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Karnataka Cabinet clears anti-superstition Bill. But it’s a diluted version

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 30 September 2017, 19:34 IST

After making grandiose plans to emerge as the most ‘rationalist’ state in the country, Karnataka has settled down to bring forward a weak anti-superstition law, which may only boost the ‘thana’ crime figures and nothing more.

The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman evil Practices and Black Magic Bill 2017 cleared by the state cabinet, bans 16 practices including human torture in the name of rituals and threatening to invoke ghosts and super natural beings.

But the banning of astrology, numerology and Vaastu as proposed in the original draft – all of which have turned into a multi-crore swindle – has gone out of the window.

Astrologers, besides having prominent politicians as their customers, also spin out tons of money by giving their unsubstantiated predictions and advice through media outlets. No Kannada television channel can ignore to air the gibberish of these factotums for fear of losing the viewers.

Educationists, thinkers and rationalists had made out a strong case for banning the propagation of astrology and numerology through the media, but to no avail.

So is the case with Vaastu. If a business venture is not doing well or if a family is facing multiple problems, a Vaastu ‘expert’ will land up, identify ‘Vaastu dosha’ in the building, but the correction of which will leave the owner a few lakhs or crores of rupees poorer.

Ministers and high-profile leaders are among the biggest fans of Vaastu and they will not blink at any cost involved, as it mostly uses public money.

The government has also dropped the idea of banning the widely prevalent practice of barefoot crossing of huge swathes of burning cinders which is popular among the poor across the state, which leaves a few dead and hundreds injured every year.

Defending the cabinet sub-committee’s watered down proposals, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister TB Jayachandra said: “We initially wanted to disallow propagation of astrology on media and also ban barefoot walking on burning cinders. But some of our colleagues felt that the government should not interfere with people’s faith. And the Opposition might make it an issue during an election year.”

The word ‘faith’ is also relative to the numerical strength and ‘political usefulness’ of the communities involved.

So, in line with Siddaramaiah government’s ‘progressive ideology,’ the government has decided to ban decades-old ‘Made(e) Snana’, where devotees largely from backward communities roll over the plantain leaves which contain food left over by the Brahmins.

This ritual in practice at Kukke Subramanya temple – made famous by Sachin Tendulkar’s visit during his playing days, performing yagna for ‘sarpa dosha’ – has often been battled out in courts.

While the supporters of the practice argue that participating in Made Snana is voluntary and is in sync with the right to religious faith and belief, progressive thinkers dismiss it as a “blind belief, degrading for human beings and needs to go.”

Major flaws apart, the proposed legislation seeks to bring within the ambit of law a host of cruel and barbaric practices which have existed for centuries and which mostly target women and children.

Among those practices to be made punishable from one year to seven years, if found guilty, are: Stoning of victims, subjecting them to witchcraft or black magic; invoking spirits; exorcism by chaining/beating/whipping.

Burning or branding with iron; forcing a person to perform sexual act in public; forcibly feeding someone with urine or human excreta; forcing or facilitating rituals that result in self-inflicted injuries; harming children by throwing them on thorns, branding them with hot objects.

Subjecting or instigating others to assault women; indignities against women such isolation, ostracisation and segregation during menses and pregnancy; parading women naked in the name of worship, etc

There is no total ban on animal sacrifice, which is quite common in many parts of the state, especially among tribals, scheduled castes and other backward classes. But, the legislation makes a specific mention of “killing a sacrificial animal by forcing people to bite off its neck,” as something that will be prohibited.

Jayachandra said the Bill would be tabled in the two houses of Legislature during a session in November and “the government has kept an open mind on more additions and deletions,” after taking public responses and suggestions into consideration.

Maharashtra has a more robust anti-superstition law and Siddaramaiah was very keen, initially, on having “the best law” in the country to deal with superstitions. But, many of his ministerial colleagues had strong reservations and the whole exercise got postponed by four years and now a compromise formula is being presented.

The BJP has criticised the proposed legislation as an “election stunt, just to satisfy the ego of the chief minister”. One of its leaders also called it a ‘selective approach,’ referring to banning of ‘Made Snana’, while leaving the animal sacrifice untouched.

A retired senior police officer said, “Unless there is a political will to implement the law and a strong enough police machinery to handle the cases, it will be another piece of legislation in the books. Of course, whenever cases are registered, some of them might find entry in the station house records.”

First published: 30 September 2017, 19:34 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.