Reality Check India

Thank you Mr Yeddyurappa for standing up for a modern state

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 28, 2013

Long time readers would be aware of a Reality Check India tradition, we maintain a Hall of Fame for those who actually speak up against invidious schemes inside legislatures. We have less than a handful in eight years.

Today, we welcome Mr Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa to the Hall Of Fame.

Thank you Sir.

————

Previously :

  1. Mr Tathagat Satpathy (Lok Sabha 1 in 544 !)
  2. M/s PC Alexander, Chandan Mitra, SS Ahluwalia, R Bajaj (Rajya Sabha 4 out of 246),
  3. Mr Sharad Joshi (Rajya Sabha 1 in 186 !)

Thank you Sir, for standing up and standing out from the crowd. (Img credit: Deccan Herald)

 

Mr Yeddyurappa has been fighting a solo battle against  the invidious “Bidaai” scheme of the Congress government in Karnataka. This scheme follows the general trend set by the Congress govt at the centre of communal appropriations. The Bidaai  provides for Rs 50,000 as marriage gift to Minority girls whose parents income is less than 1.5Lakh. A Hindu girl, no matter how backward in social or economic terms, right across the street will not be eligible for this scheme. 

Indian liberals, historians, and assorted intellectuals who are looking for a “nice right intellectual” debate.  Why not start here ?  These schemes are incompatible with all liberal conceptions of democracy and why is it that Mr Yeddyurappa and not you who is protesting..

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Why it is important to run crimes through the system and prevent parallel settlement

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 23, 2013

Should victims of rape and possibly other crimes have a choice to opt-out of the criminal justice process ? Mrs Shome Choudhary repeated again this morning that she would never involve the police unless the victim asked for it (TOI print edition page 4).  She subsequently backtracked but that might only  be because the victim DID want to involve the police.  There have also been a flurry of op-eds by articulate women and feminist lawyers that propose a paradigmatic change – that  victims of sex assaults should be allowed to opt out mainly because the trial is too traumatic. Not dismissing the traumatic part in any way but lets examine the proposal.

A quick scan of some of their Twitter timelines indicate widespread and even enthusiastic support for this proposal from fellow lawyers and a public policy think tank. This is an extremely disturbing situation where  emotions are running high and arguments are weak.  Things are the way they are for a reason – they all know it being trained lawyers.

Hope this post brings out the legal issues in a way all stakeholders can understand.

Before we proceed – lets set the frame of reference.  The question is this : Should a victim of rape be allowed to opt-out from the criminal justice process and settle for other kinds of punishments. This settlement can involve the criminal or can involve just herself – perhaps in a spiritual way.  The key additional assumption is 1) the crime has been brought to the notice of society and by extension the police.  This means she has already told someone about its occurrence and not kept it to herself.

Here are the reasons why I think we should be very very very wary of this idea. This post isnt particular to the Tehalka sex assault story dominating news headlines today.

The choice

In the case of Tehelka Editor-In-Chief Mr Tarun Tejpal – the forum for such a settlement was suggested to be the Sex Harassment Committee setup following the Vishakha guidelines.  The choice was presented as if the victim could choose the civil route and/or the criminal route probably because assault can be both tort and crime. But that is not a choice at all because the options aren’t independent.

For example : If the victim chooses the civil route and releases all the criminal acts – then she automatically throws water on the civil case as well. The prosecution is going to challenge any compensation she seeks with “You cant possibly hurt that bad that you need 20 Crores (or whatever) – because you didnt even bother the criminal case” See?   So that is it not the real choice here  – the choice is a) go through the public justice system (criminal and civil) or b) settle it privately in an alternate forum.

If we allowed this, how would the law and order landscape of the country look.

Record

It is critical that crimes are processed through the public process because that is the only way the authorities can build a criminal record or database. These are the people who are going to have to deal with catching and prosecuting criminals in the future.  Any police will tell you how critical it is they have this database.  Those who settle will never figure in these records and those unable to settle (probably due to being poor) will figure disproportionately in the record. Cant allow this.

Stigma

David Friedman has a great definition of stigma.  It is the cost to you owing to the fact that other people know about your previous criminal history.   Say you are caught for rape and serve 3 years. The cost to you is not just the 3 years you spent in jail but also that when you get out others know about you and increase  your costs by modulating their own behaviour.

