‘Human sacrifice’ & Laws on Witchcraft

In News

  • Recently, there was a strong demand for a new law to curb superstitious practices in Kerala following deaths related to witchcraft rituals.

Issue of superstitious practices in India

  • Kerala Issue:
    • Two women were allegedly abducted, beheaded and buried as part of a “witchcraft ritual”.
  • Incidences of witchcraft in India:
    • According to the 2021 National Crime Records Bureau report, three states in India – Chhattisgarh (20), Madhya Pradesh (18) and Telangana (11) – accounted for 49 out of the 68 registered cases of witchcraft in the country.
  • What do the laws against witchcraft target?
    • Apart from curbing superstitious beliefs, such laws have been introduced mainly to protect women, who are identified as “witches” by local people. 
    • Many such incidents have been reported, usually after the spread of an illness or unusual circumstances in a community that spreads panic among people. 
What is Witchcraft & Witch-hunting?Witchcraft:Witchcraft is a practice of magic skills, spells, and abilities that are believed to influence a person’s body, mind, or property.Females who practice this craft are often portrayed and attributed as ominous, wicked, and scary.Witch-hunting:Witch-hunting was initiated due to the superstitious beliefs and customs for eliminating the so-called witches residing in the society. Even today it is continued and practiced as a custom in different parts of the world. Women are specifically targeted, tortured ruthlessly, and called a “Witch.” 

Legal safeguards against superstitious practices 

  • In India, there is no common central law that criminalises actions furthering the belief in witchcraft, but state laws do exist. 
    • Bihar and Jharkhand:
      • Bihar became the first state to introduce a law on the matter in 1999. 
      • The state’s Prevention Of Witch Practices Act, 1999, says it was intended to “provide for the effective measures to prevent the witch practices and identification of a woman as a witch and their oppression mostly prevalent in Tribal areas and elsewhere in the State of Bihar and to eliminate the woman’s torture, humiliation and killing by the society”. 
      • Along the lines of the Bihar law, the newly independent state of Jharkhand came up with its own law in 2001.
    • Chhattisgarh:
      • The Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Adhiniyam came into force in 2005, where ‘Tonahi’ is another word for witch. 
      • It was estimated that from 2001 to 2015, in the 1,500 police cases reported in the state, over 90 per cent of the women were either widows, or women separated from husbands, or women with no children.
    • Odisha, Rajasthan & Assam:
      • Similar provisions also exist in states like Odisha, Rajasthan & Assam.
      • Assam is the state that most recently came up with a law against witchcraft in 2018. 
    • Maharashtra and Karnataka:
      • Maharashtra and Karnataka have Acts related to black magic and superstition, but they do not mention witchcraft in particular.
  • Other Safeguards:
    • Human sacrifice:
      • Section 302 (punishment for murder) takes cognisance of human sacrifice, but only after the murder is committed. 
    • Discouragement:
      • Likewise, Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) works to discourage such practices. 
    • Inculcating scientific temper:
      • Furthermore, Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution makes it a fundamental duty for Indian citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. 
    • Magic drugs and remedies:
      • Other provisions under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954 also aim to tackle the debilitating impact of various superstitious activities prevalent in India.
  • The Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2016:
    • In 2016, The Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha. 
    • It had sections covering a range of issues – from the reasons a woman may be deemed a witch by people to the rehabilitation and awareness programmes the government should carry out. 
    • However, it did not go through further stages of consideration in Parliament.

Way Ahead

  • Violation of fundamental rights:
    • Allowing the unhindered continuance of such practices violates an individual’s fundamental right to equality and right to life under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution respectively. 
  • Unscientific and irrational practices:
    • In the absence of measures to tackle superstitions, unscientific and irrational practices such as faith healing, quackery, and misinformation regarding medical procedures can also balloon up,. 
    • This can have severe detrimental effects on public order and health of citizens. 
  • Awareness:
    • However, it is pertinent to remember that bringing a legislation to deal with this social issue shall only mean half the battle won. 
    • Meaningful reforms will need to increase awareness among the masses through information campaigns, and by roping in community/religious leaders to debunk the myths surrounding such practices. 

SC’s Split Verdict on Karnataka Hijab Ban

In News

  • A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has recently delivered a split verdict on the Karnataka government’s ban on wearing hijab in state pre-university colleges.

