It was decided to prepare the concept note under three broad headings:
1. Need for the Anti-superstition Bill.
2. Scope of the Bill
3. Role and responsibility of the State
NEED FOR SUCH A BILL
The Constitution of India envisages a society which is democratic, secular and socialist. Building such a society is not possible without scientific foundation. The Indian society is moving away from the constitutional vision, and against the spirit of inquiry and advancement of civilization. Our education system that ought to have contributed in sharpening critical and creative abilities is also drifting. In this changing context we need new laws to promote scientific temper to confront, contain and curb superstitions.
The Constitution of India entails every citizen to perform certain fundamental duties and they are defined as the moral obligation of all citizens to help promote a spirit of patriotism and to uphold the unity of India. The 42nd amendment to the Constitution inserted Article 51A(h) as a fundamental duty which reads as:‘To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform’.
Fundamental duties as defined in Article 51(A) are not made enforceable by a writ of Court just as the fundamental rights are. But every citizen of India is fundamentally obligated to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry. It is the duty of every citizen to contribute to reform the society for better way of life. Whenever there is threat for a citizen from discharging his fundamental duties then it is obligatory on the part of State to protect such a citizen. A citizen is also entitled to approach the writ Courts for a direction to the State to extend protection to perform his fundamental duties just as he is entitled to protect his fundamental rights.
It means that the state is bound to create condition for the flowering of the intentions of the Article 51 A (h) without which they remain as mere sentiments.
However, we are witnessing a rise in obscurantism and blind belief not just among the illiterate and poor, but even among the educated and the rich classes irrespective of religious and cultural identities. In fact, such practices are taking deep inroads into the psyche of the citizens, thanks to the public indulgence of political leaders and endorsement in the media. Hence there is a greater need to bring about a law to curb superstitious practices and inculcate the ideas enshrined in the Constitution.
A brief description of the concepts of Article 51 A (h):
Scientific temper can be understood as a mental attitude which upholds the method of acquiring reliable and practical knowledge through human reasoning. It means developing a spirit of critical enquiry, which does not accept views or opinions simply because they have been handed down from tradition or authority, without testing and trial. It also means not following any obscurantist and superstitious practices.
Humanism: A system of thought that considers that solving human problems with the help of reason is more important than relying on religious beliefs. It emphasizes the fact that the basic nature of human is good. It also means that system of thought which regards human as capable of using their intelligence to live their lives, rather than relying on religious belief. (OUP)
As Bertrand Russell says, ‘humanism is the sum total of man’s concern for the welfare, dignity and cultural equality of his fellow beings both in intellect and practice. Encouragement of humanism might, from our point of view, be reckoned a virtue.’
Secularism: The belief that religion should not be involved in the organization of society, education and in public affairs. In relation to the obligation of the state, it could be said that the while it does not interfere in religious belief or practice, it has the prerogative of the state to intervene when atrocities are committed in the name of religion.
Reform: The term has been variously defined as measure to “improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects, to abolish abuse or malpractice, to cause to give up harmful and immoral practices and persuade people to adopt better way of life”.
Taken in this spirit, the constitutional aspiration aims at promoting equality, harmony and brotherhood among people belonging to various religions and cultures.
Reasons for having these concepts in the Constitution:
a) It is necessary for developing human mind and character, leading to social transformation.
b) It is indispensible to realize the foundational tenets of the Constitution of establishing democratic, socialistic and secular republic.
c) Even though achieving economical parity is important for establishing democracy and equality, it alone cannot usher in these ideals. It needs social conditions that can promote such values. Superstition and blind beliefs come in the way of social transformation of a society and hinder its progress towards democratization of social relations and advancement of human knowledge. For instance belief in orthodoxy and blind belief upholds an unquestioning acceptance of the past simply because it is handed down from the forefathers. Scientific temper, on the other hand, urges one to question the veracity of claims made in the name of tradition and opens up new debates. (Accepting nature as it is, without subjectively adding to it)
d) Scientific temper is not just a western concept handed down to us by European Enlightenment, via colonialism. In fact, India has a long and rich, though checkered, history of questioning orthodoxy as can be seen in the philosophical schools of Sankhya, Vaisheshika, Carvaka and early Buddhism. The methodology of ancient Indian medicine as propounded by Caraka Samhita is based on scientific temper.
