New law in Indian state is causing a dispute about freedom of religion. Does the bill contain too many “et ceteras“?
A new law against superstition and black magic in India’s Maharashtra state has triggered a debate between religious groups who say that the state is interfering in personal faith, and rationalists who say religious malpractices violate human rights.
The law was hurriedly promulgated four days after Narendra Dabholkar, an activist who had been campaigning for it for a decade, was assassinated. Dr. Dabholkar headed the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith, which has 180 branches across Maharashtra and has exposed many Hindu preachers purporting to conduct miracles and black magic.
The law specifically outlaws 12 practices, making them punishable by a jail term of seven months to seven years. Of the 12 clauses, two relate to belief in ghosts. The first one forbids recommending violent and sexual practices for purging ghosts from the body – including drinking urine or stool, being tied with a rope or chain, and touching heated objects. It also outlaws creating fear by threatening to invite ghosts.
Opponents of the bill are unable to point out problems with the specifics of most of the clauses – such as branding women as witches and making them walk without clothes and beating them; persuading people to substitute medical aid by tying threads or getting bitten by a snake, dog, or scorpion; threatening to bring evil upon someone through supernatural powers; claiming to change the sex of the fetus by inserting fingers in the womb; claiming that one’s supernatural powers can help a woman get pregnant if she had sex with him; and claiming that a disabled person has supernatural powers and thus using them for commercial purposes.
However, one clause that religious groups are particularly objecting to is about the use of miracles for commercial exploitation.
Gee, I wonder why! If you recall, THIS happened. Sanal caused quite a stir.
When I first read about this law (at the same time as Dabholkar was assassinated) it seemed oddly written. Immediately, I saw that there was some objection to it on the basis of religious freedom. It’s a tricky area. But the criteria may be what causes harm (I’m not sure it matters how ghosts are defined as long as you don’t use them as an excuse for harm). One thing is certain is that legislation has to have clear definitions and no wiggle words. The intent of this bill is tremendous but the language (though I’m looking at translations) look way too wiggly. Also, they are specific on some claims (very specific) but who is to say that tomorrow some local guru can’t create a new ritual that scams people. From the cursory view of what the law accounts for, it looks very problematic to enforce. Again, good intentions but it needs work. Also, education and a cultural change are needed. Not sure you can get THAT through changing laws. At least not right away.