Example : You are a habitual sex offender who gets out of jail for an offence.  Even after you are rehabilitated as a free man, things are going to be very different for you. The girls who work with you in your new job, know about your history and are going to make it very hard for you to score with the same nonchalance you were used to before your conviction.  This very crucial deterrent is missing from a settlement system.  It doesn’t matter how you wing it procedurally in the forum – it wont work.

Access

This is a clincher for me in the Indian context.

There are a lot of things convicted criminals cannot do.  You only have to look at UPA minister Laloo Prasad Yadav who had to lose his MP seat and probably wont be able to contest in the future.  You are denied participation in political process, you are frequently rounded up for preventive detention, getting  a passport requires court permission, you cant apply for a US Visa easily, you cant get a job in many private security firms and on and on.  Given the likelyhood that rich and sophisticated people are more likely to be successful in settling  than the  poor and earthy – you will end up with a bizarre anomaly.

You will have MPs and MLAs who zoom around Delhi and TV studios while some poor sod is rotting in jail for committing the same crime. The only difference is the suave guy had the money or the charisma or the smooth talking power of veiled threat to have won the victim over.  This is a gross situation.

Only rape? Think again

It may seem easy to clearly separate sex assault and only allow the above settlement for those cases, but it is very hard to pull this off in a general manner. What if a call girl gets thrashed black and blue ?  She may fear entering the criminal system too for fear of having her true profession revealed.  What if a gay man gets his face smashed up by a bigot – he too may balk at the criminal justice system if he is not ready to come out yet. The list goes on and on.

Hope this clarifies my tweets earlier on the subject.  It is very critical that we as a country hold the ground on this one and not let it be carelessly discussed in an adhoc manner. 

Crimes, Torts, Harassment and other issues in the Tarun Tejpal case

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 21, 2013

Indian news and social media is on fire with the sexual assault charges against the Editor-In-Chief of the Tehelka News Magazine, Mr Tarun Tejpal.  The details are here at Delhi Durbar.

As the story developed, Ms Shoma Chowdhary the Editor of Tehelka is reported to have snapped at some reporter “Are you the aggrieved party”. There were also several tweets by lawyers and journalists who suggested that the victim was free to choose between criminal and civil complaints.  This is disturbing on many levels because the contents of the leaked email clearly indicate the possible commissioning of a crime.

The justice system of India and most countries rests on a clear distinction between the “crimes” and  “torts”, or simply criminal and civil law.  The way these two branches are prosecuted, the standard of evidence, and the punishment are all different. If someone cheats you on a contract or defames you – you should bring a lawsuit against that person with the final goal of getting some compensation.  If you and the cheater  can come to a deal to avoid a prolonged trial – case closed. All go home happy.  It is not possible to send the cheater/defamer to jail as an outcome of the trial,  the evidential standard is a lot looser.  I am simplifying a lot here, but this is how Tort/Civil cases largely work.  There is a laundry list of acts that are classified as Torts.

Murder, rape, assault, are crimes and they don’t qualify for the above process.

Crimes are a different beast altogether.  In jurisdictions that have public prosecution of crimes, i.e. almost everywhere, the official plaintiff is not the individual who has been hit, but the people or the “society”.  This may seem very unfair to the victim, because there is no redress or restitution. For example : Nirbhaya’s parents would have got nothing at the end of the trial process – but for the ex-gratia provided by the Delhi government.  The upside of this arrangement is – you cant buy your way out of a crime.

Public prosecution

In my studies on legal systems, I stumbled upon this interesting reason why crimes are prosecuted by the state. I dont recall where I read it, but it goes like this.  Start by assuming the opposite, that only the aggrieved party has the right to initiate criminal process against an accused. Also assume that all individuals are equally aggressive pursuing justice when harm is caused to them.  Obviously, this fails the test of murder. Because the aggrieved party is dead, there can be no one to hire prosecutors and initiate the process. Lets expand this one step,  you can grant that the kin (family) of the deceased can also be considered to be an aggrieved party. Then what happens to orphans  ? A system like this will put orphans at great risk because murdering them will invite no prosecution. You can extend this further to say friends and acquaintances, but then what happens to loners, those who recently moved, those who have more enemies ? The real answer is when a crime is committed – it is the entire society that is harmed and the state must bear the expenses of 1) prosecuting the accused and 2) for prison facilities using the taxpayer money. So the basic position can be summarized as this : You cant opt-out of the criminal justice process. In this and other cases, monetary settlement is only one aspect. There can be activism driven pressure and other kinds of indoctrination.

