Superstitions: An Illusion of Control

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By Partha Prawal

Saturday’s incident of Udalguri in which a school teacher’s family was allegedly involved in an attempted child sacrifice also read as the human sacrifice has sent ripples across the nation.

The incident has once again brought to fore the existing superstitious beliefs still prevalent in society.

“Superstition is something which is deeply rooted in our society. The problem requires an in-depth study so that the mentality of those involved with such acts are understood,” said Manoranjan Das, a research scholar extensively studying the existing superstitions in society and how they impact the functioning of society while interacting with Pratidin Time.

“What transpired in Udalguri yesterday is just a reflection of this deep-rooted belief, which is not yet properly decoded” he added.

It is worth mentioning here that a number of superstitious beliefs exist in the Assamese society and some of these beliefs are- sorcery (witch hunting, black-magic), quackery, and human sacrifice.

Human sacrifice has been prevalent in Assam since time immemorial and records at the Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies indicate that the practice was widespread in Assam.

According to a 1933 journal of the Assam Research Society says that living people were sacrificed until the reign of King Gaurinath Singha between 1780 and 1796.

It may be mentioned here that human sacrifice was prevalent mostly at the places famous for worshipping ‘shakti’ or places where the trantic cult is extensively practiced. Once such place of ‘shakti’ worship is the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati.

Even though it is widely believed that the practice of human sacrifice has been completely wiped out from the famed temple, however, there are still some individuals who strongly believe that even today human sacrifice is practiced there; if not directly in the main Kamakhya Temple but at some other ‘shakti’ temples situated on the Nilachal hills under wraps maintaining absolute secrecy.

Speaking about human sacrifice in Kamakhya Temple, senior journalist Rahul Karmakar in an article for BBC (Indian temple revives ‘human sacrifice’) in 2002 wrote, “In the absence of human volunteers, devotees at the Kamakhya Temple near the state capital Guwahati are using six-foot effigies made of flour for the rite. The revival of the “Nara Bali” practice a few years ago would have remained under wraps had it not been for an academic researching the temple, one of India’s holiest pilgrimage sites. The cult followers had apparently wanted live humans to revive the gory tradition but opted for an effigy instead fearing a backlash.”

Manoranjan Das also echoed what Karmakar wrote but yet he feels that human sacrifices in Assam still exist but under wraps.

“There are no proofs or any volunteer who could say with supreme assurance about the practice of human sacrifices in Assam, however, time and again certain incidents have pointed towards the existence of this evil practice,” Das said.

Citing a recent example, Das said, “It was in 2013 when a 55-year-old man was killed by villagers in Cachar district in a bid to ‘appease a goddess’.

When police investigated the case it was known that the man was killed because some person from the village dreamt of the goddess who wanted the ‘sacrifice’ of that particular person since he was ‘possessed’ and that entire village would suffer if he was not ‘sacrificed’.

Apparently, the 55-year-old Jawaharlal Mura was ‘sacrificed’ for purifying the village.”

11 persons were arrested in this case.

“This case has come to light and hence we know about it. There are several such incidents, which are still under the wraps,” Das added.

He was again quick to refer to the incident of June 20, 2019, when a headless body of a woman was recovered from a temple in Nilachal Hills right before the Ambubachi Mela began.

“Flowers, incense sticks and other materials used for ‘pooja’ were recovered from near the body and this was an ‘indication’ that the lady was killed in the name of ‘sacrifice’. However, the actual reason behind her death is yet to be ascertained,” he said.

Studies show that Assam is plagued by witch-hunting and in the past 18 years, at least 161 people were killed in “witch-hunting” and other superstitious practices across the state.

Further, 131 witch-hunting cases were registered in Assam since 2001 to 2019 and the ‘practice’ is rampant in 17 districts of Assam, with Kokrajhar leading the tally with 45 deaths, followed by Chirang with 24 deaths and Goalpara with 17 deaths.

When asked about the reasons behind such prevalent superstitious beliefs, Das said that the reasons vary.

“Lack of scientific temperament, lack of education, low financial condition, lack of proper development, improper healthcare facilities‚Ķ The reasons are many and we cannot attribute it to one or two particular reasons. As I have said, we need to do an in-depth study. Uldalguri incident took place in the residence of a science teacher. He had a social status and was economically stable. Now, what can be his reason behind this heinous act? We need to study, analyze and then come to some conclusion, which will pave way for more study,” Das said.

Saturday’s incident in Udalguri has once again exposed the vulnerable human nature, which is readily influenced by something that is beyond its understanding.

The incident has opened Pandora’s Box and it is time that the government and the civil society organizations come together and help in eradicating every prevalent superstitious belief of the society.

Many believe that believing in the improbable makes the weaker minds strong and ‘guides’ them to achieve more than they can ever believe they can achieve. However, this is just a mirage and an illusion of control and which is far away from reality.

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