Superstition is typically defined as "a belief or behaviour stemming from ignorance, fear of the unknown, reliance in magic or chance, or a misunderstanding of cause and effect." The nature of superstition lies in its followers' irrationally abject attitude of mind towards such methods and phenomena. Superstition can impede the development of science and technology, encourage its adherents to breach the law and disrupt public order, and even inflict harm to a person's life or property.
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports show that more than 73 murders have been linked to superstitious beliefs and practises in the country in 2021 alone. However, most believe that the real number is much higher.
Moreover, these practises are renowned for disproportionately targeting the most vulnerable members of society, including women, children, and the poor. This has been seconded by activist and eminent scholar Vidya Bal, who said in a comment that it is usually the “women and the poor who suffer the most at the hands of those who use religion and rituals. It has been a long struggle to imbibe rationality in the minds of people.”
Does India’s current legislative framework talk about human sacrifice?
There is no central law in India that specifically addresses offences involving witchcraft, superstition, or occult-inspired acts. In the lack of a national law, a few states have passed legislation to combat witchcraft and protect women from lethal "witch-hunting."
Despite the absence of a national law addressing superstitious activities, black magic, or human sacrifice, several provisions of the Indian Penal Code outline penalties relevant to such occurrences.
Section 302 (penalty for murder) takes human sacrifice into account, but only after the murder has occurred. In a similar fashion, Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to offend the religious sentiments of any class by insulting its religion or its beliefs) discourages such conduct.
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 elements of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 try to combat the crippling effects of India's widespread superstitious practises.
Respective State Laws
Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act
The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015.
Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act, 2017 came into effect in January 2020.
Bihar was the first State to enact a law to prevent witchcraft, identification of a woman as a witch and“eliminate torture, humiliation and killing of women.” The Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act came into force in 1999. Whoever identifies a person as a "witch" and assists in this identification faces up to three months in jail, a 1,000 fine, or both.
Need For State Intervention
Allowing the unfettered continuation of such activities breaches Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which protect an individual's right to equality and right to life, respectively. In the absence of steps to combat superstitions, unscientific and irrational practises such as faith healing, quackery, and disinformation about medical treatments can flourish, which can have major negative impacts on public order and citizen health.
However, it is important to keep in mind that introducing legislation to address this social issue will only be half the battle won, as meaningful reform will require raising public awareness through information campaigns and enlisting community/religious leaders to dispel myths surrounding these practises.