Lucknow, Sept 08: Villagers in the hamlets that dot the Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh have hit upon a novel way of routing out the witch doctors who routinely fleece them.
They send their children to the witchcraft training schools run by the village council in the public squares.
What they get in return may not exactly emulate Harry Potter and his fellow wizards training at Hogwarts but a homegrown doctor who wards off evil spirits and illnesses by conducting the rituals at home.
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Vinod Kumar, a teenaged tribal boy from the Nagwa village who was trained under a witchcraft teacher now routinely administers such rituals at home.
Whenever his father or grandfather is ill, Vinod Kumar sits down with his pail of holy water and flowers and chants the ghosts away while applying the `sacred` water to his patients` forehead like a balm.
Before Vinod Kumar mastered this ability to do-it-yourself, his family had spent thousands of Indian Rupees that they could ill afford, to pay off the local village doctor called Ojha. The Ojha would demand the sacrifice of a goat, or loads of money and gifts in return for his work.
But the Nagwa village is not a case in time as all the villages in the backward tribal belt of Sonebhadra come under the grip of the witchdoctor teachers.
In the Sukhani village that borders the slightly affluent Roberts Ganj in the same district (Sonebhadra), the villagers hold open-air classes in the village square where masters of the witchcraft trade teach through demonstrations.
Dangerous rituals like lighting fire on a piece of cloth placed atop a small girl`s head while whispering meaningless mumbo jumbo are routinely done as are self mortification with heavy iron link-chains.
Lallan Singh Patel who trains young boys to become their family`s witchdoctors is sure that their work is helping combat the dominance of the lot who had grown averse to people`s suffering.
“Everyone should learn this art and benefit. We impart training to those who are ready to learn. Other non-believer boys who would rather scoff at the fact than learn can stay away. We get inundated with students who come to us after being enlightened by encounters with the netherworld while still in their homes,” said Patel.
Thankfully, there are people like Dharmendra Kumar Raju who work relentlessly to educate the hapless tribals about the ill-effects of their so-called schools.
But Raju blames lack of basic health care facilities for the fostering of the evil. When the government-run health units are either too far or not staffed at all, one can`t blame the hapless villagers for turning to these quacks.
“The poverty ridden villagers have no basic amenities of health care to turn to in times of medical emergencies and so turn to the age-old methods of trying to ward off the spirits or evil eye that has been cast upon them. The superstitions are so deep rooted in the psyche of these villagers that despite efforts to uproot the beliefs and to educate them, we have not been very successful. Many such witchcraft training classes run here,” said Raju.
Activists who are trying to educate people about superstition say it`s the environment one grows up in that`s usually responsible while others are looking for avenues to overcome stress in adversity.
In India`s rural areas superstition is quite prevalent and villagers believe in exorcism more than medical treatment.
While most god men restrict themselves to relatively harmless fraud, others get caught up in much more sinister affairs, including human sacrifice to appease “evil spirits.”
Hundreds every year either die undergoing the bizarre beatings and fasting or lose their mental balance due to the severe torture.