Do we need an anti superstition law?

CSM - GS - Paper - 1: Social Issues - Question - Over recent decades, around 800 women in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have been killed for practising witchcraft. Considering the seriousness of the situation, explore the option of having an anti superstition law.

Religions are aware that faith is vulnerable to improper use. This explains why so many dehumanising and superstitious acts are performed in the name of religion. There are many reasons that call for an anti superstition law:

  • Certain superstitious practices are utterly dehumanising, brutal and exploitative. They need to be dealt with by a law that specifically addresses them.
  • The present IPC is not equipped to take care of crimes committed on account of black magic and other superstitious practices. A separate law is necessary because the relationship between a devotee and so-called godmen can be of a peculiar nature, marked by violence.
  • The anti-superstition law also makes it possible to curtail activities of godmen before they become too powerful. Once something is made illegal in the eye of the law, it will not be possible for anyone to openly support fraudulent godmen.
  • In any case, practices like human sacrifice are hard to defend. Every necessary action that also includes state legislation must be taken to end superstitious and inhuman activites.

Example: Maharashtra has implemented the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013. The rest of the country could learn from it. This is a law that addresses exploitation in the name of religion. Before this law, acts involving human sacrifice could not be stopped as they were preceded by some puja and offerings which is not banned under any law. The cognisance of human sacrifice is in the Indian Penal Code only after the murder is committed. Thus, legislation has a capacity to act as a deterrent. The Maharashtra legislation has stopped the act of human sacrifice.

However, there are some points that must be kept in mind:

  • We need to understand if law is the best way out for this problem. We may try finding moral resources for replacing unacceptable practices within tradition itself. This is the moral reform stance often seen among, for instance, Bhakti and Sufi saints, and, later, Gandhi.
  • Even if India decides to have legislation on superstition, what should go into it requires debate. Every superstition cannot be removed by the force of law. For that, a mental change is necessary.
  • An anti-superstition law cannot take cognisance of all realities. Enacting special laws for each set of crimes does not guarantee any solution.
  • The domain of such a law is to curb superstition, associated mainly with religious practices. It has to be impressed here that almost everything associated with any religion can be considered superstitious for the simple fact that there is no scientific rationale behind the same. Thus, there needs to be a mechanism to decide what has to be curbed.
  • An alternative is to make certain changes in the law pertaining to the procedural rules and the law of evidence to establish the commission of such crimes. These can be addressed by amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act. This holds importance because law and order is a State subject. States are free to enact specific criminal laws. Similarly, they are also free to make amendments to Union laws.
  • Studies in criminology have established that certainty of punishment curbs the rate of crime and not the type or the quantum of punishment. Therefore, to seriously curb such practices, active implementation and enforcement of existing laws need to be made more effective.