In predominantly rural Odisha, superstition and ignorance are still the two nooses hung around the neck of civilization. The bitter irony being that this has happened in a state that has fared reasonably well going by the certitudes of growth and development, pre-eminently the benchmark of foreign direct investment. The bare facts of the outrage in Ganjam district’s Gopapur village on 30 September are so grotesque as to strain credulity.
For the administration, both in the district and in swanky Bhubaneswar, this has been a collective disgrace. As reported in this newspaper, six men have been tortured severely on mere suspicion that they were sorcerors who had cast their spell in the area. Both the suspicion and the barbarity that followed are reminiscent of the worst in medieval India.
It beggars belief that civil society is yet to react suitably to the horrific offences for which 22 women are among the 29 people who have been arrested. Notably, the uprooting of teeth of each of the six men. Nay more, forcing them to eat excreta. The villagers involved in the torture had proceeded from conclusion to premise, acting on the presumption that the six men were practising witchcraft, which had driven the people to death and illness. Not that the police response was belated.
Reports suggest that they rushed to the village on 1 October, to be greeted with almost spontaneous public fury, marked by the pelting of stones. Rural Odisha is seething at a sensitive juncture, shortly after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated Mo Sarkar, a novel scheme in social welfare, on the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Intrinsically, it is intended to provide public service with dignity.
It appears that the police were impervious to the tension that was building up in the district for the past two weeks following mysterious ailments of some and the death of three persons. It is a measure of the presumptuousness, embedded in ignorance, that the crisis in public health as well as the mortalities were the result of an “evil cast by sorcerers”. The culprits had collected money to hire a practitioner of witchcraft to identify the evil spell and ascertain who was responsible.
The sorceror had allegedly performed rituals to identify the six culprits. Altogether, it has been a revolting cocktail of superstition and ignorance, let alone the scant regard for medical science. Prognosis and treatment have been sacrificed at the altar of overwhelming backwardness. The tragedy could well be an eye-opener for Odisha’s rural belt.
It is cause for alarm if man’s inhumanity to man gets rooted is superstitious ignorance. Sad to reflect, Ganjam’s district administration has been ineffectual to say the least. With Mo Sarkar in place, it is direly imperative for the medical establishment to step in. Let science be accorded precedence over superstition and sorcery.