This article has been written by Shoronya Banerjee from Amity University, Kolkata. It highlights the yet alive superstitious culture in India, which doesn’t leave a chance to work in the name of religion. The article also talks about the existing anti-superstitious laws in India and how such existing laws are clearly not enough. 


Defined by dictionaries as 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’, that indicates extreme fear of the god. India’s diversity that includes religion, culture, ethnicity, traditions, and so on also comprises a great role played by superstitions. Every single individual has a faith and belief that indirectly points towards a superstition. Sometimes practices carried on from way back time are given the position of superstition but they have a certain scientific reason behind them which is also misused by people who are in a favourable position in the society and turn it into a rule, use it as a source of propaganda against certain individuals or for self-gain of some kind.

Reports of India’s National Crime Records Bureau notified almost 2,500 Indians killed in apparently organized witch hunts from 2000 to 2016, several instances of children being killed as a result of being taken to witch doctors and getting tantra mantra practised on them and many more such instances have become rapid through the years. Insufficient laws and legislations, ignorance, and illiteracy has hardly put up any fight against the evils and existence of superstitions in India. Lack of in-depth study and research in this field has resulted in no data or statistics about crimes committed behind the covers of superstitions. With time India has come up with Anti-superstitious laws but it yet requires stronger legislation to win the war against superstitions. 

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Prevalence of superstitions in India

The ideologies, practices, and traditions related throughout ages are now being looked into by people and the crimes, inhumanity, and brutality related to it are being slowly revealed to the world. These are awarded with the status of superstitions and considered to be a huge social menace in India. Superstitions have become a part of every individual’s life if not a criminal act, even the belief of using a particular pen for success in exams or wearing a ring that is considered to be lucky is also a superstition.

Superstitions are not country, religion, culture, community, region, caste, or class-specific, it is widespread and found in every corner of the world. Although all superstitions are not harmful or fatal, the superstitions that violate the fundamental rights of humans and animals cannot be ignored. Years of ignorance have placed India in such a position that change of mentality and introduction of new laws are considered to be the last resort. Experts and behavioural scientists believe that at times of uncertainty, apprehension or emergency, with no more ways around, humans chose to incline towards supernatural beliefs and practices. When all ways are closed and resources worn out, emotions too could lead people towards superstitious practices. With people getting accustomed to the internet and social media, the spread of advertisements on magic healers and gold medalists ‘babas’ are often seen doing rounds. This is where emotions are used to commit fraud and cheat people. People often think it is the easy way out to achieve what they want. Not only does this cause theft but also claims lives often. 

For instance, it was reported by a 32-year-old man that how he had connected to a ‘Babaji’ request for help in his love life and how that man had asked him for personal pictures and 12,000 rupees for performing some magic. Arising doubts had stopped the man from going further with paying him but this shows how the 32-year-old man was about to become a bait in the commission of cheating and fraud. These are just mere examples of functioning superstitions in India, even in the 21st-century reports flood the police station on how women are killed in witch hunts and how lives are claimed in the process of performing black magic on ill men, women and children.

A case had come up in Mumbai where a three-year-old girl was thrown from the 7th floor of the building and it was claimed that it was a sacrifice made to god. The man was the victim’s father’s friend and was mentally ill for which he was being treated as well. The Jharkhand countryside has reported brutal murders in the name of witch-hunting for ages. In an incident in August 2015, 5 women were claimed to be practising witchcraft in a village known as Kanjia Marai. They were punished with death for it. The police had later on arrested 13 people who were involved in this murder and they were punished with life imprisonment and a fine of thirty-eight thousand rupees. Yet such punishments and prevalent laws haven’t put a stop on this. The National Crime Records Bureau and the Jharkhand police reported around 590 people being lynched in Jharkhand for the apparent practice of witchcraft. 

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Freedom of religion and superstitions

The major Indian society is driven by religion and beliefs related to it. Religion is believed to be shaping the lives and behavioural conduct of all Indians. This immense importance and a wider scope of meaning hasn’t allowed anyone to lay a specific definition of religion. But the concept of religion is connected to the idea of a superior order of existence or life and the assumption of the existence of a superior being. Even though the Preamble to the Indian Constitution does not highlight the proper and specific meaning of ‘religion’, the Preamble, Article 25 and Article 26 introduces the right to freedom of professing, practising and propagating any religion without any discrimination. Every religious section has the rights to manage their religious institutions, affairs related to religion and administer property according to law. But the exercise of the freedom of religion is also bound by limitations. It cannot contravene fundamental rights or go against public order, health and morality and such other limitations.

