Banaganapalle town in Andhra's Pradesh's Kurnool district witnesses a peculiar sight every Thursday. Hordes of people line up outside the house of a 12-year-old, and wait patiently for ‘divine’ water to be sprinkled on them. The boy sprinkling the water on his devotees has been declared 'water baba' by the locals, with many claiming that diseases are cured if his 'holy' water falls on them.
As soon as the government supply of water arrives, chaos ensues near his house. Local media visuals show him spraying water over the assembled locals with the help of a pipe, even as many hold up water bottles trying to collect as much water as they could.
Until recently, the 12-year-old used to go to school. However, his parents made him drop out earlier this year, after an astrologer told them that the boy would get divine powers when he turned 12. Now, both his parents are his managers, promoting him as a young spiritual baba. Even his mother refers to him in the third person, as 'Swamy'.
"If a devotee truly believes in Swamy, they can come here. No matter what the problem is, they can come here to get it cured. We don't give any tablets or medicines. Every one listens to him, and he can even predict the future,” the boy’s mother told TV9.
"These people come with a lot of problems and diseases, and Swamy cures them with the water. There is no need for money, and we don't take anything," she added.
"We were told that the won't go to school for long, and will become a baba, as he will get divine powers, to help people come out of their suffering. He also told us that he will not study and work for his people," the father told TV9.
When asked about their decision to pull him out of school, the father said, "He himself doesn't want to study. He asks what is bigger, education or working for people who are suffering. He sits on puja for Thursday and after that he will spray water on the bhakts."
Child abuse in the name of spirituality
Speaking to TNM, S Balaraju, member of the Andhra Pradesh State Commission on the Protection of Child Rights (APSCPCR), said, "The act of misguiding a child in this way is definitely a punishable offense, as this has also denied the child of his Right to Education."
When TNM informed Hemavathi Ganta, the new chairperson of the APSCPCR, about the incident, she said, "We will definitely notify our department in the area, and ask for an enquiry report. Based on the report we will take further action."
"The parents are to blame as it the child is entrusted to them, and is their responsibility. After the enquiry report, we will take up a case suo moto."
Rationalist and human rights activist, Babu Gogineni told TNM, "The Collector is responsible for the child's schooling, and the police must prevent this fraud, and both are together responsible for preventing attribution of paranormal powers."
In a similar case in 2009, Babu came across Sambhavi, who was projected and hailed as a child goddess, and a friend of the Dalai Lama in an earlier incarnation. After a group of rationalists along with Babu moved the State Human Rights Commission, the state government conducted an investigation. Following this, the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), ruled that the 8-year-old child's Right to Education was violated, and ordered that the child must go to school.
"Because of a Human Rights Commission order which I got in the Sambhavi case, all one has to do, is quote that order and file a complaint. However, looks like the willingness to confront it is absent," Babu added.