Shredding the Shroud of Superstition: Whether a Specific Central Enactment, Disperse the Illusion?

“Superstition and Truth cannot go together”[1]

The present century is considered as an age of technology and development. With the advancement of science, there have been radical developments, globally, in the fields of Medicine, Space, Communication, Agriculture, etc. Information and knowledge, today, is just a click away. Further, progressive modes of tele and internet-based communication have made the world a global hub, by extinguishing the barriers of time and space. Such developments owe their genesis and evolution to a radical thought process; one which condemns superstitions and pre-conceptions. Universally, science and superstition are considered; antagonistic. In fact, scientific thinking, which is based on questioning, experimenting and determining; negates the foundation of superstition. As someone[2] once, rightly, remarked, “Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.”

Under the Constitution of India (“the Constitution”) a duty is cast upon every Indian citizen, inter alia, to develop[3] a scientific temper, humanism and a spirit of inquiry and reform. Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his famous book[4], advocated that scientific approach and temper, “are, or should be, a way of life.” As per Mr. Nehru, “refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind – all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.”

 As per the Supreme Court[5], “[e]ach member of the society is required to develop a scientific temper in the modern context because that is the social need of the present.” In fact, the  Supreme Court[6] has explicitly termed, new scientific temper as a guiding factor in the present millennium.

However, despite the indispensable role of scientific thinking in the modernisation and progress of a nation, unfortunately, even in the present century, our society is plagued with the evil of superstition. In fact, for a large part of our country’s population; witchcraft, myths, legends and several other forms of superstition are a way of life. Pertinently, such credulous beliefs are so ingrained in the thought process of a majority our countrymen that they are not only stringently followed, rather, passed on to the subsequent generations as heritage. Regrettably, such irrational beliefs not only poison the minds of individuals, rather, compel them to commit several unspeakable offences. In this regard, the Orissa High Court in Iswar Attaka v. State of Orissa[7]¸ observed, “[m]urders and other serious crimes are continuing unabated in the name of witchcraft, sorcery and superstitious practices. The horrendous and lurid scenarios of the obsolescent superstition of witch-hunting have taken many an innocent lives.” Further, the Supreme Court in State of U.P. v. Sahrunnisa[8], while acknowledging, inter alia, the widespread domain of superstition in India, noted, “Superstition plays a very important role in the Indian society. It is not restricted to any particular religion or a particular section of society including the haves and the have-nots.”

The manifestation of these delusory beliefs and notions can be in many forms. Though, certain superstitious practices carried out in the name of faith, such as; hanging of lemon and chillis at the entrance of homes/shops; avoiding black cats; removing evil eye; etc., may not necessarily result in grave physical inconvenience/ harm, however, practices of witchcraft, black magic, exorcism, etc., have often resulted in instances of murders/deaths. Unfortunately, a large number of these manifestations result due to irrational thought process, lack of pragmatic thinking and in several cases; religion/religious thought processes. The situation becomes even more disconcerting when the gullibility of the innocent is preyed upon and exploited by their proponents and perpetrators to fulfil their malicious designs. It is often observed that people resort to black magic and magic remedies for curing diseases and other problems of life and in the process, are duped of money, health and time. In this regard, the Punjab and Haryana High Court[9] has duly acknowledged, “there are enough number of gullible people in the country who take every printed word to be gospel truth and who in the process get fleeced by quacks whether in the name of magic drugs and medicines or magic remedies.”

Significantly, there are several laws in India containing provisions to deal with the incidents of fraud, deception, bodily injuries, etc. It is relevant to note that besides the general provisions under the Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC/the Code”), certain Central enactments for tackling the menace of Sati and deceptive advertisement exist. At the same time, certain States have enacted specific laws/statutes to deal with the issue of superstition. However, till date, no specific and comprehensive Central enactment, dealing with superstition/superstitious practices exist.

