‘Human sacrifice’ & Laws on Witchcraft


    In News

    • Recently, there was a strong demand for a new law to curb superstitious practices in Kerala following deaths related to witchcraft rituals.

    Issue of superstitious practices in India

    • Kerala Issue:
      • Two women were allegedly abducted, beheaded and buried as part of a “witchcraft ritual”.
    • Incidences of witchcraft in India:
      • According to the 2021 National Crime Records Bureau report, three states in India – Chhattisgarh (20), Madhya Pradesh (18) and Telangana (11) – accounted for 49 out of the 68 registered cases of witchcraft in the country.
    • What do the laws against witchcraft target?
      • Apart from curbing superstitious beliefs, such laws have been introduced mainly to protect women, who are identified as “witches” by local people. 
      • Many such incidents have been reported, usually after the spread of an illness or unusual circumstances in a community that spreads panic among people. 

    What is Witchcraft & Witch-hunting?

    • Witchcraft:
      • Witchcraft is a practice of magic skills, spells, and abilities that are believed to influence a person’s body, mind, or property.
      • Females who practice this craft are often portrayed and attributed as ominous, wicked, and scary.
    • Witch-hunting:
      • Witch-hunting was initiated due to the superstitious beliefs and customs for eliminating the so-called witches residing in the society. 
      • Even today it is continued and practiced as a custom in different parts of the world. 
      • Women are specifically targeted, tortured ruthlessly, and called a “Witch.” 

    Legal safeguards against superstitious practices 

    • In India, there is no common central law that criminalises actions furthering the belief in witchcraft, but state laws do exist. 
      • Bihar and Jharkhand:
        • Bihar became the first state to introduce a law on the matter in 1999. 
        • The state’s Prevention Of Witch Practices Act, 1999, says it was intended to “provide for the effective measures to prevent the witch practices and identification of a woman as a witch and their oppression mostly prevalent in Tribal areas and elsewhere in the State of Bihar and to eliminate the woman’s torture, humiliation and killing by the society”. 
        • Along the lines of the Bihar law, the newly independent state of Jharkhand came up with its own law in 2001.
      • Chhattisgarh:
        • The Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Adhiniyam came into force in 2005, where ‘Tonahi’ is another word for witch. 
        • It was estimated that from 2001 to 2015, in the 1,500 police cases reported in the state, over 90 per cent of the women were either widows, or women separated from husbands, or women with no children.
      • Odisha, Rajasthan & Assam:
        • Similar provisions also exist in states like Odisha, Rajasthan & Assam.
        • Assam is the state that most recently came up with a law against witchcraft in 2018. 
      • Maharashtra and Karnataka:
        • Maharashtra and Karnataka have Acts related to black magic and superstition, but they do not mention witchcraft in particular.
    • Other Safeguards:
      • Human sacrifice:
        • Section 302 (punishment for murder) takes cognisance of human sacrifice, but only after the murder is committed. 
      • Discouragement:
        • Likewise, Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) works to discourage such practices. 
      • Inculcating scientific temper:
        • Furthermore, Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution makes it a fundamental duty for Indian citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. 
      • Magic drugs and remedies:
        • Other provisions under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 also aim to tackle the debilitating impact of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.
    • The Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2016:
      • In 2016, The Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha. 
      • It had sections covering a range of issues – from the reasons a woman may be deemed a witch by people to the rehabilitation and awareness programmes the government should carry out. 
      • However, it did not go through further stages of consideration in Parliament.

    Way Ahead

    • Violation of fundamental rights:
      • Allowing the unhindered continuance of such practices violates an individual’s fundamental right to equality and right to life under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution respectively. 
    • Unscientific and irrational practices:
      • In the absence of measures to tackle superstitions, unscientific and irrational practices such as faith healing, quackery, and misinformation regarding medical procedures can also balloon up,. 
      • This can have severe detrimental effects on public order and health of citizens. 
    • Awareness:
      • However, it is pertinent to remember that bringing a legislation to deal with this social issue shall only mean half the battle won. 
      • Meaningful reforms will need to increase awareness among the masses through information campaigns, and by roping in community/religious leaders to debunk the myths surrounding such practices. 

    Source: IE