After drafting the anti-superstition bill in the late 1990s, Dr Narendra Dabholkar would tirelessly land up at every session of the state legislature since 2003, when it was first tabled in the assembly, to lobby for its passage with the state government as well as the Opposition.
It is now assumed that it was this contentious legislation, the first of its kind in the country — aimed at banning superstitions, inhuman rituals and black magic that have been used to exploit people in the name of religious beliefs — that cost Dabholkar his life.
The bill has had a controversial history and has gone through several drafts and 29 amendments in the last decade, the most recent changes being made earlier this year.
Outside the legislature, Dabholkar and his legislation have witnessed even more vehement opposition — from right-wing groups who claim it targets Hinduism. While hardline organisations like the Hindu Jan Jagruti Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha have openly declaimed the bill as anti-Hindu since its inception, the Warkari sect from the Bhakti movement joined their ranks two years ago, terming it an attempt to defame the Hindu religion.
The saffron combine has also steadfastly opposed the bill, and the state’s ruling alliance had slow-motioned its progress fearing a backlash from the majority community.
“We are not opposed to eradication of inhuman practices and superstition, but the legislation in its current form is incomplete. It is limited to the Hindu religion and does not cover practices in Islam or Christianity, as if superstitious practices or rituals are only in the domain of Hinduism,” said BJP state president Devendra Fadnavis. He said the government was being communal as it has kept the minorities out of the ambit of this law.
Fadnavis said exploitation in the name of such rituals is already covered under the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code, but the BJP was still open to such legislation if the government ensures concerns of all stakeholders are addressed, and it brings all religions in its ambit.
Anti-superstition crusaders say the bill has been misunderstood. “We have tried to convince the government and all stakeholders that this legislation is not anti-religion; it is against exploitation and swindling — physical and financial — in the name of superstitions. Unfortunately, even though the government claims it is convinced, we have not seen their conviction in action,” said Madhukar Kamble, president of Akhil Bharatiya Andha Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti.
Read: Features of the bill
Read: About Dr Narendra Dabholkar