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When faith goes wrong


The recent Mumbai case of tantrik misdeeds, familial incest and rape could well be the tip of the iceberg. What gives tantriks and faith healers such power?

Faith, as they say, moves mountains.

Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Enormous power over people: What happens when it is misused?

Mumbai’s latest incest-cum-rape scandal has rewritten the ground rules of crime. Felons have fallen to a new record low; a low that baffles basic human sensibilities. Dismal psychiatric conditions coupled with innate brutal tendencies form the fundamental plinth of the new-age criminal; a plinth alien to law-enforcers and legal machinery alike. No longer can we adopt distant-yet-empathetic postures towards Joseph Fritzl-like situations in foreign lands; some among us, as we’ve realised, are just as guilty if not more! What makes things worse is the brazen involvement of tantriks in the sex crimes.

On March 19, a 21-year-old daughter of a businessman approached the police to register charges of rape against her father and a tantrik for over nine years. Forced into silence and subjugation, the girl was raped repeatedly since the tender age of 12 by her father and the tantrik, even as her naked mother watched. Her mother, investigations revealed, had consensual sex at the same time with both her husband and the tantrik — her lover prior to marriage; a pre-marital relationship that culminated into a torrid threesome with the husband’s acquiescence.

Final straw

The 49-year-old father, Kishore Chauhan, and the 55-year-old tantrik, Hasmukh Rathod, had allegedly sexually abused other women as well. It was only after the tantrik began to rape her 15-year-old younger sister that the older sister spilt the beans to her maternal uncle and grandmother, who helped her file the complaint.

It was widely felt this could well be the tip of the iceberg and there could be more stories of tantrik misdeeds, familial incest and rape.

Faith, as they say, moves mountains. And, if it’s a disease or an ailment with psychosomatic origins such as a sexual problem bordering on failure to obtain or retain an erection for a male or one of premature ejaculation, the cure lies in treating the mind.

“Bordering on hypnosis and autosuggestion, tantrik cures revolve around similar techniques where the subject is bombarded with suggestions aimed to convince him over and over again till s/he relents,” offers clinical psychiatrist Dr. Milind Gaekwad. “When one is faced with a problem that looks insurmountable and doesn’t approach a professional for solutions, s/he may approach a tantrik or a guru for remedy based on plain hearsay or gossip.

“A lot of clinical cases too are sought to be resolved through tantrik means on the premise that it’s without a side effect and doesn’t cost as much,” says Dr. Gaekwad. Very often, the price is higher like the Mira Road case, but realised only when it’s too late.

Oddly, and for undocumented reasons, whether it’s a tantrik, baba or a miracle priest, cures occur much like miracles without any explanation whatsoever. The culprit here is faith. In South Gujarat’s poverty-ridden Dangs, for instance, tantriks, popularly known as bhagats, tackle all health issues with odd techniques! For instance, in case of a hydrocele, a bhagat would pierce a copper wire in the correspondingly opposite earlobe. Over the next fortnight, the earlobe would swell up with pus and finally burst curing the inflamed hydrocele too. Also, in case of jaundice, a dambh (burn) is inflicted on the patient’s stomach with a red-hot iron rod. “It’s a blend of acupressure and faith at play here. With faith, most ailments — particularly psychosomatic ones — get cured with ease, which is why tantriks work,” offers Dadar-based psychiatrist Dr. Trupti Bhalerao.

Nothing magical

“In case of anyone of us getting kamil (jaundice), we approach a nearby baba who gives a small pudi with a white powder to be had with milk and it gets cured within two weeks,” says South Mumbai-based domestic help and baba regular Savita Udeshi. “Whether you like it or not, a viral infection as common as Hepatitis A comes under control by itself within a month with symptoms being alleviated within a week to a fortnight of its onset,” says Dr. Bhalerao.

“In case of a hysterically-wailing child, mothers rush them to nearby babas known to perform a specific ceremony that would be peppered with acts of the baba bending forward to deliver hushed whispers into the child’s ears. It doesn’t take much to divert a child’s attention from its wailing to a colourful, repetitive activity of this sort. Nine times out of 10, the child will stop wailing out of sheer curiosity and amusement, which would be interpreted as a cure,” maintains consultant paediatrician Pinakin Shah.

“For a ‘believer’ unable to impregnate his wife, the cure lies in a tantrik’s mantra or a psychiatrist’s session or 12 badams daily in a glass of warm milk over a full month, if he strongly believes it!” offers psychiatrist Dr. Nehal Joshi. “Conception would follow inevitably proving the tantrik, if involved, right?” he asks.

“Arresting tantriks and babas is easier said than done,” says a Mumbai police inspector on grounds of anonymity. “The kind of faith and confidence that these elements enjoy within the public makes it difficult for us to apprehend them and proceed against them,” he says. The law, for one, provides for police action mostly initiated by one offended or harmed as a victim. So, in the absence of one initiating proceedings, it’s difficult for the police to act.

Too much of a risk

As dealing with a tantrik or a baba is fraught with psychological risk and fear, nobody wants to get caught up with something they aren’t sure of being able to tackle. “Although so many charlatans and religious frauds continue to operate without fear in Mumbai, very few citizens, even those swindled by them, come ahead and register complaints,” says the inspector.

Even statutes such as the The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act aim at preventing advertisements claiming cures and remedies alleged to possess magical qualities but don’t actually help apprehend the tantriks or babas themselves.

Most of the times, motivated local residents support and endorse a tantrik’s activities, making it difficult for those affected or duped to approach the law. “If more and more citizens like the Mira Road girl muster up courage and actively work towards exposing tantriks of such sort, things wouldn’t reach such levels,” says the inspector. “And then, the police would be forced to take action; register an FIR and make out a criminal case against the tantrik instead of being soft due to public and religious pressures,” he adds.

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