Religion and superstition stem from similar beliefs and the line between them is blurring.
“We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic republic ..” Though the term secular wasn’t always a part of our constitution, it was adopted in the preamble with the 42nd amendment. Secularism was accepted to ensure equal rights and impartiality towards all religions. The principle of secularism provides the citizens of India with the right to liberally indulge in religious practices and propagate them.
People bathe in the Ganges with hopes to wash away sins, chant Hanuman Chalisa, refrain from the consumption of non-vegetarian on Tuesdays, cast votes based on promises of temple construction, pray five times a day, fast during holy days, cremate or bury the dead, freely, as an expression of secularism. However, just like in Ramayana, Ram had his counterpart Raavana, and no Indian society can thrive without its counter evil. One may know it as a black cat crossing the path or fasting during solar eclipse or breaking of a mirror. The superstitions in India are ubiquitous. Some people surrender to superstition backed by tradition, while some choose to respect it as a precaution in case it’s true.
However, the lines are blurred as far as malpractices in the name of religion are concerned. The self -styled Godmen aren’t the solitary issue. Gullible minds and traps set by the wicked pose a problem to practising religion openly, without apprehension. The corrupted minds, however, have latched onto the train of secularism, adulterating the religious practices, resulting in sickening people. There’s a fine line between faith and blind faith which is highly exploited by the likes of these. The belief that God will heal all wounds and provide eternal salvation has driven people to extreme ends, be it in the political arena or the ordinary people.
A letter was written to God by Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, Kamal Nath, seeking His blessings to end BJP’s “misrule”.
The Burari case, in which 11 people were found hanging in their home, apparently, to attain salvation, proves the polarised interpretations of God. This gruesome suicide by a family of 11 in the NCR for a mere congregation, raises serious questions about faith. The family is said to have suffered from shared psychosis, wherein one person’s delusional beliefs are transmitted to others. One of the family member’s claimed to be having conversations with the dead father who pushed them to attain “shunya” (salvation) through the performed procedure. The family was religious, and well educated, but failed to perceive the distinction between Grim Reaper disguised as Gabriel.
Another case worth noting is that of Perambalur in Tamil Nadu, which highlights the belief of people in resurrection through prayers. A small family continued to perform superstitious ‘poojas’ for three months, with a dead body, by a self- styled ‘Tantric’ to ward off evil spirits.
The rationale behind keeping up with the superstitions is defeated when it comes to beliefs of people. India is a country which emphasises on its diversity and cultural roots. It holds tradition close and its beliefs closer. Since India is a god-fearing country, its superstitions are deeply rooted. Another reason for prevalent superstitions in India is education. More than half of its population is situated in the rural area fails to comprehend the scientific facts and indulges in myths. The urban population succumbs to superstitions because the curriculum fails to develop conceptual understanding. These beliefs don’t fail to reach the students when the teachers themselves are within the grip of superstitions. How can one move forward in a country where religion and superstition are often confused for one another?
While India’s constitution drafters incorporated secularism to persuade the interests of all religions, the principle is exploited. The law to practice religion freely is acceptable, as long as it doesn’t hurt the sentiments of others. However, for the longest time, there was no legal standing to object superstitions devastating people. Incidents reported are just a minuscule proportion of activities that take place in the name of religion.
Such disturbances had caused the late Narendra Dabholkhar to fight an 18 year battle for a law to be made against it, only to be passed, posthumously. With heavy debates about its requirement, Maharashtra became the first state to pass an anti-superstition law to be followed by Bengaluru. The act criminalises practices related to black magic, human sacrifices, use of magic remedies to cure ailments, and other such acts which exploit people’s superstitions.
Several protests were staged, claiming the act was anti-Hindu and spoiled the sanctity of India’s secularism. These claims were countered by Dabholkar, stating that the bill does not mention God or religion, and only targets fraudulent practices. The bill in action has 12 clauses criminalising “the practice of black magic, assault, torture, forced ingestion of human excreta, forced sexual acts, branding etc. on the pretext of exorcising ghosts from an allegedly possessed person, encouraging inhuman acts or human sacrifice in quest of some bounty or reward and other such malpractices”. Since August 2013, 150 cases have been filed under this act with 60% cases being of sexual exploitation of women by the self-styled Godmen.
Every superstition cannot be removed with the help of a law. For that, a mental change is necessary. If the pathway to Krishna is led by a golden staircase, then one must also be careful of the Shakuni mamas.