There are libertarian arguments for dismantling the public prosecution altogether and go for a market driven solution. In this scenario,you would buy some kind of “Crime Insurance” so in the event you are attacked you are never short of resources to pursue the aggressor.  Seems quite outlandish.

On Shoma’s outburst

If there is information about the commission of a cognizable (a more serious kind of) offence,  or if a police officer suspects there to be one, he can take up investigations without any specific complaint. Of course he has to apply his mind to ascertain there is sufficient grounds to believe such a crime has been committed.  The Goa Police under Mr Manohar Parikkar is doing exactly this.  In case of Torts, she is absolutely right, the public has no right to jump around if the aggrieved (injured) party is quiet. Unfortunately for  Mrs Shoma Chowdhury the details available in the public domain point squarely to a crime and not a tort. As pointed out by many on social media – the alleged acts , if true, squarely constitute rape under the new anti-rape laws.

The committee

The latest news is that Tehelka has set up a committee to hear the sex harassment case.  That is a good development, but the facts in the public domain indicate that the only option for the committee is to turn it over to the police as a formal complaint. Why?

The basic idea is quite fascinating.  Say you witness or someone tells you about them witnessing  a crime – someone’s hand getting chopped off by a machete. Should you report it to the police ? Will you be legally liable if you keep quiet ? The answer is – you are under no legal obligation to report it.  This explains all the Indian movies where villages witness a gruesome crime but no one comes forward to report it. There is one exception however. If you are in a command position : say a teacher, nurse, railway ticket collector, or a committee hearing one class of complaints like sexual harassment. Then you are a mandatory reporter.

Most tragic that people are willing to drop down several rungs to exhume long settled and well understood conceptions of law to deal with specific cases on an adhoc basis.

Why is Jawaharlal Nehru not being loved today ?

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 14, 2013

A tale of two leaders

Indian social media is abuzz today with various unsavory tags and pictures of who was at the time of this nations infancy an absolute rock star.  Before we thumb our noses at the disrespectful chattering masses, lets understand the factors that are causing this.

In this short post, I try to contrast the popularity trajectories of two of Asia’s most influential leaders.

nehru-smoke

Jawaharlal Nehru aura is fading

Park Chung Hee is the most popular figure amongst todays Koreans

Park Chung Hee’s popularity is soaring in Korea

Jawaharlal Nehru

Aristocrat, suave, educated, highly articulate, intellectual, published, unprecedented stature, unchallenged leadership as long as he lived, comfortable with western way of thinking and life, ladies man, player, handsome, powerful debater, natural orator, Brahmin but beef eater, dams, IITs, Hindu but befriended Muslims, North Indian but did not impose Hindi, pity for the weak, mercy for the destitute.

Contribution : Nehru’s simultaneous celebration and nurturing of that other critical ‘D’ word: Diversity. Democracy and diversity, or better still, democracy with diversity—that is Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy to India. We should defend it to the last. [ Historian Ram Guha ]

Park Chung-Hee of Korea

Military background dictator, raised in crushing poverty, undernourished, short statured, cleared competitive exams to join Japanese colonial teacher training school, then army, imperious, ever suspicious, took over in coup, first arrested then arm twisted business leaders, tortured people, proclaimed himself permanent leader, killed by own intelligence officer.

Contribution : Miracle on the Han. He took what was a piss poor country, amongst the worlds poorest, poorer than India or even North Korea and transformed it, placed it on an automatic path to First World status. Today Korea is a gleaming confident country with 10 times the per capita of India.

Koreans love this man today. 

Personal charisma and expansive idealism about international order will always come a distant second to  “Okay fine, why are we third world again  ?”  

Unfair ? You bet.

Congress without the Gandhi family, the problem lies elsewhere

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 13, 2013

Indian historian Ram Guha has a new Op-Ed out today titled “Congress beyond dynasty” . It follows a trend in Indian intellectual circles to want to relegate Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to the sidelines after having delivered power into the hands of more “intellectual” leadership.

her son Rahul, has done little in his decade in politics. He has scarcely been visible in Parliament and shied away from ministerial responsibility. In his rare public speeches, he has not offered a single new idea on econo-mics, politics or governance, preferring instead to praise his father, mother, or grandmother.

Congress beyond Dynasty – Source TOI

That isn’t completely true of course, Rahul has been extensively touring the country and has clearly articulated his ‘positive rights’ based economic framework. What is being missed is – the first task of any political party is to win. PV Narasimha Rao almost ran the Congress into the ground. Look at them now under Sonia. They have now ruled in the Centre for 10 years, they rule alone in 15 states, and except TN have the whole of peninsular India under control.  What does this tell you ? That only a family can control the Congress just like at the lower levels Stalin s/o Karunanidhi, Akhilesh s/o Mulayam down to the local MLA level. The larger question is why are we stuck with dynastic rule.