Buddha, for instance, gave a call not to believe in tradition just because it is handed down from many generations or spoken many times. In fact, Buddha even gave a call not to ‘ believe in authority of teachers or elders but to accept and live by such sayings ‘only after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and will benefit one and all.
The following quotation from Kalidasa sums it all:
“Nothing is sacrosanct merely because it is there in tradition, nor should some new poetic composition derided because it is new. A wise person examines things and arrives at a correct stand while the ignorant simply adopts judgments of others indiscriminately.” (in Malavikagnimitra)
e) Dr Ambedkar highlighted the value of scientific spirit and rationality when he embraced Buddhism. His eloquent reasoning is worth noting, since it carries within it the quality and nobility of free thinking:
‘No man ever lived so godless yet so godlike. Arrogating to himself no divinity, despairing of future bliss, but without fear as without hope, leader of thought but despising lovingly the folly of the world, exalted but adored, the universal brother, he wandered among men, simply, serenely, with gentle irony subduing them that opposed him, to congregation after congregation speaking with majestic sweetness, the master to each, the friend of all.’
It was for these reasons that Ambedkar sought solace in Buddhism as he looked upon it as the most ‘rationalist dharma’ enshrining humanism as against the inhuman practices of caste Hinduism. Buddhism rejected the Chaturvarnya and supported equality. Ambedkar took to Buddhism as a means to eradicate superstition and inculcate among his followers a spirit of enquiry, humanism and equality.
f) Talking about scientific temper, Nehru argues how it is linked to the question of social justice, through reformation. By upholding status quo, superstition and orthodoxy function as impediments to new ideas and humanitarian values. On the contrary, they promote discrimination, hierarchy and cause immense damage to individuals and society.
It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and malnutrition, of illiteracy and obscurantism of superstition and deadening customs, of rigid traditions and blind beliefs, of vast resources going to waste of a rich country inhabited by starving millions.(Convocation address, 1946)
Nehru believed that rationalism could fight the darkest forces of superstition and also
function as a shield to protect people from prejudice, ignorance and obscurantism which
have kept the people enslaved and degraded all these years.
g) Karnataka has a unique history of rational thinking exemplified by the 12th Century social reformers founded by Basaveshwara. A reading of Vachanas reveals that the discussions were based on rationalism, realism and scientific outlook.
h) The call given by KUVEMPU for humanity to attain the state of ‘vishwamanava’, the Universal Man carries with it the spirit of oneness with the world and not follow narrow, prescriptive paths of organized religion or blind belief.
As the above note illustrates, nurturing a rational attitude has a long history and has led to human development. It is evident that superstitions and irrational beliefs originate from ignorance, fear of the unknown and lack of scientific education. In fact, superstitious beliefs militate against democratic values and spirit of equality. Moreover, it is important to consider how such superstitious practices belittle human dignity and subject them to physical and psychological abuse and exploitation. It is also important to understand the social implication of superstition since it ends up affecting the vulnerable sections of society, namely dalits, women and children. The caste and gender angle of superstition is to be brought very clearly under the purview of the proposed Bill.
The role of education in developing a rational approach thus can put an end to irrational beliefs and superstitious practices can never be overstated. The sway such practices have on the people, both among the rural and urban population including the educated ones, speaks volumes about our faulty education system. This is augmented by the modern media which unabashedly propagates unscientific ‘stories’ based on blind belief taking people away from scientific reasoning based on natural laws. This has made the role of education based on facts rooted in scientific method of inquiry, as envisaged in various Education Policy documents and Education Commission Reports. For instance the 1986 National Policy on Education clearly states:
“Science education will be strengthened so as to develop in the child well defined abilities and values such as the spirit of inquiry, creativity, objectivity, the courage to question and esthetic ability. Science education programme will be designed to enable the learner to acquire problem solving and decision making skills and to discover relationship of science with agriculture, industry and other aspects of daily life. Every effort will be made to extend science education to the vast numbers who have remained outside the pale of formal education.” (Para 8.18 and 8.19)
The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Samithi, in its preamble sums the case for rationality thus:
Science is the best instrument to stimulate the rational thinking and investigation of knowledge and experience acquired so far. This does not mean that rational thinking is a right of learned people only. The rational thinking is a born instinct in every human being, which is suppressed throughout the ages. Any individual capable of truthful reasoning is ought to be rational.
