People believe Abdul (name changed) is possessed by evil spirits because the 34-year-old behaves abnormally and attacks anyone he is irritated at.
A local elder declared that he was possessed by some evil spirit, which could only be dealt with effectively at Hazrat Munawwar Ali Shah Baba’s dargah or shrine in Allahabad’s Himmatganj locality. As per the Hijri lunar calendar, Shah was born in 491 Hijri and died in 1162.
Abdul’s mother said he was brought to the dargah after treatment by the best doctors did not help him. Tied to one of the walls in chains and having faced innumerable ‘hazris’ or attendance in the Baba’s court, he has calmed down and now survives in a “semi-normal” state, she said.
Similarly, Razia (name changed), a middle-aged woman, started acting strangely and could not be cured despite all medication. Her parents could not think of anything better and dumped her at the dargah.
“I come here to take her to the toilet and feed her. She stays on the ‘dargah’ premises near the Baba’s mazaar all the time with one of her legs chained to the iron railing. She is now fine and stays calm,” one of Razia’s relatives claimed.
Seeking a ‘cure’
Abdul and Razia are not the only ones.
Many who suffer from mental disorders are left by their families at the dargah as they believe it is the right place to get rid of “evil spirits”. They can be seen at the dargah tied to walls with chains cutting through their skin.
If one visits the dargah on Thursdays – a day considered to be holy as the baba is said to be in his chair (‘mukam’) – one can see the extreme form of torture being meted to people in order to “cure them”.
So every Thursday, people from all over of the country visit the dargah located in the heart of the city. The crowd begins to swell from early morning and keeps accumulating till late at night.
Syyed Faizan Ullah, president of managing committee of the dargah, said thousands of people possessed by evil spirits as well as those suffering from physical ailments come to the ‘dargah’ all through the week.
“At times, handling the crowd becomes tough but the Baba takes care of it. Baba heals everyone arriving at this place. ‘Hazri’ (attendance) called upon by the Baba ensures that a person possessed by a demon gets relief. People from all faiths including Hindu, Muslim, Christians and Sikhs come to this place seeking relief,” he said.
Prayers won’t help
Dr NN Gopal, a professor at Motilal Nehru Medical College’s neurosurgery department, said people, who were brought to the dargah are simply suffering from psychiatric disorders.
“People having abnormal behaviour are schizophrenics, requiring efficient monitoring of the increased or decreased activity of neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain which is responsible for the onset of abnormal activity in human beings,” he said.
Dr Gopal said such acts were nothing but delusion wherein increased the activity of the neurotransmitter causes a flight of ideas in those who believe they are being called by the Baba. He added if a patient was put through such torment in the name of faith it could aggravate the ailment and sometimes prove fatal.
“They need adequate medication instead of being put through such form of physical as well as a mental ordeal,” he said.
According to human rights activist and advocate at the Allahabad high court KK Roy, tying psychiatric patients in chains is inhuman and a serious offence.
“The inhuman practice is in violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. It is an offence under section 133 of Criminal Procedure Code. Central, as well as state governments, are responsible for providing help to such mentally-challenged people,” Roy, who is also director of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), said.
Rajan Shukla, the commissioner of Allahabad division, said action will be initiated against those involved in such activities.
“It is inhumane to chain human beings even if they are mentally ill. I would get it checked by the officials and initiate action against those indulging in such an act in the name of faith healing.”
In India, an estimated 8-10% of the population lives with some kind of psychiatric disorder, ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and alcohol and drug abuse. Mental health problems remain a huge stigma with most people, even families, ignore patients and millions go untreated because of lack of resources.