Legislation against superstition

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Kerala Human Rights Commission Chairman Justice Antony Dominic has asked the state government to explore the possibility of legislation against superstitition and  black magic. 

The Commission's intervention comes in the wake of the revelation that the recent suicide of a mother and daughter in Neyyattinkara was caused by torture following the use of black magic.  The Commission has also asked the Chief Secretary that the state police chief should submit a report within a month about the steps taken to end murders and torture caused by superstition and evil practices.

The two suicide deaths of the housewife Lekha and her daughter Vaishnavi were initially attributed to the attachment of their house and compound threatened by publilc sector Canara Bank when the family defaulted on loan repayment.   When this prompted widespread protests,  the police made an enquiry during which a suicide note of Lekha was found.  From this note the police inferred that the suicde was triggered by the persistent torture by the husband and mother-in-law.   The housewife's note also has a mention that  the torture was instigated by the black magic used by a magician who  used to visit their house frequently.  But the police has so far not been able to identify or catch the sorcerer.

The incident in Neyyattinkara is not the first of its kind.  The state has previously seen cases of superstitious parents propelled by black magicians sacrificing even their own children in order to prevent disease, to spot hidden treasure or achieve luck.  Across religions,  there are deeply superstitious people  who approach astrologers and sorcerers for wealth, annihilation of foes or attaining positions.   And they are not illiterates or simpletons who know nothing,  but on the contrary many of them are well-educated and from higher echelons of society,  who foster superstitution and evil practices.

Stories,  films and TV serials abound that can strengthen their foolish fantasies.   Even at a time when science and technology make incredible strides,  the prevailing situation is such that there is not only no dearth of superstitutions,  but they are on the inrease and spreading further.    In fact a probe about the subject that had shaken the entire state,  its politics and elections, is relevant at least now after the polling.   The main issue highlighted by the far-right party ruling the country,   was protection of beliefs in Sabarimala. 

The reason why Sabarimala pilgrimage,  which has been going on for several centuries,   became the focus of unprecedented national attention and hullabaloo was the Supreme Court order granting entry to women of all ages.  And that judgement was issued on a petition by a woman associate of  sangh parivar.   When the left government tried to enforce the court's order,  the pujaris,  tantris and their sponsors including the high-caste sections,  started screaming that the presence of women would provoke the celibate Sri  Ayyappan.  They entered the scene in full ferocity and prevented the Pinarayi Vijayan-led coalition government from even uttering the name of Sabarimala.

The extent of impact of this unholy agitation on the election is yet to be known.  As long as the society is prepared to justify and maintain such a superstition, unsupported by any logic or common sense  in the name of protecting beliefs,  how can superstition be defined?  And what kind of legislation can be achieved,  and at what level?

The precedents before the state Human Rights Commission may be the legislation in Maharashtra in 2013 and in Karnataka in 2017.  In Maharashtra the law banning the practice of black magic,  homicide and similar acts was passed in the backdrop of a superstititious community assassinating  the rationalist and social reform activist Govind Pansare.  There was strong opposition to it too.

To what extent the law has been enforced is a matter to be studied.  In 2017 Karnataka Vidhan Sabha passed the 'Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill 2017' that banned superstitution and evil practices.  The practice of rolling over leaves of left over food that takes place in some centres,  walking on fire,  female worship,  black magic and sorcery all come under the ban.   When the Congress government introduced such a legislation,  the BJP and sangh parivar had raised a hell over it.

When there is an organized force positioned actively and jusfiying all kinds of evil practices and superstitutions in the name of protecting faith,  and seeing it as a golden opportunity for political gains,  the effectiveness of such legislations will remain a question mark.  The real way out to eradicate harmful evil practices,  at least gradually,  would be organized awareness-creation by the progressive segment of all religions and of secularist school of thought.

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