The very mention of the word ‘superstition’ conjures an extreme dark image. These dark invisible shackles come in the way of development and become an impediment on the way to success. India has been battling superstition, but sporadically and completely in a disorganized manner. The result is therefore equally chaotic that has gone in favor of those who are pro-superstition.
Like many redundant theologies this superstition too survives on dead wood. Illiteracy and poverty are the rich feeding ground for the exponents of this cult. The faith and belief mechanisms of the common man are exploited by the unscrupulous traders in the garb of Godmen, witchdoctors or black magic exponents.
It was a rude shock when the anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead by two youths near Omkareshwar temple in Pune on August 20, 2013. It obviously pointed to the fact that Dhabolkar’s direction was on target and the doctors and engineers of this “superstition clan” had got mighty threatened by his movement. It is extremely unfortunate that the torch bearer of the anti-superstition movement had to pay with his life.
Laws to counter superstition have been languishing in a state of limbo for decades. Maharashtra kept it on the back burner for eight long years before hastily passing it after the gruesome murder of Dabholkar. Most states are mulling over the idea of introducing a similar legislature. Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have enacted laws to restrict witchcraft. But these pieces of legislation have in no way helped to curb irrational beliefs and practices.
It is not only the rural masses that rather visit a tantric or an astrologer to find a cure than a medical practitioner. Recently we found a leading sportsman suffering from cancer put his faith more in a Godman than a Doctor to begin with. Thankfully better sense prevailed and he went for medical treatment.
Long Road for Anti-Superstition Law
India needs strong laws to curb this superstition menace. Any person found exploiting others should be severely punished and not treated as mere fraudsters. The existing laws in the three states have failed to achieve their goal that includes protection of women. These laws have provision of imprisonment for three months and Rs 1,000 penalty. This is not enough to deter people from engaging in superstitious practices. If such practices result in loss of life, then it should be treated as a case of murder under the Indian Penal Code. Only stringent laws can yield results.
A petition filed in the Supreme Court states that 2500 women have been sacrificed in the name of witchcraft over the last 15 years. Shocking indeed for a civilized nation!
The most disturbing and least resisted forms of gender violence are taking place on the name of witch-hunts and witch-trials in many states. The other forms of violence include torture, assault and rape.
The natural progression has been a knee jerk reaction each time atrocities have happened in the name of witchcraft or black-magic. For example, in Meghalaya fresh demand of the human rights body to Council followed the killing of three people on suspicion that they were practicing witchcraft.
If we are to progress as a nation, anti superstition law must be introduced immediately and implemented with the sternest of intent. It is time to put an end to all the mumbo jumbo prescribed by the “miracle men” of our country.
“Questions are always posed as to whether society changes simply by enactment of rules and laws? The ineffectiveness of laws for prohibition of dowry and prohibition of alcohol consumption are cited to prove that society does not change. But this is not the full truth. Even if we accept, that enactments of laws alone, does not compel the society to change, historical evidence in the cases of prohibition of practice of Sati, and other such uncivilized practices, proves that enactment of laws has helped society to give up such evil, uncivilized practices.”
The Maharashtra Ordinance
The novelty of this draft law is that it does not get entrapped in the argument of defining faith and blind faith. Hence at this point of time, what is to be considered as blind faith is given in a separate schedule. This list can be periodically updated.
Dabholkar had established Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS) to fight superstition in society. Deepak J Girme of ANS says the state law to curb human sacrifice and black magic should have been enacted long ago. “They kept the Bill pending on the pretext of amendments,” he says.
The Bill was first proposed in 1998 and passed in the Legislative Assembly in 2005, “but the so called intellectuals who sit in the legislative council kept the Bill on hold,” he alleges.
The impediment for the enactment of this law has been overcome. The list (given below) is quite really exhaustive and includes most common superstitions prevailing in Maharashtra.
- To perform Karni, Bhanamati
- To perform magical rites in the name of supernatural power
- To offer ash, talisman, charms etc. for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil spirits or ghosts
- To claim possession of supernatural powers and to advertise this claim
- To defame, disgrace the names of erstwhile Saints/ Gods, by claiming to be there reincarnation and thus cheating the gullible and God-fearing simple folks
- To claim to be possessed by divine power or evil power and then perform miracles in the name of such powers
- To punish and to beat mentally ill patients in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits
- To perform Aghori rites
- To perform so called black magic and spread fear in society
- To perform "Gopal Santan Vidhi" to beget a male offspring
- To oppose scientific medical treatment and to coerce to adopt Aghori treatment
- To sell or deal in so-called magic stones, talisman, bracelets, charms
- To become possessed by supernatural powers and then pretend to give answers to any questions in this mental state
- To sacrifice innocent animals for the appeasement of gods or spirits
- To dispense magical remedies for curing rabies and snake bites
- To dispense medical remedies with claims of assured fertility
“That the law doesn’t change the society is a half truth”, said the late Dr. Narendra Dabholkar in one of his articles while defending the need of an ‘anti black magic bill’. He further added, “The society doesn’t change without a law is the complete truth. Social awareness is empowered when complemented with stringent laws. Proper implementation of such a law will definitely help bring about change”.
You can wake up a sleeping person. But what does one do if the person is pretending to sleep?