Something along the lines of an anti-superstition Bill was finally passed by the Maharashtra government in the ongoing winter session of the state legislature. But it is possible that late anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar, were he alive, would not have been satisfied with this watered-down Bill.
The state passed the ‘Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifices and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill’ in the assembly on Friday. It is being said that right from removing the word ‘superstition’ to exactly defining faith or blind faith, the state bowed to the demands of Hindutva groups, who wanted the Bill diluted.
A ruling party MLA said, “The state either bent too low or goofed up in trying to prove that it had done justice to the cause of Dabholkar, who was murdered in August.”
A major amendment, which the state introduced in the Bill, is that now only the victim or his/her family members, no third person, can complain about the goings-on of illegal practices.
Initially, BJP leaders too had been against the original clause, which said that any person can complain about such practices, fearing misuse. However, after discussion with the government, they had given their okay to the clause on the condition that a deputy superintendent of police or an officer senior to him/her investigated cases. But, in the end, a ruling party MLA sought the amendment and the government introduced it.
The diluted Bill does not prohibit traditional and customary practices while following one’s religion. It completely bans human sacrifice and prevents a person from causing any physical torture or economic loss to someone in the name of such practices. It also bans beating someone up, issuing threats or inflicting physical harm to someone over ghost or black magic. It also prevents mental, physical and sexual harassment by making false promises or by proclaiming oneself as a godman. However, a sub-clause allows piercing of ears and nose of children and self-flagellation while following traditional practices.
More importantly, the Bill doesn’t prohibit administering ‘holy water’ as medicine for ailments or even giving rings, threads and ash for physical and mental health. It also allows administration of “Mantrik medicines” for dog and snake bites provided they don’t interfere with medical treatment.
People can still pose as goddesses or souls, if god manifests in them during religious festivals. The Bill doesn’t prevent prayers and mantras by a sorcerer to throw out ghosts.
Another surprise is that religious leaders can continue to talk about the ‘miracles’ of saints during a discourse. They can also make claims about ‘miracles’ provided it doesn’t cause an individual any physical torture or economic loss. The Bill also won’t affect the practice of palmistry, astrology and tarot card reading.