More about the news

  • Controversy:
    • In December 2021, controversy erupted at the Government College after students submitted a memorandum to the principal seeking permission to wear hijabs (headscarves) in classrooms. They were denied permission.
    • Since then, many schools and colleges in Karnataka have not allowed students to enter their institutions wearing hijabs. 
  • Petitioners Arguments: 
    • Wearing “hijab” is their personal choice and key to their religious practice. How the mere wearing of a hijab by students could constitute a public order issue. 
    • The government cannot delegate to college committees the function of determining whether the hijab was detrimental to public order. 
  • Split verdict of the apex court:
    • Verdict supporting the ban:
      • One of the judges upheld the Karnataka High Court order validating the ban and said “it was only to promote uniformity and encourage a secular environment” in classrooms.
        • According to him, religious belief cannot be carried to a secular school maintained out of State funds.
        • Thus, the practice of wearing hijab could be restricted by the State in terms of the Government Order
    • Verdict opposing the ban:
      • Whereas the other Judge underlined that all that matters is the education of the girl child & ordered to set aside the state and High Court orders.
      • He called the right to wear the hijab in classrooms “a matter of choice”, a “fundamental right” linked to the girl’s “dignity and her privacy even when she is inside the school gates”.
    • Matter of faith:
      • The bench also held that irrespective of whether the practice of wearing the hijab is a religious practice or essential religious practice or social conduct for the women of Islamic faith, the “interpretations by the believers of the faith about wearing of headscarf is the belief or faith of an individual”.
  • What happens in case of a split verdict?
    • The split verdict means that the matter will now be placed before the Chief Justice of India for further directions — it will likely go to a larger bench. 
    • And until the Supreme Court issues any direction, the ban on the hijab in Karnataka classrooms will remain in place.
Matter of Essential Religious PracticesPetitioners cited the Ratilal Panachand Gandhi vs The State Of Bombay (1954): No outside authority has any right to say that these are not essential parts of religion and it is not open to the secular authority of the State to restrict or prohibit them in any manner they like under the guise of administering the trust estate”. Issue of Essential Religious Practice comes into play only when the practice is violent and it infringes the freedom of others. Petitioners submitted that wearing of hijab in no way curtails anybody’s freedom.What are Essential Religious Practices?To define the essential elements of religion, the supreme court of India laid down the “essential element of religion” doctrine. Before this, the supreme court had to define what exactly is religion, resolve the appeals against the legislations which were labeled as controlling religious institutions, and delimit the boundaries of religious institutions.The rituals, modes of worship, and ceremonies all come under essential practices of religion. These have to be protected to the extent that they are within the limits of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. 

Battle of Arguments in Hijab Ban Case

  • Arguements in favour of Hijab ban:
    • Matter of Unity & integrity:
      • According to the government order issued under the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, “public order” is one of the reasons for not allowing students to wear a headscarf in educational institutions along with “unity” and “integrity.”
    • Schools maintained by state funds:
      • It is open to the students to carry their faith in a school which permits them to wear hijab or any other mark, may be tilak, which can be identified to a person holding a particular religious belief.
      • The State is within its jurisdiction to direct that the apparent symbols of religious beliefs cannot be carried to school maintained by the State from the State funds. 
  • Arguments against the Hijab ban:
    • Dignity and privacy:
      • A girl child has the right to wear a hijab in her house or outside her house, and that right does not stop at her school gate. 
      • The child carries her dignity and her privacy even when she is inside the school gates, in her classroom.
    • Fundamental Right:
      • Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to all persons the right to freedom and conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.
    • Muslim girls already at disadvantage:
      • Data show that Muslim girls were already at a disadvantage in school education compared to those from other religions. 
      • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5, the share of Muslim girl students in the 6-17 age group attending schools in 2019-20 was significantly lower than their Hindu and Christian counterparts in almost all States except Kerala. 

Way Ahead

  • The Constitution of India, in spirit, shuns extremism of any sort. 
  • It provides that the right to education, right to equality and right to religion co-exist together and no one of them has a paramount importance in exclusion of others.
  • So, the answer lies in the ‘middle path’ advocated by the Constitution of India. All controversies will have to eventually find their end in this manner, if those upholding the Constitution stay true to it.

