COOKIES

We use cookies on South Asian Today and measure activity across the website, provide content from third parties. Please be aware that your experience may be disrupted until you accept cookies.

Is COVID the Curse of God?

Superstitions plague rural India, animal sacrifice continues


In the wake of the deadly Covid outbreak globally, people from rural Telangana and other parts of India believe that if they sacrifice animals and do yagnas to their respective deities, their village will not get infected by the deadly virus. Many villagers strongly think that by practising animal sacrifices, people in the villages shall remain safe from the casualties that are caused due to COVID-19. Practices of sacrificing animals to deities were taken last year, and villagers assume there were no deaths last year due to these practices. 


Animal rituals:

People in many parts of rural Telangana, where accessibility of primary health care and transportation is poor, practise animal sacrifice of goats and sheep in the polimera ( outer boundaries of their villages). This is a ritual sacrifice of animals that are then offered to Grama Devata (village deities). After some personal and telephonic interviews with the people, we analysed that they are not aware of COVID-19. The majority of the respondents don't know what it is, how it spreads, where it comes from and what are its symptoms. 


Superstition and Misbeliefs 

Many superstitions are deeply entrenched in our Indian society, and this is not limited to rural areas alone. In Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore 'Corona Devi', a black stone idol, 1.5 feet in height, was established to protect people from coronavirus. A group of people in Gujarat were practising  'cow therapy', during which members smear cow dung all over their bodies believing it increases immunity against COVID-19. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bhopal MP Pragya Thakur says, "If we drink gaumutra (cow urine) of a desi cow, it will cure the infections in our lungs. I am in a lot of pain, but I drink gaumutra every day. Because of this, I don’t have to take any medicines for corona, and neither am I infected with corona and with god’s blessings."


Many communities across India believe COVID is happening as a result of God's curse. To protect themselves from the pandemic, they are indulging in poojas and other religious activities, which may lead to many more fatalities due to public gatherings. The root cause for many of these incidents is a blind unscientific belief in religion. In May 2021, hundreds of women devotees took out Kalash Yatra in Navapara village in Gujarat towards Baliyadev temple by violating physical distance protocols. They believed that offering prayers to their deity Baliyadev will help them get rid of diseases including coronavirus. 


The Prime Minister of India, too,  has been proactive in supporting religious rituals. Series of events like Thali Bajao (bang plates), Diya Jalao (light up lamps), and Kumbh Mela show the government's heavy engagement with religious ritual practices. A large number of COVID-19 cases in India were reported in mid-march 2020. A year has gone by and the situation of corona spread has now gotten worse but India’s elected right-wing government legislators are still making irresponsible and unscientific comments. The political party leaders and Hindu right-wing organizations are actively supporting mass socio-religious gatherings without following COVID-19 protocols. Kumbh Mela's (super spreader of coronavirus) event organizer Siddharth Chakrapani said "our faith is the biggest thing for us." They believe that the Maa Ganga will protect them from the pandemic.

 


In times of crisis, it is the government's primary duty to continuously communicate with the public and provide accurate information. India's pandemic preparedness and its strategic response have varied across the states. Due to poor planning, the most stringent lockdown was imposed in 2020. Migrants were forced to walk back home, millions were forced into poverty, became unemployed starved to death. As per the state of working India 2021 report, nationwide 100 million citizens lost their jobs, and yet the lockdown could not control the coronavirus transmission. Miscommunication and lack of information result in stigma, fear, vulnerability and poor health services. The 'Tablighi event' in March 2020 took place weeks before the enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines, prohibiting social and religious gatherings. But they were severely criminalised by the media, celebrities and political leaders as the 'super spreader' of coronavirus. BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh urged people not to buy commodities from Muslim vendors. The Tablighi Jamaat were called ‘corona bombs’, and ‘enemies of the nation’ on TV channels. And yet, the Kumbh Mela was not criticised. The finance minister of India called Corona an act of god. These incidents give us a glimpse into how this government has repeatedly supported rituals and ignited religious-based hate during the pandemic. 


Despite India being one of the most highly affected countries, there is no dedicated programme by the government to provide accurate information to the citizens. There is an excessive centralisation of decision-making powers, top-down control and a lack of coordination between central and state governments. Decisions about giving licenses for the production of medicines, vaccines, and the distribution of it are in the hands of the central government. Dashboards are created for the public to stay updated and avoid misinformation, but it is completely online, and rural people can not access it because of poor digital literacy in rural areas and the official Telangana state COVID-19 control-room helpline 104 also doesn’t work properly.

