Anti-Superstition Legislation

History Of Anti-Superstition Legislation

Need for the Law:As the population of modern humans increased on our planet, and they began to live in larger groups in tribes, to prevent dispute and aggressive behavior between members of the group or tribe, certain rules and regulations became necessary so that the member of the group could lead a relatively peaceful life.  .  As the human species civilizes into a more advanced and noble society, these rules and regulations or laws,  are modified when ever necessary from time to time. This evolution is still on.  At this moment of time in this part of the world   harmful superstitions exist in the majority of uneducated and educated strata of society.  It is also a fact that their exist large number of people whose main means of livelihood is to misuse these superstitious beliefs and make a living.  If societies have to be more civilized this situation has to be changed. This could be changed on the one hand by educating the people and on the other by preventing unscrupulous elements in society from taking advantage of the ignorance of people.  Hence it is was necessary to enact a law to protect the people from such unscrupulous members of society.
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 dose 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, Child marriage, Untouchability , Slavery and other such uncivilized practices, proves that enactment of laws has helped society to give up such evil, uncivilized practices.  Moreover, if there is an active social agitation going on in the society, against some undesirable belief systems and if a large section of society is actively participating in eradicating harmful superstitious beliefs, and then the enactment of such a law will certainly accelerate this process.  Moreover, people, social reformers and well-wishers desire that in the interest of the community, their representatives should ratify such an act as early as possible.

Draft Bill: 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.  Hence the impediment for the enactment of this law has been overcome. The list is quite really exhaustive and includes most common superstitions prevailing in Maharashtra. The list includes perform Karni, Bhanamati, perform magical rites in the name of supernatural power, offer ash, talisman, charms etc. for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil     spirits or ghosts, claim possession of supernatural powers and to advertise this claim, defame, disgrace the names of erstwhile Saints/ Gods, by claiming to be there reincarnation and thus cheating the gullible and God-fearing simple folks. claim to be possessed by divine power or evil power and then perform miracles in the name of such powers. punish and to beat mentally ill patients in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits. perform Aghori rites. perform so called black magic and spread fear in society. perform “Gopal Santan Vidhi” to beget a male offspring. oppose scientific medical treatment and to coerce to adopt Aghori treatment. sell or deal in so-called magic stones, talisman, bracelets, charms. become possessed by supernatural powers and then pretend to give answers to any questions in this mental state. sacrifice innocent animals for the appeasement of gods or spirits. dispense magical remedies for curing rabies and snake bites. dispense medical remedies with claims of assured fertility.

Objections and Clarifications
It is necessary to create awareness in our society to provide a healthy and safe social environment with a view to protect the poor and ignorant people against the evil and sinister practices and customs thriving on blind faith, beliefs and ignorance. The blind faith and beliefs are propagated in the name of God or some so called divine or super natural or magical powers or evil spirits. The God’s men, quacks and conmen exploit and harm mentally, physically and financially the poor and ignorant people in the Society thereby destroying the very social fabric of the Society.

The exploitation of poor and ignorant people as well as some educated elite has reached alarming proportion at the hands of so called Godmen, quacks and conmen. It has, therefore become absolutely necessary for the Government to take appropriate, urgent and stringent, social and legal measures to effectively curtail the spread and evil   effects of the harmful practices of black magic and to save the poor and ignorant from falling prey to the sinister designs of the black magicians, quacks and conmen. Their false claims of possessing magical or miraculous remedies or powers should be exposed and their antisocial and harmful activities seriously threatening and damaging the very social fiber should be stopped as they distract the common people from the authentic and scientific medical remedies and cures.

Many people believe that making a law would not eradicate blind faith and the consequent exploitation of the poor and ignorant. What we need is awakening, education and economic well being of the downtrodden. Quite true and many social organizations are engaged in creating awareness among the poor people and helping them to help themselves. But it is a time consuming process and gives respite to the unscrupulous conmen to carry out their nefarious activities in the mean while. To stop their mal-practices and to bring them to book is essential to hasten the process of education and creating awareness. A law against such practices is utterly necessary to give teeth to the organizations that are fighting superstition.

Salient Features of the Bill
The Bill seeks to prohibit practice, promotion and propagation of Black Magic. A comprehensive definition of the term “practice of Black Magic” contains the evil practices, customs, etc., and also the unauthorized and illegal practice of medicine or healing or curing by quacks, conman and the so-called godmen. Such practice is being made an offense under this Act and to serve as a deterrent it is proposed to provide for a stringent penalty and punishment, making such practice a cognizable and non-bailable offense.

