Wealthy, highly educated Kerala is avid consumer of superstitions
Ghastly twin murders in name of human sacrifice are just the latest; crimes linked to occult practices are rampant in Kerala
From worshipping a ‘vegetarian crocodile’ to the cold blooded murder perceived as human sacrifice, Kerala has no dearth of superstitions, occult practices and black magic beliefs despite being the nation’s most literate and the least poor state.
There is no better example than Kerala for those who argue that formal education has nothing to do with one’s rational thinking (77% of women and 73% of men have attained higher education in the state, according to the latest NFHS data). Besides, Kerala has a long and affluent history of progressive social movements, a strong presence of rationalist groups and movements like Sasthra Sahithya Parishath, which focussed on popularising science among the masses.
Despite all these, crimes related to occult practices have been very frequent in Kerala. The ghastly twin murder in the name of human sacrifice is the latest among the ‘occult crimes’ reported in the state. Though every such incident sends shock waves, public memory is short and no follow-up action is being sought or done.
In February 2021, a woman slit the throat of her six-year-old son in an act of human sacrifice. She told the police that she sacrificed her son for the pleasure of God. The incident took place in Palakkad.
In March 2019, Thushara, a 27-year-old woman, was killed by her husband and mother-in-law, who had been practising ‘black magic’. Thushara weighed only 20 kg at the time of her death, as she was fed just soaked rice and sugar syrup as instructed by a sorcerer, according to the police.
In August 2018, Krishnan, an occult practitioner, his wife and two sons were killed by his assistant and helper who started an ‘independent’ occult practice. The accused killed his mentor and family, suspecting that Krishnan’s magical powers inhibited his own success in occult practice.
It’s not just murder
The State Crime Records Bureau does not have separate data on crimes related to black magic and sorcery. However, individuals who relentlessly talk against superstitions have collected some data. U Kalanathan, one of the founder members of the Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham, has been collecting newspaper reports of such crimes. According to his data, 24 persons were killed in 17 crimes between 2015 and 2019.
Only incidents of murder attract public attention. Those of sexual harassment, financial fraud, physical abuses and domestic violence in the name of black magic do not create much of a stir. The long pending demand to introduce a statute to prevent occult practices is yet to be addressed for reasons known best to the political parties.
“KSSP (Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishath) prepared a model bill and made representations to the government in 2014 (when the UDF was in power). We have had discussions regarding this with both LDF and UDF governments. For some reason, the bill was not taken up,” Prof K Papputty, former president and current state executive member of KSSP, told The Federal.
Papputty was one of the leading campaigners of the Parishath for popularising science among the public, to eradicate superstitions. “Formal education has very little to do with rational thinking; people who know quite well that the Earth is not at the centre of the universe blindly go for astrology based on the movements of celestial bodies. This is unexplainable to me,” he remarked.
Political parties are reluctant to check occult practices because they do not want to invite the wrath of religious groups. “It is very hard to draw a clear demarcation between harmless belief and superstition. Most of the superstitious practices are closely linked to some religious texts,” observe Sasidharan Nair, Vice Chairman of the state’s Law Commission.
Bill yet to be tabled
The murder of Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare (who had challenged unscientific beliefs and superstitions) created a resonance in Kerala too, which lead to the formation of a bill to prevent occult and black magic practices by law. Thus, the Kerala Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill, 2019 was prepared by the State Law Commission. This was the result of consistent pressure mounted by the KSSP and the rationalist movements.
However, the bill was never tabled in the Assembly. “The bill was sent to various departments inviting their views, this being an issue which has religious and cultural aspects. It caused the delay,” explained Sasidharan.
However, even this proposed bill is a toothless one, according to activists. It has enough loopholes to include any occult practice as a religious activity. The exception clause of the bill ensures this. “The bill appears to be one meant to protect superstitions instead of eradicating them,” said AP Muraleedharan, former president of KSSP.
Loopholes in bill
Clause 15 of the bill provides exception to the forms of worship performed at religious and spiritual places. Teachings of ancient saints and stating about the miracles of the deceased saints and propagating the same are not punishable offences according to this exception rule. The advice under Vastu Shastra and the advice of astrologers also are outside its purview unless it causes cheating, fraudulent acts and exploitation.
A range of activities that are usually termed as witchcraft or black magic are proposed to be banned. Instilling the fear that one’s body is possessed by supernatural powers, assaulting a person under the pretext of expelling ghosts, killing of an animal or bird, prohibiting and preventing a person from taking medical treatment for any illness are some of the punishable acts specified.
All these are widely practised across all religions, which would invite the wrath of religious organisations in the state. “No political party dares to invite the displeasure of religious and caste groups. Hence I have little hope that the government — whether LDF or UDF — would be ready to make a law to eradicate superstitious practices,” said U Kalanathan, one of the founders of the Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham.