In a recent incident in Vadodara, an individual believed to be possessed, killed his mother considering her a witch. Similarly, a newborn ailing child was branded by a hot iron rod instead of taking him to a hospital in Odisha. Incidents like these are quite common in countries like India. From ancient times, superstitions played a major role in India. India being a land of diversity and varying social practices has a bunch of superstitions prevailing in the society. Here we will discuss the various aspects of superstition in India.
This topic of “Superstition in India: Causes, Arguments for & Against, Govt Efforts” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
What is superstition?
A superstition is a false belief, idea, or fear of something which lacks any rational substance. It may include beliefs, ideas and fear, regarded as both good and ominous.
Types of superstitions in India
- Religious superstitions
- Cultural superstitions
- Social practices that are superstitious.
Causes of superstitions in India
- Culture:- One’s culture plays a major role in developing his or her habits and beliefs. In Indian culture, people are brought up in such a way that their lives are surrounded by various superstitious rituals and practices. In this situation, people grow up inheriting such beliefs and practices.
- Society:- Society plays an important role in shaping people’s thoughts and behaviour. In Indian society, there are ample practices that have the potential to affect one’s way of thinking and thus they affect the individual in one or various ways.
- Lack of education:- India being a developing country is yet to have a 100% literacy rate and this in turn has implications for the society. Illiterate people cannot differentiate between fact and fiction and that’s why they tend to believe irrational beliefs and practices easily.
- Fear of being called an outcast:- In Indian society, people being brought up by practising such beliefs and rituals tend to be afraid of not believing them or not performing them. Most people perform such rituals out of fear and others perform them to adhere to the prevailing social norms.
- Local practices:- In many parts of India, mostly in tribal areas, superstition is inherent in local practices, and thus it is difficult to avoid them in some or other way.
- Superstitions provide a sense of control in the minds of people and thus they help people remain calm, composed and confident during adverse situations.
- Some superstitions have scientific reasons behind them and they are not merely an outcome of magical thinking. They keep people safe from unknown adverse outcomes.
- In modern times, we stay aloof from our roots. If something is practised for a long time then it must have some particular rationale behind it. Many practices in our daily life are some examples of it.
- They enhance people’s performance in the time of adversity because of the belief that their lucky charm is protecting them.
- The prevalence of widespread superstitions in India has led to the loss of many lives. In most of the rural and tribal areas, many people especially women and children lose their lives due to such superstitious practices.
- Superstition in India has also given rise to many self-proclaimed godmen. These godmen extract a lot of money from people in the name of solving their problems.
- In a time where the whole world is looking forward to solving its various problems by the use of science and technology, many places in India are making India lag behind in making progress because of such superstitious beliefs and practices.
- Superstitions regarding women in India have led to the suppression of women in India and the denial of their basic rights.
- Black magic and human sacrifices in many states of India tend to be a strong example of such superstitions.
Prevalence of superstition in India and common examples
- Superstitions are not only a common phenomenon in India but all over the world. But due to the diverse nature of Indian society, these are present in all the nooks and corners of the country. These have become a daily part of people’s lives.
- Many practices like hanging lemons and chillies in front of house doors and shops are considered to be quite common.
- Practices related to death and fear of dead people tend to make people act in various ways like keeping metallic objects with oneself and so on.
- Many people and pregnant ladies tend to follow many rituals during the solar and lunar eclipse in India.
- Superstitions regarding women have led to them being considered as having a subordinate role only in society.
- Encouraging literacy– Improving the literacy rate in India and providing quality education to all may prove to be a game-changer in such a grim situation of superstitions.
- Focus on rural and tribal areas- those areas which are devoid of educational opportunities need to be especially focused on to bring about a visible change in the prevailing scenario.
- Raising awareness- raising awareness can play an important role in eradicating such a social evil in India. People should be made aware of the rationale behind a particular belief or habit and they should be made aware of the fact of how superstitions can harm their social and personal growth.
- Focus on science and technology- people need to get introduced to science and technology, find reasons behind doing everything and not the following something blindly.
- Female literacy- If one delves deep into the problem then one can see that female literacy can play a phenomenal role in eradicating these superstitions. Most of the superstitions are carried forward by women and they are the worst victims. If they are educated properly, this could pose a serious challenge to the rising superstitions in our society.
- Separating belief and religion- This will play a major role in countering this problem. People should understand the difference between religion and blind rituals in the name of religion thus creating a rational fervour in the society.
Superstitions and the Indian Constitution
The Indian Constitution by providing freedom of religion as a fundamental right has always tried to protect the interests of all religions. But this freedom has also led to the practice of various social evils in its name. These practices violate the basic rights of people who are the victims of such practices. Our forefathers must have foreseen this problem and thus through the 42nd constitutional amendment Act, through The Fundamental Duties, the Indian Constitution expects its citizens to develop a scientific temperament, spirit of enquiry, humanism and reforms. Thus, there is a need for a striking balance that is expected by the Indian Constitution from its citizens.
- Various governments at various levels have tried to fight this problem but very few have succeeded.
- The State of Bihar, Rajasthan, have already such laws in place but they fail to address the problem completely.
- The state of Maharashtra became the first state to pass legislation against superstitions. It was due to the endeavours of social activist Narendra Dabholkar that the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act in 2013 was passed.
- Karnataka became the second state to introduce a similar law-Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill.
- The State of Assam passed the legislation-Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015 to counter the problem of superstitions related to witch-hunting.
- All these laws ban black magic, human sacrifices, magic to cure ailments and such acts that tend to exploit people’s superstitions.
- There are many instances where magic remedies and magic drugs are offered to cure various diseases. To deal with this problem the government enacted The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954. This law tries to prohibit such advertisements and publicising magic remedies that lure people into finding a quick solution to their problems.
- The various laws in place are inadequate to deal with this social malice and therefore, the country needs central legislation. There are many instances where the central government wished to introduce such laws but they invited widespread opposition by various sections of society and thus, such bills were shelved. Hence, it is time that the central government works in close coordination with the States to make sure that these laws are introduced and implemented properly.
Many governmental and non-governmental organisations are trying to tackle this problem at various levels by raising awareness among people. In a country like India with such great diversity and people of different cultures living together, it will be a difficult task to deal with it. Passing laws merely will not help, rather there is a need to change the mindset of people that requires constant working on the behalf of all the stakeholders. India still has a long way to go.