The actions that are considered as offense against this law are listed here as follows. Objections to some of the provisions of this law appear now and then in the news papers. Those objections along with clarification and comments on them follow the particular clauses.

1)Under the pretext of expelling the ghost, assaulting by tying a person with rope or chain, beating by stick or whip, to make the person to drink footwear-soaked water, giving chilli smoke, hanging a person to roof, fixing him with rope or by hair or plucking his hair, causing pain by way of touching heated object to organs or a body of a person, forcing a person to perform a sexual act in the open, practicing inhuman acts, putting urine or human excreta forcibly in the mouth of a person or practicing any such acts.

Objection: A few Bhagats use needles as in acupuncture to cure diseases. Whipping oneself is an age old Potaraj custom. People traditionally slightly injure themselves and put a red mark with their blood on the forehead of the idol. All these actions in the light of this clause are criminal. No doubt, they are superstitions; but is it a crime severe enough to invite 7 years of imprisonment? These superstitions do not pose any danger to life. They should be tackled with education, creating awareness and awakening. Making use of law will antagonize the common man who will rebel against the government and the police and render the enforcement of the law impossible.

Clarification: Potaraj does not really beat himself but he pretends to do that. Hundreds of our workers demonstrate this in mass meetings. There is no question of their being punished under this law. But when the same hook is used for piercing hundreds of devotees who come to fulfill their vows or to draw blood from their foreheads with one and the same razor is not even remotely related to worshiping a deity. It involves the danger of spreading infections and especially AIDS. When perpetrators of these negligent practices are tried in the court, the judges do use their sense of proportion and the apprehension of their being sentenced to 7 years imprisonment is uncalled for.

2)Display of so called miracles by a person and thereby earning money; and to deceive, defraud and terrorise people by propagation and circulation of so called miracles.

Objection: There are some people in the society who are blessed with special powers by which they can cure physical or mental diseases or passify the persons who are suffering.  Under this clause such persons are punished. This is unnecessary.

Clarifications: First of all there are no supernatural powers in this world. If someone claims such things he/she is a fraud and their intention is to cheat gullible people and extract money. As such this clause is necessary to prevent fraudulent people to cheat the gullibles.

3)With a view to receive blessings of supernatural power, to follow the inhuman, evil and aghori practices which cause danger to life or grievous hurt, to instigate, encourage or compel others to follow such practices.

Objection: We believe that one can acquire supernatural powers by practicing certain rituals. One should not stop such learning.

Clarification: These rituals sometimes cause serious injuries and even death. Sometimes the practitioners instigate innocents to participate in such aghori practices and subject them to fatal danger. This clause prevents such practices.

4)Doing any inhuman, evil and aghori act and black magic in search of precious things, bounty and water resources, or for similar reasons in the name of karni, bhanamati and making or trying to make human sacrifice in the name of  jaran-maran or the like, or to advice, instigate or encourage committing such inhuman acts.

Objection: If someone, using such knowledge, is able to stop Bhanamati or reveal the hidden treasures or lost property, why the law should interfere with such practices?

Clarification: These practices are generally manifestations of unsatisfied souls and the people claiming possession of such knowledge are frauds because there is no evidence in the existence of souls. Their hidden motivation is to terrorize the innocents and make money. As such this will clause will prevent such practices to some extent.

5)To create an impression by declaring that a power inapprehensible by senses has influenced one’s body or that a person has possessed such power and thereby create fear in the mind of others or to threaten others of evil consequences for not following the advice of such person or deceive, defraud and deter him.

Objection: In thousands of temples in India, tens of thousands of men and women are made to get possessed on the day of Ashtami. Muslims are – as a common custom – made to be possessed by Sawari. Undoubtedly they are superstitions. But is it possible for the government of Maharashtra to put them all in jail?

Clarification: Being possessed is a hypnotic state. It is glorified by tradition as being besotted by a deity. Catharsis or releasing pent up emotions by huffing and puffing, gasping and wheezing and such other hype and believing it to be the work of a deity or Devi is not considered a crime. According to the law, a superstition becomes a crime when it leads to pain, injury, harm or deceit. But when someone claiming that he/she is possessed pretends to reveal the names of individuals who are practicing Black Magic (actually accusing someone for vengeance) and spreading unrest or ordering people to insert their hands in boiling oil to prove their innocence or giving deceitful answers to questions related to people’s lives are punishable crime according to the 5th clause. And there cannot be two opinions about it.

