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Maharashtra’s delayed move on black magic

It bans black magic and aghori practices that may harm people physically or economically.

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Published: August 29, 2013 3:58:42 am

What is the ordinance cleared recently by the Maharashtra cabinet?

It bans black magic and aghori practices that may harm people physically or economically. It derives from the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman,Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill,pending for 18 years and after two dozen amendments. The cabinet had cleared the bill in 2011 but the legislature hasn’t taken it up.

What took it 18 years?

Parties were wary of offending religious groups. The infleuntial Warkari sect believed such a law would restrict their annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur. The BJP and Shiv Sena felt the bill was targeted against the Hindu community. Also,many leaders had spiritual gurus. Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan,disciples of Sathya Sai Baba,were among the chief ministers during whose rule the bill was held up. The Sharad Pawar clan is said to be close to Indore-based Bhayyu Maharaj.

Why now?

Because of the outrage over the murder of Narendra Dabholkar,who had been campaigning for the bill for two decades. After the cabinet cleared the ordinance,the governor has given his assent.

What does the ordinance address?

It names 12 practices as illegal. These include assault under the pretext of exorcising a ghost,forcing someone to perform a sexual act in public or to eat excreta,deceiving someone with so-called miracles and earning money out of it,declaring someone as possessed and assualting someone for alleged withcraft,and preventing someone from getting medical treatment and diverting one to aghori instead. The ordinance brings human sacrifices under its ambit.

What is the punishment?

A fine between Rs 5,000 and Rs 50,000 and imprisonment between six months and seven years. This is under the ordinance; human sacrifice,for example,will likely attract additional charges of murder. A vigilance officer not below the rank of a police inspector will be appointed.

Will this affect religious rituals?

The state has said religious customs that do not cause physical or economical problems will be out of the ordinance’s purview.

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