Maharashtra Black Magic Bill
Wrong and misuseable
By Nikhil Lodaya
While ?blind faith? has been mentioned in the preamble, but the Bill does not clarify what this term actually constitutes, and how it differs from ?faith?, which is such an important part of our Indian ethos.
A Bill that proposes wide-ranging and sweeping powers for the police, which allows arrest and permits entry, search and confiscation of material, merely on grounds of suspicion has been passed by the Lower House of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. The Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic, Evil and Aghori Practices Bill, 2005 (formerly known as Anti-Superstition Bill) has now been submitted to the Upper House for ratification. If approved, Maharashtra will have a draconian law that allows the State to arrest without bail and initiate criminal proceedings against those who believe in the power of the divine to cure sickness. According to the Bill, this allegedly constitutes harming ?mentally physically and financially? by using ?divine or supernatural or magical power?. Stating that, ?Prayer can cure your illness,? or suggesting use of holy water to combat sickness could well become a punishable act.
The proposed Bill, promulgated through the ?Social Justice, Cultural Affairs and Special Assistance Department? of the State, was first initiated in 1995. Then in 2005 it was tabled and put for discussion. At that time, all parties, especially the Opposition Sena-BJP combine, were opposed to the Bill and termed it ?anti-Hindu and anti-religious?. Even legislators from the ruling Congress-NCP combine opposed it, alleging violation of fundamental rights and potential for gross misuse.
The preamble of the Bill states that it aims to bring about social awakening and awareness in society and to create a healthy and safe social environment with a view to protect the common man against what it terms as ?evil and sinister practices and customs?. Yet, the preamble clearly states that these practices are born out of beliefs propagated in the name of some ?so-called divine or supernatural or magical powers or evil spirits?, thereby clubbing divine faith along with sinister?, practices and ?black magic?. This sets a very dangerous precedent and may result not only in cutting down the very thread of faith but also hamper free discussion.
While ?blind faith? has been mentioned in the preamble, but the Bill does not clarify what this term actually constitutes, and how it differs from ?faith?, which is such an important part of our Indian ethos. According to this Bill, the act of faith and spreading information about divine power and miracles is to be construed as a crime. Going by this interpretation, promoting religious texts, particularly Vedas, Gita, Mahabharata and Ramayana, Bible and Quran could very well come under the purview of this law, as they are full of the miraculous, belief which constitutes an act of faith.
The Bill, as it exists, also does not differentiate or clarify its stand on complementary therapies and healing practices that for centuries have been a part of our cultural and social fabric that the Bill professes to protect. These therapies look upon the human body as a self-healing mechanism and promote a holistic approach to health and life, focusing on seeming ?miracles? that go beyond what is accepted as scientific or merely medical. With no side effects, these therapies and healing systems have shown results that border on the miraculous. The Government of India itself is now promoting complementary healing systems.
Today, many villages in Maharashtra do not have what can be termed ?scientific medical? facilities. Traditional practices take precedence over visits to doctors, who are few and far between. Even in urban centers, medicine and the way we treat illness is changing. Along with conventional medicine, many people are turning to complementary therapies, especially in the treatment of stress related and chronic illnesses. The miraculous healing power of therapies such homeopathy, ayurveda, naturopathy, reflexology, massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, reiki, pranic healing, meditation, acupressure, etc, which promote a more holistic approach to health and life itself have gained acceptance. Research studies have recorded the efficacy of these therapies and case studies abound. Based on principals of healing that go back centuries, have made steady inroads in that bastion of medical science?the so-called ?developed? world itself. Will this Bill not make these systems vulnerable to blackmail because of discriminatory legislation to label them as Black Magic?
Will its draconian provisions not affect genuine practitioners who work towards bettering the lot of people?
Usually a new law is drafted and implemented based on a need felt by the Police or Administrative Service Officer/Judicial Officer. This Bill is flawed as it has been drafted and is being hastily pushed through the process without taking into consideration the plurality of faith and practices. While there is no denying that heinous practices like human sacrifice need to be dealt with stringently, the cheating and defrauding of innocents through practices that has been loosely labeled ?black magic? needs to be addressed properly. Stringent laws already exist under which aggrieved individuals can take action against those who physically harm, cheat or defraud them.
Why then is this Law needed?
(The author can be contacted at 10 Mistry Chambers, Ground Floor, Near Strand Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai-400 005; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)