6)By making the persons believe that a particular person practices karni, black magic or brings under the influence of ghost or diminishes the milking capacity of a cattle by mantra-tantra or similarly accusing a particular person that he brings misfortune to others, or is a cause for spread of diseases and thereby making the living of such person miserable, troublesome or difficult to declare a person as saitan or incarnation of saitan.
Objection: How can mere chanting of Mantras become a crime? Chanting of Mantras while exorcising a ghost does cause panic in the surroundings. One who thinks he is possessed quite often gets relief from the malady when Mantras are chanted. Visiting a psychiatrist is beyond the means of such person. In such circumstances is it wise to rob him of the only remedy available and affordable?

Clarification: The panic caused while chanting Mantras as stated in the objection itself is a divine terrorism. This godly dread is much more serious than the familiar terrorism and is beyond any law at present.

This clause, therefore, is utterly necessary. A bigger error in the objection is the contention that forms the latter part of this objection. The psychological illness of a person can be severe or mild. Changed expression, muttering to oneself, experiencing illusions, neglecting personal hygiene, incoherent behavior, etc., are symptoms of severe mental illness called psychosis. To treat such a person by Mantras for exorcising the ghost that has supposedly possessed him is an inexcusable mistake. The Mantrik and his Chanting Mantras can never cure such persons. It only delays proper treatment at the cost of the patient’s health. Mild psychological illness cause temporary changes in the behavior that many take to be possession by a ghost. These patients do get temporary relief, at times, by accepting the suggestions of the Mantrik. But this treatment for mild malady is also wrong. The social and family stress and strain that cause this ailment should be addressed; positive suggestions should be given along with the minimum medication that is necessary in such cases. This simple treatment does not need an inaccessible and expensive psychiatric facility. A general practitioner or a well-informed and knowledgeable community social worker can do the job. Treatment by the Mantrik amounts to mishandling the sick mind of the patient and is certainly a crime. (In fact a law prohibiting unauthorized medical practice is already in place and action can be taken against such practitioners

7)In the name of jaran-maran or chetuk, assaulting any person, parading him naked or put a ban on his daily activities.

8)To create a panic in the mind of public in general by way of invoking ghost or mantras or threaten to invoke ghost, creating an impression that there is ghostly or wrath of power inapprehensible by senses causing physical injuries and preventing a person from taking medical treatment and instead diverting him to practice inhuman, evil and aghori acts or causing financial harm by practicing or tend to practice black magic or inhuman act.

Objection: It is a serious mistake to proclaim use of Angara and Amulates criminal. Psychological treatment is important in treating all types of psychosomatic diseases. In this kind of illnesses the traditional remedies like angara (sacred ash like powder), Ganda (a thick cord to be tied round the wrist), Dora (a string round the neck), Tait (Amulate) prove very effective because of faith and age old practice. These are superstitions and they can only be overcome by awakening the ignorant people. Will using the weapon of law against them produce the expected results? It will be sensible and practical if their use is labeled criminal when they are used for curing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, etc., where stopping or not giving authentic medical aid can cost the patient’s life. The traditional ways despite being superstitious help in reducing anxiety and tension and prove complementary to modern medicine. Even the World Health Organization has recognized treatments as Alternative Medicines that include some superstitious methods too.

Clarification: Regarding psychosomatic conditions the main problem is who is to decide whether the illness is psychosomatic or not. If it is a headache is it due to mental agony like anxiety or due to a brain tumor or hypertension or cold or due to need for glasses? A practitioner of alternative medicine just cannot reach an accurate diagnosis.

Confusing a somatic ailment with a psychosomatic one causes much avoidable trouble. Examples of Mal-treatment because of such wrong diagnosis are aplenty. All that one can say is that once a correct diagnosis is made, a practitioner of traditional medicine on obtaining minimum training in treating such illness be allowed to treat psychosomatic diseases to reduce the patient’s tension and anxiety.

9)Prohibiting and preventing a person from taking medical treatment in case of dog, snake or scorpion bite and instead giving him treatment like mantra tantra,  gande dora or such other things.

Objection: Treating terminal patients with charmed stones and cheating them with false hopes becomes a crime under this law. The common man turns to this method as a last resort only when the doctors admit that they are helpless. The relatives of the patient at such point in time are emotionally much too upset and the police will simply not be able to interfere. Where is the need for a law in such cases?

