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The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013

Recently, the Maharashtra State Legislature passed the much publicized Anti- Superstition Bill. Maharashtra became the first state in the country to pass a bill to combat practices like black magic. In India, people believe a lot in tantriks and babas and most of these babas are frauds and earn money in millions on the basis of promised miracles and health cures. This amended bill was drafted by the Social Welfare Ministry of the Maharashtra Government. A police officer of any rank has the power to investigate cases of black magic. This bill was originally drafted some 17 years ago by one social activist Narendra Dabholkar who felt the need to bring in a law to combat things like black magic and exorcism. In 1989, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) with a few like-minded people and raised his voice against superstition, irrational practices, blind faith and beliefs. Dr Dabholkar was murdered some three months ago in Pune allegedly by people who opposed his ideology and this is when the Government swung into action and brought in the draft of the bill in the Legislative Assembly. This draft was amended and now passed by the State Legislature. The Bill has been titled Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013, the bill was tabled in the assembly by social justice minister Shivajirao Moghe, and was passed by voice vote after a two-day discussion. The Bill faced severe opposition from the saffron or Hindu Nationalist parties in 2005 when they termed it as an Anti- Hindu Bill. The opposition- mainly the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party had opposed the bill since 2004, when it was first passed.

The bill seeks to criminalise practices related to black magic, human sacrifices, use of magic remedies to cure ailments and other such acts which exploit people’s superstitions. The amended bill, which is also supported by the BJP excludes at least seven religious rituals and practices from its purview. Many extremist organisations like the Hindu Jagran Samiti, Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha vehemently objected to any such law being passed and were abusive of Dr. Dabholkar in the strongest of language.  The assembly was careful to exempt many common religious or cultural practices, including consulting astrologers or palm readers, preaching from ancient Hindu scriptures or mythology, or fasting or flagellation during the Muslim holiday of Muharram. In the present bill, there is a clause which allows only the victim or his/her family members to file a complaint. No third party person can file a complaint and this is being contested by activists. They claim that this clause has made the bill toothless as most victims of black magic or superstitious practices come from backgrounds where such customs are prevalent and it is unlikely that their relatives will complain against a witch doctor or godman. Despite the protests, the bill was passed by the Assembly in its present form. The Warkari community of Maharashtra protested against this bill and the amended version says that the religious practices of the Warkaris will not come under the proposed law. The bill is specifically aimed at curbing superstitions that cause financial loss and physical injury. If found guilty, the offender would be liable to punishment ranging from six months to seven years and a fine between Rs.5,000 and Rs. 50,000. The Bill, soon to be act has 12 clauses which are punishable offences. All of these offences are non- bailable. Some of the features of the bill are as follows:

  1. Any person who advertises, promotes, propagates or practices human sacrifice and other practices such as evil and aghori practices and black magic will be punished with imprisonment for a term which will be not less than six months and which may extend for a term of seven years and with fine ranging from Rs. 5000- Rs. 50000.
  2. It is the duty of the vigilance officer to prevent such activities from happening in his jurisdiction and if he notices any such activity, then he has to report such cases to the nearest police station. Any person obstructing the police officer from doing his job will get a punishment for a term which may extend to a term of three months or a fine extending to Rs. 5000 or both.
  3. The Police officer has the power to seize any material, instrument or evidence that is being used for the act or that he has reason to believe that the same is being used for committing such an act.
  4. If the accused has been convicted under the act, then the competent court has to instruct the police publish in the local newspaper where such offence had taken place and other such details about the offence.

The 12 clauses that are punished and that are given in the schedule are as follows:

1. Under the pretext of removing a bhoot (ghost) from a person’s body, tying that person with a rope or a chain or a stick, assaulting them or asking them to drink water soaked in footwear, hang the person to the roof, pluck their hair, ask them to touch heated objects or force them to conduct sexual act in the open or force the intake of urine or stool.

2. Make financial profits by displaying so called miracles. Cheat and terrorise people with the aid of such miracles. (This means that miracle per se is not an offence. Also, talking about the miracles from the past, telling stories of Dnyaneshwar and how he made a buffalo recite Vedas is perfectly alright). The stress is on making money.

3. With the objective of attaining supernatural powers, do something or ask others to do something that might cause injuries or risk to life.

4. At the pretext of searching for hidden treasure or water source do something that is inhuman, gruesome and ask or encourage or suggest for human life as prashad. (Some argued that existing laws were strong enough to deal with such murders. But murdering is different from encouraging. And the encouragement is not for killing of a particular person which amounts to culpable homicide but any human life which otherwise cannot be a punishable offence under the law).

5. Create a feeling of fear by giving an impression of having supernatural power or pretending that someone else has such powers or threaten that evil will befall if he/she doesn’t obey the person having such powers.

6. Creating suspicion about a person claiming that he/she performs black magic through which he/she carries evil practices and makes life difficult for that person or declare that a person is a Satan or form of Satan.

7. Beating up a person or have a procession of a naked woman saying she is a witch or restrict her routine.

8. Threatening to invite a ghost and creating fear in the mind and misguiding people by claiming to cure a disease with the help of mantras by preventing medical aid.

9. Preventing medical aid and instead claiming to cure a person bitten by snake, dog or scorpion by chanting mantras or by tying threads or similar things.

