- In the aftermath of the alleged human sacrifice of two women in Kerala, the state has stressed the need for a new legislation to curb such superstitious practices and urged strict implementation of the existing laws in this regard.
- It is an irrational belief related to “ignorance or fear and characterized by obsessive reverence for omens, charms, etc” or “reverence for the supernatural”.
- The term ‘Superstition’ has been taken from the Latin word ‘Superstitio’, which indicates extreme fear of the god.
- Superstitions are not country, religion, culture, community, region, caste, or class-specific, it is widespread and found in every corner of the world.
Arguments in favour/ Need of the law
- The IPC is not equipped to deal with crimes on account of black magic and other superstitious practices.
- Certain practices like throwing children on thorns, parading women naked, etc harm others and can’t be allowed in the name of religion.
Counter arguments/ we do not need a separate law
- Enacting special laws for each set of crimes is no solution and makes the problem worse.
- An anti-superstition law may seem necessary, but it cannot take cognisance of all realities.
- The domain of such a law is to curb superstition, associated primarily with religious and occult practices.
- Almost everything associated with any religion can be considered superstitious for the simple fact that there is no scientific rationale behind the same.
- No scientific data: Going to a temple, a mosque, or a church can be termed superstitious because there is no scientific data to support the fact that such a practice yields any good.
- Such practices can’t be curbed because they don’t harm anyone.
- The fundamental tenets of a liberal democracy give us the freedoms of conscience and to believe in things even when science and rationality don’t support them.
- The substantive legal framework of our country is sufficiently adequate to address such crimes.
- For instance, throwing a child on thorns is an offence under Sections 307 and 323 of the IPC. Similarly, parading a woman naked can also be addressed specifically by Section 354B of the IPC.
- These superstitions can be addressed by amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act.
- Violation of fundamental rights: Witch-hunting and broader superstition related crimes violate basic fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Violation of various conventions: Such acts also violate several provisions of various International legislations to which India is a signatory, such as the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948’, ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966’, and ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979’.
- Bad implementation: Law and order is a State subject, so States are free to enact specific criminal laws. In the same way, States are also free to make amendments to Union laws.
- Lack of effective governance: If the executive is serious about curbing such practices, active implementation and enforcement of existing laws need to be made more effective.
- Certainty of punishment: Studies in criminology have established that certainty of punishment curbs the rate of crime and not the type or the quantum of punishment.
- Bad implementation: We already have a reputation of having good laws but bad implementation. In legal parlance, it is known as ‘over-criminalisation’ — more laws but less ‘rule of law’.
- Religions are aware that faith is vulnerable to improper use: stories of fake sadhus and deceitful sanyasis have long been around.
- Eight states in India have witch-hunting legislations so far. These include Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
- The state of Bihar emerged the pioneer in enacting a law to deal with superstitious practices in 1999.
- The Prevention of Witch Practices Act was amongst the first in India to address witchcraft and inhumane rituals.
- The state of Maharashtra followed in 2013 to enact the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, which banned the practice of human sacrifice in the state.
- Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015: This Act would be applied along with Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. This Bill was turned into Act almost after 3 years that the Assembly had passed it.
- The state of Karnataka too affected a controversial anti-superstition law in 2017 known as the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act.
- It comprehensively counters “inhumane” practices linked to religious rituals including performing any inhumane act, evil practices and black magic in search of treasure, bounty, tantric acts including physical and sexual assault, creating impression of ‘possession’ and exorcism or assaulting people under the garb of exorcism, making claims of healing power, coercing people to perform fire-walking, and so on.
- Kerala Prevention of Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill’ in 2019 which called for imprisonment of up to seven years for convicts and up to Rs 50,000 fine along with the punishments for offenses under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- But it failed as it was not introduced, discussed, or passed in the state legislative assembly.
Way Forward/ Suggestions
- Need of sensitisation: Every superstition cannot be removed by the force of law. For that, a mental sensitisation is necessary.
- The anti-superstition law also makes it possible to curtail activities of so-called godmen before they become too powerful.
- Accessible criminal justice: The enforcement machinery needs a major overhaul to make criminal justice more accessible.
- 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.
- Provisions under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 also aim to tackle the debilitating impact of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.