It is that time of the year where thousands of people gather in Hyderabad to receive the 'fish prasadam' administered by the Bathini Goud family at the Nampally Exhibition Grounds on June 8 and 9.
According to reports, the district administration has been making massive arrangements at the venue, with as many as 1000 police personnel deployed along with several CCTV cameras.
The Goud family claim to have been distributing their 'miraculous' fish prasadam which they claim cures asthma, since 1845, and have claimed that the 172-year-old recipe is based on the "the wisdom of the sacred sages of ancient India."
The family claims that they use only a specific murrel fish, and stuff a yellow paste into its mouth, before administering it into the throat of the visitor.
The family has stated that the wriggling of the fish inside the person's throat, clears up the phlegm, and a 'dosage' for three consecutive years 'cures' a person of asthma forever.
While the family has claimed that several lakh people continue to turn up every year, many estimates have pointed out that the crowd size has been constantly dwindling.
At the peak of their fame, estimates pegged the figure at up to two lakh people visiting the area to consume the prasadam.
The credit of the diminishing numbers has been attributed to many rationalists and scientists, who come down heavily on the family every year, for literally shoving an unscientific and unproven 'cure' down people's throats.
Jana Vignana Vedika, a rationalist organisation based in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra, has been leading the movement.
Speaking to The News Minute, Jana Vignana Vedika National Advisor, TV Rao says, "We had moved the court a few years ago and contended that the family could not label the substance as 'medicine'. A medicines must reveal their ingredients."
Following this, the court had ordered that the family could only market their claimed cure as 'prasadam'.
"The conditions under which the people are administered the prasadam is highly unhygienic. These people continuously shove their hands down the throats of several people in the queue, and this has the potential to cause diseases," TV Rao says.
"Often, all adverse effects of the medicine begin to show once the people return home. We have received many complaints of people bleeding inside, or facing issues like diarrhoea after taking the medicine," Rao adds.
Rao says that the biggest drop that they noticed happened between 2003 and 2004, when the figure dropped below 1 lakh for the first time in years.
"It took a lot of work. We constantly went for TV debates, and gave lengthy interviews in the media, on how science works, and how the fish dies even before it reaches the person's throat, thereby debunking their claims," Rao narrates.
He also adds that the organisation distributed many pamphlets and conducted several awareness programs to dissuade people from falling for the family's claims.
However, even till 2007, around 50,000 people were attending the event.
In 2008, the automated token dispenser at the venue, registered only 30,000 tokens.
By 2010, the figure had dropped further, to an estimated twenty thousand.
In 2016, Rao claims that the figure was just a few thousand, even as the family claimed that 35,000 were administered the prasadam.
"We have to continue our fight. We don't force anybody to stop going. We just present the facts to them, and usually win them over with rational arguments," Rao says.
Continued state support
Another thing that has upset many rationalists, is the constant support that the family enjoys from successive state governments.
"During Chandrababu Naidu's rule, the family enjoyed the most support, but it has declined since then. However, we have a long way to go," Rao says.
The Telangana government still continues to make arrangements in and around the venue of the event every year, and deploys several thousand policemen.
The Department of Fisheries has been providing the fish for the event for more than a decade, with Animal Husbandry Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav saying that around two lakh fishlings had been procured for 2017.
"It is understandable if the state government makes certain arrangements for the public that gathers every year, but it definitely does not have to do so for the Goud family," Rao adds.
While rationalists claim that the crowd from the two Telugu states have been decreasing, they have been witnessing an increase in people from Maharashtra, Karnataka and other neighbouring states.
"There is only one way to put a complete stop to this practice, and that requires political will. However, I don't see that happening in the near future, as politicians in power are only interested in keeping their vote bank intact," Rao says.