My Dear Hindu brethren, the Government has imposed the “Maharashtra Eradication of blind-faith bill 2005” upon us, the people of Maharashtra without completing the debate on the bill and by getting it approved just on the basis of a majority in the State Assembly. For the last 2 years, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has been opposing the bill with full dedication and with significant success. Of course in this success, are the direct and indirect contributions of several saints, gurus, individuals, organisations and spiritual sects along with Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.
Even though the Samiti has been opposing the now approved bill, some of you might have questions as to how this amounts to success in any way. The answer to this question would be that while climbing a high mountain, there are innumerable small stages to be achieved. If one crosses several stages, but fails to reach the peak, one cannot be said to be unsuccessful. In case of this law, though the final objective of complete cancellation was not achieved, yet Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has managed to compel the Government to drop several clauses and change others right from the grammar to their wordings. In the previously proposed law, there were approximately 27 pages and 2 appendices, ‘A’ and ‘B’. Whereas in the present one, there are only 11 pages and appendix ‘B’ has been completely dropped. In Appendix ‘A’, out of previously mentioned 30 points, only 12 have been retained in the new law. This brief overview itself will justify the word success used to describe Samiti’s efforts.
The Bill still has to get approved in the next session of the State Assembly in the Upper House i.e Vidhan Parishad, after which it will be converted into a law. Once enforced, the subsequent battles in the court of law and then by presenting the bill before the people for their final mandate are still to be fought. Thus the battle is both half done and half won! In order to inspire those who will be participating in the forthcoming clash, a summary of the struggle of the Samiti is presented in this article. This struggle will also serve as a historical reference based on the lessons of which future battles will be fought.
1. Aim of the law and a brief introduction to those trying to get it enforced.
In the introduction of this law, it has been mentioned that the number of cases of physical loot and mental deception in the name of Ghost busting and “Mantra-Tantra” are rising at frighetening levels. “Government feels the need for this law to stop the Superstitious Rituals and Customs which cause “Physical”, “Mental” and “Financial” exploitation of the people of the Society.” This itself explains the purpose of making the law. If the purpose is valid, then Government should be able to produce relevant statistics of the number of such cases in each year and how the existing laws are not sufficient to provide justice to the exploited in such cases as also the Police and Magistrate demands for the new law. On the other hand, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, the Executive President of the Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Committee has been repeatedly saying that they have been following up with the government for the last 14 years for this law. If this is true, then who is really in need of the law, Government or Dr. Narendra Dabholkar ? When the Government was keen on getting the points for their pseudo-modernism, Prof. Sham Manav suddenly entered the scene and stated that the law was indeed against Religious Freedom and that it needed to be changed. Prof. Manav also pointed out several defects in the law and with political skill shifted the axis of control of the law towards his own side! He made some improvements to the law and proposed his own version, which he claimed, was free from defects and did not affect Religious freedom in the society. Now, all Government will claim to have enforced this pseudo modern law! Dr Dabholkar will claim that he is successful as he was the initiator and Prof. Sham Manav will claim success, as he has been the improver!
2. After seeing the title of the law, anyone would feel that Hindu Janajagruti Samiti is wasting time opposing a necessary law. But if one takes into account the political history of the Congress Party or the AndhaShraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Anti-Superstition Committee) one can easily conclude that their activities are against the well being of Hindus. It is due to this that when the Samiti got hold of the proforma of the bill, it placed the proforma before several legal experts. The legal experts said that the law was not only against Religious freedom but also against the very fundamentals of Hinduism. Hence a need for creating awareness among the people about this law was felt, and thus came into action, the movements and campaigns against the law! Samiti’s legal advisories were proved to be correct when Prof Manav himself confessed to these defects, which earlier had been denied by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar. The pseudo-modernist Congress Government immediately called in Prof. Manav for suggesting improvements to the law but refused to even discuss the issue with Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. The Samiti had to struggle for just holding a brief dialogue with the Hon. Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of State. In the previous Session of the State Assembly, our Hon. Deputy Chief Minister had commented on the topic of Religious conversion that we dont require laws for everything. Some things can be achieved through Public Education and awareness. It is strange that the Deputy Chief Minister feels that Educating the masses is an effective way to curb Religious conversion as against a law for the same but does not feel the same with regard to a law which interferes with the Religious Freedom of Hindus.
