Barely 70km from the state capital of Chandigarh, the road to superstition comes with guiding signboards in this part of Punjab. On a link road that leads to villages Saunti and Anniya of Fatehgarh Sahib district, the pilgrimage concludes at a ‘Chamatkari Nalka’, a ‘magic handpump’.
The belief is that its water can cure all your ills, “end all your grief”; and this faith’s strength can be seen in the queues that go up to a kilometre. It’s been only a little over a month that the handpump has grabbed imaginations, but visitors are coming even from as far as Delhi already.
To facilitate these thousands of devotees, there are now bottle-sellers, ice-cream vendors, and volunteers that work with a religious zeal. No information is available on any individual or organisation being behind it yet.
The rationalist group Tarksheel Society has been campaigning against the superstition, but visitors seem to not even bother that there are many versions of how the ‘magic’ started. It only adds to the faithful mystery.
How it spread, how it’s managed
A bicycle-repairman working close to the ‘pilgrimage’ site, while refusing to be named, narrated this story: “Around two and a half years ago I asked a man from nearby village Brahman Majra that the handpump at the site had stopped working, so he should get another installed, since a lot of people pass by on foot from the road. He did get one installed. Then, last month, a tired old woman suffering from joint pain drank water from this handpump and claimed that she had been cured. The story spread like wildfire.”
Some of the sewadars, or volunteers, have put up tents to guard the devotees against the wrath of the summer sun, while others control the crowd to prevent quarrels over who gets to the water first.
The rush is divided into two parts — visitors can first drink water already drawn from the pump by sewadars at kiosks, while those want to take it home can stand in the longer queue.
The older handpump at the site has also been repaired since, “but the water from that is used only to mix with the ‘magic’ water so that the whole operation can work faster,” said a sewadar, Baljit Kaur. She did not talk about any organisation backing it and said she had volunteered on her own.
‘Heard from someone’
Visitors bank on hearsay. Gurdeep Singh, a visitor from Malerkotla, said one of his relative had been cured by the water. He could not name any disease that his relative had been suffering from: “He was unwell, but got better after drinking this water.”
Another visitor from Ahmedgarh said he did not know the background of the place: “I just heard about it from someone.”
Administration‘cannot do much’
Tarksheel Society has given a memorandum against the superstition to sub-divisional magistrate of Amloh, under whose jurisdiction the handpump and Anniya village fall. “This water does not have any religious or scientific background. We have got it tested,” said Baldev Jalal, a representative of the society.
Executive engineer (water supply) Jasbir Singh confirmed this: “We have tested the water, and found nothing extraordinary, neither any curing substance nor any hazardous material. It is simple potable water.”
SDM Arvind Gupta, when contacted, said he had asked the water supply and sanitation department to get samples tested. “We will stop the practice if anything hazardous is found in the water, but cannot as such do anything since no person or organisation is involved. It’s spreading by word of mouth.”
Civil surgeon Harinder Kaur added, “The health department too cannot do anything in case of superstition. What we can do is spread awareness about the ill-effects of the heat and the eating unhygienic snacks being sold there.”
“We want to appeal to people that they must not quit taking medicines for diseases even if they drink this water,” she added.