How many times in a Hindu household have we heard parents relate an adverse situation in the family to bad vaastu? Countless, to say the least. Vaastu and astrology, however questionable, are intrinsic areas of familial consultation in Hindu households. It’s not just homes, but also top ranking celebrities and government officials who rely on astrology to determine their luck in their respective fields. In fact, some private astrologers have a lot of money riding on influential people, thanks to beliefs and superstitions.
There are numerous references to this in pop culture. In the movie Munnabai MBBS 2, the rich astrologer Batuk Maharaj was practically the reason for Dia Mirza’s character almost attempting suicide, by saying her astrological chart suggested she should not marry. So, it’s safe to say, however strong one’s belief, the market is flooded with people trying to cash in on superstitions.
But the Karnataka government wants to change all this. It has proposed a bill that will ban the practice of all that it considers to be superstitious, in an attempt to give Karnataka an image of being the most ‘rationalist’ state. According to a report, the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman evil Practices and Black Magic Bill 2017, bans 16 practices including human torture in the name of rituals and threatening to invoke ‘ghosts’ and/or ‘super natural beings’. This Bill has now been cleared by the state cabinet.
The Bill faces strong opposition for naming astrology and vaastu as superstitions, both of which are likely to be excluded from it. But even without banning astrology and vaastu, this Bill could be a relief for victims of other superstitious practices, particularly for women. Misogyny and superstition combine forces to throw many women under the bus, as recent history will tell you.
Remember Ichchadhari Bheemanand, the fake sadhu but real dudebro who duped many women of money by cashing in on their superstitions about infertility and familial problems? He also ran a massive sex racket under his ‘spiritual guise’. Even though he got arrested, he left quite some damage in his wake for his female victims. There’s also the curious case of the hair chopper in Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan that has led to massive panic, eventually resulting in a woman who was suspected to be the hair chopping ‘witch’, being choked to death by her neighbours. In June this year, there were two cases of witch hunting and abuse. A woman in Rajasthan was slapped repeatedly by a doctor to be exorcised from an ‘evil spirit’, while two Dalit women from Haryana and assaulted as they were suspected to be ‘witches’. In November 2016, two Assamese women were buried alive as a consequence of suspected witchcraft.
That superstitions are rampant in India is no news. But education and exposure are two ways to tackle everyday superstition on a personal basis. While the Karnataka’s proposed Bill appears to be a publicity gimmick to elicit votes from rationalist voters, it’s yet to be seen how effective the implementation will be if the Bill becomes an Act. We’re hoping it provides some relief to women who’ve been easily victimised by superstitions and society’s inherent misogyny that uses superstitions as an excuse to take up violence against women.