Heal the bill, Say groups protesting the anti-superstition bill to be passed by the state soon. If a godman says he can heal with prayers, it could be construed as an offence and the state has power to arrest him without bail and initiate criminal proceedings
Manoj R Nair, Mumbai Mirror
In December 2005, the state legislative assembly passed the Maharashtra (Eradication of Black Magic, Evil and Aghori Practices) Bill, 2005, making Maharashtra the first state to have a legislation against black magic and miracle remedies. In March, the bill will come up in the legislative council for final ratification. If the council passes the bill, it will be a victory for anti-superstition organisations like Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), that have been fighting for the last 15 years to get the bill passed by the state’s law-makers.
Though rationalists have said that the bill will have a smooth journey through the council, some anti-bill groups are planning protests against what they say is a ‘draconian law that targets faith’.
Shiv Sena MLA and leader of opposition in the state assembly, Ramdas Kadam, wants changes in the bill before it is made into a law. “The bill gives wide-ranging and sweeping powers to the police to arrest and search any premises on grounds of suspicion. These powers will have to be curtailed. Otherwise, I do not find anything wrong with the bill,” he says.
Ramesh Shinde of a group called Hindu Jan Jagriti Samiti (HJJS), says that the law gives the state the power to arrest without bail and initiate criminal proceedings even against those who believe in the power of God to cure sickness. “So if you say that prayers can heal, it could be construed as an offence,” he says.
However, Prabha Purohit, former head of mathematics department at Bhavans College and member of MANS, said that unlike what is being claimed by anti-bill activists, the act will not give the police any draconian powers of arrest and confinement. “The bill explicitly lists the kind of cases where the police can take action. So the law enforcing authority cannot manipulate the bill,” she says.
Dr Narayan Dabholkar of MANS says that the bill has already been diluted due to opposition from political parties of all hues. For instance, an old clause that gave recognised voluntary organisations a significant role in enforcement of the act, has now been removed. Another clause that could have stopped sacrifice of goats and other animals at the state’s jatras or religious fairs too has been omitted. “There is a man called ‘Farshiwale Baba’ from Trimbakeshwar who claims to diagnose illnesses by placing a stone on the heads of patients. Another self-proclaimed healer, Aslam Baba, who was originally based in Sholapur claims to do ‘surgeries’ with his bare hands. We have dropped clauses relating to such practices from the current bill,” says Dabholkar. “We have not insisted on enforcing these clauses because at this stage, we want the bill to be passed. Once the law is in force and some prosecutions are made under the act, we can study the limitations.”
But opponents of the bill say that there are still several grey areas in it. They have pointed out that, for instance, the bill does not clarify its stand on therapies and traditional healing practices. “World-wide, people are recognising the power of alternate therapies like pranic healing. For instance, there is ongoing research on the benefits of music therapy. Will practitioners of such system be hauled up under the act because the benefits of such therapies cannot be proved scientifically?” asks Shinde.
I A Khan of Kalyan-based Sufi Didarshah Chisti Khanqah, a Sufi organisation, claims that the bill attacks freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution. “It insults religious feelings, an act which is punishable under the Indian Penal Code,” he says.
Shinde says that he does not deny that heinous practices like human sacrifice need to be dealt with stringently. “But there are existing laws that can be used to prosecute those guilty of such practices.” he says.
The coming weeks will see both groups drumming up support for their point of view. While the MANS has lined up meetings in the state to create awareness about the bill, HJJS has plans to hold protests in Pune, where MANS is based, to oppose it.