x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Indian state pushes anti-black magic law after activist death

The government of Maharashtra state approves legislation banning superstition and black magic, a day after a prominent champion of the bill was shot dead.

MUMBAI // The government of Maharashtra state yesterday approved legislation banning superstition and black magic, an official said, a day after a prominent champion of the bill was shot dead.

Narendra Dabholkar, who for years campaigned for such a law, was killed on Tuesday by two gunmen on motorbikes as he was taking his morning walk in Pune city in western Maharashtra.

Maharashtra's cabinet yesterday approved the law which was first mooted back in 1995, a state official said.

"An ordinance will be promulgated in the next two days," the official said, declining to be named. An ordinance is a temporary law that requires approval by the state assembly approval to become permanent.

A strike in Pune yesterday to protest at Dabholkar's killing saw 90 per cent of the city's businesses and shops close, according to the police commissioner Gulabrao Pol.

"There is no progress" on the investigation into his death, he added, saying no arrests had been made and the motive had not been determined.

Protests were also held in the state capital Mumbai.

The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill was designed to outlaw several exploitative activities by charlatans preying on the vulnerable.

Details were not yet available but an earlier draft proposed bans on beating a person to exorcise ghosts and on raising money by claiming to work miracles.

Dabholkar, an atheist who founded the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith two decades ago, encountered opposition over the bill from Hindu nationalists who feared it could be used to curb religious freedoms.

In an interview two years ago, the campaigner rejected charges that such a bill was anti-religion.

"In the whole of the bill, there's not a single word about God or religion. Nothing like that. The Indian constitution allows freedom of worship and nobody can take that away," Dabholkar said.

"This is about fraudulent and exploitative practices."

Superstitious beliefs are rampant in fast-developing and officially secular India, where Hinduism dominates but a diverse range of ethnic groups and religious practices coexist.

Some rationalists believed the proposed law did not go far enough, having been watered down to appease pro-Hindu groups.

Dabholkar, whom local media said was aged 71, also took on some of India's self-styled Hindu "godmen" over their claims to have performed miracles.

He was cremated about 100 kilometres from Pune in his home town of Satara on Tuesday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.