A key amendment in the anti-superstition Bill passed by the Maharashtra legislative assembly on Friday has left rationalists and proponents of the Bill in dismay.
Called the "the third party amendment", it disallows anyone other than the person affected by superstitious and black magic rituals and his/ her family members to register a complaint or FIR with the nearest police station.
The original draft of the Bill allowed any third party--witness to such incidents, bystanders, community leaders, pro-rationalism groups--to approach the police with a complaint. Introducing the amendment had led to a dilution of the Bill, say its proponents. Only the people affected and their families can now file a police complaint.
"This is a matter of great concern for me because without it, the Bill has lost its soul. It becomes diluted," said Shyam Manav, national convenor of the All India Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti and a close associate of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a committed campaigner of the Bill, who was murdered in Pune on August 20.
"It would have been better, perfect actually, if the third party clause had been retained, but if it meant having no law at all, then we will take this,” said Dr Hamid Dabholkar, son of Dr Narendra Dabholkar and an activist of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS). “My father wanted to take all sections of the society along with him,” he said.
Striking down the thirdparty provision was the only way to counter the Opposition and have the Bill passed, said top government sources.
Vinod Tawde, leader of opposition in the legislative council, where the Bill will now have to be passed, said his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was firm on the amendment. “It could have been misused as in the RTI Act,” he said.
However, Manav and Hamid Dabholkar say that the person affected or their family members are least likely — often not even in the position--to approach the local police. "Fear of future misuse has rendered the Bill less robust right now," said Dabholkar.
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