Need for a Population Policy


  • Recently, the data published in the World Population Prospects, 2022 report of the United Department of Economic and Social Affairs show that India would surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2023.

Present National Population Policy (NPP) 2000

  • It was based on the principle of voluntary and informed choice, target free approach and achievement of replacement level of fertility.
  • It aimed at simultaneously addressing the issues of contraception, maternal health and child survival.
  • The National Family Planning Programme of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare is guided by the tenets of the National Population Policy 2000 and oversees its implementation.             

Need for a new population policy/changes in NPP 2000

  • Economic Survey 2018­-19  data: India’s demographic dividend will peak around 2041, when the share of the working age population is expected to hit 59%. In contrast, the world’s population is expected to hit a peak and then drop by the end of the century. 
  • Aging: As fertility drops and lifespans rise globally, the world is aging at a significant pace. 12% of India’s total population by 2025 is going to be the elderly. Every fifth Indian by 2050 will be over the age of 65. 
  • Productivity: Thomas Malthus’ population theory suggested equilibrium between the population growth and productivity. To make the present population productive and employable, targeted skills training and better economic planning is needed. 
  • Lesson from China: Drastic changes in public policy to manage the population may have unexpected consequences. For example, China’s one child policy led to a sharp reduction in the population growth rate but it also led to a rapidly risingelderly population. 
  • Evidence based policy: Indian government should focus on creating a situation to ensure gradual changes in the family size in the context of a growing economy, rather than excessive focus on the reduction of a fertility rate.  
  • Automation: In today’s modern world the productivity of individuals is greatly affected by automation, sometimes causing loss of employment. However, it doesn’t replace human nature and human touch. For example, the informal care economy.
  • Demographic dividend: India has a very brief window of opportunity (next few decades) to tap into the potential of our youth population by investing in education, skills and well being of adolescents. Otherwise, India’s demographic dividend might become a demographic disaster. 
  • Gender issues: Fertility decline lowers burden on women. But two thirds of the elderly are women as they tend to live longer than men. Thus India needs to recognise the gender dimension in the population policy to tap into these changes. 
  • Gender neutral employment: India needs to improve employment opportunities for young women and increase the female employment rate. Elderly women need economic and social support networks. 
  • BIMARU States: India’s future lies in the development of youth potential, especially in U.P., Bihar, M.P. with a higher Total Fertility Rate (TFR)  than the national average. These States need more resources and support in ensuring their education, skilling and employment, else risk a huge economic liability. 
  • National population policy 2000: It was a well intentioned policy with the objectives of family planning and reduction in maternal mortality ratios. States also have their own population policies. However, it needs to include focus on the ageing population and reproductive health. 
  • Change in population policy discourse: Policy orientation can be changed from traditional narrative of population control to a policy enhancing population as resources for India’s development. It needs to change the mindset and focus on ensuring a happy, healthy and productive population. 
  • The two child norm indicates a coercive approach to primarily one community. It diverts attention away from the modern and complex population related problems. It can be an objective at most, but should not be the focus of the population policy.                       

Positive developments

  • National Family Health Survey 5 in 2021 reported India’s attainment of a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.0 for the first time which is less than the replacement level of 2.1 and fell from a TFR of 2.2 in NFHS 4. 
  • Promotion of increased use of contraceptive methods, spacing of pregnancies, access to health care and providing impetus to family planning. 
  • India has contributed to the decrease in TFR, Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and increasing wealth and education. 
  • 25 out of 37 States/UTs have already achieved replacement level fertility of 2.1 or less.
  • The Decadal growth rate has declined from 21.54% in 1999-2000 to 17.64 % during  2001-11.
  • The Crude Birth Rate (CBR) has declined from 23.8 to 20.2 from 2005 to 2017 (SRS).
  • The Teenage birth rate has halved from 16 % (NFHS III) to 8 % (NFHS IV).

