Other than providing quota for the socially backward,parties these days rarely show the gumption for social reform given the fear of political backlash that comes from trifling with the belief system and emotions of the common people. Superstitious practices such as human and animal sacrifices,nude worship,black magic,and actions that lower the dignity of human beings especially from the underprivileged classes exist all around as a result.
It took the death of a rationalist,Narendra Dhabolkar,in August for Maharashtra to pass a law on banning superstitious practices in that state,culminating a nearly two-decade-old campaign for the law that Dhabolkar himself led.
After Dhabolkars death,the Congress government in Karnataka formed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for whom social justice is the central theme of governance seemed to show the courage to crack down on such superstitious practices. The government asked a panel of experts,including literary stalwarts,social justice campaigners and lawyers, many of whom the chief minister often leans on for advice,to look at the kind of practices in Karnataka that need to be tackled head on to deliver social justice.
On November 5,the expert panel from the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy from the National Law School of India University presented a draft Bill outlawing 13 superstitious practices to the chief minister,the minister for Social Welfare and Backward Classes,and the law minister. Siddaramaiah promised to place a draft Bill to regulate superstitious practices in the winter session of the assembly beginning November 25. The draft Bill held human dignity as its central tenet and made inflicting self wounds as well as conversions through bribery illegal.
However,within days of the draft Bill going public,it became a hot potato with parties like the BJP and JD(S),as well as religious leaders,calling it an attempt to target certain sections of society. The BJP called it an affront on Hindus,a seer called it an attack on Lingayats. Even Congress leaders known for their rational thinking began expressing doubts while the party itself backed down.
With the controversy threatening to snowball,Siddaramaiah with an eye on Parliament polls next year,rolled back plans to launch the Bill. An election year may not be the best time to show the gumption for social reforms however well-intentioned the chief minister realised.
Johnson is a senior assistant editor based in Bangalore