Debunking the myth of the baba

Maruti Joshi visits villages across India, demonstrating the tricks used by god men to fool people. People across most of Maharashtra have very strong beliefs in superstition and black magic. Mr Joshi says that women, even educated women, fall prey to the manipulations of the babas. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

Maruti Joshi visits villages across India, demonstrating the tricks used by god men to fool people. People across most of Maharashtra have very strong beliefs in superstition and black magic. Mr Joshi says that women, even educated women, fall prey to the manipulations of the babas. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

By Priya Prasad

RATNAGIRI: The table is littered/full of an assortment of paraphernalia—multi-coloured scarves, bottled mineral water, a dagger, some metal tumblers, two coconuts, a bottle with some transparent liquid and two other small containers. After setting up his table, Maruti Joshi begins his demonstration.

“I am going to show you how these babas trap you. The Konkan region in particular has many of them going around,” he says.

A former traffic cop of the Mumbai Police, Mr Joshi goes from town to town and village to village across India, exposing the sham and lies of god men. “I used to practise black magic [when he was working for the Mumbai Police]. But later I stopped practising it because I realized that all of it is a myth, a falsity. The tricks have a scientific explanation,” he says.

People in the Konkan region are particularly vulnerable to these god men because they have strong beliefs in the supernatural and in methods of predicting the future. Because of such erroneous beliefs, he says, people are willing to pay these babas large sums of money in return for their ‘wisdom’. “A baba can receive Rs 50,000, sometimes even a lakh of rupees. A normal worker gets paid on Rs 100!” says Joshi.

Women are the ones who usually fall prey to these god men. “Recently, many women visited a baba for blessings, but he would abuse them. The women think these abuses are the blessings of the baba. They are assured that this will help them attain Moksha. Shockingly, many of them are educated,” says Joshi.

The tricks of the babas can range from the ridiculous to the absurd. In one trick, villagers give a cow a bath and then they drag the animal. If it falls, the villagers believe God has spoken. After this, they hunt for pigs in the mountains. “They try to shoot a pig but usually instead of the pigs, men die. They say they want to kill pigs in the name of God. This ritual is very popular in the Konkan region,” adds Joshi.

In another ruse, the god men claim that in the Konkan region, dozens of spirits roam inside men and women. The god men burn incense and put that in their mouths, which people take as a sign of the ‘spirits’ within them. “It only takes three seconds for the incense to cool down. That’s what science says. They’re all frauds!” says an emphatic Joshi.

If not their religious and superstitious beliefs, the god men prey upon the people by taking advantage of their ignorance in science by using various simple easily-available substances. A trick of this type involves a hollow coconut filled with potassium, pieces of wood and glycerine. The potassium is kept at the bottom of the coconut and the wood is kept on top. The baba will then add glycerine to this which will result in a large fire. People then worship this considering it as something divine.

“In another popular trick, these babas rub a chemical into their hands, then apply chuna [lime], after which they blow it. This results in the formation of a pink coloured powder. As they blow it, they recite a mantra and people think that this is supernatural,” Joshi laughs as he recounts this.

These are but a few of the tricks of the god men, says Joshi. Having campaigned against these god men for close to ten years, he has earned a reputation for himself. “Day before yesterday, I was in a village called Lanjha, where I lectured and demonstrated to the policeman there. Now, I have been called to Kankouli village. I go wherever I am called and give demonstrations,” he says. Furthermore, he says he does this for free. It is a service he is providing to the people.

People such as Mr Joshi are not few. Superstition and black magic are extremely contentious issues in the state of Maharashtra. This was evident in the death of rationalist and anti-superstition campaigner, Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013. In the aftermath of Dr Dabholkar’s death, the Anti-Superstition bill—which he helped draft way back in the 1990s—was passed in the Maharashtra legislature in December 2013. Perhaps, the passing the bill would make Mr Joshi’s job all the more easier.

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