, not just in Europe and the Americas, for millennia. There's a tale from Chinese history that over four thousand years ago, two astrologers, Ho and Hsi, were executed by the emperor for failing to predict a solar eclipse (that their other predictions were correct, I doubt, but that's a big one to miss given that astrologers are supposed to have their eyes in the sky all the time).
India has its own astrological tradition, based in the Vedas, the sacred writings of the Hindu religion. And like many of these beliefs, they have persisted up to today. Vedic astrology is still so popular that courses in it are taught in several Indian universities. And I'm not just talking about looking at the beliefs from an anthropological perspective; no, they're taught as if they were science (which I find appalling). In particular, the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party has championed the study of astrology as science, with one of their most outspoken leaders, former Minister of Human Resources Murli Manohar Joshi, stating that he wanted to see universities come up with grant proposals for ways to "rejuvenate the science of Vedic astrology in India," and then "export it to the world." [Source]
As if we don't have enough ridiculous woo-woo ideas of our own around here already.
Now, however, Joshi and others of the BJP are trying to introduce legislation that would require astrologers to register with state authorities. Joshi himself was the keynote speaker at the 4th International Astrological Conference in Karnataka, where he made the announcement. The Karnataka Astrologers' Association, who hosted the conference, are fully in favor of this, which is a little puzzling; you would think that such a move would be as popular as the time that legislation was passed in Romania requiring witches to pay income tax.
But no, the KAA and other such groups are solidly behind this move. Why, you might ask?
The answer: because this will help to sort out "real astrologers" from "fake astrologers."
I'm not making this up. The vice president of the KAA has gone on record as stating that these fake astrologers put forth "mindless prophecies," that damage "the reputation of astrology, which is traditionally viewed as a science."
Oh. I see. And the "real astrologers" put forth what kind of prophecies, again?
It would be entertaining to have the KAA host a contest, where a "real astrologer" and a "fake astrologer" both make predictions based on the stars, and wait to see which one comes true. My own analysis of the position of the planet Saturn relative to the constellation Orion has indicated that both of them would fail miserably, an outcome that would confirm my belief that all of astrology, be it Vedic, Chinese, or the horoscope from the New York Times, is patent horse waste.
Of course, the sad fact is that it's pretty unlikely that (1) the KAA would agree to any such thing, or that (2) true believers would stop believing even if such a contest had the results I predicted. Astrology is far too subject to such errors in thinking as the dart-thrower's bias -- the tendency of people to notice the hits and ignore the misses. And the astrologers themselves often engage in a form of the Texas sharpshooter's fallacy -- where they call attention to past correct predictions, and conveniently fail to mention all the ones they missed. (The name of the fallacy comes from a story of a Texas man who had bullseyes painted on his barn wall, and each one had a bullet hole exactly in the center. It turned out that he'd shot the holes first, and then painted the bullseyes around them afterwards.)
In any case, it will be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out. Will the "real astrologers" have to present a document certifying that they've taken Vedic astrology course work at one of the Indian universities that offers it? Will they have to undergo a rigorous exam testing their knowledge of the rules of the game? The worst part of it all is that if this legislation succeeds, it will amount to a major world government lending credence to the superstitious beliefs of a bunch of charlatans, and further confusing the gullible public about what science actually is.
But of course, since we have the Institute for Creation Research right here in the US doing the same thing, and doing their level best to influence public policy, perhaps I shouldn't point fingers.