“Current Affairs Editorial – Law, faith, unreason: on eradicating superstition from society”

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                                          Law, Faith Unreason

G.S. Paper I: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India; Social empowerment.
G.S. Paper IV: Role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values.

Context:
 The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017 is in the news because it has been approved by the State Cabinet.
 The bill is likely to be introduced soon in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly.
 Legislations, across the world, do have the utility value of curbing the prevalence of inhuman rituals and practices.
 Seen in this regard, the proposed Karnataka law targeting black magic and inhuman practices may be regarded as social reform.

The Prevailing Laws and the headway made:
 Maharashtra already has a law against black magic and other ‘evil’ practices.
 It is not clear if the prevailing law in Maharashtra has made much headway in eliminating blind faith.
 But the enactment of such laws by states must definitely strengthen the hands of people willing to take on social practices steeped in ignorance and unreason.

What The Karnataka Law aims to prohibit?
 The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017 seeks to prohibit actions that offend human dignity.
 Those actions which results in the exploitation of gullible and vulnerable people or cause harm to them are also prohibited by the bill.
 Organizing macabre rituals, offering magical cures and threatening people, under peril of incurring divine or supernatural displeasure, are covered by this law.
 The above can be treated as offences under the Indian Penal Code too.
 Hence, it is not accurate to characterize this as just an ‘anti-superstition bill’ because it is not just limited to superstitions and their practice but goes beyond to stress on human dignity.

Outlawed Rituals:
 Among the rituals the Bill outlaws is the urulu seve, also known as made snana, in which devotees roll over food leftovers.
 The practice of walking on fire, branding children, and piercing one’s tongue or cheeks too are outlawed by the act.
 It is hard to make a case for retaining these practices.

Exemption of Established Religious Practices:
 But the bill exempts established religious practices.
 The propagation of spiritual learning and arts, astrology and vaastu are exempted from the purview of the bill.
 One must denounce acts that harm women in the name of exorcism.
 Overall, it tries to heed the line between religious traditions and superstitious practices.

What is acceptable and civilized?
 When the state ventures to identify some practices — mostly prevailing among groups in the social periphery — as incompatible with ‘civilised’ norms, it must demonstrate that these are wholly inhuman, or exploitative.
 Some critics may ask whether everything that appears irrational to the less believing should be prohibited by law.

The Rationalist Perspective:
 But is it possible to decry the very idea of devotees claiming to be “possessed” by god or the devil, except from the perspective of a rationalist?

Reasonable Restrictions under Article 25:
 The proposed law ought to be seen as a reasonable restriction on the right to practise and propagate one’s religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.
 As long as these restrictions are in the interest of public order, morality and health, the law may withstand the test of constitutionality.

The Way Forward: Education and Awareness against Illiteracy and Obscurantism:
 Ultimately, it is education and awareness that can truly liberate a society from superstition, blind faith and abominable practices in the name of faith.
 Until then, the law will have to continue to identify and punish acts that violate the people’s right to life, health and dignity.