There are many doctors, engineers, leaders and even scientists who are learned people and sufficiently enlightened persons yet they believe in superstitions. Despite their modern living using all modern amenities and leading happy life, they are not performing science in practice. They avoid scientific attitude in their daily life. These intelligent people believe and practice superstitions because no one is forcing them to do so. But basically they are selfish or are afraid of something or simply they are hypocrite. By their untenable attitude, common people are confused but ultimately follow them. This act of contradiction is inconsistent with their enlightenment and as such they can be called superstitious. The second reason for many learned and knowledgeable people being superstitious is because of their lack of rational thinking and its awareness. They couldn’t use science in practice and interlink it with matters of superstitions to investigate the truth behind it. They couldn’t really understand it without some guidance. One has to guide them with sympathy and friendliness.
In general superstitions are considered as product of religious matters. Religion never changes whereas science adopts every new change after proving it. The holding and clinging to old unproven matter, which is peculiar to the particular place, time or community is also superstition. Superstition gives birth to fanaticism and fundamentalism. It is hindrance to progress and development of human beings. It often blackmails the emotions of a person. The continuous change, i.e. evolution, is a law of nature. Survival of the fittest is the rule of evolution. During the millions of years of evolution of species physical ‘might is right’ was the law of the survival. This was changed when homo sapiens evolved on the earth. The brain of human being evolved has something ‘extra’ than any other species. That is thinking power. Without this human race couldn’t have sustained the harsh conditions of the nature. The might of human thinking or intelligence was new law of the survival. It was the beginning of the rational thinking. However it was raw and primitive. With the help of thinking power human being has created the civilization and captured whole world without bothering about other species and even his fellow human beings. Though the sword of scientific progress is for the human benefit, it should be in the hands of rationally intellectuals. The present civilization is not a better one despite it is modern and progressive. We will have to create a super civilization by thinking more and more rationally. This may be possible through by adopting means of unexploited nature and species around us for producing superior, sustainable, safe and simple but sufficient material for everyone to live happily. That may be perfect rational thinking of super civilization.
SCOPE OF THE BILL
1. Defining ‘Superstition’.
Webster Dictionary defines superstition as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation” and also as “a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary”.
Cambridge Dictionary’s defines it as “a belief that is not based on reason or scientific thinking and that explains the causes for events in ways that are connected to magic”
In sum, it can be understood as ‘belief without evidence or with evidence to the contrary’. It is to disregard the true relation between cause and effect and go against known laws of nature. At the same time it should also be remembered that it is a highly ambiguous word. The Encyclopedia Britannica warns us that ‘those who use the term imply that they have certain knowledge or superior evidence for their own scientific, philosophical or religious convictions and superstitions may be roughly classified as religious, cultural and personal.
In spite of the ambiguity and broad application of the term, it is undeniable that there is a need to encounter the superstitious practices and people who have commercialized them to exploit the faith of the people. As mentioned earlier, though the target group for such superstitious practices is as broad as it gets, the most exploited one are from a particular class and economic background. It is this particular category that Dabholkar had in mind. Still, while legislating ambiguity is certainly of major concern and efforts should be made to limit the ambiguity and ask questions like:
How far can the long arm of the law reach?
What does regulation mean in the private affairs of the individuals especially when it is something as intimate as faith?
Are we pitting superstition against modernity or is it a faceoff between religion and secular character of the nation?
Will the proposed law be meant to regulate or prohibit practices related to superstition?
