| Sunil Chakraborty and Gopal Haldar walk across a field in Pakurtala village, 90 km from Calcutta. The two, weighing 25 and 24 kg, respectively, paint themselves with chalk dust and attend village fairs to earn money as ghostmen. (AFP)
Bhopal, Oct. 2: A feud among sorcerers has prompted the closure of a state-run higher secondary school in a tribal-dominated village of Madhya Pradesh.
Local BJP MLA Pandit Singh Dhruva is leading a campaign to get rid of the “ghosts” that most villagers believe have come to stay in the school at Bhimdongri village of Mandla district, about 250 km from here.
Scores of sorcerers and self-styled experts of witchcraft and exorcism from Mandla and neighbouring districts are busy getting the school rid of the ghosts after 11 tribal girls reportedly behaved abnormally in the school.
They attributed the behaviour to the curse of a sorcerer who died a few weeks ago because of malnutrition and reportedly predicted that the village would face grave consequences.
District collector Prabhat Prashar said he learnt about the school closure a day after the village panchayat announced a weeklong holiday. “I have ordered it to be reopened,” Prashar said. “But I do not know how many students will show up. The villagers seem to be obsessed with superstitions.”
Prashar said there was a feud over territory rights among sorcerers. They reportedly have marked out villages among themselves and avoid taking “cases” outside their domain. “But someone violated the unwritten law. It is an ongoing feud among sorcerers over money matters in which school students have been made victims,” the collector said.
After visiting Bhimdongri, 95 km from the district headquarters, Mandla’s chief medical officer Brijesh Jharia felt that the 11 girls are suffering from mental problems. “We have examined them. They should be sent to the medical college in Jabalpur and treated for psychological disorders.”
But Dhruva doubts if the girls are mentally ill. “The villagers may be victims of superstition but I too believe a bit in ghosts,” said the MLA.
In the first incident, Chhaya’s head and body repeatedly swayed involuntarily. She told her friends someone, standing near the pond, was calling her. “We looked around but there was no one. But my friend told me that she wanted to leave this world with that person. I was perplexed,” said Laxmi.
Witchcraft, sorcery and exorcism are common in the Mahakaushal region. Betul district, about 150 km from Mandla, hosts an annual bhoot, pret ka mela (ghost fair).
Shamim Modi, who contested the Assembly polls from Betul, said most of the “possessed” actually suffer from mental or physical illnesses.
In conservative village societies, many women find themselves powerless and ignored. To get attention, some start behaving strangely. The men believe they have changed because ghosts have possessed them, she said.