Kashmir’s Quack Faith Healers 

 Photo For Representational Purpose Only

WHAT happened recently at Shopian is nothing more than a curtain raiser from the panoramic phenomenon of faith healing. A woman was beaten to death by a faith healer on the pretext of getting rid of “demonic” possession. Such an incident would have invited huge condemnation going beyond the outcome – death. These incidents are deplorable and tantamount to crimes by virtue of running the risk of going to the other side. They cease to remain spiritual exercises and enter the sketchy stages of blackmail, money laundering and even physical assault. More so, in the case of women, at the mercy of a faith healer, the matter slides towards sexual crimes as well.

The legitimacy that public ignorance, and at times blind faith, lends to these faith healers escalates the problem in its proportions and grants it not only sheepish legitimacy but obnoxious sanctity.

What drives people to faith healing? How do normal human beings allow themselves to be tricked into the dark side of faith healing?

The lives of people, festering with problems as they are, seek solutions in whatever form and guise it comes to them. This helplessness and despondency of people has been tacitly used by faith healers in recent times not only to amass wealth but to also subject the distressed people to all sorts of exploitative tactics. An entire industry has sprung up under the aegis of faith healing and the monstrous consequences thereof are bone chilling and alarming. The frequency with which the episodes pertaining to faith healing have started recurring calls for immediate waking up and public sensitisation. In absence of public vigilance and awareness, the phenomenon is only supposed to gain in gore and gravity.

This is not to discredit the practices of faith healing. Neither is this a herangue against faith healing with some positioning that prioritises some “scientific” rationality.

The practice of faith healing is an age old practice and the passage of time hasn’t dulled or diminished its utility. Even today, with medical sciences at their apogee, the practices of faith healing are well recognised in fields of psychology. Studies carried out by researchers like Rupert Sheldrake, Ken Wilber, Amit Goswami and others have shown these practices to be useful in disorders of physiological order too. Historically, and even in recently evolved fields of parapsychology, the phenomenon of demonic possessions, possession by supernatural powers and the phenomenon of Djinns is well recognised. Even a scholar of the calibre and rigor of Ibn Al Jawzi went on to write an entire treatise on the subject, thereby acknowledging the reality of phenomenons pertaining to the soul.

There are issues and disorders, which escape the ken of generic psychology and call for spiritual intervention and we have evidence, ample in number, that spiritual intervention by genuine faith healers does bring a positive change. But the categorical mistake that we make is that we often confuse normal psychiatric and psychic disorders with supra-psychological phenomena and rush for the intervention of faith healers, who instead of solving the issue add further knots to the problem – multiplying, complicating and convoluting the problem. Another grievous mistake which people inadvertently commit is that they often land into wrong hands, at the wrong place with the wrong people.

This derailing towards the dark side isn’t reserved for the gullible or just the “weak” minded. Spirituality is by default the stream of experience where the road is quite slippery and it is easy to lead people to the precipice. The gullibility of people adds to the susceptibility which renders them vulnerable to “spiritual exploitation”.

In their paper titled “Role of Faith healers: A barrier or a support system to medical care- a cross sectional study”, Deepak Sharma et al conclude, “The study concludes with a new message that there can be good integration of faith healing practices and medical practitioners at the local level which can be done through social dialogue and this will very fruitful in terms of early referral and initiation of right treatment.”

A latest study, ‘Faith healing practices in the pathway to care for mental illness,’ by Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) Kashmir, published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research reveals how a large section of people still believes that mental illnesses are caused by some unknown supernatural entities and consult a faith healer first before availing proper psychiatric treatment.

The study attempted to examine the circumstances prompting the attendants of people suffering from mental health disorders to seek faith healers. A total of 2500 patients were taken from the outpatient department of the IMHANS-Kashmir from December 2019 to June 2020. And it was found that 80% of the patients had already visited a faith healer either once or multiple times before seeking psychiatric treatment.

