Anti-Superstition Law is in discussion due to recent cases of human sacrifices in the country. Superstition, witchcraft, and black magic are irrational and harmful beliefs that cause physical and mental harm to the society. Such practices are prevalent globally as well. Read here to understand the need for such laws.
Superstition is a belief rooted in misinformation or fear and is distinguished by an obsession with reverence for the paranormal.
Black magic, commonly referred to as witchcraft, is the use of supernatural power for malicious and self-serving objectives as well as the execution of heinous acts to harm someone’s physical, mental, or financial well-being.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which maintains data on crimes in the country, provides data for deaths due to witchcraft and human sacrifices.
According to the report from 2021, 68 killings were committed for witchcraft, while six deaths were related to human sacrifices.
- Chhattisgarh reported the most incidents of witchcraft (20), followed by Madhya Pradesh (18) and Telangana (11).
- Kerala experienced two instances of human sacrifice.
- According to the NCRB research, 88 people died in India in 2020 as a result of witchcraft, while 11 people perished as part of “human sacrifices.”
The NCRB does not disclose information on crimes involving the occult that occur in the nation.
Anti-Superstition laws in India
There is no specific central law in India that addresses offences involving witchcraft, superstition, or occult-related practices.
- The Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016, but it did not pass.
- The proposed rules included sanctions for labeling a woman as a witch, employing unlawful force against her, or torturing or humiliating her under the guise of practicing witchcraft.
In addition, similar crimes like kidnapping and murder are punishable under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but not injuring others by promoting superstitious or antiquated ideas.
- Human sacrifice is recognized by Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (the penalty for murder), but only after the murder has been committed.
- Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) also aims to stop such customs.
- Indian citizens have a fundamental obligation to cultivate a scientific temperament, humanism, and a spirit of inquiry and reform, according to Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution.
- The crippling effects of many superstitious practices that are common in India are also the focus of additional provisions of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, of 1954.
Anti-superstition laws in states
Few States have passed laws to combat witchcraft and shield women from lethal “witch-hunting” in the absence of federal legislation.
Bihar (1999): Bihar was the first State to enact a law to prevent witchcraft, identification of a woman as a witch, and “eliminate torture, humiliation, and killing of women.” The Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act came into force in October 1999. All offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable.
Jharkhand (2001): Jharkhand enacted a similar law in 2001 the Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act. The law, however, hasn’t been effective. A document on the Jharkhand Police website claims that the passage of the Act “has not adequately prevented the identification and murder of women labeled as witches.”
Chhattisgarh (2005): Chhattisgarh is one of the worst-affected States in terms of witchcraft-related crimes and targeted violence against women. A witch is called a “tonahi” in the State. In 2005 the State enacted the Chhattisgarh Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act 2005 along the lines of Bihar and Jharkhand.
- As per the law, a person convicted for identifying someone as a witch can be sentenced to up to three years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine.
- The jail term can extend up to five years if the victim is mentally or physically harassed.
Odisha (2013): The Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill was passed by the Assembly in 2013 following the directions of the Odisha High Court to frame a law to deal with rising cases of witch-hunting in the State. The law includes provisions of imprisonment up to seven years and a penalty for offenders. The bill also provides for a penalty for a witch doctor, or a person claiming to be a black magician.
Maharashtra (2013): The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 was passed after the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar the same year. It enlists provisions for the prevention and eradication of human sacrifice and other inhuman practices.
Rajasthan (2015): The State enacted the Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2015 to “provide for effective measures to tackle the menace of witch-hunting and prevent the practice of witchcraft.” The law prohibits witch-hunting and practicing witchcraft.
Assam (2015): The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015, which received the President’s assent in 2018, provides for the complete prohibition of witch hunting. The law states that “No person shall identify, call, stigmatize, defame or accuse any other person as a witch by words, or by signs or indications or by conducts or actions or any other manner or instigate, aid or abet such an act or commit witch hunting,”.
Karnataka (2020): The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act, 2017 came into effect in January 2020. The law bans several practices related to black magic and superstition, like forcing a person to walk on fire at religious festivals and the practice of piercing rods from one side of the jaw to the other.
Does India need a Central anti-superstition law?
The numbers have shown the prevalence of superstitious and witchcraft-related killings makes it pertinent to have a central law to curb such practices.
According to Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, such actions violate a person’s fundamental rights to equality and life respectively.
India is a signatory to three international treaties which get violated by such acts:
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948,
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted in 1966
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted in 1979.
Recent news on superstition killings
- Recently, the murders of two women in Kerala sparked debate about the prevalence of superstitious beliefs, black magic, and witchcraft in India.
By passing strict regulations, state governments are making every effort to make the practice of human sacrifice illegal.
A comprehensive national anti-superstition law is required, and society as a whole has to make every person an active participant in raising awareness of the dangers of human sacrifices motivated by witchcraft and rituals.
It is important to keep in mind that passing legislation to address this social issue would only be a stepping stone.
Increase public awareness of the issue through educational initiatives and by enlisting the help of the community and religious leaders to dispel common misconceptions about such activities.
Related article: Salient features of Indian Society
-Article written by Swathi Satish