3. Progress of the law
Shri Dasturkar first presented the then member of Vidhan Parishad this law in the Vidhan Parishad. Since then the governmental promotion of this law began. Even when the law dealt with Religious superstitions Government appointed a committee of Dr Dabholkar and his favourite associates. In spite of having the proforma of this then proposed law since 2003, Government never introduced it into the Vidhan Parishad for a discussion. The cabinet of ministers only approved it during the end of a regular session and when the elections were nearing. With the then partially approved proforma, haste was made to get it approved by the hon. Governor of State. Hon. Governor of the State flatly refused to sign the proforma and asked the Cabinet to get it discussed in the Vidhan Parishad. During the Budget Session the members of the cabinet and especially even those of the ruling parties strongly opposed even the presentation of this bill, due to creation of widespread awareness of the bill. Then in the Monsoon session, this bill was not presented due to its pending improvements, and finally in the winter session of 2005, i.e. 14th December 2005 to be precise, the bill was finally approved by a noisy vote of the majority.
3A. The Law and Media.
Generally before any Law on a Social issue gets approved, its proforma is made public by the Government, so that people are aware of its enactment and they can express their opinions. According to the seriousness of an issue, the “Vigilance Officers of Democracy”, the Newspapers and various Media, bring about an awareness and debate on the issue. Opinions of Experts and the Common man are evaluated. But, various powerful capitalist, communist and socialist newspapers like Dainik Loksatta, presented a one-sided picture to the public creating an impression that this law is a must and that it is not against Religion or Religiosity. Doordarshan, E-TV, Alpha TV Marathi(now Zee Marathi) and other Television channels, showed only one-sided news against Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and backed AndhaShraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. The only two newspapers to have published appropriately, the news regarding this law were “Dainik Aapla Vartahaar” and “Dainik Sanatan Prabhat”.
3.B The law and Hindutvavadi (Pro-Hindu) parties.
When we approached the pro-Hindu political parties for support, there appeared to be no unanimity among them. Some were supporting the law whereas some were in agreement. Some appeared to be confused with opposition to the law being akin to being branded as regressive. Many political leaders were too busy in party politics to have any time for this Religious Calamity. Inspite of giving complete analysis of the law to the ministers before each session of the State Assembly, hardly anyone studied the law.
3.C The law and Hindutvavadi (Pro-Hindu) Organisations.
Some Pro-Hindu Organisations commented that since we already represent Hindus, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti should not have taken up the issue of this law separately. They voiced, now that you have taken it up separately, do it on your own!
Some Organisations were giving importance only to orthodox Organisational Politics while some expressed lack of time!
3.D The law and Spiritual Sects.
His Holiness Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Swami Narendracharyaji Maharaj Sect, His Holiness Shri Asaramji Bapu Sect, The Warkari Sect (Pandharpur), Art of Living and Sanatan Sanstha were some of the few Spiritual Organisations that participated in the campaigns against the law. Other Organisations simply took the stand that such a law just could not be. Some said, “Ministers come for darshan of our Guru, how can the same ministers make such a law?” We may hope that the eyes of these people will have opened by now.
3.E The law and celebrities
Just like Spiritual Organisations, most of the Celebrities too expressed that such a law can never be enforced. Some of them resorted to the convenient excuse of lack of time. Compared to people of other Religions, this attitude of indifference was seen among Hindus.
3.F The law and Other Religions.
It would be a hollow expectation to assume this law to be applicable to people of all Religions. Government has already succeeded in acquiring support from the Dalits and Bahujanwadis in favour of this law. Muslims and Christians are behaving as if this law is not applicable to them.
4. Changes in the Anti-Religious clauses of the Proposed law.
4.A Ploy to change the name of the law :
The law created by the AndhaShraddha Nirmoolan Samiti was called the “Maharashtra AndhraShraddha Nirmoolan Adhiniyam 2003”. In the new proforma, the word AndhaShraddha which means Blind-Faith was dropped and instead the title has been deceptively reframed as “Eradication of Blackmagic and Evil Customs Law” to pretend that the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti has no connection with the improved proforma. However, their delusory attempts were debunked time and again by the Samiti causing severe opposition to the law from all fronts. Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti(ANS) was thus confronted with the challenge of defining what is blind-faith. Government and ANS had to frequently change various clauses within the bill and resort to frail excuses for their mistakes. This itself is a receipt that the People and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti have taken good care of the delusive anti-Religious attempts of Government and ANS.
