The Thin Line Between Rational And Irrational- Superstitions And Dogmatic Traditions In India

The Thin Line Between Rational And Irrational- Superstitions And Dogmatic Traditions In India

By Niharika Chandak
Indian Law society, Pune
Edited by Aayush Agarwal

Human Beings are also called Rational Beings. The word rational comes from Latin word meaning reasonable or logical. But are Human Beings really rational? If Yes, then why do we still hear from people around us things such as Nails should not be cut in the night for fear of evil spirits or sweeping the house at night is not good, foot wears keeping upside down brings fights in family and many more, and still follow it blindly, without ever questioning them?

These and many more of such blind faiths are called superstitions or a belief in something not justified by reason or evidence and which are, generally, hint at future occurrences either good or bad. They can be any belief or practice which is explained by supernatural causality, and is in contradiction to modern science. [1]The gap, between what is superstitious and what is not widens even more when considering the opinions of the general public and scientists.

India has made its name at global level in various fields like Science, technology, space, sports, transport, communication, medicines etc. Nevertheless it has to go a long way and confront many social issues that are still obstructing the development of the country. There is plethora of superstitions till date practiced in India by the uneducated as well as educated. Some of these superstitions were actually practiced by our ancestors for various reasons, which now we don’t pay heed to and continue to practice them as outcome of fear. With the growth in Science and Technology various possible explanations and reasons have been found behind these superstitions.

 For e.g it is indeed not bad omen if a black cat crosses your path. In ancient times, during night people used to travel through forests in bullock cart with lantern. The carriage animals get past big cats which have glowing eyes and it scared them. Travelers shared their experience with other travelers and told them to avoid proceeding to travel while the cats are on road.

Similarly, there is also a scientific reason to hang lemon and green chilies at places of business. The cotton thread which is used to pierce the chilies and lemon absorbs the acid from the fruit whilst it is fresh. This smell keeps the pests and insects away from the shops[2].

Girl aren’t allowed to  do certain things while she is menstruating this was done to give women time for rest as the first sanitary pads were invented in the year 1896, while commercial painkillers like Meftal were not available before the 20th century. Before that, the five stressful days of menstruation which entail cramps and pain for many women and women did not work during those days because of discomfort and slowly this became a ritual and degraded to the form of a superstition.[3]

The 13th Friday Number 13 is considered unlucky. As a result, companies and manufacturers use another way of numbering or labeling to avoid the number and many hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples of missing thirteenth floor. One major reason is that, at Jesus Christ’s last supper, there were thirteen people around the table, counting Christ and the twelve apostles. Some believe this unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. Another major reason for Friday the 13, On Friday 13 October 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, and most of the knights were tortured and killed.

Eating curd and sugar before heading out is considered as auspicious. The tropical climate of India highly recommends the consumption of curd which has a cooling effect on the stomach. The sugar which is added in generous quantities provides instant glucose. This combination is hence indispensable for Indians and so its consumption slowly linked itself to good luck.[4]

It is said that the mourning family of a dead person should not cook food until shraddha, it was actually done to provide them time to cope and rest.

Bathe after attending a funeral ceremony was actually done to prevent infection from the dead body. Our ancestors did not have vaccination against hepatitis, smallpox and other deadly and contagious diseases. Hence they came up with a set of rituals to be followed after the funeral rites. Slowly stories about the departed's soul got linked to this practice. Likewise there are many other superstitions which have unknown scientific reasons and others which don’t[5].

The main reason behind superstitions is Fear. Superstition arises due to human fear. Fear is caused by the realization that there are so many things attached to our life which is beyond our control and are unknown. We fear the unknown. Humans have therefore looked above and beyond themselves for help in these circumstances. All Religious systems their God or gods that provide comfort, guidance and healing to their participants. While religion in and of itself is not superstitious, it can become superstitious if the participants attempt to control their deity by their actions and behavior. If we allow fear to rule your life, we are missing out on the joy of the present. And in the worst case scenario, we might just cause the very thing we fear to come to pass. Another reason behind superstitious belief is lack of knowledge/education. Yet another reason is Traditions, Religion and social practices which have been carried down from generation to generation in our country.

There is a dire need for our society to stop following these superstitions as it is a rampant social issue and is very injurious for the society and the growth and development of our country.

ADVERSELY AFFECTS ANIMAL POPULATION: The practice of black magic had led to diminishing population of Owls in India as these owls are trapped and traded illegally as they are of great importance in many supernatural beliefs.

DEMORALIZING EFFECTS: Superstitions have a demoralizing effect on our life. It ends our self confidence. We cannot think in a reasonable way. All our thinking and working power gets paralyzed under the influence of unknown fears.

HUMAN RIGHTS INFRINGED: At one point in India, widows couldn’t get shelter and received harsh treatments as they were considered to bring bad luck. They were not allowed to attend auspicious functions. Every women ha equal right to live freely without being cringed of being a widow.

The key solution is to get knowledge and education. By gaining knowledge, mind can develop the reason behind the occurrence of superstition and one can understand very well that these things doesn’t affect anybody’s life. We should develop our reasoning power and must strive to have a scientific mind it is important to try to analyze things in logical way and equally critical is also to spread awareness about the irrational superstitions practiced in our country.

There is also a need to take help of legislative bodies in order to bring a major reform. Various actions have already been taken, like the Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution of India, lists "to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform" as a fundamental duty for every Indian citizen.[6]

Also, Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 has been passed to advertisements of magical remedies, like amulets or spells, for certain diseases.[7] The law lists 56 of these diseases. The law also curbs sales and promotion of so-called miracle drugs and cures.

In addition, Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs", it includes "words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations". [8]

There are various Regional laws as well The Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act of 1999 outlaws witch-hunting in Bihar. It has also been adopted by the state of Jharkhand. It carries a sentence of 3 months for accusing a woman of being a witch and 6 months for causing any physical or mental harm.[9] In 2005, Chhattisgarh passed the Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act. It holds a sentence of 3 years for accusing a woman of being a witch and 5 years for causing her physical harm.[10] In December 2013, Odisha passed the Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill which has a maximum penalty of seven years[11]. Also in the same month, the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act was passed in Maharashtra[12].

India is a country where traditions breathe comfortably next to global technology. We find ourselves standing at the juncture where these two meet, sometimes restless, sometimes nonchalant. As a result there are times when we question age-old practices, while at others accept them unwittingly. It is definitely important to question to prevent a slow degradation of our society into anarchy but it is also important to look for answers.

[1] Dale B. Martin (30 June 2009). Inventing Superstition: From the Hippocratics to the Christians. Harvard University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-674-04069-4. Retrieved 10 September 2013.

[2] Source: Ankush Kochhar

[3] Source: Smithsonian mag

[4] Source: Spice up the curry

[5] Source: gopix pic

[6]  "Part IV A: Fundamental Duties" (PDF). Ministry of Law and Justice. Retrieved 10 September 2013.

[7] "Curb ads that promise health cures". Tribune India. 4 February 2007. Retrieved 12 September 2013.

[8] Indian Penal Code, 295A, 1890

[9] Criminal Justice India Series. Allied Publishers. 2002. p. 138. ISBN 978-81-7764-806-5. Retrieved 3 March 2014.

[10] "Devilry by the Mob"The Telegraph. 22 June 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2014.

[11] "Odisha passes anti-witch hunting Bill"First Post. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 3 March2014.

[12] "Maharashtra Legislative Council Passes Black Magic Bill"The New Indian Express. 19 December 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article or any other publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of sadvidya or its members

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