The gruesome killing and the much-discussed high academic qualifications of the accused, has brought to the fore, the prevalence of superstitious beliefs in the Telugu states.

The couple with their deceased daughtersFile Image
news Superstition Sunday, January 31, 2021 - 16:03

A double murder in Andhra Pradesh’s Madanapalle in Chittoor district has raised grave concerns. Earlier this week, Purushottam Naidu and Padmaja were arrested by the local police under charges of murder, after they allegedly killed their two daughters, Alekhya (27) and Sai Divya (22), over superstitious beliefs that they would be resurrected. Police authorities who are investigating the case and psychiatric experts who tried to evaluate the mental condition of the accused said that the duo were not cooperating with the questioning process. They said that both of them believed that their dead daughters would come alive.

Jail authorities too, claimed that the duo were chanting the name of Lord Shiva in jail.  At one point, when the accused Padmaja was taken for a medical test as per COVID-19 protocol, she refused to undergo the test claiming that she herself is an incarnation of Lord Shiva and it is with her body that she created the coronavirus.

The social media posts of one of the deceased too pointed to her inclination towards ‘spirituality’. The police have ruled out the presence of a fifth person at the scene of the offence. Owing to the gruesomeness of the offence and the much-discussed high academic qualifications of the accused, the case has brought to the fore, the significant prevalence of superstitious beliefs. But this is hardly the first case to emerge from the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. 

Superstition and violent deaths 

In November 2020, a Hyderabad-based software engineer was burnt alive by his close relatives at Mallial of Telangana’s Jagtial district on the suspicion of doing black magic against his wife's brother. The murder took place at a 'spiritual ashram' in the outskirts of Balvanthpur village, minutes away from the Kondagattu Hanuman Temple. The ashram used to be run by the brothers of the victim's wife. One of the accused in the case was Vijay alias Vijay Swamy who called himself ‘Raja Yoga’. 

In September 2019, a 24-year-old man was reportedly lynched and burnt alive by a mob in Adrasapalle at Shamirpet, in the outskirts of Hyderabad, on the suspicion of performing black magic on a woman who died due to ill health. 

In February 2018, a cab driver in Hyderabad killed an infant in an alleged human sacrifice over superstitious beliefs on the day of lunar eclipse, believing that it would cure his wife’s ill health. Following an investigation, the police said that the couple had killed the infant as part of a black magic ritual.

Critical thinking needed  

Speaking to TNM in light of the recent case, rationalist and humanist activists said that there was a serious need to address superstitious beliefs in both the Telugu speaking states.

Babu Gogineni, a well-known rationalist and humanist told TNM that the higher education system in India does not teach people "how to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from myth. Sadly, in India we have an examination system rather than an education system.” He pointed to how ISRO scientists, who despite being educated and accomplished, offered prayers before rocket launches, believing that it affects the physical universe.  “Prayer, supplication and witchcraft still rule the Indian mind,” said Babu Gogineni. 

He further said that the constant reinforcement from all directions of religious concepts of soul, rebirth and life after death are a major factor in the practice and belief of superstitions. 

Pointing to the reported beliefs of the couple about ‘Satya yuga (era of truth) after Kal yuga (era of strife)’, which is often spoken by Indian mystics, Babu Gogineni said, "All millenarian cults are dangerous because they prepare people for the 'New Awakening' and 'New World'. This family firmly believes in the dead coming back to life in Satya yuga and a lot of other nonsense. Do you see the connection and the source of the belief?"

Gogineni also observed there was an element of mental illness to the Madanapalle incident. He, however, emphasised, "But not every mentally ill person will murder. That which led them to kill, is their religious beliefs."

When asked about what the state and groups can do to put an end or counter the superstition, he said, “Modules on critical thinking, and specifically lessons on superstition must be included at all levels of education. I have often said that superstition should be declared an emergency in India because of the deep harm it does. A law that addresses the exploitation of people based on their unverifiable beliefs needs to be brought in. This is not a law against belief but against the cheats."

Influence of self-styled gurus

Jana Vignana Vedika (JVV) National General Secretary TV Rao also points out that there is a massive influence of media representation of some self-styled spiritual gurujis, swamijis and seers on the people. 

TV Rao said, "Take any regional news channel and see the kind of programmes they run. Don't the media have a responsibility to promote rational and scientific temper?"

He adds, "Religious and spiritual gurus are occupying space in popular media which is directly influencing the minds of the people continuously. Moreover, politicians and people in dignitary or powerful positions are openly exhibiting their personal beliefs and inclination. Innocent youth  of this generation across religions are being fed with irrationality and being deformed."

TV Rao alleged that a majority of Telugu news channels were working under the disguise of ‘Bharatiyata’ (Indianness) for the whims and fancies of a political party that wants to drive the country to religious bigotry. 

Bairi Naresh, a Doctoral Fellow at Osmania University and Telangana state president of Bharata Nastika Samajam (Indian Society of Atheists) said that there is a massive need for a social reformist movement before more such incidents take place.  

Speaking to TNM, Naresh said, "It is proven that education or wealth will not prevent many from believing in superstition. Governments will not work in that direction because they have narrow interests. Those who want the change should come forward to launch a humanist movement to put an end to such bigotry."

When asked about if there is a culture that is motivating or drawing  people into such practices, Naresh said, "It would be irrational and sweeping to say that such incidents are organised. However, there is a link between incidents and the pattern suggests that they are happening because of the beliefs or cults that are nurtured by gurus, babas, swamijis and pastors."

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.