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Combating Superstitions

2022 NOV 7

Mains   > Society   >   Features of Indian Society   >   Secularism


  • The alleged human sacrifice of two women in Kerala has recast a focus on the severity of superstitious beliefs existing in the country and the necessity for a strong fight against the menace.


  • As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2021 report, six deaths were linked to human sacrifices, while witchcraft was the motive for 68 killings.
  • The maximum number of witchcraft cases were reported from Chhattisgarh (20), followed by Madhya Pradesh (18) and Telangana (11).
  • However, the NCRB data does not provide details of occult-related crimes or those related with witch-hunting attacks. Hence, the actual estimates could be much higher.


  • There is no central law that exclusively deals with crimes related to witchcraft, superstition, or occult-inspired activities.
  • However, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code enlist penalties for such incidents:
    • Section 302 (punishment for murder) takes cognisance of human sacrifice, but only after the murder is committed.
    • 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.
  • Article 51A (h) 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 of 1954 also aim to tackle the debilitating impact of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.
  • State-Specific Laws:
    • In 1999, Bihar became 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.”
    • Today, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Assam and Karnataka have enacted laws to counter witchcraft and protect women from deadly ‘witch-hunting’.
    • Some of these legislations have specific provision to deal with ‘godmen’, like the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act.


  • Materialistic culture:
    • Excessive desire for money and power in the modern competitive world is a major contributor to superstitions and rituals.
  • Cultural influence:
    • Many superstitions have its roots in religion. Hence, people who grew up in a particular culture or religion may carry the beliefs forward, even subconsciously.
  • Social inertia:
    • Social inertia is the resistance to change. Most people perform superstitious rituals since they were followed for decades and they do not wish to break them.
  • Fear:
    • People follow these practices out of fear to “not tempt fate” or to adhere to the prevailing social norms. They consider the costs of abiding by the superstition low compared with the potential outcome of not following them.
  • Placebo effect:
    • The placebo effect is when a person's physical or mental health appears to improve after taking a placebo or 'dummy' treatment. For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviour provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety.
  • Absence of scientific temper:
    • Scientific temperament refers to an individual's attitude of logical and rational thinking. Despite being a fundamental duty of the citizen, efforts to develop it among the masses has been moderate.
  • Media support:
    • For higher returns and better TRP rating, Indian media is often seen to propagate superstitions and backward ideas.     
    • Even the government perpetrates such beliefs. Eg: Conducting poojas before the induction of infrastructure and defence equipments.
  • Ineffective legislations:
    • While state laws exist, their utility value in often criticised due to ineffective enforcement and several exemptions within the law. 
    • Eg: A document on the Jharkhand Police website claims that the passage of the Act “has not adequately prevented the identification and murder of women labelled as witches.”


  • Conflict with freedom of conscience and religion:
    • Modern science, secular statecraft and liberal legal principles question the validity of theological views but it also gives us the freedoms of conscience. Hence, it is a challenge to delineate practices as incompatible with ‘civilised’ norms.
  • Insufficient legislations:
    • There are provisions in the IPC to punish violence. But the relationship between a devotee and so-called godman is of a peculiar nature and hence a separate law is necessary.

Note: Consider the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005. There are provisions in the IPC to punish violence, but the peculiar nature of the violence faced by women within the family needed a separate law. Hence, the 2005 Act was enacted.

  • Challenges in delivery of justice:
    • Majority of the victims of such practices are from vulnerable sections of society, like women, children, and the poor. Given the long and expensive judicial process in India, ensuring justice to the victims is a challenge.
  • Attack on activists:
    • Activists who work to combat these practices often face threats and attacks from conservative socio-religious groups.
    • Eg: The assassination of Narendra Dabholkar, a long-time activist in India’s rationalist movement, and founder of an anti-superstition organization in Maharashtra.
  • Socio-economic challenge:
    • In the absence of measures to tackle superstitions, unscientific and irrational practices such as faith healing, quackery, and misinformation regarding medical procedures can also balloon up, which can have severe detrimental effects on public order and health of citizens.
  • Violation of human rights:
    • Allowing the unhindered continuance of such practices violates an individual’s fundamental right to equality and right to life under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution respectively.


  • Enforcement of law:
    • Other states can be encouraged to adopt anti-superstition legislations. Central government can support these efforts by amending the IPC to accommodate specific requirements. Also, enforcement of existing laws needs to be made more effective.
  • Work with religion:
    • Working through the belief systems to combat the materialistic tendencies may be a useful remedy. 
  • Awareness campaigns:
    • Ultimately, it is education and awareness that can truly liberate a society from superstition, blind faith and abominable practices in the name of faith.


Q. Critically analyse the need for a central anti-superstition law to deal with crimes associated with superstition, occult practices and black magic?