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Kerala’s shocking ‘human sacrifice’ case, where two women were brutally assaulted and murdered in the name of superstition, has once again revived calls for comprehensive action to address the menace of harmful and deceitful practices in the name of faith.
On Tuesday, the Kerala police arrested three persons – one person described as a “psychopath and pervert” and a couple – after unearthing the murder of two women in a suspected practice of “black magic” and “human sacrifice”.
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual, which some “black magic” practitioners falsely claim will bring material benefits.
The murders were a result of the planning of a habitual offender – Muhammed Shafi alias Rasheed – who convinced a couple – Bhagawal Singh and Laila – that murdering a person would “please” the goddess and bring them “financial prosperity”.
According to the police, Shafi and the couple brutally murdered two women – in separate instances, on in June and the other in September – at the couple’s house at Elanthoor in the southern district of Pathanamthitta.
Rosly, 49, was killed in June and Padmam, 52, was killed in September. Both the women were lured and trapped by Shafi and taken to Singh’s house, where they were murdered and buried.
The primary findings of the police investigation revealed the continuing existence of dangerous and criminal practices in the name of faith in the state.
Murders for ‘prosperity’
According to the police probe so far, the killings took place because Shafi – against whom more than 10 cases including rape, theft and attempt to murder charges were registered – met Singh and Laila, who were willing to do anything to improve their financial condition.
Singh and Laila were looking for ways to achieve economic prosperity. And Shafi convinced Singh that ‘human sacrifice’ would bring them what they want. Shafi was later paid by the couple for facilitating the ‘ritual’.
Shafi used a fake ID on social media to establish contact with Singh. Shafi, who presented himself to Singh as a woman, said he knew one sorcerer named Rasheed. Later, Shafi arrived at Singh’s house as Rasheed.
The police revealed shocking details that have emerged from the probe so far. According to the investigators, Shafi and the couple severely assaulted their victims before they beheaded them and cut the dead bodies into pieces. They were later buried.
Shafi lured both Rosly and Padmam by offering them money. Both women were engaged in selling lottery tickets. Padmam was originally from Tamil Nadu. At the time of their murder, both the women were residing in Ernakulam, where Shafi, also a resident of the district, met them.
The murders were unveiled following the police’s probe into one ‘missing complaint’ filed by Padmam’s relatives a couple of weeks ago. Padmam went missing on September 26. Earlier Rosly’s family had also filed a police complaint in August, weeks after she went missing in June.
Deceitful, harmful faith practices not rare in the state
The murders for “faith” and “prosperity” attracted sharp condemnation from various corners, including the political leadership and religious/spiritual leaders.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a statement, said the twin murder shocked the human conscience. The chief minister also said the ongoing probe will bring everyone involved in the crime before the law. He added that the crime is a “challenge to civilised society” and pressed for “social awareness” to address such forms of violence.
The state’s opposition leader V.D. Satheesan said the twin murders were “shocking”. Calling for an honest and just probe into the case, he also said had there been a “serious probe” into the first murder, the second murder, which took place three months later, could have been prevented.
P. Satheedevi, chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission, said, “It is so frightening to see that brutal acts including human sacrifice are taking place in a society like ours, which boasts of high educational standards.”
However, deceitful and sometimes dangerous practices in the name of faith, often to get rid of economic woes and other difficult situations in life, are not rare in Kerala. Such practices continue to exist among sections of all the major religious communities in the state – Hindus, Muslims and Christians – even though reformists, both within and outside the religion have tried to eradicate them.
Recently, some Muslim groups launched a campaign against such practices after a minor girl died after being denied timely medical care for faith-related reasons.
Spiritual and religious leaders also unite in condemnation
Besides political leadership, some religious/spiritual leaders also strongly condemned the latest murders.
Swami Sandeepananda Giri, a well-known Hindu spiritual educator, said many in Kerala follow “numerous” forms of superstitious beliefs, such as buying ornaments on ‘Akshaya Tritiya’. “Unwanted rituals are planned and observed in the name of religion and faith,” he told The Wire. He said media platforms, such as newspapers, had a role in spreading superstitions in society.
Responding to a question, Giri also said “everyone”, including political and religious leaders, has a role to play to address unwanted practices followed in the name of faith.
“There is a famous quote from Plato: rulers should be philosophers. Why should rulers be philosophers? They should act as a role model in society. But, what happens if they themselves contribute superstitions? Unfortunately, our current prime minister himself is an example. He became an ‘inspiration’ in leading the public to different malpractices. This is a very saddening thing,” he said, in a possible reference to some public statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the pandemic. Quoting from the Bhagavad Gita, Giri said that influential people should be cautious in their actions because they could influence ordinary people.
Notably, the Kerala ‘human sacrifice’ incident has a man with a Muslim name as the key accused. He convinced a couple from another faith that they could live a better life if they killed other human beings.
Muslim scholars view such killings and similar harmful ‘rituals’ as both ‘un-Islamic’ and deeply condemnable.
Professor Shamsuddeen Palakkod, a senior Muslim scholar and community activist, said if religious and spiritual leaders begin to use their wisdom and knowledge on the “right path”, believers will be “saved” and will get rid of the evil practices like ‘human sacrifice’.
Quoting from the Qura’n (9:34), Palakkod said many spiritual leaders are actually misleading the faithful and gaining wealth. He said believers should realise there is “no space for superstition in real religion”. He said, “There is no original or fake sorcerer. Every sorcerer is fake.”
Some commentators also see the latest murders in the name of superstition as part of a larger social problem – the commercialisation of faith.
N.P. Chekkutty, a senior journalist and socio-political commentator, said religious leaders, political leaders, mass media and even intellectuals had a role in the spread of superstition in the society. He said money has become an important driving factor for all institutions, including religion, through globalisation which began in the 1990s. This has negatively influenced even religions and religious practices, he said. In most superstitious practices, the practitioner is paid quite well. In the latest twin murders too, Shafi was paid more than Rs 3 lakh by the couple, according to the police.
Chekkutty said while influential “intellectuals” are interested only in literature and not in promoting scientific temper, the media too failed in this battle against superstition because they no longer promote “critical thinking”. “They do not even publish a letter from readers that is critical [of some dominant negative ideas],” he said.
Laws to ban superstitious practices
Notably, a draft law meant to tackle “inhuman” practices and exploitation in the name of superstition has been waiting for the approval of the Kerala legislative assembly.
The Kerala Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices, Sorcery and Black Magic Bill, 2019 was drafted and submitted to the state government three years ago. In light of the latest twin murders, reports say the government is likely to speed up the process to enact the law.
Some states have already enacted similar laws to address the social menace of such practices. The rationalist Narendra Dabholkar played a crucial role in Maharashtra adopting an Act which criminalised practices related to black magic, human sacrifices, the use of magic remedies to cure ailments and other such acts which may exploit superstitions. Dabholkar himself was murdered, allegedly by members of a radical right-wing group.
Terrifying stories of human sacrifices have been reported from different parts of the country in the past few years. Last year, a two-year-old baby was killed by family members in Uttar Pradesh. A woman from Telangana murdered her own child for a similar reason last year. And in 2018, the entire country was shocked by the gruesome tale that emerged from a house in Delhi’s Burari, where 11 members of a family died by suicide as part of a ritual. Activists had pointed out that thousands have lost their lives due to superstitious beliefs in the country in the recent past.
Muhammed Sabith is a journalist and researcher. Twitter: @MuhemmadSabith.