Judicial precedents and interpretations highlight that rituals, ceremonies, and modes of worship constitute an important part of religion. Often on this basis, superstitious practices and traditions take over and there are no bounds to stop it. Although the concept of essentiality is not considered to be the basis on which anti-superstition or superstition is decided upon, it is indeed an important mode for adjudging which practices, traditions and beliefs are an important part of the religion. But the Constitution does not consider the concept of essentiality and talk about it clearly. It is very difficult to chalk out practices that are essential for a religion. Practices disapproving human rights and against humanity cannot be approved as an essential part of a religion. But often the conflict and disputes start on this point where the trial to forbid inhumanity in the name of religion is opposed by the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Offenders and criminals frequently take the defence of freedom of religion for the crimes they commit.

In the case of Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji … vs The State Of Rajasthan And Others, the Nathdwara Temple in Udaipur had a good reputation and importance. Grants and donations were made by worshippers visiting the temple and making their offerings. The high priest, Tilkayat had received recognition from the authorities but yet the Rulers of Mewar still interfered in the affairs of the time whenever it was seen that the temple was not being managed properly. A declaration was made in 1934 whereby all the property and assets donated to the deity was the property of the shrine,  of which Tilkayat was a  custodian and a Trustee. Udaipur Darbar would have the absolute right to supervise over it. The Tilkayat wasn’t successful in managing the affairs of the temple so, in 1939, the Governor of Rajasthan had issued an Ordinance, which later turned out as Nathdwara Temple Act, 1959. The appellant had challenged this Act claiming the idol of Shrinathji of the temple and all the related property to be his private property.

It was also highlighted by his appeal that even if the Nathdwara Temple was a public temple, the State legislature did not have the power to enact that Act. He had claimed his rights under Articles 14, 19 (1) (f) and 31 (2) of the Constitution had been infringed. But it was held that the protection guaranteed under Article 25(1) could not be granted for secular practices and affairs not mattering to the religion. Any custom or traditions found to be against humanity, dignity and social equality cannot be considered as a source of law. Right to freedom is not obstructed by state but if it is against the law of the land, public policy or public morality then it cannot be upheld or accepted.  Law cannot issue a free way to crime even if it is upheld by a religion.

Position of Anti-superstitious laws in India

Human sacrifices, cheating, exploitation, fraud and abuses are still glorified in several parts of India in the name of religion, culture and tradition till today. Time and again India has felt the requirement for anti-superstitious laws. The pre-existing laws, for instance, the Indian Penal Code is not well equipped to take account of all crimes committed as a matter of superstitious practices. Even though the constitution gives us the right to believe in things and practices which do not have any scientific backing, it is high time that new legislations are required to oppose inhumanity, brutality, fraud and human sacrifices made in the name of religion. Some of the anti-superstitious legislations and pre-existing legislations working against this are:

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

Maharashtra had become the first state to take a step towards opposing practices of black magic by enacting the bill known as Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act in 2013. Social activist Narendra Dabholkar was the first to campaign and demand the enactment of such an Act. Mr Dabholkar had struggled throughout the years to save people from the clutches of such inhumane superstitious beliefs and traditions which would end in taking the lives of the people. He was one of the firsts to promote science in public affairs and the need for opposing superstition. But this trial of his had also cost his life as he was shot dead by two unknown men in a bike while he was out for a walk. Punishment under this includes imprisonment for a term not less than six months, extending to a term of seven years along with fines from Rs. 5000 extending to Rs. 50000.

This bill criminalizes the practices and traditions associated with black magic, human sacrifices, usage of dangerous remedies to cure ailments and any other acts leading to the exploitation of people. The amended bill acquired the support of the BJP official but several extremist religious organizations like the Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha were opposed to such bills or laws being passed. This bill was passed by carefully excluding certain religious and cultural practices that included the working of astrologers, the profession of palm reading, fasting and so on. The current bill has initiated a clause according to which only complaints of the victims or his/her family members are accepted.

This is a highly critical point of the bill as most victims of such practices come from families who believe and support such doings and would not complain against it. This bill aims to restrict superstitions causing financial loss and brutal injuries. Section 7 of the Act also includes a provision which is to read with Section 159 and 160 of the Maharashtra Police Act, according to which no magistrate, police officer or public servant would be liable for fines or payment of damages for acts done in good faith or in compliance of the duty conferred on them. Till 2015, 150 cases had been registered under the Act. A woman, Bandara resident, had complained of her mother-in-law and relatives of hiring a woman exorcist for curing her. The conviction, in this case, was one of a kind where an ‘exorcist’ and  two other people were convicted for engaging in “Aghori practices and black magic.” The lack of precedents and legislations yet stand as an obstacle for this Act to be executed well.

