Encouraging Superstition on TV

A few days back, I was watching a children’s reality show on TV, Zee Saregamapa Little Champs. Young children sing and compete in this show, and there are two judges, one of whom is Ms. Alka Yagnik.

After one of the kids sung a song composed by Bappi Lahiri, Ms. Yagnik said she had brought a present from Mr. Lahiri for him. Can you imagine what it was?

It was a lemon and chillies bundle made of gold. She said it will help ward off evil spirits from the boy once she waves it around him. Another couple of minutes of air time was spent in close ups and a discussion of how it was 24-carat gold. Can you imagine my utter shock and disbelief? My instantaneous reaction was take it and SIUYA.

Millions of young impressionable minds all over India are passionately watching this reality show. The ratings of the participants matter personally to them. The judges are looked up at as role models who’ve made it big in the music industry. Is this what our role models are supposed to be teaching our children?

[For those not in the know, this is the most ubiquitous charm used in India to ward off the evil eye. See here for more information.]

TV shows like these are the rage on the Indian internet scene. There are countless sites with videos of episodes, innumerable forums where teenagers as well as adults are passionately discussing these shows and the progress of the contestants. If you think educated people with broadband connections who participate in such online activity would be immune to such superstitions, see this:

IF Nimbu Mirchi

Of course, our politicians are not behind. This year, the national convention of the Congress in New Delhi sported this ‘good luck charm’. I thought I had seen it all, but then I saw this on a Send Gifts to India shopping site:

GiftToIndia

What is the harm in following silly old superstitions that harm nobody? Mr. Dabholkar, of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS) says “The idea that there is no harm in following some superstition as long as it is not harmful is what is worrying", in this DNA article Dare to step on lime and green chillies?

The Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic, Evil and Aghori Practices Bill is still languishing with no support group behind it. From political parties like BJP and Shiv Sena to each and every religious organization starting with the letter ‘H’ – there is vociferous opposition, blatant misinformation, and scare tactics used to sway gullible public opinion. The ANS activists are so frustrated that they are now writing letters to the ruling politicians in their own blood.

With the apathy of educated Indians towards such beliefs, and the mainstream culture embracing such superstitions, I think a lot more people will need to give their blood to this cause if it has any chance of success.

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  • how abt after the lunar landing success of ISRO, the chairman went to a temple to pay his due, so to speak. the fact that it got so much media coverage, that he flaunted personal beliefs knowing that it could have influenced so many young minds irked me the most!

  • Janice

    Great post Mahendra, I would be in shock as well, what a shame that celebrities (all over the world) are so complacent regarding the effect they have their fans.

  • in my next show i am going to present someone with garlic (gold plated) – so that they don’t get attacked by vampires !

    if you raise this point – on shagun stuff – you will be told that this is part of ‘our culture ‘ – grrrr.

  • Yes, I know what you mean when you say most Indians think of it as a trifle phenomena. I had though no idea there was a law in drafts about it.

  • Talking about nimbu-mirchi thing, people deliberately throw them on street so that “others” can step on them. How selfish and evil is that?? It always bothered me – not the superstition, but the disposal.

    I love bursting things under my feet. I always did it, I think these things are replaced every Saturday (correct me), and streets are usually strewn with lemons – waiting to be crushed. The other thing I remember crushing under my feet was the ‘rakshas’ (demon) fruits during Diwali. 🙂

  • To tell you the truth, I don’t care enough about this issue. What about a black cat crossing a street? What about the superstition surrounding the number 13 in the West? In my college, we had the 12th level and then the 14th level. Isn’t this superstition too? How can law possibly eradicate this from the mind of a common man. We know how far anti-dowry laws went.

    So, to come back to you main point: Does this harm anyone? No. I think we have other issues in our country that are as important, if not more.

    And this is certainly not an Indian thing. It happens in the West too.

  • interesting you mention faith, I think faith can be one factor we could utilize to get over this issue!! offcourse an any solution to this problem will be a long-term process, but i sincerely feel we need wisdom to tackle it rather than just education, if education was the deciding factor the cities would have been the perfect place to live by now….it is wise people that we need in abundance!

  • We had a biggest solar eclipse of the 20th century recently. And 2 of my friends who are expecting, were told to follow numerous beliefs (do not fidget with your fingers, do not eat or drink, don’t’ even go to the loo!!!). Although these were small things, the no-harm-in-doing-it sorts, yet, they were warned that not doing it would cause some prbs for the baby! How can the young generation break free if such ideas are instilled in their heads so forcefully? No wonder, to be on the safer side my friends did follow the customs and are hoping the babies are safe!

  • Typed out that previous comment from my mobile phone, which is immensely painful, so this followup to address other aspects of this topic that I did not have the patience to type from a virtual keyboard on a touch screen phone.

    I wrote a piece for the New Indian Express for their weekend magazine asking why schools dont teach Skepticism as a formal subject. Surely, in the media-saturated, information-overloaded world we live in, the ability to ask the right questions is more valuable than simply knowing facts. In an era where any one can Google for anything, the ability to go one step above and unearth the veracity of untested claims is crucial.

    http://expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Kids,+learn+from+the+man+who+drank+poison&artid=Zz/WAWAHvfQ=&SectionID=f4OberbKin4=&MainSectionID=f4OberbKin4=&SectionName=cxWvYpmNp4fBHAeKn3LcnQ==&SEO=

    When I watch our Indian news channels, it’s pretty hard, even for a skeptic like myself to differentiate between fact, opinion and misinterpretation. Ordinary folk get their facts from TV, and it becomes particularly important for the media to present factual data as..well…factual data. During the eclipse, not a single media personality had a section on dispelling eclipse related myths and superstitions. They were in fact actively discussing them, giving the impression that they were somehow quaint traditions worth preserving.

  • Dev

    India needs many Mahendras.. 🙂

  • I am not at all surprised by the content of the show but feel sad that this happens to be a childrens programme. India is a nation of superstition which is often passed off as religion to give it legitimacy. It is one’s upbringing only which can rectify this. Education doesn’t help.

  • Dottie

    A lot has been said, but my 2cents. I think if an action like the gold nimbu-mirch is not trespassing anybody’s rights or property, I’ll say leave it alone. We are all entitled to our idiosyncracies 🙂

  • @Mahendra very good for India.