Over the years, Dr Narendra Dabholkar had campaigned not only for a law against superstition and black magic but also against the practices he wanted it to eradicate, besides challenging astrologers to a rationality test and taking on the BJP and the Shiv Sena over women's right to enter temples.
I certainly have many enemies, and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed; of that I am certain; - not Meletus, nor yet Anytus [Socrates's accusers in court], but the envy and detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the last of them.
If you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me.
Legislators have debated if this would mean stopping Muharram rituals involving self-inflicted injuries, or a special ritual in Nashik temples where childless couples pray for children.
[H]ow much money [would] someone [...] have to pay us to do hypothetical acts like the following:
- Stick a pin into your palm.
- Stick a pin into the palm of a child you don’t know. (Harm.)
(I think sticking a pin into the palm of a child is bad enough, and the question of whether the child is known to you or not is entirely irrelevant!)
- Accept a wide-screen TV from a friend who received it at no charge because of a computer error.
- Accept a wide-screen TV from a friend who received it from a thief who had stolen it from a wealthy family. (Fairness.)
- Say something bad about your nation (which you don’t believe) on a talk-radio show in your nation.
- Say something bad about your nation (which you don’t believe) on a talk-radio show in a foreign nation. (Community.)
- Slap a friend in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit.
- Slap your minister in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit. (Authority.)
- Attend a performance-art piece in which the actors act like idiots for 30 minutes, including flubbing simple problems and falling down on stage.
- Attend a performance-art piece in which the actors act like animals for 30 minutes, including crawling around naked and urinating on stage. (Purity.)
Think of the Japanese fear of nonconformity (community), the holy ablutions and dietary restrictions of Hindus and Orthodox Jews (purity), the outrage at insulting the Prophet among Muslims (authority). In the West, we believe that in business and government, fairness should trump community and try to root out nepotism and cronyism. In other parts of the world this is incomprehensible — what heartless creep would favor a perfect stranger over his own brother?
In a large Web survey, [...] liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.
To sum up, I don't believe legislation is the right tool to use to tackle superstition and blind faith. The law already recognises harm and unfairness, and has tools for their redressal. The only thing that could perhaps be done in the legislative sphere is de-recognise faith-based authority, so that concepts such as blasphemy or the "hurting of religious sentiments" become legally meaningless and cannot form the basis for litigation.
[Update 21/08/2013: In a knee-jerk reaction to his murder, the Maharashtra state government has bypassed the legislative process and promulgated Dr Dabholkar's anti-superstition bill as an ordinance. It is said that hard cases make bad law. We will now see bad law making hard cases. I will not be surprised if the Supreme Court overturns some of the cases brought under this ordinance, and the state government's hasty reaction will do more harm than good to the cause of rationalism.]