In the light of these questions that encompass such deep seated aspects related to faith, spirituality and religion, it should be clear as to what exactly does the law seek to achieve. The notion of human rights and fundamental duties as envisaged in the Constitution as well as the plural nature of our society may provide some broad parameters to approach the issue. Law cannot be blind to the god men occupying privileged positions of power, enjoying immunity for their actions and robbing the poor of their mind and money. And there are practices that are prima facie injurious to human dignity but are still celebrated in the name of spirituality and faith; there are practices that reinforce the caste, class and gender hierarchies; and there are practices that are inherently violent that prevent a peaceful cohabitation of people possible. While the Constitution provides freedom of religion or faith of the people of India, they are not free to inflict harm on others and/or gain commercial advantage out of them, particularly in the name of faith or blind belief.
The editorial in The Hindu makes the following comment:
“The ordinance targets forced and exploitative practices, not those that are voluntary or that do not take a physical or financial toll on people. Chanting mantras on a personal level to ward off evil spirits will not constitute an offence. But forcing an expensive, exorcism ritual could attract a complaint”. (August 28, 2013)
The observations made by Justice Nagamohan Das on the issue of superstition are worth our consideration:
‘It is difficult to distinguish between ‘blind beliefs and faiths’ from ‘beliefs and faiths’. The dividing line is very thin. There are explained beliefs and faiths. There are also unexplained beliefs and faiths. There are beliefs and faiths which are non-violent, provide solace, creates confidence and useful to the people. A blind belief or faith not based on reason, knowledge or experience is called as superstition. These superstitions are found all over the world and in all walks of life concerning all activities throughout history. Like people of the World over, most Indians are superstitious. Even the daily life of Indians is governed by superstitions.’
The citation draws attention to the need to distinguish between what can be classified as ‘benign’ and ‘malignant’ forms of superstition, to help in identifying which aspects of superstition can be brought under the scope of the Bill. The ‘malignant’ ones are those which are violent, dangerous, destructive, harmful and inhuman, like torturing women in the name of ‘Witches’ or ‘Sorceress’ or subjecting children to physical violence in the name of curing some diseases. Such harmful practices deflect attention from the primary cause and lead to defeatist attitude of helpless acceptance. They act as obstacles in finding out the root cause of the problems and taking up adequate remedial measures. Privately held beliefs or practices that do not impinge on the rights of others or cause harm to others may be called ‘benign’ forms of superstition. However, some of these ‘private’ beliefs can also have a public dimension (in the way they influence public behavior or belief) and militate against reason. The distinction does not endorse such practices either. (For example, belief in Vastu or astrology can be a privately held belief, but once it is advertised or used in such a way as to cause any harm or loss, it ceases to be just a benign form of superstition.) Still, using such a categorization, we can perhaps make the following distinction:
a) Such practices that demean the dignity of human beings (like ‘Made Snana, making people roll on the leftovers or making them eat human extreta, nails, hair etc, made to be practiced by Koragas in south canara etc) and those that subject people to become victims of circumstances than allowing them to take control of the situations.
b) Miracles and magic (for the purpose of exploitation) go against scientific temper and mislead people to accept orthodoxy; it also takes away their belief in human-centric approach to solve social problems. Public show of such practices (like ‘sidi’ – hanging by metal hooks, ‘made made snana’ or nude worship) end up spreading and perpetuating such acts.
c) Superstitions that perpetuate and promote exploitation, slavery, fear, untouchability, inferiority complex, superiority complex, caste, creed, gender and varna based inequalities. They became instruments in the hands of few to exploit, cheat and deceive the ignorant people.
d) It should include such acts that subject animals to torture in the name of providing some remedies to human suffering.
e) To bring astrological practices that offer sops and promises of remedy to those who approach astrologers or god men under Consumer Act and have such practitioners go in for compulsory registration (i.e. to call such practices like comparing horoscopes and advice on vastu etc as ‘services’).