The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954

Misleading advertisements on magic drugs and remedies have caught the attention of several people and prompted them towards using these remedies. This targets the conscience of humans that forces them to have superstitious beliefs. There have been advertisements offering a cure for epilepsy, cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and so on. A company known as Conybio Health Care in Gujarat was caught allegedly selling and distributing sun shade for curing migraine, socks for acidity, palm guards for Parkinson’s disease and, so on even after the enactment of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act

The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 aims to halt advertisements showcasing drugs and magic remedies as easy to acquire and receive a better and faster result. As per Section 3 of the Act, no one is to take part in advertising and publicising magic drugs and remedies. Section 4 of the Act also opposes any advertisements providing false impressions about the truth of a disease or illness and also a drug. Contravention of this would result in imprisonment up to two years along with a fine up to two thousand rupees. The consecutive conviction would be met with imprisonment for six months to five years along with a fine of ten thousand rupees extending to one lakh rupees. The requirement for the adaptation of self-regulation cannot be ignored. With time and development, this law stands to be outdated with cases contravening it day and after. There are no laws to prosecute people coming up with fake spiritual claims and deceiving people. More strict regulations are needed.

Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill

The Karnataka Prevention of Superstitious Practices Bill, 2013 was drafted by the students of National Law School, Bangalore. The draft classified 13 superstitious practices as ‘evil practices’ out of which 11 practices would be cognizable offences and 2 would be non- cognizable. Another draft was made by the State Law University, who proposed the establishment of the Karnataka Anti Superstition Authority in Bengaluru and Vigilance Committees on Superstitious Practices in every district of Karnataka. Then the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2016 inspired by the Maharashtra Anti-superstition law was proposed but it received immense criticism and opposition from religious leaders, sects and political parties as it had set forth to declare practices of astrology, working of Swamiji’s, Made Snana that had Dalits rolling on leftover food of the upper caste people, and so on as illegal and to be banned.

The State Cabinet, headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had cleared this bill in 2017 but it was a little different than the bill suggested in 2013. Certain reconstruction had been made. This bill put forth a list of practices that were legitimate, and practices that would be controlled or prohibited. The assassination of a Kannada literary researcher M M Kalburgi in 2015 had pushed the demand for anti-superstitious laws. The Bill proposed in 2016 during its review had scared the government. The bill formulated by rationalist young thinkers had left a major part of the Indian society threatened.


Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015

Assam, especially its tea estates, are occupied by daily labourers who are poor and have their lives ruled by customary laws. If anyone falls ill or faces a problem before doing anything they run to the quack. Such was an incident when an old widow, a permanent worker in the tea estate had received two lakh rupees from the tea estate because of the demise of her husband. Following this, one day, a person fainted in front of her house and he was taken to the imposter Babaji who treated him. A few days later another person had fainted in front of her house which led that imposter to declare the woman to be a witch and that they needed to kill her. The widow was dragged out of her house and beaten to death. But this is not the only case. This has been the tradition forever and hundreds of cases go unreported years after years. 

The report of almost 114 women and 79 men killed between 2001 to 2017 had prompted a need for Assam’s anti-superstition law. The Assam assembly had passed a bill in 2015 known as the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015. This introduced a punishment of imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees for declaring someone as a witch. If someone led a person to commit suicide because of torture, stigmatization and branding someone as a witch then the punishment for it would be life imprisonment with a fine of five lakh rupees. 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.


Burning people for curing diseases, hiring babas to conduct an exorcism, raping and killing women in the name of witch-hunting and such brutalities cannot be ignored by the authorities and the legal system. Yes, the Constitution allows freedom of religion but that cannot be against the State. Laws made for the interest of the public can restrict religious practice against the state, public order, morality, health, fundamental rights and, so on. Inhumanity cannot be caused in the name of religion, it was even the practice of Sati which was believed to be conducted in the name of religion but it was for removing the woman from the path of the family and relatives so that the man’s property could be inherited by them without any divisions or obstructions. One should enjoy his or her rights but that should not be inconsistent with the enjoyment of rights by others. India needs more legislations to do away with the evils of superstition and superstitious beliefs. Even the existing legislations have enough developments to be made and enough loopholes for one to go against it. But in the light of needing more laws and legislations, one cannot ignore the requirement for education and a developed mental status for people to understand the difference between crime, humanity and superstitions. 


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