A large hamlet in Telangana is finally heaving a sigh of relief after being rid of its 'ghost' problem.
Kasiguda, an area with around 50 to 60 houses, situated in in Telangana's Nirmal district, saw almost all the men flee from their houses, after it was haunted by a female ghost.
Last week, locals claimed that a women dressed in white, was haunting them, and was killing men.
While one saw a silhouette, another saw a hand. The fear had spread so quickly, that people would lock their doors and windows after sunset, and step out only the next morning.
"The village is situated by the forest, and locals said that all the people who had died in the area in the last three years were male. In a population of around 400 people, six to seven deaths over three years is not surprising, considering India's standards," explains Babu Gogineni, a rationalist and a humanist.
Babu and a large team, which included members of 'Indian Humanists' and 'Science for Society', travelled to the village last weekend, to allay fears of the locals.
They even held a #selfiewithghost campaign, to 'invite' the ghost for a picture.
Tracing the origins of the ghost story, Ajay Kumar, a local volunteer from Nizamabad told TNM, "Locals from an adjacent village hyped the entire situation. They told locals that earlier inhabitants of the area were also haunted by a female ghost that was killing men. They said that the same issue was repeating again after the new families migrated there."
The village is full of migrant families, involved in stone cutting, and other such manual labour jobs.
"The village is inhabited by Muslims, and we found that a Hindu priest visited the area and told them that the place is haunted. He suggested that animal sacrifice was necessary to get rid of the ghost," Babu Gogineni said.
For this, the priest said that he would require a few chickens and goats, besides several hundred eggs, and that it would cost the locals Rs 70,000. He assured them that he would draw a 'magical line' around the area, to 'protect' it.
"It resulted in general hysteria. One person claimed to have seen the ghost, and soon others followed. The area is dark, with no streetlights, and it is quite easy to fall for such claims," Babu explained.
Failure of authorities
Babu argues that barring the police, the local authorities had completely failed the area.
"The area has a primary school, but the teacher didn't have the ability to convince them. The local medical officer didn't visit even once. The village has a mosque, but even the religious elders couldn't do much," he says.
"The Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO) never came. The Sarpanch never bothered that so many men left their home, wives and their children. The Upa-Sarpanch suggested that the locals follow the advice of the priest. It was an exploitation of their fear, and the government failed them," he adds.
However, the local police, led by SI Mahender Reddy did visit the area after the first scare, and arranged for a patrol in the night, to help the locals feel more secure. He also cleared a part of the area, as snakes were common in the forest.
As far as the three deaths which triggered the scare were concerned, one man died of jaundice, while another died of typhoid. The third person died in a bike accident.
Activists have associated the deaths to poor quality of water in the area.
On October 21, Babu and his team, accompanied by several science popularisers and a media crew, visited Kasiguda to talk to the locals.
The locals were initially hostile, as a TV channel had covered the incident earlier in an unfavourable manner.
"It took a lot of persuasion, but we were able to convince the religious leaders, and we all sat down for an informal counselling session to talk to the kids and the adults. The local sarpanch finally turned up, and agreed to set up a tent and some chairs," Babu says.
"Mr Chandraiah, a science populariser began doing tricks with chemicals, where he made dust, mud and sand catch fire. He took a glass of water, made the locals certify that it was water, and then poured it on a paper, to make it catch fire. We basically performed tricks that looked like miracles, to convince the locals," he adds.
Soon, as it rained, the team spread out some burning embers, and showed the villagers how to walk on fire.
"One guy was really fascinated, and he kept doing it again and again," Babu says with a chuckle.
Following this, the entire team camped in their cars and slept till midnight, after which they got to work.
"We set up video cameras around the place, to see if we could catch anything on tape. We walked to several areas where the ghost was spotted, before finally settling in the cemetery. We went live on Facebook from there, and quite a few people watched us," Babu says.
"Our intention was not only to influence Kasiguda, but to address the widespread problem. We wanted people to be aware that there's a way of tackling the problem," he adds.
The next morning, a psychiatrist visited the area, and held a counselling session.
"By the end of it all, when we asked them if they still had fear, they said no. The religious leaders also conveyed the message that there was no reason to fear this, and asked everyone to return," Babu said.
Since then, many men have returned to the area.
"The idea is not to refute them, but challenge them and make them think. Interestingly, two locals said they would like to join us on a similar mission to another village that we were planning to visit. All in all, it was a positive thing," Babu concludes.