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Investigating Witchcraft and Sorcery in Rangareddi District, India

Dr. G. Vijayam

Skeptical Briefs Volume 12.2, June 2002

The superintendent of police of India’s Rangareddi district invited a team from the Atheist Centre to investigate witchcraft and sorcery in the area. Accordingly, a team headed by Dr. G. Samaram, a well-known medical doctor, prolific writer on medical problems, and co-convener of Gora Birth Centenary Celebrations, visited Rangareddi district which is adjacent to the state capital Hyderabad on April 20 and 21, 2002. The district superintendent of police, Mr. M.V. Ramachandra Raju and the police department of the district accompanied the team and made arrangements for the visit.

The ten-member team from the Atheist Centre consisted of medical doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, social scientists, hypnotists, magicians, ventriloquists, and scientists. They extensively toured the ten most affected villages in the sprawling district and medically examined the so-called victims, held discussions with the villagers, and conducted public meetings. The team was accompanied by media from national and international networks and the correspondents of many newspapers. In every village public meetings were also conducted, and the victims as well as the accused were interviewed.

The fear of witchcraft and sorcery (known as banamati in the local language) is deeply rooted in psyche of the common people in the Telangana area of the erstwhile native state of Hyderabad. The surrounding districts of Karnataka and Maharastra have the same problem, fear of witchcraft and sorcery.

The Atheist Centre sent similar teams to Medak district in 1983 and 1984, and to Nalgonda district a couple of times and also to Warangal district last year at the invitation of the inspector general of police. All these teams were headed by Dr. Samaram and were helpful in dispelling superstitions and blind beliefs in the remote villages of those districts. The state government took special note of the work of the Atheist Centre and appreciated its contribution in dispelling the fear of witchcraft and sorcery.

The Atheist Centre team found that people’s ignorance, illiteracy, ill health and a strong socio-cultural belief in the existence of witchcraft are causing untold misery to the people. Many times the belief in witchcraft led to violent incidents resulting in the plucking of teeth, breaking of hands and legs, cutting off the tongues, and in some cases burning to death of the so-called sorcerers. Gruesome murders take place and sometimes they are banished from the village after subjecting them to severe torture.

As the fear of witchcraft and its existence is culturally rooted, sometimes even the lower rung of the police and others fail to take note of the violence. At times the criminals escape punishment for their misdeeds.

Recently, in Rangareddi district, a man and woman were tortured and their tongues were cut off; in another village a score of teenage girls and women ran naked in the streets of the village due to mass hysteria. In other villages, the so-called sorcerers were tortured and disfigured. The team from the Atheist Centre investigated and examined the victims and the accused. The team also gave demonstrations on sleight-of-hand magic and how suggestion and self- hypnotism can lead them to believe in many things which are not true.

As the medical help is not available in the villages, the people fall prey to the quacks who exploit the ignorance and ill health of people and attribute their body ailments to sorcery and witchcraft. The team suggested the organization of awareness programs, public demonstrations exposing the superstitions, and extending medical facilities in the villages, in particular to the so-called victims of witchcraft. It suggested long-range as well as immediate steps to rescue people from the scourge of this superstition. It also suggested strong punishment to the perpetrators of crimes in the name of sorcery. The Atheist Centre will continue to send teams to conduct awareness campaigns in affected villages.

The district superintendent of police, who accompanied the team to all the villages, echoed the suggestions of the team and announced measures to curb the incidents in the name of witchcraft and sorcery. It is heartening to note that Mr. Babu Mohan, a legislator and also a popular movie actor, also joined the team. People from print and electronic media also extended valuable cooperation to make the visit of the Atheist Centre team a meaningful one. The team’s visit received wide attention in the state.

The members of the team included Dr. Samaram; Dr. Vijayam; Dr. I. Ramasubba Reddy, a psychiatrist; T.S. Rao, a psychologist and hypnotist; Gautam, a magician; Niyanta, a scientist, Silvister, a ventriloquist; Sadiq, a bio-chemist; Ravi Prakash, TV commentator of Teja T.V.; and Babu Mohan, popular movie actor. A press conference was also held at the Atheist Centre, Vijayawada after the return of the team from Rangareddi district. Dispelling superstitions is part of the comprehensive activities of the Atheist Centre for social change.

Dr. G. Vijayam

Dr. Vijayam is Executive Director of the Atheist Centre in India.