The alleged human sacrifice of two women in the Pathanamthitta district, which came to light on Tuesday, 11 October, has brought the focus back on an anti-sorcery bill that has been pending for three years.
The police on Tuesday arrested three people, including a married couple, for abducting two women, beheading them, and then burying the bodies at Elanthoor village in Pathanamthitta as part of a witchcraft ritual aimed at bringing financial prosperity.
The twin murders have once again focused attention on the proposed Kerala Prevention of Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practice, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill, 2019.
The draft bill envisages stringent provisions to combat superstitions and evil practices along with creating awareness among people, but has been put in cold storage.
‘Should have been law by now’
“It should have been made into law by now,” said K Sasidharan Nair, vice-chairman of Kerala Law Reforms Commission (KLRC).
It was the commission that prepared and submitted the draft of the bill to the government.
According to Sasidharan, though there were some signs that the bill would be made into law, not much progress is being seen now.
“The status of the bill is unknown. It might be with the Law Department or the Home Department,” he said.
Officials in the Law Department told South First the draft bill was under consideration by the Home Department.
However, Home Department officials declined to comment on the status of the bill and the reasons for not making it public.
Black magic bill 2019
In May 2019, the Law Department sought inputs from KLRC on a home ministry proposal on a law relating to black magic and related evil practices.
Following this, the KLRC prepared a bill that intended to eradicate sinister practices by conmen and to create scientific and social awareness among the people.
In a report that accompanied the draft bill, the Commission noted that these evil and inhuman practices were propagated and performed by people claiming to possess supernatural or magical powers with an aim to defraud and exploit innocent and ignorant people for money and sex.
At the same time, the draft bill itself is shrouded in mystery. The government is so secretive about its contents that the bill cannot be accessed on the websites of KLRC and the Law Department.
Provisions of the bill
However, some details have emerged in the media.
Reports said the draft bill proposes punishments ranging from a minimum of one year of imprisonment and Rs 5,000 fine to seven years in jail and a fine of Rs 50,000 fine, depending on the charge. The bill spares accepted religious practices, as well as religious rituals at homes, temples, mosques or other religious places that do not cause physical harm to any person.
The basic format of the bill prepared by the KLRC draws inspiration from similar legislations in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
However, it did not invite any public debate before submitting the draft bill to the government, and neither has the government sought any inputs from the wider public or experts.
A source in the Home Department said the government was pussyfooting around the issue because it was aware how sensitive topics like superstitious practices and rituals in places of worship were.
“That’s why the KLRC didn’t take the pains to define what constitutes ‘superstition’ in the draft bill,” the source said. “It is not easy to arrive at a decision and detailed deliberations are needed.”
Law not enough, says science group
However, B Ramesh, president of Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, a progressive pro-Left science and cultural organisation, said that legislation alone would not address the real problem.
“Legislation is to punish the offenders,” he said. “But what is key is awareness against superstitions and instilling scientific temper among people of all classes. The Parishad will take up that.”
Ramesh said his organisation would also try to persuade the government to release the draft bill for public discussion and then initiate further actions to make it into law.
Earlier, in 2017, senior Congress leader PT Thomas had come up with a private member bill titled Kerala Black Magic and Superstitious Activities (Prevention) Bill that sought an Act to ban and take legal actions against those propagating black magic and superstitious beliefs in the state.
It also sought to establish a committee to examine complaints that fall under this category to examine and made recommendations to the concerned for further actions.