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Hiding Behind the Veil of Freedom of Religion: Superstitions

There was a time in India's rich history where religion dominated law and order in the society. Despite India declaring itself to be secular in its preamble, it is undeniable that religion still reverberates in our justice system. In fact, in the case S.R Bommai v. Union of India, the Supreme Court rejected the American doctrine of secularism i.e. the principle of creating A wall of separation between religion and state.[1] Instead, it decided that the state shall protect all religions, treat them equally, but interfere with none.[2]

Religion has not been defined in the Constitution nor any other law in India. It has been given a wide interpretation but could be defined as:
a system of beliefs or doctrines which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well-being.[3]

The right to religion itself is guaranteed under article 25 of the Constitution of India. Article 25 (1) guarantees it to fold freedom i.e. the freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion.[4]

However, the right to propagation only indicates persuasion and exposition without the element of coercion.[5]

A fine line between a right and duty must be observed in the case of religion. The case Javed v. State of Haryana[6] is an apt example to corroborate this. In this case a provision of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 was challenged where persons having more than two children what is qualified from contesting in the election for the post of Sarpanch and Panch and Panchayat. It was argued that according to the personal law of Muslims, a Muslim man had the right to marry up to 4 women for the procreation of children.

The Supreme Court was straightforward in its decision that the freedom of religion is not absolute and permits a legislation in the interest of social welfare and reform further, it was held that the Muslim law permits marrying four women but does not anywhere mandate it as a duty of every Muslim. Additionally, the right to contest election for any office in the Panchayat is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right (it is a statutory right subject to qualifications and disqualifications prescribed by the law[7]. Under Article 25(2), it had been observed that promoting social welfare and social reform shall prevail over religion and social evils in the name of religion.


In a study conducted by Eva Delacroix and Valarie Guillard from Paris Dauphine University, an attempt was made to define a superstition- superstition consists in unfounded half beliefs that certain facts (external uncontrollable events or internal actions) or objects can carry good or bad luck, or the omens of future positive or negative events.. The term half-belief is used to connote that bearers of the belief don't entirely believe it or are reluctant to reveal that they do.[8]

How do we decide what is religion and what is superstition? For an atheist, all religious practices tend to appear like superstitions. Going to a religious place of worship like going to a temple, or a mosque, a church, or a gurudwara could be considered superstitious. So how do we distinguish them? Every act has a certain effect on it, positive or negative. And all acts in the name of religion are not absolute. They are subject to reasonable restrictions.

Though religion and superstitions seem like two peas in a pod, they must be differentiated. Firstly, the psychological perspective can aid in distinguishing them. For example, if 'A' had a special watch gifted by a loved one, and if it instills a sense of confidence and curtails anxiety, and if A wears it to every important event, say for exams or interviews, it would be associated with positive effects. But suppose A had a lucky pen and if A had scored well in an exam while using said pen, and it is A's strong belief that he must use the pen for every important event in their life and if not it would bring him bad fortune, a negative effect is associated with this behavior.

While a superstition cannot merely be decided based on the positive or negative effect due to varying perspectives, certain phobic behaviors or ritualizing actions have the ability to metamorphize into sadistic exploits or mental disorders. Intelligence has no bearing on the capacity of a person to avoid such thinking. The placebo effect; i.e. strongly believing that something that may help you, may actually help you, also has a bearing over superstitions.[9]

Religion is a unifying concept, and generally preaches a code of conduct and good behavior. Superstitions deviate from the divine nature of religion and tend to equate and validate inhuman practices and attitudes. Religion cannot be proved or disproved, it is a way of life and the ultimate purpose or goal is heaven, a positive effect that calls for positive behavior, whereas, superstitions can be disproved through science and logic.[10] Hence, Religion must be tolerated but superstitions must be condemned. It is largely from superstitions that inhuman practices like black magic, human sacrifices, and other Aghori practices stem. They need to be nipped in the bud to prevent further damage.

Legislations related to Superstitions in India

The common assertion is that no legislation can change society unless the society changes its mindset. Nevertheless, when Raja Ram Mohan Roy had advocated banning Sati, change did not happen overnight. One of the fundamental reasons for the success of this movement was due to the inability to prove through any religious scriptures that the practice was the duty of every widow. There was no logic or scientific backing to support the wretched practice.

Practices offending the basic welfare of the society should be strongly castigated. Though IPC[11] does the job to an extent, the The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 and The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act (RPT Act) 2017 are stepping stones towards building a fence between superstitions, religion and the law. However, both legislations need to be amended to secure effective implementation.

The The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act (RPT Act) 2017 had taken a step further and had even included the ability to punish companies involved in said practices and also clearly stated that the consent of the victim does not constitute a defense. Both of the Acts have clearly defined what constitutes inhuman practices in their schedules and what practices are acceptable. Another important feature of this legislation is that the publication of the final conviction is to be made in the local newspaper along with the particulars of the convict and the offense committed. This is a prominent measure to ensure awareness among the society. [12]

A National anti-superstition legislation with clear definitions as to what constitutes evil and sinister behavior needs to be created for the best interests of all the states. Without properly distinguishing between what exactly constitutes such behavior and simply naming certain acts as acts as inhuman causes people to be acquitted on technicalities and such ambiguity would quash the purpose of enacting the legislation in the first place. The present legislations have also been accused of dilution; still protecting certain practices by not putting them in the purview of the Act.

Another aspect to consider is that the Act does not propose any preventive measures other than the duty of a vigilance officer to prevent the contravention of the Act which again, is ambiguous as to how it should be done. There should be an active role of the government in promoting anti-superstitious practices as well as offering counseling to people who have been victims of such practices.

Inhuman practices deliberately done towards children below the age of 14, with full knowledge of the probability of causing certain permanent damage, should be punishable with life imprisonment or death penalty based on the merits of the case. Awareness camps of mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and others should be conducted to help promote education and weaken the taboo of getting mental help from licensed counsels. Those who do suffer from mental health issues are usually the ones who are the victims of superstitious and inhuman practices.

Several reformatory measures like conducting awareness camps in villages with a track record of such cases, and ensuring that all victims have access to healthcare, physical or mental till their recovery, and making it mandatory in schools to inculcate a healthy discussion and to promote reaching out to certain authorities in cases they have personally witnessed said practices can go a long way.

Hence an anti-superstition law if drafted and implemented in the right way could bring many criminals and conman to the court. Slowly if not immediately, voices would be heard and particularly women and children would be protected from abuse emanating from conmen, lack of education, and in some cases, mental disorders.

  1. AIR 1994 SC 1918
  2. Vasudev v. Vamanji, ILR 1881 Bom. 80
  3. Pandey J, Constitutional Law Of India (54th edn, Anand Offset 2017)
  4. The Constitution of India Art. 25
  5. Pandey [3]
  6. AIR 2003 SC 3057
  7. Pandey [3]
  8. Delacroix, Eva & val�rie, Guillard. (2008). Understanding, defining, and measuring the trait of superstition.
  9. Foxman P, 'The Psychology Of Superstition' (WebMD, 2020) accessed 26 August 2020
  10. Darbinyan, Karen. (2019). Re: What's the difference between superstition and religion?. Retrieved from:
  11. S.300,302,306 & 307
  12. The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Act (RPT Act) 2017, Act no. 46 of 2017

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