 


The Modi government's refusal to accept advice from its own scientists is one of the main causes of the COVID-19 second wave crisis. The warning about the new Corona variant in early March 2021 was issued by the Indian INSACOG, which was set up as a forum of scientific advisors to detect genomic variants of the coronavirus by the government in December 2020. Many of the failures are not just due to the incompetence of the government, but there have also been failures by scientific institutions and advisors who recognized the emerging threat but were unable to marshal support for timely effective actions. 


India’s public healthcare system is one of the most pathetic services in the world. In the time that COVID has peaked, the government had enough time to build supportive services to fight it. They could have started 24-hour regional media centres to bridge the information gap. Decentralisation of the flow of information (top-down approach) by setting up information centres at village levels and empowering Asha workers and Anganwadi workers to handle covid related information. The government also failed to use available mediums for providing accurate information to the people. They did not use National Television and/or National Radio effectively to reach the public. 'Man Ki Baat' program broadcasts every month, in which PM Modi addresses the nation. This show could have been used more effectively to educate the public about coronavirus but PM talks about peace, power of positivity, Yoga as a means to guard against Covid-19, etc but not the scientific explanation on COVID-19. Article 51 A(h) of the Indian Constitution states it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop the "scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of reform," 


The superstitious merit of the Brahmanical state 

Brahmins are considered to be well versed with shastras and books which are supposed to have answers to all the crises and answers to all the problems - from planes to plastic surgery. The upper caste is however very much the unreasonable and superstitious lot of the Indian populace, essentially responsible for the current state of Indian superstition.

 

The caste system results in the emergence of a superstitious and unreasonable fear of fellow humans. In 'Annihilation of Caste', Dr Ambedkar has constantly countered the various arguments made in favour of the caste system and Hinduism by M.K. Gandhi. The lack of logic, reason and rationale that this ideology possesses are essentially the root cause of the present situation. There will only be a tragedy in a Brahminical society. A society that prides itself in inventing mythical vimanas and fighting mythical wars like Mahabharata can only talk about merit in such a mythical and superstitious manner.

 

 

Dalit Bhaujans do not have the social capital to build superstitious culture over the years like  'sacrifice' and 'yagyas' -  which are essentially Brahmanical practices. They have been passed down and allotted as the only recourse for the poor working class and majorly Dalit Bahujan populace. Since the Brahmin state couldn’t have provided for PHC or mental health support to people who lost their loved ones, the only thing it could do is use the Brahmin superstitions in every way and form to essentially control the population. Thus, it is not an issue of superstition among 'uneducated rural folks', it’s an issue of what Brahminism has to offer. The only merit such a Brahminical caste system has is its superstition.

 

Logic and reason are something that only comes with merit, as the Brahmins and upper castes would believe. Merit has always been touted by the savarnas as something that is pillaged, specially when Dalit Bahujans are provided with any affirmative action.

 

This takes us to the irony of Indian upper-caste merit. How are they more meritorious and rational when they eat dahi and shakkar before doing anything when the top echelons in the ISRO and scientists would rather believe in god and its whims. Who lands as top echelons in these places, surely not the Dalit Bahujans.

 

 Dr Ambedkar at the end of the Annihilation of Caste has a passage where he talks about how the Hindu leaders would lead them to their own doom:


“The Hindus in the words of Mathew Arnold are “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born”. What are they to do?  The Mahatma to whom they appeal for guidance does not believe in thinking and can therefore give no guidance which can be said to stand the test of experience. The intellectual classes to whom the masses look for guidance are either too dishonest or too indifferent to educate them in the right direction. We are indeed witnesses to a great tragedy. In the face of this tragedy, all one can do is to lament and say—such be thy Leaders, O! Hindus.”

About the author

Tanuja Harad is an MA graduate in Gender, Culture and Development Studies from Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, Pune. Tweets @tanujaharad


Ashok Danavath is a Tribal BA graduate from TISS, Hyderabad, currently working in the Development Sector. Tweets @ashokD97

  • SHARE THE ARTICLE

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Melbourne Rallies on Tamil Genocide Day

May 18 is observed to commemorate the Mullivaikal massacre