4.B Confusion about Clause 2(D) of the bill:
Dr Dabholkar introduced the clause 2 (D) of the bill which defines what is blind-faith. The Definition has such horrendous implications on the society that anybody could be imprisoned even on slight opposition to his Religious Rituals. When Hindu Janajagruti Samiti created awareness in the society against this, lakhs of letters were written to the Chief Minister and the Governor due to which the law met with severe opposition from members of the Ruling Parties as well causing the bill to get dropped and Prof. Sham Manav who joined the brigade later on to change the word Andhashraddha(blind faith) to AndhaVishwas (blind belief).
4.C Elimination of Andhavishwas:
The word AndhVishwas too was declared arguable in a meeting held by Prof Manav with Hindu Janajagruti Samiti , Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and Opposition Party leader Shri Ramdas Kadam. As a result, Prof. Manav had to drop the word AndhaVishwas too and finally the bill was renamed as “Eradication of Evil or Demonic Rituals”.
4.D Debunked the Word “TathaKathit” (meaning So-Called)
In all previous versions of the law, the word “Tathakathit”(so-called) was used to describe any divine powers. Thus all divine powers including “God” were called so-called or imaginary or unreal. Hindu Janajagruti Samiti opposed this word too due to which Prof. Manav had to drop it altogether.
4.E The net of 27 Clauses extricated.
As if having pocketed the Government Dr. Dabholkar had listed what constitutes “Blind Faith”. In this list were some clauses like “Believing in or doing something to make someone believe in any kind of non-mortal energy or power or capability”. These clauses were clearly putting the onus on the Religious follower to prove the righteousness of his rituals on the basis of Science to escape from imprisonment! Scientific discoveries and resulting developments have limitations and are a only recent occurrence whereas Spiritual realisations have been happening since time immemorial to this date. Thus it would have been totally wrong to impose these clauses upon Religion and Religious followers. Due to the opposition to this law, only a limited 12 number of these 27 clauses have now been retained! This can be said to be the greatest success of our efforts. Some of these clauses have been mentioned below.
4.E.1 Ban on Jatadharan (beholding Hairlocks), Hathayoga and Gopalasantaan Ritual removed
Some other punishable clauses listed were,
“Growing Hair locks, deity pocession and spreading such myths in the name of Religion and Spirituality” “Using Gopalasantaan Ritual to make a woman believe she will deliver a Baby boy”. “Burying oneself claiming to have performed a miracle”.
Thus the Shrewd Dr Dabholkar had cleverly planned to target only Hinduism and Hindu Rituals in the law, but now, in the existing improved law, these clauses have been dropped.
4.E.2 Opposition to Astrology
The earlier proforma contained clauses like, “giving anyone a stone or gem or a sacred thread claiming that the person will get a job, or go abroad or will find a life partner”. “Using any means to give answers to questions about the future”.” claiming to predict the past events accurately by any means” . These were specifically targeted towards Astrologers and astrology.
4.E.3 Cancellation of clause targetted at Satya Sai Baba
One of the clause mentioned, “claiming to produce things like shivling, rudraksha, mala etc from empty hands”, which is one of the miracles which often Shri Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi does. This clause has now been dropped.
4.E.4 Cancellation of clause targetted at Pharshivale Baba
One of the clause mentioned, “claiming to treat patients by placing an object on their heads”. This clause which has now been cancelled was targetted specifically at Pharshiwale Baba, who treats the poor and needy using this method and his divine powers.
4.E.5 Cancellation of clause banning the “Bali” animal sacrifice Ritual
This clause, which could imprison a person performing animal sacrifice to appease a deity, has now been dropped.
4.E.6 Dilution of clauses related to use of Mantra Tantra and Sacred objects
Giving or receiving sacred threads or mantras was regarded illegal as per this law. The divine effects of Sai Baba’s holy ash have been experienced by millions of people. Peopel expressed that disregarding these experiences and simply declaring them as blind faith would be wrong. So this clause too was dropped.
4.E.7 Victory of faith over Science
The law proposed by ANS is based on its ground ideology that only that which is Scientifically proved is true and anything else is simply Blind-Faith. They were using this law to preach their self-defined ideology. “claiming the existence of any so called divine power going against scientific principles and laws and propagating, spreading or publishing such beliefs in any way”. “using the fear of wrath of any so-called divine power or energy to cause people to perform some rituals “. These sentences clearly indicate the Godless nature of this law. ANS had thus planned to ban Religion and Religiosity along with Spirituality using Scientific principles as basis. Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that Scientific Principles cannot be the testing thread for Spirituality or Religion, a claim which was accepted by lakhs of people who registered their protests. Hindu Janajagruti Samiti’s view that Religion can be examined not by Scientific Principles but only by faith was upheld by several saints who took the initiative in opposing this law. In the new law, use of scientific principles has been dropped.
