Twenty people were murdered by a shrine custodian near Sargodha city a few weeks ago. The gruesome incident took place in Ali Muhammad Gujjar Asthana where Abdul Waheed, the warden of shrine clubbed to death devotees, including three women. It is said that the victims were drugged before beating them to death. The medico-legal investigation would further determine whether the victims were drugged or otherwise. But there is an eerie silence, and local people are hesitant to come forward to share information related to the incident with police. It is a three years old shrine ascribed to Ali Mohammad Gujjar (late). Some people say that Abdul Waheed used to beat shrine devotees with a club to purify their soul of sins, but no one brought the issue to the notice of local administration. Waheed, currently with police, has reportedly admitted having killed the devotees to purify them of sins. As per police, he seems to be mentally disoriented and suffering from certain psychiatric disorder – a condition to be determined by a psychiatrist.
We are a mythically ritual rife society. Young and old, children and women being eccentric throng Peers (spiritual guides) or any symbol superstitiously seen to have divine power. The aim of frequenting these places is to get spiritual bliss, ecstasy and many a times purification from sins and fulfilment of mundane desires. It is merely illusionary and false notion driving people to pay homage to fake spiritual clerics. The troubling question should be as to why false notions are held and what are the reasons causing such degeneration. A generally held perception is that the sense of alienation bordering social isolation pervasive in our social milieu is throwing people at the mercy of illiterate Peers. The poor education system, socio-economic problems and an absence of institutional succour are further complicating the situation. Once people feel socially thrown out and under the spell of utter dejection – they start to develop symptoms of psychosis. It is not the single-issue phenomenon rather a cumulative effect of poverty, family problems, financial constraints and administration’s lopsidedness in public dealing giving birth to despondency. The absence of social cohesion is, of course, adding more to this unfortunate suffocation.
People are inclined to superstitions and attach irrational belief to entities for supernatural power to heal them. Thus, to rehabilitate themselves, they are normally taken to shrines or Peers for amulets or other notional rituals. A hopelessly withdrawn soul naturally seeks solace and relief from mental stress by visiting shrines and their custodians. It is the mental comfort they need from the so-called Peers. Desperation is the factor seen dominant here. Developed societies never allow such societal collapse to go unaddressed. Academic research is carried out to determine the reasons rendering people mentally erratic and eccentric. Suggested remedial steps are invariably taken seriously, and the governments rather fund scholastic investigations. Whereas in Pakistan such culture is almost non-existent or even if a small amount of research is carried out then the recommendations are never heeded to by the policy makers and government.
The proliferation of shrines, witchcraft, black magic practice and necromancy is unchecked. Graffiti can be seen on the walls and at public spaces announcing about Asthanas, and abodes of so-called healers. Easy access, a touch of a religious factor and an absence of expenditures are the factors pulling mentally imbalanced people to approach such entities. Had there been any efficacy of these shady practices, well-developed societies in Europe and Western countries would have allowed these to operate. The Auqaf Department, which is mandated to have administrative control over shrines doesn’t even have complete statistics on these what to talk of an administrative check. There must be some mechanism to check the reality behind these shrines as these are playing with the lives of people. Operating with impunity should be unacceptable. Although in modern day scientific culture the concept of Peer doesn’t have relevance, yet our society, due to poor education is suffering from weak thought process and is subsequently the victim of Peer and Mureed (devotees) relationship.
Abdul Waheed, the custodian of the shrine, if judged from his initial statement given to police, appears to be mentally imbalanced and probably is in some hallucination. A casual look at the culture of shrine devotion in our country reveals a sorrow picture of our social structure. Being oblivious to reality, people reach such a state where they develop a blind religious faith and believe in the so-called supernatural status of the spiritual guides whether dead or alive. People going eccentric are less to be blamed. While not receiving due attention from society and the psychiatric care in hospitals they turn to soul satisfying spiritual guides that are mostly fake. Many of these so-called soul guides diagnose devotees suffering from some mischievous spirit. The victim is then required to undergo harsh physical manhandling at the hands of Peer claiming to be targeting the mischievous genie.
A healthy society feels pity over the plight of mentally unwell people. Social and institutional support is ensured for such collapsed people. There is a need for serious thinking on this issue so that this rot should stop somewhere. To address the root cause, the issues causing a sense of alienation and estrangement may be addressed both at governmental and societal level. Soul purifying so-called spiritual clerics should be brought under some mechanism so that people don’t fall prey to their whimsical behaviour. Otherwise, this blood curling deed is unlikely going to be the last disgusting and repulsive incident.
The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @M_ABaloch