Recently, two women in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district were found killed as a part of a human sacrifice ritual. Subsequently, the state government has stressed the need for a new legislation to curb such superstitious practices and urged strict implementation of the existing laws in this regard.

 

Background

  • The brutal murders of two women as part of “ritualistic human sacrifices” in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala have left the country in shock.
  • Chilling details of the killings have sparked a debate about the prevalence of superstitious beliefs, black magic and sorcery in Kerala.
  • In the absence of a comprehensive law to counter such acts, the call for a strict anti-superstition law has grown louder.
  • As per the 2021 report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), six deaths were linked to human sacrifices, while witchcraft was the motive for 68 killings.

 

Legislative Framework with respect to human sacrifice in India

  • While presently there exists no nationwide legislation to deal with superstitious practices, black magic, or human sacrifice in particular, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code enlist penalties applicable for such incidents.
  • Section 302 (punishment for murder) of IPC takes cognisance of human sacrifice, but only after the murder is committed.
  • Likewise, Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) works to discourage such practices.
  • Furthermore, Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution makes it a fundamental duty for Indian citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
  • Other provisions under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 also aim to tackle the debilitating impact of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.

 

What do the state-specific laws say?

  • Eight states in India have witch-hunting legislations so far. These include Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • Bihar –
      • The state of Bihar emerged the pioneer in enacting a law to deal with superstitious practices in 1999.
      • The Prevention of Witch Practices Act, 1999 was amongst the first in India to address witchcraft and inhumane rituals.
  • Maharashtra –
      • The state of Maharashtra followed in 2013 to enact the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, which banned the practice of human sacrifice in the state.
      • A section in the legislation specifically deals with claims made by godmen’ who say they have supernatural powers.
      • Additionally, the law also makes it possible to curtail activities of so-called godmen before they become too powerful to effectively address the menace of exploitation in the name of religion.
  • Karnataka –
      • Likewise, the state of Karnataka too effected a controversial anti-superstition law in 2017 known as the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act.
      • The Act comprehensively counters “inhumane” practices linked to religious rituals.
  • Kerala does not have a comprehensive Act to deal with black magic and other superstitions.

 

Need for a country-wide Anti-superstition and Black Magic Act

  • Only eight states in India have witch-hunting legislations so far. These include Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • Allowing the unhindered continuance of such practices violates an individual’s fundamental right to equality and right to life under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution respectively.
  • Such acts also violate several provisions of various International legislations to which India is a signatory, such as the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948’, ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966’, and ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979’.
  • In the absence of measures to tackle superstitions, unscientific and irrational practices and misinformation regarding medical procedures can also balloon up, which can have severe detrimental effects on public order and health of citizens.