Clarification: It is distressing that the relatives of a patient suffering from terminal illness turn to unscientific superstitious methods out of frustration. All of us should and do sympathize with them. But the unpardonable confusion here is that the helplessness of these people is mistaken to be a license for cheating. Advertising any godly treatment is a criminal act according to the law in existence. The new law is a step with women’ has no relevance with any Hindu traditions, Naga Sadhus, or Digambar Jain Acharyas. Yet there is no objection to deleting this clause so as to appease the contenders.

10)Claiming to perform surgery by fingers or claiming to change the sex of a foetus in womb of a woman.

11)(a) To create an impression that special supernatural powers are present in himself, incarnation of another person or body spirit or that the devotee was his wife, husband or paramour in the last birth thereby indulging into sexual activity with such person.   

Objection: This clause may be made applicable only if the woman concerned herself complains of being deceived.

Clarification: It is unlikely that any woman will come forward and complain about the perpetrator of this crime for obvious reasons and this will leave the godman, Baba, Guru or Mantrik to go about his business merely and molest many more innocent young girls or middle aged women.

(b) To keep sexual relations with a woman who is unable to conceive assuring her of motherhood through supernatural power.

Objection: Psychological processes are of great importance in the matters of sexual satisfaction, sexual vigor and problems of menstruation. Meditation, prayers and other traditional mental practices can bring about a lot of improvement in these matters. With regard to these facts clause seems unscientific.

Clarification: The claim to have divine remedies for any thing is criminal because such a claim does not stand any scrutiny. He law does not ban meditation, prayer, etc.

12)To create an impression that a mentally retarded person as having supernatural powers and utilizing such person for business or occupation.

Objection: A person, in this case should be brought to books only if he poses to be a reincarnation of some deity and only if the victim complains of being deceived. Our country is inundated with sexual problems especially in case of women. In such circumstances if both the partners, with mutual consent enter into any sexual relationship under some religious guise, why should the government or any organization for eradication of superstition should interfere? Is it proper or necessary? The social organizations, in fact, should have a liberal and humane outlook towards it.

Clarification: does this sound like the methods of Bhagawan Rajaneesh?

The last and the most important allegation is that this law is meant to condemn the superstitions of the ignorant villagers and not those educated urban elite who intentionally cheat and swindle others. It is not possible to ban superstition by law and it can not be banned. What we need is a comprehensive law to prosecute a person if he is accused of causing monetary loss to another person.

The demand for the provision of criminal proceeding against those who exploit others in the name of faith and religion on receiving a complaint from the victim is fully justified. ANS agrees with it completely. However the charge that this law is made keeping in view the poor ignorant villagers and condemns them for availing of whatever little support they get from the sources in their surroundings, letting the educated urban elite free to indulge in fads like Feng Shui, astrology, VaastuShastra  is simply without a shred of truth in it and therefore unacceptable. A survey of those who fall prey to superstition conducted recently in the metropolis proves that this law is unbiased and unprejudiced. The law is a first step in the right direction. It has taken 18 long years to take this first step. Let us now unite to progress further with all our might put together.

The substance of this law
In order to avoid any dispute about Faith and superstition, erupting in the Court of Law, There is no mention of of faith or blind faith in this act.  12 items listed in the appendix are to be considered as superstitions. They are Dakin, Jadutona (black magic), Mantra-Tantra, etc. that openly exploit gullible people. This law is the first of its kind in India. If a person is convicted of the crime committed under this law, he will be sentenced to hard labour in prison from 6 months to 7 years. In order to avoid any dispute on the law, all words like god, fate, religion, faith and superstition are totally avoided.

This law is against fraudulent and exploitative practices. Such practices  have no place in an enlightened society. In the entire text there is not a single word about God or Religion.
The essential purpose of this law is ‘to bring social awakening and awareness in the society and to create a healthy and safe social environment with a view to protect the common people in the society against the evil and sinister practices thriving on ignorance.’ The draft bill clearly specifies 12 such practices.
These include  claiming to perform surgery with just fingers or to change the sex of the fetus in the womb, sexual exploitation under the guise of claims of supernatural powers,  branding women as witches and causing them physical harm, human sacrifices and other Aghori practices. All of us need to ask one simple question; whether we should remain in barbaric condition or should try to evolve into homo sapiens sapiens.

Click here for The Anti Superstition Law Passed by The Government of Maharashtra.