When Bangladesh has nearly entered the age of AI (artificial intelligence) news casting on TV, a recent FE photograph showing a female ‘ojha’ treating a baby dengue patient on a young mother’s lap commands sheer incredulity. The Mugda Medical College and Hospital, currently the largest dengue treating facility in Dhaka, is not too far. Scores of women similar to the photographed young mother have long been rushing to the large hospital to avail of the dengue treatment for their children and younger patients. Seeing this view, many would be curious to know what may have prompted the mother to bring her child to the quack. While some would say the young woman had failed to arrange a bed or floor-space at the hospital, a section of others would assertively pronounce that the mother and her relatives were the admirers of quackery.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the capital witnessed the scenes of witch doctors treating patients on deserted footpaths. The blind faith in these types of ‘paranormal’ treatment is still prevalent in rural Bangladesh. Their patients include girls or young women suspected of being possessed, healthy males rapidly losing weight, deranged women, autistic children and adults with behavioural abnormality. In order to watch the process of treatment of these illnesses, one had to go to the remote areas of Bangladesh in the past. Nowadays, these scenarios can be encountered in any normal village. Apart from electricity, a number of them have young people using smart-phones.
Given this backdrop, the scenes of a paralytic boy or girl made to stand in a waist-deep cave which is then filled with mud do not surprise the local people. The style of the so-called treatment is replete with savagery, as the boys and the girls are left in the half-buried position for hours together. None is found healed; instead the condition of many deteriorates. Shoving half-roasted dry chilies into the nostrils of a woman and hitting her with a shortened sharp broom is still viewed as an effective exorcism for those ‘possessed by evil spirits’. In fact, the general people’s life in the region of South Asia is filled with seemingly endless superstitions. Bangladesh is among them. With the spread of liberal education coupled with fruits of the scientifically led life, the urban lifestyle in the country is now more or less free of the baggage of superstitions.
In spite of this barbaric ‘cleansing’ process, many highly irrational superstitions and social prejudices still remain ingrained in the minds of a few urbanites. Unfortunately, the lower-class rural migrants to the city cannot jettison these age-old beliefs. They keep carrying these superstitions as long as they survive. The problem is they remain unaware of the fact that by sticking to the time-worn superstitious beliefs, they continue doing harm to their lives, as well those of their offspring. Apart from those ending up being harmful to the common people, many inane superstitions have their roots in the distant past. Those eventually become subjects of the folklorists due to their being directly linked to mainstream social life. The adages of Khona, a self-taught Bengalee lady living in the past have, thus, been proven to be a trusted guide to the rural area’s agro-based life. Many of her short and rhymed sayings still remain relevant to the agricultural activities in the country.
It is since the ancient times that esoteric beliefs have been playing a significant role in the lifestyles of different societies. As they stemmed from spiritual beliefs as well as socio-cultural practices, they began being shaped by the enlightened minds of the time. Some socio-cultural beliefs represent the nitty-gritty of practical life. Thanks to the influences exerted by quarters with narrow motive, they have emerged later in the distorted form of superstitions. Superstitions spoil the quintessential beauty of life.