Can unfulfilled remedies be brought under legal action (as faulty service)?
f) The earlier draft of Maharashtra Bill (called the March Bill) used words like: ‘to protect the poor and ignorant people in the society against blind faith, ignorance and customs born out of blind faith in the name of god or by so called god men. (This has been later dropped in the final bill, called the December Bill)
g) Black magic, sorcery to be legally defined. The March bill says ‘practices by a person or through another by claiming to possess supernatural powers or divine powers or power of the spirit for treatment or for curing or for healing physical and mental ailments thereby causing material or financial loss to a human being.
h) The March bill provided for punishment for a term extending to seven years or with fine extending to 50,000 rupees or with both. The December bill reduced it to six months to seven months with the same amount of fine.
i) Similarly if a group or organization or trust practices acts of superstition, it should be treated as wrong conduct or business. (like media role in spreading superstition)
j) Since superstition exists in all religions and not restricted to any one religion or faith, it is important bring such practices in all religions under the ambit of the Bill.
k) It should be an enabling law in the sense that it should set certain standards/parameters to identify and fight superstition and protect those who fight such practices and engage in spreading rationality among the public.
l) In most of the cases, it if often argued that people subject themselves to superstitious practices willingly as part of tradition. That people following such practices out of their own volition and for a long time does not justify the perpetuation of the practice and not taking cognizance of such cases.
LIST OF HARMFUL (‘MALIGNANT’) SUPERSTITIOUS PRACTICES IN KARNATAKA
(Examples from all faiths/religions to be included – list incomplete)
1. Exploitation of people using blind faith: nature of victimization needs to be defined. It should also specify who is getting harmed and who is getting the benefit out of such belief.
2. The list should be representative so that the scope of its definition should serve to illustrate several such practices in vogue in different places.
3. Local practices often get blown out of proportion and ‘universalised’ by offering tall claims, often endorsed by the media. Such endorsements, particularly in electronic media, should be brought under the purview of this act.
The following practices are listed in the Maharashtra Bill. They are applicable here too with some modifications/deletion of certain terms specific to that State.
1. (1) Under the pretext of expelling the ghost assaulting by tying a person with rope or chain, beating by stick or whip, to make the person drink footwear soaked water, giving chilli smoke, hanging a person to roof, fixing him with rope or by hair or plucking his hair, causing pain by way of touching heated object to organs or body of a person, forcing a person to perform a sexual act in the open practicing aghor acts, putting urine or human excreta forcibly in the mouth of a person or practicing any such acts.
2. (2) Display of so called miracles by a person and thereby earning money and to deceive, defraud and terrorise people by propagation and circulation of so called miracles.
3. (3) With a view to receive blessings of super natural power to follow the evil and aghori practices which causes danger to life or grievous hurt: and to instigate, encourage or compel others to follow such practices.
4. (4) Doing any inhuman act in search of precious things, bounty, water resource or for similar reasons in the name of karni, bhanamati and making or trying to make human sacrifice in the name of jaran-maran, or dev-devaski or to advice, instigate or encourage committing such inhuman act.
5. (5) to create an impression by declaring that a divine spirit has influenced one’s body or that a person has possessed such divine spirit and thereby create fear in the mind of others or to threaten others of evil consequences for not following the advice of such person.
6. (6) By declaring that a particular person practices karni, black magic or brings under the influence of ghost, or diminishes the milching capacity of a cattle by mantra-tantra, or crate a suspicion about such person, or similarly accusing a particular person that he brings misfortune to others or is responsible for spread of diseases and thereby making the living of such person miserable, troublesome or difficult; to declare a person a satan or incarnation of satan.
7. (7) In the name of witchcraft assaulting any person, parading him naked or put a ban on his daily activities.
8. (8) To crate panic in the mind of public in general by way of invoking ghost by mantras, or threaten to invoke ghost, putting up a false show to make a person free from poisonous infection by invoking mantras or similar things, creating an impression that there is ghostly or divine wrath causing physical injuries and preventing a person from taking medical treatment and instead diverting him to practice aghori acts or treatment, threatening a person with death or causing physical pains or causing financial or psychological harm by practicing or tend to practise mantra tantra, black magic or aghori act.
9. (9) Prohibiting and preventing a person from taking medical treatment in case of dog, snake or scorpion bite and instead giving him treatment like mantra-tantra, ganda-dora or such other things.
10. (10) Claiming to perform surgery by fingers, or claiming to change the sex of a foetus in womb of a woman.
