Superstition is a major social issue in India, encompassing practices and beliefs that reject modern scientific knowledge and rely on supernatural explanations. However, what constitutes superstition varies depending on one’s perspective, with the gap between public opinion and scientific consensus often being significant. Despite this, there are several beliefs and practices in India that are widely regarded as superstitious or pseudoscientific.
Interestingly, even educated individuals in India have been known to practice superstition, which may be indicative of the varied and complex nature of these customs. These practices can range from seemingly harmless totems like lemon-and-chili for protection from the evil eye, to more dangerous and harmful activities like witch burning.
The longevity of some of these traditions, which are often deeply rooted in religion and culture, has made their prohibition a contentious issue, with critics often arguing that such legislation is an attack on tradition and religion.
Table of Contents
Forms of Superstition
Every day, the Rahukalam (also known as Rahu Kala) is unlucky. Manglik, or Mangal Dosha, is a term used to describe a person born under the influence of Mars. People shy away from getting married to such people, especially if they are women.
Marriage to such a person is thought to result in marital strife, divorce, and occasionally even death. However, it is thought that the effects of two mangliks cancel each other out if they get married. Celestial bodies are thought to determine our fate dependent on the time of our birth. Astrology is deemed to be pseudoscience by NASA.
There is a belief in some cultures that snakes can consume milk, leading to the abduction of snakes during the Nag Panchami celebration and force-feeding them milk, resulting in the death of thousands of snakes annually.
Some regions believe that encountering a peacock or three lizards is lucky, while encountering four or more lizards is a bad omen of impending death, which is considered a superstition.
Puppy Pregnancy Syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder in humans caused by mass hysteria and has no scientific basis.
The superstition that a black cat or any cat crossing one’s path signifies bad luck is prevalent in areas with limited education.
People suffering from this belief falsely think that they become pregnant with puppies after a dog bite.
3. Luck and Auspiciousness
Adding a rupee to a given amount is considered auspicious, therefore figures like 21, 101, or 501 rupees are deemed luckier than numbers like 20 or 100.
To ward off the “evil eye,” people use various methods, including totems made of lemons and chilies, as it is considered a type of superstition.
Mothers apply kohl to their newborn’s faces to prevent the evil eye from making their babies appear perfect.
Sweeping the floor at night is seen as taboo in some parts of India due to superstitions.
It is considered unlucky if a cat crosses a person’s path.
It is believed that sneezing just before starting something brings bad luck.
Widows are often stigmatized in many regions of Northern India.
Looking into a broken mirror is believed to bring bad luck.
Some people believe that shaving, getting a haircut, or cutting their nails on Tuesdays or Saturdays is unlucky.
Shaking your legs is considered a bad omen, and it is regarded as a type of superstition.
Sneezing just before taking a trip or undertaking a significant task is believed to be a terrible omen.
If a girl’s left eye twitches, it is thought to bring good fortune, whereas if her right eye twitches, it is believed to bring negative consequences. Men experience the opposite of girls.
If a lizard falls on a person’s head, it is considered lucky.
Frequent nightmares are often interpreted as a negative sign.
4. Anto-Superstition And Black Magic Act
Narendra Dabholkar was a prominent anti-superstition activist and the founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS). In 2003, he drafted the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil, and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, which makes it illegal to engage in practices such as human sacrifice, black magic, and the use of superstitious remedies for health issues.
Over the years, the scope of the prohibited practices has been narrowed down. The law was passed in response to Dabholkar’s assassination and was officially presented during the winter session of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly in Nagpur in December 2013.
The present bill comprises 12 sections that criminalize the following activities:
- Committing assault, torture, forced ingestion of human excreta, or non-consensual sexual acts; branding; and other forms of physical and mental abuse under the pretext of exorcising an individual supposedly possessed by ghosts.
- Claiming to possess miraculous powers and exploiting people’s beliefs to deceive or terrorize them.
- Engaging in or encouraging actions that jeopardize lives or inflict serious harm in the pursuit of supernatural abilities.
- Advocating or promoting the sacrifice of humans or cruelty towards them in exchange for a reward.
- Falsely attributing supernatural abilities to someone and coercing others to follow their orders.
- Accusing someone of practicing witchcraft or being a demon, blaming them for their misfortunes, and harassing them.
- Accusing someone of black magic, publicly humiliating them, and interfering with their activities.
- Claiming to possess the power to summon spirits, intimidating people by threatening to summon ghosts, or feigning possession to prevent the person from seeking medical assistance and forcing them to commit cruel acts.
- Forcing someone to consume magic potions instead of seeking medical treatment for dog, snake, or scorpion bites.
Even though promoting human sacrifice is already considered a criminal offense in India, this law imposes a penalty ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 50,000 and a minimum sentence of six months to a maximum of seven years for each offense. The crimes are both cognizable and non-bailable.
The law mandates the appointment and training of vigilance officers, whose rank must be higher than that of a police inspector, to investigate and report such offenses to the local police station.
Criticism and Support
Critics have accused the bill of being anti-religious and anti-Hindu. However, Dabholkar has countered that the legislation is not focused on religion or God, but instead targets fraudulent practices. Manav has also clarified that the Wakari sect would not take offense to the law, as it does not prohibit miracles per se, but rather the exploitation of people through fraudulent claims.
According to a sociologist at the University of Pune, opposition from Hindus and affected castes resulted in the bill being significantly diluted over time. In an interview with journalist Ellen Barry following Dabholkar’s murder, the sociologist explained that the line between faith and blind faith is a narrow one, and determining what constitutes each is a complex issue. As a result, the final version of the bill is significantly watered down from its original form.