Under IPC offences of murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, voluntarily causing hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt are penalised under Sections 302, 304, 323 and 325 respectively, thereof. IPC further provides for the penalties for the commission of offences of cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property (under Section 420 IPC); theft (Section 379 IPC); extortion (Section 384 IPC); etc. Simultaneously, as aforementioned, a Central enactment aimed, inter alia, “to control the advertisement of drugs in certain cases, to prohibit the advertisement for certain purposes of remedies alleged to possess magic qualities”, in the form of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 (“the DMR Act”) exists in the statute books. At the same time, under the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, penalties for attempt to commit sati[10]; abetment of sati and glorification of sati are provided under Sections 3, 4 and 5 respectively, of the said enactment.

The DMR Act, inter alia, defines magic remedy to include, “a talisman, mantra, kavacha, and any other charm of any kind which is alleged to possess miraculous powers for or in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease in human beings or animals or for affecting or influencing in any way the structure or any organic function of the body of human beings or animals.” The DMR Act further, specifically prohibits advertisement[11] of certain drugs[12] for treatment of certain diseases and disorders[13] (under Section 3); taking part and publication of misleading advertisements[14] (under Section 4); advertisement of magic remedies[15] for the treatment of certain diseases and disorders (under Section 5) and import into, and export from, India of (document containing) certain advertisements (under Section 6). Contravention of the provisions of/prohibitions provided under the DMR Act is punishable in terms of Section 7[16] thereof. Pertinently, the offences are declared to be cognizable in nature (under Section 9-A), triable by a court, not inferior to that of a Presidency Magistrate or a Magistrate of the First Class (under Section 10).

Specific State enactment meant, inter alia, to “combat and eradicate human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil, sinister and aghori practices propagated in the name of so-called supernatural or magical powers or evil spirits”, was enacted by the State Government of Maharashtra in the form of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 (“the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act”). This Act, inter alia, defines, human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic[17], as the “commission of any act, mentioned or described in the Schedule appended to this Act, by any person by himself or caused to be committed through or by instigating any other person.” Significantly, Section 3(2) of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act penalises the commission and any advertisement, practice, propagation or promotion of any act of human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic and human sacrifice by any person by himself or through any other person, with imprisonment for a term, “which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to seven years and with fine which shall not be less than five thousand rupees but which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.” Section 3(3) of the said Act, further, penalises the abetment or attempt of commission of the said offences in the same manner as provided under Section 3(2) of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act.

As per Section 4 of the said enactment, offences under Section 3 are triable by no court, inferior to that of a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of First Class. Section 5 of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act, empowers the State Government to appoint for any one or more police stations, as may be specified in the notification, one or more police officers to be known as the Vigilance Officer. In turn, such Vigilance Officers are tasked with responsibility, inter alia, to detect and prevent the contravention or violation of the provisions of the said Act; collect evidence for the effective prosecution of persons contravening the provisions of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act; etc. The Vigilance Officers may be further conferred with a power of entry, search and seizure by the State Government, in terms of the provisions of Section 6 of the said Act. Significantly, Section 10 of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Act specifically empowers the court convicting a person under the said Act to permit the publication[18] of the fact of such conviction. Understandably, such publication may assist in curbing further commission of offence by the convict and prevent public duping in future. Pertinent to note that quite recently, a similar enactment[19] has been notified[20] by the State Government of Karnataka for the said State.

It is relevant to note that in the year 2013[21], special mention was made, inter alia, by Mr. Bhartruhari Mahtab, Member of the Lok Sabha (then), regarding India’s, “Need to enact laws to eradicate superstition by punishing those who propagate such belie”f[22]. Highlighting the brutal murder of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar[23], who dedicated his life to fight against the superstition and black magic, it was urged by Mr. Mahtab to the (then) Central Government and Parliament to enact a (Central) law to eradicate superstitious belief. However, this request was not acceded to and as aforementioned, no specific Central enactment exists till date dealing exhaustively on superstition.

