Old and new immigrants from India are among the most successful in the UK. But scratch the glittering surface and the reality is that a large section of the community sustains a 40 million-pound ‘industry’ of babas and tantriks who promise to deliver love, luck and lucre for a price.
Pick up any newspaper published here in Indian or Asian languages, or switch on any ‘ethnic’ television channel, and chances are you will be greeted by adverts on ‘babas’, mystics and astrologers, promising magic cure for ailments and removing bad spells, among other attractions.
Many such babas travel here from India and other parts of south Asia for a brief period, offer their ‘services’ to the superstitious in the community for a fee, and return home. Most victims do not complain to authorities after realising they have been conned.
Sachdev Virdee, general secretary of the Birmingham-based Asian Rationalist Society of Britain (ARSB), told HT that for several years his society had offered £100,000 to any baba or tantrik who could scientifically prove ‘miracles’, but the challenge was yet to be taken up.
Virdee said tantriks, witch doctors and charlatans were exploiting the superstitious and gullible people from Indian, south Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities and were earning hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. The babas are known to charge £500 for a 10-minute session.
Anasudhin Azeez, Kerala-origin editor of the leading Manchester-based ‘Asianlite’ weekly, said that as a matter of policy, his newspaper refuses to carry such adverts, but he continues to be approached by insistent babas seeking to advertise in his publication.
“Every week, we get at least three phone calls from babas who want to advertise. They are ready to pay whatever the charge in the rate card. Since we never carry such adverts, we often get threats in the form of parcels containing ashes, hair, egg shells, threads, lemons and small metal bits scribbled with ‘slokas’, but it all goes straight into the bin”, he says.
In the first case of its kind, Neim Mohammad, a wealthy baba who owned a house worth £850,000 in Cheshire, was jailed for 18 months in 2010 after he was found guilty of three counts of fraud, seven of procuring a valuable security by deception and one of obtaining property by deception.
Virdee said awareness was slowly growing in the Indian community about such babas, but regretted that many of them continued to operate openly. Currently, the police in London are looking for one ‘Ronak Baba’ from India, he said.
In 2010, Britain repealed the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act, which harmonised trading laws across the EU as per the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The new trade law means that consumers can take traders — including ‘babas’, ‘tantriks’ and charlatans — to court if promises are not delivered, but Virdee hoped that more victims would come forward to complain.
Britain’s advertising regulator, the advertising standards agency (ASA), fined ‘ethnic’ television channel DM Digital £17,500 in 2010 for breaching rules by broadcasting an advertisement of a ‘spiritual healer’ named ‘Professor Mohammed Zain’ in Urdu.
The babas mostly operate in cities with large population with roots in the Indian sub-continent. In Leicester — home to a large minority of Indian origin — the local council recently launched a campaign to raise awareness and apprehend such individuals.
The ‘baba industry’ in Britain is estimated to be worth £40 million annually.