The anti-superstition bill at the centre of the campaign spearheaded by Dr Narendra Dabholkar,murdered in Pune Tuesday,has been pending clearance for 18 years. Introduced in the Maharashtra legislature in 1995,it has been redrafted several times,yet held up each time amid opposition by the Warkari sect and various religious organisations.
The Maharashtra Eradication of Blind Faith Bill,popularly described as the anti-black magic bill,seeks to bring under its ambit human sacrifice in the name of religion,torture on the pretext of driving out evil spirits,and rituals supposed to ensure a pregnant women gets a son. It looks at punishment for godmen who claim to perform miracles,witch-hunters and those who practise aghori.
The bill was debated in the assembly and legislative council several times,until it lapsed in 2009,an election year. It has not been reintroduced since,though it has been amended and listed on the agenda several times.
Parties across the board have been wary of hurting the sentiments of various religious communities. The bills grey areas include the thin line between faith and blind faith,and what constitutes physical and mental human atrocities that is one of the aspects it seeks to address. Legislators have debated if this would mean stopping Muharram rituals involving self-inflicted injuries,or a special ritual in Nashik temples where childless couple pray for children.
The state cabinet had approved the bill ahead of the monsoon session just ended,and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had assured it would be taken up for discussion. It was not,following opposition by Warkaris,who constitute almost 30 per cent of the rural population,and who fear the bill if passed would stop their 15-to-20-day processions.
The ruling Congress and NCP have linked the murder to those against the legislation,while the BJP and the Shiv Sena have described it as a sign of growing lawlessness.
If those perpetrating such a crime believe they can intimidate the government into shelving the progressive legislation,they will be proved wrong. The government is committed to enacting it, said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,while announcing a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the killers. Later,he drew a parallel between the murder and Mahatma Gandhis assasination.
NCP working president Jitendra Awhad pledged to defeat the forces who want to malign the progressive image of Maharashtra. Maharashtra Congress chief Manikrao Thakre,Home Minister R R Patil,and the oppositions Vinod Tawde,Devendra Fadnavis and Gopinath Munde separately condemned the killing. By evening,the RSS,the Sanatan Sansthan,and the VHP too issued statements condemning it.
In Pune,Dabholkars organisation,MANS,recently celebrated the bills 18th birthday. Socialist leader Bhai Vaidya said,Dabholkar had to fight for a law that should have been framed long ago in the interest of society. He and fellow activist Anwar Rajan said getting the bill passed was now a test of the governments credibility. He died without seeing his dream fulfilled, Rajan said.
What I say people dont like
In May 2011,Dabholkar interacted with members of the Indian Express team in Pune. Excerpts from what he said When one follows the scientific spirit,he should also be a critic of religion.
* How will I get support like Anna Hazare? I am fighting against the tide. What I say people dont like. Anna says things people like,so they support him.
* The important question is people getting exploited because of superstition. That is more important than whether miracles exist or not. The [proposed law will help stop exploitation of a lot of people from the villages.
* There are 14 cases against me and damages of almost Rs 14 crore have been sought. I take it as part of my work. I am able to sleep in peace at night; that is what is more important.
* I dont think its faith. Its blind faith. And its across the world. It ought to get suppressed. Why did the Peshwas collapse? They did all their work based on Brahmins predictions.