Shillong, Aug. 24: Diverse opinions on whether an anti-superstition law was required in Meghalaya or not emerged at a people’s conclave here this afternoon.
The common view was that mass awareness across places was imperative as a pre-emptive measure to curb violence emanating from one’s personal belief.
The conclave, The Price of Superstition, was organised by the Shillong Press Club in collaboration with the Informed Conscious And Responsible Existence (ICARE) at the Khasi National Dorbar Hall.
From victims of superstition to Church leaders, from social workers to government officials, the conclave was organised following various instances of mob violence on those who were believed to be practising witchcraft.
In this part of the world, there is a strong belief about the existence of menshohnoh or cut-throat and menaiksuid or witchcraft.
These beliefs have often led to brutal killings of so-called witchcraft practitioners and cut-throats.
Present at today’s conclave were three persons who have been victims of superstition in the past.
According to one such victim, her grandchild was admitted to a new school but a schoolmate said she cannot be friends with her because she belongs to a particular clan.
Another victim narrated an incident where she was accused of being a menshohnoh while another said family members were scared of staying out late lest they are accused of being menshohnoh.
Amid divergent views, superintendent of police (city) Vivek Syiem said he encountered menshohnoh “everyday”; it is his belief that rapists and murderers are menshohnoh.
But he also came out with an eye-opener in relation to such beliefs and their fallout.
“On thorough investigation of every crime, it is usually found that superstition-related crimes are a result of long-held personal grudges that lead to branding of people as menshohnoh and subsequent mob-fury,” Syiem said.
A Catholic Church representative said even though people are educated, they still continue to be under the yoke of superstition.
Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council chairman Fabian Lyngdoh said the law does not recognise superstition. He, therefore, said laws should be passed to deal with it and that superstition should be “scientifically investigated”.
State additional advocate-general W.H.D. Syngkon, while citing examples of superstition, suggested that the government should initiate and implement an ordinance/law to regulate superstition-related violence and human rights violations.
East Khasi Hills additional district magistrate D.M. Wahlang was of the view that no new law was required. He said by enacting laws, it would suggest that “we accept the existence of witchcraft”.
Jasmine Lyngdoh, a psychiatrist, said many patients are brought in with signs of mental illness, and are misunderstood to possess symptoms of exorcism.
While summing up the conclave, ICARE president Toki Blah said people should not take the law into their own hands, notwithstanding their personal beliefs.
“Community cannot and should not tolerate self-styled vigilantes. We are each entitled to live free, unencumbered lives,” Blah said.
He said the need of the hour was greater co-operation between the police and the public and mass awareness in villages and schools.
At the same time, he said the education system should be more liberal while advocating the need to fast-track investigations into superstition-linked crimes and incidents.
In Maharashtra, the Prithviraj Chavan government on Wednesday cleared the anti-black magic and superstition ordinance, a day after rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in Pune.
Dabholkar had been advocating an anti-superstition bill since the late 1990s.