Kiran, Editor, Rationalist Patrika


In Chikhali village of Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, hocus-pocus is endemic, according to local police officials. A recent English newspaper published from Bombay carried the story of a woman suspected to be possessed, being done to death by an exorcist.

Gangubai, mother of three, was believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. Her husband and in-laws called in a mantrik to exorcise it. The man arrived and began to belabour the poor woman, hanging her upside down in the Vaidyawadi temple and lashing her with a whip. The mantrik repeatedly commanded the spirit to reveal its name and identity without success. Gangubai was then dragged by her hair and hung upside from a tree outside the village. Here she was again whipped, fed raw goat's meat and forced to drink water from a shoe. The stubborn spirit refused to obey the exorcist and reveal itself. Instead the poor victim died leaving the mystery unsolved.

A few enlightened people reported the matter to the police who disinterred the victim's body and arrested her husband and the mantrik for murder.

When even educated Indians subscribe to superstitions which appear trivial if not quite harmless, they do not stop to think that at the other end of the spectrum such blind belief assumes more horrendous aspects as typified by the case of Gangubai. Students eating curd before writing their exams, women wearing mangalsutra and red tika as evidence of their married status, widows victimised and deprived of the right to wear good clothes, businessmen resorting to astrology for guidance, ill-omens like milk boiling over, or a cat crossing one's path, are all part of the same social conventions and black beliefs which lead to the murder of the Gangubais of this country. Indeed, the list of superstitious laws is a lot longer than the laws of science.

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Last update: 17 July 1998