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Anti-Superstition Legislation in India

Context

Two women were recently discovered murdered as part of a human sacrifice ritual in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district. Following that, the state government emphasised the need for new legislation to combat such superstitious practises and urged strict adherence to existing laws.

Relevance

GS Paper 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Mains question

Do you believe that a centralised anti-superstition law is required to deal strictly with crimes associated with superstition, occult practises, and black magic? (250 words)


Background

  • The brutal murders of two women as part of “ritualistic human sacrifices” in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district have shocked the country.
  • The grisly details of the killings have sparked a debate in Kerala about the prevalence of superstitious beliefs, black magic, and sorcery.
  • In the absence of a comprehensive anti-superstition law, the call for a strict anti-superstition law has grown louder.
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2021 report, six deaths were linked to human sacrifices, while 68 killings were motivated by witchcraft.

Human Sacrifice Legislative Framework in India

  • While there is currently no nationwide legislation in India dealing with superstitious practises, black magic, or human sacrifice in particular, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code enlist penalties applicable for such incidents.
  • Section 302 of the IPC (punishment for murder) recognises human sacrifice, but only after the murder has occurred; similarly, Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) works to discourage such practises.
  • Furthermore, Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution states that it is a fundamental duty of Indian citizens to cultivate a scientific temper, humanism, and a spirit of inquiry and reform.
  • Other provisions of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 aim to combat the debilitating effects of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.

What are the specific laws in each state?

  • There are currently witch-hunting laws in eight Indian states. Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra, and Karnataka are among them.
  • Bihar – o In 1999, the state of Bihar was the first to pass a law prohibiting superstitious practises.
    • India’s Prevention of Witchcraft Practices Act, 1999, was among the first to address witchcraft and inhumane rituals.
  • Maharashtra – o In 2013, the state of Maharashtra passed the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil, and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, which outlawed human sacrifice in the state.
    • A section of the law specifically addresses claims made by ‘godmen’ who claim to have supernatural powers.
    • Furthermore, the law allows for the curtailment of so-called godmen’s activities before they become too powerful to effectively address the threat of religious exploitation.
  • Karnataka – Similarly, the state of Karnataka enacted a contentious anti-superstition law known as the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act in 2017.
    • The Act comprehensively combats “inhumane” religious ritual practises. • Kerala lacks a comprehensive Act dealing with black magic and other superstitions.

A national anti-superstition and black magic act is required

  • There is a need for a national anti-superstition and black magic act because only eight states in India have witch-hunting legislation. Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra, and Karnataka are among them.
  • Allowing such practises to continue unabated violates an individual’s fundamental right to equality and right to life under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, respectively.
  • Such acts also violate several provisions of international treaties to which India has signed, including the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948,’ the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966,’ and the ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979.’
  • In the absence of measures to combat superstitions, unscientific and irrational practises, as well as misinformation about medical procedures, can flourish, threatening public order and citizens’ health.

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December 2022
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