10.  Claiming to change the sex of the foetus in the womb by inserting fingers.

11.  Giving an impression that one has supernatural powers or that the devotee was his/ her wife/ husband or paramour in past birth thereby indulging in sexual activity with such person. Having sex with a woman yearning for a child claiming to make her pregnant with supernatural powers.

12.  Claiming that a differently abled person has supernatural power and using him or her for business purpose.

Recent arrests under this Act

  1. The Nanded police on Wednesday registered the first case under the new Maharashtra Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance, when they arrested two tantriks of Uttar Pradesh origin. The accused, if convicted could face up to 7 years in jail. ( See more at http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/crime/Tantriks-held-under-anti-superstition-law/articleshow/22298610.cms)

Karnataka Prevention of Superstitious Practices Bill, 2013

Following in the footsteps of Maharashtra is the state of Karnataka. The draft law titled the Karnataka Prevention of Superstitious Practices Bill, 2013 has been drafted by the students of the National Law School, Bangalore. NLS, Bangalore was entrusted with the task of drafting the bill by the Chief Minister of Karnataka. According to the draft bill, thirteen superstitious practices have been classified as evil practices. Of these 13 offences, 11 are cognizable while 2 are non- cognizable. The draft law also proposes the death penalty for human sacrifice in the name of black magic. This bill has also faced a lot of opposition before even being tabled in the Legislative Assembly. It is also unlikely that this bill will be tabled in the winter session. The Government is also said to have received another draft bill from the State Law University, Hubli.  According to the draft, there will be a new office called The Karnataka Anti Superstition Authority at Bangalore and Vigilance Committees on Superstitious Practices in each of the districts. The vigilance committee which will have some powers of a Civil Court will include the District Magistrate, three Govt officials, and five Civil Society members. Expressing fear that the proposed anti-superstition Bill would endanger Hindu traditions, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal have already said they would launch a series of protests and a legal struggle against the Bill. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha criticised the State government’s proposed Bill. This seems to be similar to the problem the Maharashtra Government faced while trying to pass their bill in 2004-05.

There is an infamous ritual of babies being thrown from the top of a temple in Bagalkot to make them stronger, and there is the ‘made snana’ or rolling over left-over food eaten by Brahmins at the Kukke Subramanya temple near Mangalore. These are some of the 13 bizarre rituals that could land you in jail if the proposed Karnataka Prevention of Superstitious Practices Bill, 2013 comes into force. Another clause that has angered the opposition groups is that this draft bill seeks to ban common practices such as astrology. The Congress Government in the state has strongly defended this bill. Let’s hope that this bill is tabled in the upcoming sessions of the Assembly and is passed after a fruitful debate. If passed, Karnataka will become the second state to bring in a law criminalizing such superstitious practices after Maharashtra. So far, these are the only two states that have taken the initiative to curb such superstitious practices.

Assam

The Assam Government has been mulling an anti-superstition law. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recently announced that the state government was contemplating to enact a law to put an end to the practice of witchcraft. “There has been a noticeable rise in cases where people are getting killed after being suspected of practicing witchcraft in Kokrajhar and Jorhat districts of Assam,” he said. The chief minister went on to say that apart from enacting a new law to eradicate the practice, the government would launch an awareness campaign. In the last decade alone, Assam has witnessed nearly 100 killings as a result of various social evils practiced by people inspired by superstition. According to police records, 21 cases of witch-hunting were registered in 2006, followed by 7 cases in 2007, 10 cases in 2008, 4 cases in 2009, 11 cases in 2010, 29 cases in 2011 and 14 cases in 2012 across Assam.

Anti-Superstition laws across the world

All across liberal democracies, anti- witchcraft and anti- divination laws have been repealed.  The USA has TV channels with plenty of psychic lines, tarot readings, crystal balls, palmistry.  They have achieved a great balance by adding a tiny disclaimer “For Entertainment only”. The last remaining local statute against divination in the state of North Carolina was recently repealed.  Britain had its last anti-divination law – the Fraudulent Mediums Act repealed a few years ago. The Witchcraft Act 1542 enacted by King Henry VIII –had similar provisions to the Karnataka Act. The act called for sanctions against invoking spirits for a voluntary participant causing the same kinds of harms mentioned in the Karnataka Act. Papua New Guinea’s Parliament also repealed the country’s 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalizes sorcery and recognizes the accusation of witchcraft as a defense in murder trials. Thousands of people had protested and signed petitions calling for an end to violence against women and violence related to ‘sorcery’ accusations. Sorcerers, fortune-tellers and other pagans will be able to cast their spells without fear in the Australian state of Victoria after local authorities moved to repeal a 200 year-old anti-witchcraft law. Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls said he had introduced legislation repealing the Vagrancy Act, which makes it illegal to pretend or profess to tell fortunes or “use any kind of witchcraft sorcery enchantment or conjuration”.  “It is almost 200 years old and is steeped in the language and attitudes of Dickensian England,” Hulls said. Section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada deals with the practice of witchcraft. It reads as follows:

“365. Everyone who fraudulently:

(a). pretends to exercise or uses any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration

(b). undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or

(c). pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

 

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