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:
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:
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.