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.