“The majority of the patients were females (63%), married (77%), illiterates (72%), unemployed (60%), from joint families (55%) of lower socioeconomic class (70%), with poor social support (72%) of rural background (67%), belonging to age group 18-40years (70%),” the study said.

In reserved societies like Kashmir, said Dr. Zaid Wani, Professor at IMHANS, Kashmir, faith healers hold a vital place as they provide different helping services to the suffering people. “But visiting a faith healer for years and leaving psychiatric disorders unattended by a professional can increase the gravity of an issue and in certain cases morbidity too,” he said. “Faith healers do form an important part of the health care system, especially for patients suffering from psychiatric disorders.”

Faith healing practices are equally criticized as well as appreciated in Kashmir, Dr Wani said, emphasizing that on average 70% of the patients consult faith healers before consulting a psychiatrist. Furthermore, he informed, 40-50% continue to visit even after consulting a mental health professional.

The recent research has shown that in Kashmir many people have a positive association between religious faith, spirituality, and mental health. Moreover, says Syed Mujtaba, Coordinator at Child Guidance and Wellbeing Center, IMHANS, Kashmir, the paucity of all categories of mental health professionals in Kashmir has led to accessibility, acceptability, and availability gap of mental health services.

In absence of non-integration of mental health services, this major gap is filled by faith-based mental health in Kashmir, furthermore, in most cases, a person suffering from some mental health issues is availing services of mental health professionals, simultaneously they visit the faith leaders.  “Therefore,” Dr. Mujtaba said, “we can’t deny their role and the need for today is that service providers mapping needs to take into account the pluralistic approaches of mental health seeking like faith healers.”

Within the legitimate perimeters and at the hands of genuine and pious spiritual healers (which do exist in good numbers), the alleviation and even complete elimination of psychological and physiological disorders has been witnessed. It is this positive effect of spiritual and faith healing which has opened the floodgates of nefarious and pernicious elements and diabolic people have started minting money by trapping innocent people. It is with this class of self proclaimed and fraudulent healers that people should be careful.

Such healers come with some clear signs which are quite explicit and visible to decode. It usually starts with asking for small favours, usually in monetary form and once the client yields to this initial tactic, the successive demands increase and evolve, either quantitatively or qualitatively or both and the sphere of favours extends from petty fees to sexual favours.

An indication, if not the only indication, of truly illumined persons having spiritual aura is that they are least bothered about the offerings, the favours or the goods that devotees or people may bring along. They are seen anxious to help people, to rid them of their miseries and to alleviate their sufferings and they do not seek any fees or favours for these spiritual hand holdings, not to think of asking for favours of skin and flesh.

Existing acquaintance with the spiritual healer, either by way of the society we live in or by scrutinising his individual behaviour is yet another way of separating swami from a swindler. Ironically though, we have seen husbands lending their wives, parents lending their daughters to appease the sexual appetite of these human faced beasts in some cases and that cautions us that knowhow of and information about the spiritual healer is not enough, as people are too ready to get exploited at the hands of their blind faith.

At the root of this entire matrix lies the menace of ignorance, blind faith, prospect for good fortune or the threat of looming wrath. These veils can only be removed by educating people, taking them beyond their superstitious ebb and illumining their hearts with the light of true faith. Our orators, public speakers and people who hold religious and spiritual influence share a huge responsibility to speak for their pulpits and pedestals about these issues, sensitise masses and raise their level of awareness. Many people are already pursuing this line and their education has brought a tremendous change in the lives and ideas of people, saved them from being exploited and introduced them to the proper spirit of spirituality, faith healing and presented before them a refined version of Godmen.

People must decide and decide for themselves whether they desire to see more incidents of the order of the Shopian incident or they want to rise up and live under the aegis of light, faith and truer understanding of God and those who represent them. While one can write and talk about these things, the final call lies with people, which direction they want to steer in.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a Writer and columnist 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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