Mumbai: The Maharashtra state assembly on Friday passed a Bill aimed at curbing superstitious practices, four months after the murder of an activist who spearheaded a 25-year crusade for such a law.
The Black Magic Prevention and Prohibition of Exploiting Practices Bill, popularly known as the anti-black magic Bill, will become law after it is passed by the state legislature’s upper house, which is expected to take it up on Monday.
Activists say some provisions of the original Bill have been diluted, reducing its effectiveness in preventing the exploitation of people by so-called godmen and godwomen. In August, activist Narendra Dabholkar, who fought for such a law, was murdered by two men in Pune. After a public outcry over the murder, the state government issued an ordinance and said the Bill would be tabled in the winter session of the state legislature.
In 2005, the state assembly passed a similar Bill but it was never introduced in the legislative council in the face of strong protests by religious groups and right-wing Hindu organizations. The Warkaris, a Vaishnavaite sect with a large following in the state, were at the forefront of the resistance, claiming many provisions of the Bill would infringe on their constitutional right to practise religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena also opposed the Bill.
According to proponents of the Bill, the introduction of a clause which says that the law will be applicable only to 12 practices of black magic specifically mentioned in the Bill takes the sting out of the proposed law. It should have been open-ended, they say.
These practices include exorcism, use of black magic with the promise of finding hidden treasures and demanding sexual favours with promises to produce a son, among others. If found guilty, a person can be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for up to seven years and fined Rs.50,000.
The Bill also dropped a provision that allows an unrelated person to make a complaint against the exploitation of someone else. Currently, the police can register a complaint only if a complaint is lodged by the victim of exploitation or the victim’s close relatives.
Shyam Manav, president of All India Committee for Eradication of Superstition, said that in the name of exorcism, people purported to be possessed by evil spirits are often brutally beaten up, resulting in permanent disabilities or even death. It is unlikely that the immediate family, which often is involved in consulting the exorcist, would complain against the person, said Manav.
“In such a scenario, we lose a precious opportunity to save a human life,” he said.
Pune police probing the Dabholkar murder case have so far not been able to make any progress in the investigation. Earlier this month, the police filed an affidavit in the Bombay high court stating that no right-wing Hindu group has been found to be linked with the killing.