If there's something strange in your neighborhood
Who you gonna call?
That’s an easy one … unless the something strange isn’t ghosts. What if your neighborhood seems to be overrun with sorcerers practicing the art of black magic? If you live the Mayurbhanj district in the state of Odisha in eastern India, you’re in luck. Last week, government officials in this district set up a Rapid Response Team (RRT) to rapidly respond to citizen reports of sorcerers, witches and other black magic practitioners.
Before you dismiss this as just another story about a remote tribal village in India, the Mayurbhanj district has a population of over 2.5 million with a population growth rate of 13.06% and a literacy rate of 63.98%. And yet, this district reportedly had at least 98 witnessed cases of witchcraft and sorcery related offenses in just the last five years, with many more than that unreported due to fear and prejudice.
That may not sound like many, but how many cases of witchcraft and sorcery were reported in Houston, which has a population of 2.3 million? While you google that, ask yourself how a U.S. city or state would respond to such calls? In the Mayurbhanj district. District Collector Surendra Kumar Meena, the official in charge of collecting revenues and administering the district, is setting up at least 26 rapid response teams (RRT) to respond to sorcery calls at a block level. Each RRT will have a child development program officer, medical officer, block education officer, welfare extension officer, inspector in charge of the police station, a Nehru Yuva Kendra volunteer (a youth affairs official) and one office bearer of block level federation of self help groups.
What kind of sorcery needs that much manpower to combat it, defeat it or drive it out and into some other district? According to The New Indian Express, of those 98 cases, 53 resulted in deaths and 45 involved assault and torture. What’s worse, many of the victims were women and children suspected of being witches or sorcerers.
While Hinduism, the predominant Indian religion, has a long history of using sorcery and black magic to cast out demons, cure diseases and perform other functions not covered by insurance, the label often gets attached to anyone who behaves strangely, is from out of the area, gets into a fight or speaks a strange language. Does that sound like everyone you know at one time or another? This might not be so bad if the common or traditional responses to sorcerers and witches weren’t beatings, torture, cutting out tongues, chasing out of town, punishing relatives and even burnings.
Since so many of the victims are women and children and the causes of these beliefs are poverty, illiteracy, poor health and oppression, it’s no surprise that the rapid response teams are staffed with child counselors, medical practitioners, welfare officials and other providers of social services. Ghostbusters and sorcerer-chasers are not really needed.
Officials in the Mayurbhanj district are embarrassed that their area has such a high concentration of these crimes of superstition and fear, but they’re not alone … not in India nor in other countries, including the U.S.
Will science, logic and common sense ever defeat sorcery and witchcraft? Who you gonna call for that?