11. (11) (a) to create an impression that oneself is having special super natural powers, emanation of another person or holy spirit, or that the devotee was his wife, husband or paramour in past birth thereby indulging into sexual activity with such person;
12. (b) To keep sexual relations with a woman who is unable to conceive assuring her of motherhood through supernatural power.
13. (12) To create an impression that a mentally retarded person is having super natural power and utilizing such person for business or occupation.
14. Any attempt to spread, advertise or give publicity in any form (including media) about events that are connected with superstition.
ROLE OF THE STATE
1. IT is essential that the state should become the first observer of the provisions of the Bill and stop encouraging practices based on irrational or blind belief in its own offices and shall not promote such practices.
2. The spirit of Article 51 A (h) can be best realized through revamping education system by including lessons in problem solving and promoting scientific enquiry in school and college curriculum.
3. It should safeguard those who uphold rationality and scientific temper in public from attacks by obscurantist and revisionist forces.
MAHARASHTRA ANDHASHRADDHA NIRMOOLAN SAMITI has the following statement as a part of its struggle against superstition.
MANS is doing its best to eradicate prevailing superstitions, inculcate scientific temperament and instill value based rationalism among the society members so as to bring a new beginning in the life of an individual. Barring a few, rapidly deteriorating conditions of the society are making every one inactive, passive, submissive and sometimes to lose the patience. We are becoming quite helpless, fearful and direction less. Compromises in every situation are becoming a sort of routine affair in every one’s life. Heartless globalization, commercialization of every aspect of life, growing consumerism arising due to impact of powerful media like TV, easy accessibility of addictive materials which corrupt innocents, the deterioration of ethical values in the fast changing society etc have made everyone’s life utterly miserable and dependent upon whims and fancies of policy makers. In addition to all these factors, the religious fanatics have joined hands with the greedy politicians who are responsible for policies that affect the life of the individuals and are encouraging the violence, cruelty, suppression of universal values, and self centered behavioral pattern. This has far reaching effect on the life of an ordinary person who is under stress due to fear, instability, and poor living conditions. Society is losing its vigor and enthusiasm and is always on the run after something…, which cannot be defined, identified and reached.
The Samiti lists the following 12 categories as coming under ‘superstition’:
- Animal sacrifice
- Black Magic
- Paranormal claims
- Godmen’s influence
However, it recommended the following practices to be considered to be considered for the purpose of legislation.
To perform Karni, Bhanamati,
To perform magical rites in the name of supernatural power,
To offer ash, talisman, charms etc. for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil spirits or ghosts,
To claim possession of supernatural powers and to advertise this claim,
To defame, disgrace the names of erstwhile Saints/ Gods, by claiming to be there reincarnation and thus cheating the gullible and God-fearing simple folks.
To claim to be possessed by divine power or evil power and then perform miracles in the name of such powers.
To punish and to beat mentally ill patients in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits. To perform Aghori rites.
To perform so called black magic and spread fear in society.
To perform “Gopal Santan Vidhi” to beget a male offspring.
To oppose scientific medical treatment and to coerce to adopt Aghori treatment. To sell or deal in so-called magic stones, talisman, bracelets, charms.
To become possessed by supernatural powers and then pretend to give answers to any questions in this mental state.
To sacrifice innocent animals for the appeasement of gods or spirits. To dispense magical remedies for curing rabies and snake bites.
To dispense medical remedies with claims of assured fertility.
The Concept note was prepared based on notes and ideas generated at two sittings of the draft committee which met on 14th and 21st September at CSSEIP, National Law School, Bangalore.
1. Dr. G.Ramakrishna
2. Dr. Siddallingaiah
3. Dr. K Marulasiddappa
4. Dr. Hanumanthappa C.S.
5. Dr. Vishwanath G.S
6. Smt. Lalita B Nayak
7. Nitin. R
8. Keshava Rao M.N
10. Niryanjaradhya V.P.
12. Satish Kumar.G
14. Nataraj A.S.
15. Prof. Nagari Babaiah
16. Dr. Balagurumurthy
17. Dr. Dwarakanath C.S.
18. Kumar Sringeri.
19. Prof. Japhet .S
20. Sreedhara V.S..