Friday, September 6, 2013

Can you be above Superstition?

It has been over a fortnight since Anti-supersitition activist from Maharashtra Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot down by assailants in Pune as he took a morning walk. Dr Dabholkar was accustomed to receiving death threats from organisations that deemed his objections to superstitious beliefs as being against a religion, while all he advocated was the use of scientific reasoning to quash the claims of religious Godmen, babas and the like that resulted in the exploitation of the poor.

Dr Dabholkar's campaign addressed serious issues - from sacrifices, quackery in the name of health care in rural/tribal India to black magic and miracle performing feats of self-styled Godmen etc. But superstitious beliefs exist in our homes in everything we do!

From 'Karwa Chauth' - a fast observed by married women for the longevity of the husband, choosing the right time and day to tie the knot, donating Rs 51 or 101 as the one rupee brings good luck, inauspiciousness of Saturdays to start a new venture or buy something new, to segregating menstruating women because they are considered 'unclean', the list of superstitious beliefs we 'inadvertently' follow is virtually endless. 

My domestic help works very hard to keep her two children in school and give them three meals a day. But she spends a lot of her money on appeasing different Gods in the hope that her children will remain healthy and safe. The other day she asked me for a day off because she wanted to go "pay her debt" to a Goddess whose temple is located in her village near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, who she had prayed to for a 'son' after her first born was a daughter. Now she says she has to spend the money and travel to the temple because "My son keeps falling ill with diarrhoea and vomiting and my relatives say it is because I didn't go to the temple and thank the Goddess for his birth." The cost of the travel, stay and offering will set her savings back by two months, but for the longevity of her son, she HAS TO do it!

In the past she used to observe a 'fast' almost 5 days a week. It was only after she fell grievously ill due to sudden weight loss and lack of nutrition that she has brought it down to once a week. Her explanation - "I have to keep Monday fast for the Goddess because my happiness depends upon her blessings." I'd tried explaining to her that ruining her health and giving money to a doctor was not what any God would want her to do! But in the light of her faith, my words made no difference.
And it is not the poor alone who are exploited by this 'blind' faith. 

Look around you and you will find that beliefs and fears based purely on 'hearsay', or fear of the unknown are so deeply ingrained in our society that we don't move ahead in life without them. Fasts on specific days of the week to appease specific Gods, offerings given away to temples (which actually go to the priest) on specific days to keep Gods happy, wearing different kinds of gemstones (which apparently is a multi-crore business in India)...even celebrating certain festivals because they are said to bring us certain 'gains'... 

Superstition is intrinsic to our culture and when we are faced with trying circumstances we turn towards a reprieve, most often provided to us by a seemingly exalted individual who has beaten the odds and emerged happy, satisfied and perhaps successful. Nine out of ten times these exalted beings thrive on our fears and take us down a garden path - 'donate this', 'feed that animal', 'eat this', 'give this up', 'wear this stone' etc. - that we believe (albeit foolishly) will alleviate our situation. 

We spend our money buying the things we are asked to and spend our time doing the things we are expected to (to help ourselves) in addition to the unmentionable amounts of money we are charged for such 'service'. The cycle of madness begins and the seeds of suspicion are sown.

If it doesn't work, we are simply told that our fate/destiny/past actions are so mucked up that we need to do MORE... We are told that our unhappiness or business losses or the critical health of a loved one are a result of the unhappiness our forefathers feel, for we failed in our duty towards them when they were alive. We buy the argument never questioning how we could be the cause of the unhappiness of a dear departed who wasn't even alive when we were born!!! We are also told that as much as we do in our current life, we will probably never appease our ancestors' souls and are condemned to live thus. 

Hope, the very reason someone turns towards an alternate route to assuage their suffering is lost completely as they sink deeper and deeper into the irrevocable absurdity of this circumstance while those who benefit from it, continue to make money and tap into the delirium that possesses the people trapped forthwith.

Dr Dabholkar vehemently advocated an Anti-Superstition Law in Maharashtra, and although I do believe that such a law must come into existence to tackle the larger superstitious beliefs, I also believe that laws won't necessarily help curb the blindness when it comes to 'faith'. 

The change must begin with each one of us, and can only be curbed if we mothers, creators of homes and nurturers of the future generation put an end to them in our homes. 

Let us endeavour to raise a daughter who doesn't need to resort to a Karwa Chauth fast and a son who doesn't need to postpone buying his dream car on a Saturday...a home where nails can be cut after sunset, lives don't come to a halt during a solar eclipse and our passage to heaven is created not by bathing in the Ganga, but by leading decent lives....

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