Way Forward

  • Adequate investments (at least 5% of GDP) are needed in family planning and youth capacity enhancement with proper implementation of schemes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Skill India Mission, PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana etc.
  • India needs to shift from a family planning approach to a family welfare approach. 
  • Policy attention should be focused on empowering men and women to make informed choices about their fertility, health and wellbeing. 
  • COVID-19 pandemic: Special attention must be given to addressing ways in which the pandemic has affected the lives of India’s adolescents and youth. 
  • Institutional or state capability needs to be strengthened to take care of an ageing population along with a better elderly protection regime. 

Paddy Straw Pelletisation and Torrefaction Plants

In News

  • Recently, MoEFCC announced a 50 crore scheme to incentivise industrialists and entrepreneurs to set up paddy straw pelletisation and torrefaction plants to arrest stubble burning.
What is Stubble Burning?Stubble (parali) burning is a method of removing paddy crop residues from the field to sow wheat from the last week of September to November.Stubble burning is a process of setting on fire the straw stubble, left after the harvesting of grains, like paddy, wheat, etc.It is usually required in areas that use the combined harvesting method which leaves crop residue behind.The process of burning farm residue is one of the major causes of air pollution in parts of north India, deteriorating the air quality.Paddy stubble burning is practised mainly in the Indo-Gangetic plains of Punjab, Haryana, and UP to clear the fields for rabi crop sowing. 

About the scheme

  • Funding 
    • New units set up would be eligible for government funding in the form of capital to set up such plants.
  • Participants
    • The financial assistance can be availed by individuals and companies setting up new plants and units using only paddy straw generated in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, and NCR districts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.  
  • Costing
    • The estimated cost of setting up a regular pelletisation plant, which can process a tonne per hour, is 35 lakh. 
    • Under the scheme, the Centre will fund such plants to a maximum of 70 lakh subject to capacity.
  • Torrefaction plant
    • The cost of establishing a torrefaction plant is 70 lakh and under the scheme, is eligible for a maximum funding of 1.4 crore.
  • One-time only scheme
    • The Government has underlined that this would be a one-time only scheme and regular pellet plants would be eligible for 40 crore of the overall pie.  
Do you know?Pelletisation means converting paddy straw into pellets which can be used in thermal power plants and industries as fuel.Torrefaction is a process to improve physical properties and chemical composition of biomass.Torrefaction is costlier but can deliver a product whose energy content is much higher and theoretically substitute for more coal in a power plant.The first 2G Ethanol Plant in Panipat is expected to utilise 2 lakh metric tonnes of paddy straw every year. 

Major challenges due to stubble burning 

  • Paddy straw generation
    • Every year, about 27 million tonnes of paddy straw is generated in Punjab and Haryana.
    • Farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue before cultivating wheat and potato. 
  • Cannot be fed to cattle 
    • The problem is that about 75% or 20 million tonnes is from non-basmati rice, which cannot be fed to cattle as fodder because of its high silica content.
  • Air pollution 
    • About 11 million tonnes can be managed in the field and the rest is usually burnt which adds to the air pollution crisis in Delhi.
  • Impact on Soil fertility
    • Burning husk on the ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.
    • Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.
  • Health effects
    • The pollution makes people more vulnerable to infection and slows their recovery post infection.

Significance of the scheme 

  • Saving coal and reducing carbon emissions 
    • Paddy straw made into pellets or torrefied can be mixed along with coal in thermal power plants. 
    • This saves coal as well as reduces carbon emissions that would otherwise have been emitted were the straw burnt in the fields. 
  • Entrepreneurship opportunities 
    • This scheme will help convert waste to wealth and provide entrepreneurship opportunities to our rural youth in Punjab and Haryana.

Way forward/ Suggestion 

  • Penalising and Incentivising 
    • Through the years the government has attempted to dissuade farmers from burning straw through penalising them as well as incentivising them, such as giving them alternatives to burning the straw.
  • Bio-decomposer 
    • The Government has also encouraged using bio-decomposer, a chemical that decomposes the straw into mulch.
  • Co-firing 
    • The government had earlier mandated co-firing of 5 to 10 percent of biomass along with coal to address the issue of air pollution and to reduce the carbon footprint. 
  • Alternatives to Stubble Burning can be used:
    • Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) machine: which can uproot the stubble and also sow seeds in the area cleared. The stubble can then be used as mulch for the field.
    • In-situ treatment of stubble: Providing equipment to farmers to mix the stubble back into the soil, so that they do not have to burn it.
    • Ex-situ treatment: Under this, some companies have started collecting stubble for their use, but we need more action on this front.
    • Changing cropping pattern: It is the deeper and more fundamental solution.
    • Subsidise crops other than paddy, the source of most stubble burning: Policy and money should incentivise farmers in the region to plant more fruits and vegetables.

