Law against superstition

Print edition : January 10, 2014

Narendra Dabholkar, who paid with his life for his crusade against superstition. Photo: PTI

The winter session of the Maharashtra State legislature, held in Nagpur, has a reputation for throwing up surprises. This session was no different. The Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic and Evil and Aghori Practices Bill, 2005, popularly called the black magic Bill, was tabled amid stiff opposition, especially from the Shiv Sena, and was finally passed by the Legislative Assembly on December 13. Once passed by the Lower House, it progressed to the Upper House. On December 18, the Legislative Council ratified the Bill. Once the Governor signs it, a gazette declaration will finally make this a special Act that will supplement the law as applicable in Maharashtra.

From the time that the anti-superstition ordinance was promulgated on August 24, as many as 23 first information reports (FIRs) have been lodged under it. Three of these were for human sacrifice, two for sexual exploitation of women, and the rest for claims of black magic curing incurable diseases. “All these are serious claims and all are based on superstition,” Hamid Dabholkar, son of the late Narendra Dabholkar, told Frontline.

Expressing appreciation of the government’s move, he said: “It has been an 18-year-old battle that my father and the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti [MANS, the organisation against blind faith which he founded] have fought. It is a welcome move by the government, but the cost we have had to pay cannot be described.” Crediting the move largely to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, and the Minister for Social Justice Shivajirao Moghe, Hamid Dabholkar said the Chief Minister was especially “keen on a scientific temperament being cultivated” in the State. Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead by two unidentified men on August 20, 2013, in Pune.

The law took this long to be adopted partly because of the opposition it faced from right-wing political parties and religious groups who claimed it would interfere with personal beliefs and Hindu culture and religious practices. Hamid Dabholkar said: “First of all, the Constitution would not allow a law to be passed that is against any religion, and secondly, the fact that the first of those 23 cases was against a Muslim baba in Nanded disproves what parties like the Shiv Sena have been saying. In fact, of the 23 cases, three are against Muslim babas and two are against Dalits for human sacrifice and sexual exploitation.” Indeed, the parties that opposed the law were always unable to express clearly why they did so.

Hamid Dabholkar said the very fact that 23 FIRs were filed under the new ordinance showed how essential such a law was. “Most of the victims were from the lower castes and classes and were women.” MANS activists were involved in filing the cases and they helped victims through the procedural requirements.

Lyla Bavadam