The reason why dynastic politics has taken hold lies elsewhere, much closer to Guha’s hero Jawaharlal Nehru. It lies with the so called “Idea of India”.

It is clear India hasnt evolved to a modern political order. It is still stuck in what Francis Fukuyama calls a society based on “kin selection and reciprocal atruism” rather than a meritocratic order. One in which strangers can enter into secure contracts with one another. An order where the security of the contract is guaranteed by Rule of Law rather than understanding and accommodation with a large number of factional leaders of groups. In India, the old rule that the ‘son shall honour the promises of his father’  is the glue that is holding things together at all levels.

What happens over time is a pyramid of kinship based trust emerges. Every families position and perks are guaranteed by another family at the next higher layer.  And every large economic enterprise needs the blessing up and down this chain. Some jostling does happen due to marriage and family infighting but this is remarkably stable overall. If you inject an “intellectual” outsider to this pyramid at the very top, say Jairam Ramesh or a Tharoor. All the equations below have to be re-calibrated. This destroys the stability of the entire system and challengers start appearing.

What about BJP ?

Is the BJP sectarian ?

In an essay published on the eve of the 2009 general elections, i argued that India needed a BJP sans the RSS and a Congress without dynastic politics. A right-of-centre party devoid of religious prejudice and a left-of-centre party not beholden to a single clan are necessary for the further evolution of Indian democracy.

it remains the only all-India party and because they cannot abide the sectarianism of the BJP.

People are going to start wondering how is it that the BJP is sectarian or harbours prejudice against any religion ? It you look at the body of evidence Congress is the sectarian party as it is passing all kinds of sectarian law and religion based appropriations under the 15-point program.

Truth is the BJP, warts and all, is closer to a modern Rule of Law party than the Congress. The fewer the goodies that groups can corner for themselves, the more uniform and predictable the law, the lesser the pull of kinship based society.

On the other hand, if you had an ill defined Idea of India state where “pluralism” calls for a pro-rata distribution of goodies to groups in proportion to intensity of political participation – you will promote kinship as a stronger guarantee.

I vote for “India” without the “Idea of”. This is where the solution lies.

 

A critique of the new Anti Superstition laws in two Indian states

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 10, 2013

The new anti superstition bills in the Congress ruled states of Karnataka and Maharasthra constitute one of the most audacious attacks on personal liberty, freedom of speech and religious expression. Under the guise of scientific social reform, it will perpetuate some superstitious practices while outlawing others.

The Congress government in Karnataka is now mulling over a draft law called Karnataka Anti Superstition Bill 2013. It was prepared by the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy of the National Law School on invitation by the state government. This law follows close on the heels of a similar law passed in the neighboring Congress ruled state of Maharashtra.

The experts at NSLIU have produced a concept note and a draft bill. The draft bill details the structural aspects of the law and the concept note provides the ideological and legal foundations.  These two documents form the basis for this post.

skull

The law in a nutshell

The trajectory of the law follows the well trodden path of stretching Article 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) of the constitution to cover such things as “Right to a life with dignity”.  An innocent directive principle in Article 51(a)(h) which calls for “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”, which should ideally call for increased investment in science  is now reconstructed to ban certain types of private conduct as being unscientific.

Until now, the cover of “Life with dignity” was only used to erect a regime of positive rights. This device along with the usual literary flourish has been used for an ever expanding list including  “Right to Bonus/ Pension/ Leave allowance” , “Right to squat”, “Right to medical treatment abroad”, “Right to Information”, “Right to food”. Positive rights are a claim by citizens on the state – these typically don’t result in criminalizing other peoples behaviour. The anti-superstition laws make the following leap.

“It marks certain types of voluntary activities, broadly not narrowly, as being against the dignity of the participants, even though the participants themselves do not think so.  The people who make the determination are supposed to be experts, who can regulate the acceptable level of dignity in each person, in every socio-economic setting, today as well as into the future, in every psychological state.  Once the committee decides that your dignity has been compromised – criminal sanctions are imposed on participants, typically the facilitator of the activity.”

The issue of harms

This isn’t the whole story of course.

