If the bill on superstition was passed 45 years
ago, Satya Sai Baba would have attracted arrest. He was successfully
cashing on the gullibility of people by claiming to be an avatar — endowed
with supernatural powers. What he actually did was some cheap tricks like
getting watches and kumkum from nowhere. Yogi L.S. Rao, a contemporary,
wrote in a newspaper that the rascal knew how to impress people. A baba or
sadhu had to first perform some miracles in order to attract attention.
When once they were won over, nothing could change their faith.
Rao – from Bangalore – was a big hit with newsmen. The beedi-smoking yogi
told me: “First you have to create an image, you can’t be a sadhu if you
wear trousers and jacket. In India, you have to wear saffron or
pale-orange brown clothes. No shirt – the torso remains exposed. And then,
you must spread the word you went to the Himalayas and kept your head at
the feet of the guru. Nobody will check of course whether you have
actually been to the Himalayas. That Himalaya tag is very important. And
then, armed with powers extraordinary, you descend to the plains and begin
“I can do better than that rascal. I can drink
nitric acid, drink water and bring it out of the nose, walk on burning
embers,” the yogi said.
He did hold a demonstration before newsmen. It
was so convincing.
And then, he failed in one demonstration.
charged a fee for the public for the performance of a unique feat. It was
at Versova – at that time almost deserted – that he dug a large pond. He
said he would walk on water. He had a small kutir at the place. I was with
him the previous night and I strongly advised him not to perform the water
feat. He would not listen and strangely enough, he appeared to be quite
Next day — in the evening — he stepped into the
water and went down. There were loud protests, but everyone was pacified
and told to collect the ticket money from a newspaper office. The crowd
dispersed and the yogi looked at me pathetically and said: “The bubble
in the arse. It was a technical failure.” A bubble in the
Very few people went to the newspaper office to get back their
money. The yogi made a neat pile and went to Bangalore.
“Are you not
doing something wrong — cheating people?” I asked him once. “It is not
cheating. People want this. They want to believe in miracles. They are
confused and afraid. They all want a crutch. I am doing this for a living.
My life is simple, but I have to support three wives. That rascal down
south is doing the same thing — but in a big way. He is scared of me
can expose him.”
Yogi Rao was not the only one who could
expose Satya Sai Baba. There was a rationalist in Bangalore, who at a big
public meeting, did all the “miracles” of Sai Baba and proved they were
all just tricks.
We have thousands of babas in our country who perform
all such miracles and earn their living. What will happen to them if the
new bill is passed and becomes an act? It is a fact they are cheating and
they need to be stopped.
No human being has seen a ghost, but go to a
village, which at night is pitch dark and silent: ghosts – many and varied
kinds – are said to roam round the village. The villagers say they can
hear the frightening moans and wailing of the ghosts, the sound of the
bells round the ankles of the ghost and sudden flashes of light etc. you
tell the villagers there is no ghost on earth and they will not believe
With ghosts ensconced in their minds, they become easy victims of
unscrupulous village chiefs and hoodlums. When the fear of the ghosts is
put into them, they are prepared to do anything.
And very loud rituals
take place to force the villagers do what the chiefs want. A man with
painted face and torso does a vigorous dance, salivating and muttering
something all the time — until the Goddess or the ghost enters his body.
Then he does a frightening act-shuddering from head to toe. Then he issues
orders – calls out names and ask that it — the demon within him — be given
rice, money. And he orders fiercely that someone the landlord does not
like, must go out of the village for a month.
And rebellious, cheeky,
inconvenient young men are bashed up till they fall unconscious because
demons inside them have to be punished. Every now and then, there are
reports of women charged with practicing witchcraft being exposed to cruel
punishment. The women are stripped naked and paraded through the village —
getting beaten up all the time. Women receive such humiliating and cruel
punishment because of false charges that they are practicing black magic,
that rains do not come because the rain God does not like them, crops
perish because of their very presence in the village.
with regard to “sati” sees quite a few women on the burning pyre with
their husbands. It is nothing but murder, but thanks to prevailing
superstition, the burning horror takes place.
It looks like there is
only a thin line between faith and superstition. A priest tells a man
who has lost a dear relative that the latter cannot enter heaven until
certain pujas are
performed. The man has to feed Brahmins, pay the
priest money and incur expenditure
on certain other items. Will the
priest be liable for arrest under the new act?
Out of over 100 crore
people in the country, at least half of them are ignorant, illiterate and
superstitious. Our country is fertile ground for superstition. Our
knowledge of the superstitions is limited. Even rationalists are
dumbfounded sometimes how actually action based on superstition results in
harmonious, better collective living. There is nothing wrong with being
superstitious, but what is wrong is its exploitation by unscrupulous men.
And all of us — even the rationalists — are in some way on the other
superstitious. There is nothing surprising about this. The life and death
mystery frightens people. There is no answer. There are things beyond
reason — many things we cannot explain. So we cling to superstition — like
the sophisticated, educated folks rely on spirituality. Both indicate a
certain helplessness, a certain attempt to find some meaning. A
And today, we
see the unique phenomenon of those who derive mileage from superstition
and fears in the minds of innocent, gullible people, making it big. Once
their own survival is ensured, they start building towns.
colleges, hospitals, charity institutions, industrial units and other
enterprises. They use the huge money they get from worshippers as well as
from foreign sources to build a township. People then forget about the
cheating and exploitation and give them a clean chit. It will be said they
did not misuse the funds but utilised it for collective good. And if they
did the tricks, they were done deliberately as per a definite
Nobody will arrest Satya Sai Baba today.
And I will end this
piece with a Chinese joke. A China man was placing some rice at the grave
of his relative in Beijing. A foreigner from Europe laughed derisively as
he placed a bouquet at his friend’s grave and said: “Ho ho, will your dead
relative come to eat the rice?” The China man replied: “Tell me whether
your dead friend come to smell the