Supporters and advocates on either side of the notion have consistently raised serious issues/ concerns/arguments; in favour of and against a specific Central enactment/law on superstition. As per the proponents, favouring a specific Central law on superstition, it is argued that such enactment would be beneficial in catering to the intricacies of the issues involved. It is further argued that the existing legal machinery is incompetent to deal with all the circumstances and the general nature of penal provisions provide a leverage for several offences/transgressions from being dealt with, effectively. Per contra, those against an explicit anti-superstition law content that the existing framework is sufficient, though, lacks proper implementation. Accordingly, effective implementation of existing law, education and awareness, as per such individuals, are contended to be the sole means for the extermination of superstition. It is further vehemently argued by those opposing a specific Central law that a new law would only result in complications and delay.

Undoubtedly, superstition is deep-seated in the minds of individuals and societies across the world. Though, in certain instances, harmless, monster of superstition, if left unattended, continues to feed on vulnerability of the innocent and soon magnifies to engulf individuals, societies and generations. Therefore, it is obligatory for each and every one to take an active part in eradicating this evil, once and for all. This would necessarily be possible only with a collective and social ostracism of beliefs based on illogical and irrational thinking. It is further necessary that the minds of individuals are monitored and programmed right from birth so that superstitious beliefs and practices do not pollute their innocence. Education, scientific thought process, shunning of archaic beliefs, etc., would act as effective weapons against this evil. It is time to acknowledge that innumerable offences have been committed in the names of some illogical practice, with a vast majority of victims being women and children. Equally important is the acknowledgment of a fine distinction between religion and superstition so that religion is not exploited by goons to fulfil their ulterior motives. Undoubtedly, in experience specific laws have proved effective in dealing with specific issues in the society. However, before a specific Central enactment dealing with superstition is passed, it is to be pondered whether addition of a new law would be an effective solution. In fact, before progressing on making a law, it is necessary that a radical shift is brought into the thought process of individuals for the simple reason that the issues related with superstitions cannot be tackled solely with the enactment of a new law. Superstition and superstitious practices need to be first uprooted from the mentality though and way of life/living processes of individuals first, specific enactment may be later enacted to cull out the remaining weeds. Time is ripe to concentrate first and more on education and awareness. At the same time, steps must be adopted to better and empower social and non-governmental organisation involved in the process of raising social and societal consciousness, before concentrating on making new laws for penalising offenders. The evil of superstition would, in fact, be effectively curbed by goodness of mind.

As Leo Tolstoy once remarked, “You think that your laws correct evil – they only increase it. There is but one way to end evil – by rendering good for evil to all men without distinction.”

*Managing Associate, L&L Partners Law Offices

[1] Mahatma Gandhi

[2] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

[3] Article 51-A(h) of the Constitution of India (Part IV-A, Fundamental Duties)

[4] The Discovery of India

[5]Voluntary Health Assn. of Punjab v. Union of India, (2013) 4 SCC 1

[6]State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, (2005) 8 SCC 534

[7] 2015 SCC OnLine Ori 346  

[8] (2009) 15 SCC 452  

[9] Aarti v. State of Punjab, 2009 SCC OnLine P&H 3662

[10] Section 2(1)(c) of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987“sati means the act of burning or burying alive of- (i) any widow along with the body of her deceased husband or any other relative or with any article, object or thing associated with the husband or such relative; or (ii) any woman along with the body of any of her relatives, irrespective of whether such burning or burying is claimed to be voluntary on the part of the widow or the woman or otherwise;”

[11] Section 2(a) of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954

[12] Section 2(b) of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954

[13] Specified under Schedule I of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

[14] Section 2(d) of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

[15] Section 2(c) of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

[16]“Whoever contravenes any of the provisions of this Act [or the rules made thereunder] shall, on conviction, be punishable-(a) in the case of the first conviction, with imprisonment which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both; (b) in the case of a subsequent conviction, with imprisonment which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”

[17] Under Section 2(1)(b) of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013.

[18]Section 10 of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 “…it shall be competent for the court convicting such offender to cause the name and place of residence of such person to be published by the police in the local newspaper where such offence had taken place…”

[19] The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act, 2017


[21] During the XIV Session of the Lok Sabha


[23]Social activist, Founder and President of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, Committee to Eradicate Superstition in Maharashtra.

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