It is indisputable that some kinds of superstitious activity cause harms. The real test of a legal system of any society is whether it can accommodate all these into a modern body of law.  If you need a law to punish human sacrifice, what does it tell you about the quality of your homicide laws ? The authors of anti-superstition bill make the following distinction.

Practices that cause harm : Murder , rape, physical injury all punishable under normal law.  And others like the Thai Poosam rituals of piercing your body, divination and oracles  (only if it is a bad prophecy !!), and a rather clever one to prevent “Godmen” from exploiting people.

Practices that dont cause harm (they call it benign superstition) : Quiet and decent worship, private superstition – like tying your right shoe lace first, breaking coconuts (can go either way).

The law grudgingly grants benign superstition, even though it is equally repugnant to their construction of Article 51(a)(h),  but are categorical in  outlawing the practices that they classify as causing harm or loss of dignity. The problem is the principle of harms is designed to prevent you from harming others. It does not allow experts to unilaterally determine that a harm has taken place while the parties involved vociferously deny it.

The enforcement of the law

It follows the usual recent trend in involving civil society members in various kinds of tribunals.  There will be a new office called The Karnataka Anti Superstition Authority at Bangalore and Vigilance Committees on Superstitious Practices in each of the districts. The vigilance committee which will have some powers of a Civil Court will include the District Magistrate, three Govt officials, and five Civil Society members. The bill goes into a bit of detail on the salaries, allowances, powers, etc.  The vigilance committees Para 16 (1) will undertake surveys to identify superstitious practices Para 16 (2) will suo moto cognizance of violations. Frankly, this arrangement leaves little to the imagination. The seek and destroy mandate to this committee means the normal constraints against witch hunting are not applicable to those who are err… witch hunting.

Disparate impact on religions

Hinduism is a remarkably diverse religion. There is no central sanction of any practice. Hindu practices include extensive worship of nature (earth, animals, trees, geographical features, planets)  as well as ancestor worship.  It is but natural for a variety of diviners and intermediaries to be involved in such a belief system. For any law to pass muster, it must not have a disparate impact on various groups of people.

The law (MH law but also cited and cited by the KA concept note) seeks to make the following illegal.

Astrology, Animal sacrifice, Ghosts, Bhanamati, Reincarnation, Black Magic, Spiritualismm Paranormal claims, Miracles, Godmen’s influence Vastushastra Witchcraft

Appendix 1 : KA Concept Note

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says  (2116 and 2117 )

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

Source : Vatican Web Site

As you can see Christianity is already compliant with the law, or rather the law is resonant with the basic premises of the church. That the practice of faith, all of which is superstitious by definition to an atheist,  can be cleanly divided into Godly practices and Demonic practices is outlandish to other faiths.

Needless to say, all of this is completely at odds with decentralized Hindu society. What is considered occult, pagan, repulsive to one could form the core of another religion. Due to the centrality of ancestor worship and re-incarnation, the oracles and diviners will always have a special place in Hinduism.  Even within Hindu society the bill favours practices of the Brahminical upper castes, who engage in relatively orderly worship at specified temples or mutts while outlawing most of the physical practices of the masses. Under the harms logic, the widespread practices of Thai Poosam, the walking on coals, the pulling of chariots or various practices like Kavadi which call upon physical pain stand outlawed. Astrology, parrot fortune telling, shell fortune telling, are all purely voluntary activities involving mostly peasant Hindu communities.  Even within the Christian faith, the practices of the Pentecosts and a lot of the new age churches will be hit hard while those of the Catholics a lot less.

Affront to freedom of contract and principles of self autonomy

The central legal issue – that of adult and competent consent is brushed aside in a nanny law. The masses, it is claimed, do not know how to conduct their affairs or to solve their psychological troubles correctly, hence expert guidance along with state sanction is needed to whip them into conformance. The impact on contracts that straddle the faith  line is huge. For instance, I enter into a building contract and demand a water source on the north east in conformance with my belief in Vaasthu. The contract is not entered under duress, rather the builder or architect, has to now work this into his product or he loses my business. So what is a private contract between two parties is now proscribed even though there are no negative externalities. You may consider this to be an easy example, yet this is the nature of all activities banned. If I go to an exorcist, the contract is that he hits me with neem leaves after dousing me with ash.The deal is, I get a measure of psychological relief, we split the difference in cash.  You and I can laugh it off, but who are we exactly to comment on matters of the mind.  Depression and insomnia are still without answers in science – by outlawing otherwise legal conduct – you are denying people a vital supplement.

