Op-Ed: Step Up The War Against Superstition

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The bizarre spectacle of a black magician trying to revive a dead woman, a victim of snakebite, near the morgue of Padampur sub-divisional headquarters hospital in Bargarh district on Sunday, once again proves that despite the spread of education superstition continues to rule roost in the rural areas of the state.

This was certainly not a one-off incident. In the past sorcerers and ‘ disaris’ have been seen openly practising their craft not only in villages but even in government run hospitals. Given the ease with which these practitioners of the occult get access to patients in the government-run health facilities it is reasonable to assume that police have either been a mute spectator to such incidents or they just they lack the will to act against black magicians who are often treated by villagers in far flung tribal areas with reverence.

A few years ago a young collegian in western Odisha was allegedly killed by her friends in the fulfilment of a bizarre religious ritual. The accused were the fanatic followers of a cult. In yet another incident a six year old girl in Balasore district was kidnapped and her wrist cut to drain blood to appease goddess Kali.

The phenomenon has been most visible in the tribal-dominated districts of the state, especially in districts such as Sundergarh, Kenojhar and Mayurbhanj. Several cases of witch hunting have been reported from these districts with women invariably at the receiving end.

This despite the fact that Odisha has a law against such superstitious practices. With cases of witch hunting and open practice of black magic still being reported from various parts of the state one can safely assume that Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013 either lacks teeth or is not being implemented with the required zeal.

The problem mainly lies with implementation. For one thing policemen themselves need proper training to deal with this kind of social evil which is fast spreading its tentacles in the state. Apart from being made conversant with the provisions of the Act they should also be taught how to employ tact in such cases because psychology of the uneducated masses is completely different.

Hence the police force needs to be both mentally and physically equipped to deal with such cases in an efficient manner. Besides there is also an urgent need to have a re-look at the law to plug possible loopholes which are invariably exploited by devious minds to circumvent legal provisions.

There is an equally strong need to not only universalise education but also create awareness against such social evils through mass media. Intellectuals and non-governmental organisations have a major role to play in this regard. This is not easy considering that past experiments to wean people away from black magicians and sorcerers in districts like Sundergarh have not yielded encouraging results. Long back the administration in Sundergarh district had sought the services of rationalists to debunk popular myths about black magic. They toured villages and tried their best to convince people that ‘ disaris’ and sorcerers were only making fools of them to keep their business going.

Still such cases are being reported in the state with alarming regularity. The government should prepare itself for a long drawn war against superstition.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)