4.E.8 Protection to Ayurveda.
One of the clauses of the law read, “Treating diseases by traditional methods, Mantra Tantra, Herbs and roots, Sacred threads or holy ash by preventing treatment with modern medicine”.
In a meeting with Prof. Manav at the “Matoshree”, (home of Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray) on 26th August 2005, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti proved that the word Herbs included Ayurveda and so this clause was dropped altogether.
4.E.9 The Honour of Avaliya Saints maintained.
Maharashtra has been and is still the home to many Avaliya(videhi-without body or above the body) Saints like His Holiness Shri Bhalchandra Maharaj of Kankavali and Shri Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon. One of the clauses in the proposed law read, “Claiming any mentally retarded or insane as an avaliya saint or causing someone to believe in such claims and using that person to make money or business”
4.E.10. Protection of Religion Scriptures
One of the clauses read, “Any kind of Religious Scripture claiming fraudulent phenomena, happenings or miracles”. This clause was a ploy to ban Religious Scriptures of Hindus and has been dropped.
4.E.11. Prof Manav’s unsuccessful attempt to trap Astrology.
One of the clauses in the proposed improved proforma read, “Use of any ritual, or mantra or sacred thread or other object to gain any material benefit would be termed as a crime only if the said material benefit did not happen”.
Hindu Janajagruti Samiti pointed out that this clause could be misused by anybody with false accusations and complaints. this clause too has been dropped.
4.F The ploy to create a legal committee of Rationalist anti-Religious organisations in parallel to the Police.
The “Rights of Recognised Social Institutions” clause had been retained in all versions of the proforma. As per this clause, some Social Institutions and Organisations deemed to be Rationalist (anti-Religious) were to be given executive authority just like the Police and to be treated as Public Servants. These “Public Servants” were to be given rights in parallel to the Police. Hindu Janajagruti Samiti pointed out the possibility of the misuse of this clause and due to the opposition of BJP leader Shri Ashok Modak, this clause was dropped by the Government.
4.G Government Officer’s unrestricted protection removed
As per this clause, Government Officials if complained with a noble cause would not be punished under any circumstances. Shri Modak of BJP objected to this clause saying that it was not acceptable that the Government should have one law and poor people some other. This clause was dropped.
4.H Clause preventing amendment to the law dropped
There was a strange clause in the proforma which stated that on completion of 2 years from the date of enforcing of this law, no subsequent amendments would be allowed. This clause has been dropped.
4.I Protection of all Hindu Customs Rituals and Spiritual Paths.
In the earliest proforma, there was a horrendous clause which stated that any kind of custom, ritual or tradition which would promote, preach, spread or publish Blind Faith. This could be used even against Hindu Rituals like Satyanarayan Pooja, Festivals like Ganeshotsav, Vowed observances like Pongal or Sankashti to be blindfaith causing imprisonment if anyone even slightly complained. By forcing the Government to remove this clause, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has protected Hindu rituals and customs.
4.J Moderation of punishment.
In the previous proforma the punishment for promoting blind faith was Rs 50000 fine and/or imprisonment of 5-20 years. This has now been reduced to a fine of Rs. 5000-50000 and/or punishment of 6 months to 7 years.
5. The similarity between the aim of Saints and the purpose of this law
Since the last several hundred years various saints from this very land of Maharashtra have been working to create awareness against Blind Faith among people. For this, Saints have taught people the real path of Bhakti. At Pandharpur and Aalandi every year, people are made aware through medium of Devotional songs and Sermons. This work is constantly going on.
There is absolutely no need for a new law and the only solution to this is educating the masses and teaching them the right Religious observances. It is only on the basis of “spiritual knowledge and science” coupled with “faith and logic” that mankind will be able to progress. Such artificial Laws, which cripple the society with their bondage, can never lead to real progress. Existing laws are already sufficient to achieve what this proposed law intends to and what is required is the strong will power for their effective implementation and as against enforcing new laws.
6. Battle yet not over
Dear Brethren, I have laid before you the fruits of the last 2 year’s efforts by the Samiti. Now several clauses have been dropped in this law and many others changes. One of the BJP leaders has described the present law to be “a defanged or non-venomous Snake”, yet we need to remember that no one keeps even such a snake as a pet. Besides, there is always the threat of re-teething of the snake and its re-poisoning by the prowlers. That is why we need to prepare for the battle ahead. Participate in this Religious work by contributing in the forthcoming legal battle.
Shri. Ramesh Shinde
Hindu Janajagruti Samiti