Can Reason Supersede Tradition With Karnataka’s New ‘Anti-Superstition’ Bill?

Representational image
Representational imageSuresh Vasudevan Melavalasai via YouTube

Over the years India has grown to become the land of bans. Right from beef, Maggi and pornography to certain books, films and NGOs. However contested and ridiculous some of them may be, there are others that have done well for citizens. India is a diverse land of low literacy and blind religious faith that has in turn given rise to superstitious beliefs, practices and rituals that vary among communities. People’s faith in the divine and in keeping traditions alive has opened opportunities for many misgivings, especially at the hands of community and religious leaders.

On one hand, we have the incredibly debated Jallikattu that took over news channels earlier this year, where the attempt at banning it led to thousands protesting and thronging to Marina Beach in support of keeping up the tradition of the visibly dangerous sport – for both animal and humans involved, alike. It was seen as an attempt to interfere in religious and communal matters, a distortion of Tamil identity in a way, while others saw it as simple animal abuse and a threat to human life. In the past, the sport has claimed the lives of participants in the bid to surmount the power of the sturdy bull. Nevertheless, it has remained a beloved ritual.

Most recently, another regional ritual was brought into the limelight when Covai Post published an article and video showing topless minor girls being paraded at a Madurai temple as part of a ritual offering to the village deity Yezhaikaatha Amman. The internet world was enraged when they saw what girls aged between 10 and 14 were being made to do. This is a yearly ritual and as per’s report “girls are selected to reside in Yezhaikaatha Amman temple for a fortnight without any garments covering their torsos.” According to the publication, the journalist and Editor of Covai Post have been receiving abusive and threatening messages since their report went viral.

While the parents of the children were reportedly more than willing when it came to their child’s participation – “She is a goddess for us now. How could you even think wickedly” – the girls’ consent to being bare-chested in front of the entire village for a ritual was no matter. We should also mention that the devadasi system has been outlawed following India’s independence in 1947.

There are many bizarre, even dangerous, practices that still exist and continue to take place across the country. In this vein, the Karnataka government passed a bill that has put a ban on a number of superstitious practices and rituals across the state. “The state cabinet has decided to introduce the Anti-Superstition Bill for amending the law to prevent and eradicate various inhuman evil practices, including human sacrifice and black magic,” said TB Jaychandra, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister. He added that the bill has been cleared by the sub-committee of the cabinet and will be introduced in the winter session of the assembly.
The use of the word ‘superstitious’ was quite debated and the law was renamed the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017.

Some of the “inhuman evil practices” include the parading of naked women in public, ‘made snana’ which involves people rolling over plantain leaves which holds the leftover food of Brahmins for the curing of body ailments, walking on fire and using animal and reptile bites to ‘cure’ rare diseases, among others.

The announcement was well received by many rationalists, but as is the case with Jallikattu, this move is being seen as interference in people’s communal sentiments. While we do have the legal freedom to practice whichever religion we want, should there be certain restraints, especially when it comes to backward and inhumane practices? How do you convince a person that is so deeply involved that what they’re doing to themselves or someone else, like the Madurai girls’ parents, for example, is inhumane or degrading?

Here is where the argument for having a uniform and secular civil code comes into being. To stop such practices from taking place, while also allowing people to practice their chosen religion. It is a tricky terrain, but one that needs to addressed so as to legally put into place a single common law for all Indian citizens regardless of their class, caste or religion instead of having religion-specific laws dictating rules of living, as well as for gender equality, case in point, triple talaq.

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