Contracts under duress or fraud, murder, rape, assault are all covered under existing law. There are strong social feedback mechanisms that weed out fake practitioners – if I go for an astrological consultation and the practitioner sticks a hook into me, he will have hell to pay. As the recent Asaram case, he has been held under current and correct law, the new law will seek to imprison him for claiming to be a kind of prophet or reincarnation of saints or gods (Appendix 1- Para 2 of concept note).  Is this scientific ?

Rationalists are drawing an incorrect legal parallel to the ban on child marriage. They say it is also a voluntary activity, how come you accept a ban on it ?  What is being missed here is that the parent doesn’t own their child in the same sense that they own their own bodies.  It is understood that they are just guardians of their children until they attain majority.  Forcing the child into a long term contract without the requisite mental and sexual development can hardly be called voluntary. It is so frustrating that we have to start every argument from the basics.

The physical activities banned by the bill such a putting a hook through your skin, pulling a chariot – constitute a slippery slope. If you were to ban voluntary activities that cause physical harm with no scientific basis, why not ban plastic surgery? Tattoos and piercings. Hair transplants, breast augmentation surgery. The ban on voluntary pagan rituals involving women in various stages of undress has the same problems, why allow fashion shows ?  You throw a poor peasant practicing his ancestral form of worship in jail , while the same activity is allowed for other urban people.  These contradictions are the reason why evolved democracies shy away from forbidding voluntary activity.

Anti witchcraft laws repealed across the world

All across liberal democracies, anti witchcraft and anti divination laws have been repealed.  The USA has TV channels with plenty of psychic lines, tarot readings, crystal balls, palmistry.  They have achieved a great balance by adding a tiny disclaimer “For Entertainment only” The new religion of Wicca ( a polytheist pagan nature worship ) religion is make some strides in the USA. The last remaining local statute against divination in the state of North Carolina was recently repealed.  Britain had its last anti-divination law – the Fraudulent Mediums Act repealed a few years ago. To truly find a parallel to the Karnataka Act you have to go all the way back to The Witchcraft Act 1542 enacted by King Henry VIII – which had similar provisions to the Karnataka Act. The act called for sanctions against invoking spirits for a voluntary participant causing the same kinds of harms mentioned in the Karnataka Act.

use devise practise or exercise, or cause to be devysed practised or exercised, any Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries to thentent to fynde money or treasure or to waste consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres, or to pvoke [provoke] any persone to unlawfull love, or for any other unlawfull intente or purpose … or for dispite of Cryste, or for lucre of money

Witchcraft Act 1542

Ironically in the west, due to the various Christian reformations, the upsurge of scientific discovery, it was thought ludicrous and highly illiberal to be so scared of spirits and the occult – that you needed to outlaw them.

On Rationalists

Rationalists need to focus on the number one irrational institution in the country today. Social justice is unmonitored, no data is available about its beneficiaries, how each component community has progressed over time. Jats are agitating to get inside the circle.  Muslims think they are being denied what Hindu OBCs take for granted.  It is quite remarkable that rationalists are okay with this state of affairs. A scientific social justice platform is the only just platform.

In the case of Madde Snana, the rationalists and communists need to be less concerned about this voluntary activity as distasteful as it may be to them. Instead of worrying about people rolling in food superstitiously, they should be more outraged at the hordes who are eating left over food. The acid test for Indian rationalists is the doctrine of strict scrutiny of social justice to ensure it reaches everyone evenly. I am yet to encounter a rationalist who passes this test.

How to reduce overall levels of superstition in the country

I do not think superstition needs to be tackled legally per se. Rather the main body of law must take into account various alibis, witness issues,  and factors arising out of the cover of superstitious activities.  But to the extent it must be reduced here is how you do it.

Step 1 : Reduce the level of uncertainty in the economy.  If people are allowed to plan their lives in an environment of stable policy – they are less likely to propitiate the spirits to swing the activities of politicians and regulators their way.

Step 2 : Strengthen the rule of law.  Laws must be clearly framed and not be contradictory, clear notices and framework of legal and illegal conduct. A uniform stable clear law will result in fewer people praying for the dice to be loaded in their favour.

Step 3 : More prosperity, more production. A lot of superstition in India is aimed at negotiating the familiar traps of crushing poverty even after 70 years.  Will I, wont I, fall into it?  Will I get the job ? Will the tout who took money for a govt job honour his end ?  As prosperity rises – a whole chunk of this will vanish.

This post has now run over the limit. Let me quickly summarize. This bill is bad.