Lead Poisoning Prevalence in India

In News

  • A report by Niti Aayog and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) has found that India bears the world’s highest health and economic burden due to lead poisoning.

Key Highlights of the Report

  • Global Findings:
    • Around 1 in 3 children – up to approximately 800 million globally – have blood lead levels (BLL) at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL)
    • Children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale.
    • The impact of lead on adults is so large that over 900,000 premature deaths per year are attributed to lead exposure.
    • Many countries lack sufficient formal recycling infrastructure and capacity to handle the quantity of used lead-acid batteries flooding their markets. 
  • Findings about India:
    • It had found India to be home to a major chunk of children (275,561,163 of the 800 million) poisoned by lead globally. 
    • Most affected states: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.
    • Deaths due to lead poisoning have continued to rise in India even though lead use in petrol — a key source — was phased out by 2000 in the country. 

Lead Poisoning

  • About:
    • Lead is a highly toxic metal and a very strong poison.
    • Lead poisoning is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. It occurs when lead builds up in the body.
  • Common Sources of Lead Exposure:
  • Lead in water from the use of leaded pipes
  • Lead from active industry, such as mining and the unsound recycling of used lead-acid batteries (ULABs);
  • Lead-based paint and pigments
  • Leaded gasoline (which has declined considerably in recent decades, but was a major historical source); 
  • Lead solder in food cans; and 
  • Lead in spices, cosmetics, ayurvedic medicines, toys and other consumer products.
  • Children are also exposed to lead in-utero through exposure of their mothers, with adverse impacts on neurobehavioural development.
  • Impact: 
    • Lead poisoning can cause severe mental and physical impairment. Young children are most vulnerable.
    • Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. 
    • Lead is more harmful to children because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
  • Treatment: Lead poisoning can be treated, but any damage caused cannot be reversed.

Way Ahead

  • There is a desperate need for policy changes at the national and state levels given the severe health implications.
  • These include identifying at-risk populations through BLL monitoring, investigating sources of elevated BLLs and healthcare workforce training to sensitise them to monitor, detect and treat lead poisoning.
  • India needs to devise implementable strategies on a state level, through regional bureaucracy, local press and vernacular language to have a tangible impact.
  • There is a need to undertake targeted research and intervention studies to identify potential newer sources which policy makers and the scientific community can address head on. 
  • Childhood lead poisoning should command an urgent international response. 

India-Brazil-South Africa Maritime (IBSAMAR)

In News

  • Recently, the 7th edition of India-Brazil-South Africa Maritime (IBSAMAR)  was held at Port Gqeberha (also known as Port Elizabeth) in South Africa


  • About:
    • It is a joint Multinational Maritime Exercise between the Indian, Brazilian and South African Navies currently being held in South Africa. 
    • The first trilateral naval drill of IBSA was initiated in 2006.
    • The Sixth edition of IBSAMAR was conducted off Simons Town, South Africa in 2018.
  • Objective:
    • The objectives of the exercise included strengthening maritime relations, promoting joint operational military training, combating maritime crimes, securing Sea Lines of Communication and enhancing interoperability to pursue common evolutions at sea.
  • Indian representation
    • The Indian Navy was represented in it by the guided missile frigateINS Tarkash, a Chetak helicopter and MARCOS Special Forces

Importance of the drill

  • China Factor: In view of China’s growing presence across the global waters, naval cooperation and maritime security have been identified by the IBSA as important sectors to further deepen the cooperation.
  • Strategic relationship: Such multinational drills exemplify the long term strategic relationship between three vibrant democracies, and strong economies.
About IBSAIBSA is a unique Forum which brings together India, Brazil and South Africa, three large democracies and major economies from three different continents, facing similar challenges. All three countries are developing, pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nations. The grouping was formalized and named the IBSA Dialogue Forum when the Foreign Ministers of the three countries met in Brasilia on 6 June 2003 and issued the Brasilia Declaration. 


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