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Don’t laugh at superstitious; help them change mindset

| | in Bhubaneswar

Superstitions are common place around the world. It is particularly a problem in India. While it impacts life in many ways, it is most shocking when people are being killed because of this.

Hardly any day passes without a news of superstitious practicescausing serious harm to people. It is important to understand this phenomenon and the reasons behind it, to deal with this social menace and prevent it.

Amongst many reasons about why superstitions continue, the major ones are fear of the unknown and a desire to get something without much effort or even almost as magic. This magical belief that the desired things can happen or catastrophes can be prevented by following certain practice and rituals is the root cause of superstitions being maintained in societies.

Fear is a common emotion of the mind. Unpredictability of future breeds anxiety, so people prepare themselves for it in whatever way they can. A relatively simple example is: Students worry about examination; so, they prepare for a better outcome; and while reading for it is the understandable method to deal with it, praying for a desired result is an unusual way! However sometimes new superstitions may evolve and can spread really fast, an interesting example is the rumour of Ganesh idols drinking milk which happened many years back.

Over the ages, besides individuals themselves, many people have tried to support or fuel the irrational thinking to continue. While superstitious beliefs and practices are handed over through generations within the families, godmen, soothsayers and astrologers continue to breed fear amongst people who like to follow rather thanto question.

Unfortunately, children are often being asked to ‘do what is said’ rather than encouraged to explore. Their scientific temper takes a backseat when these are crushed in their early childhood.  It is sad to see that current educational system too does not help in the process; otherwise many highly educated people would not be harbouring these superstitious beliefs.

There are many methods to deal with superstitions, although they are easier said than done. It is important to recognise one’s own superstitious beliefs and not to hand those down to children; this way generational transmission of a social ailment can be stopped. Schools should teach students what superstitions are; and encourage them to ask questions, challenge a practice and to explore the answers until satisfied. People should let the children and young people search answers for the issues through science and logic, and guide them through the process. Organisations and States have responsibility to provide information and support to the people harbouring and propagating superstitions and in the process affecting the mental and physical health of the citizens.

Besides education and support systems, it may be necessary occasionally for the State to use the law enforcement authorities to ensure safety of the public from these practices.

Media has an important role too, as a vehicle of social education.

With each story they report, they must include what are the remedial measures and where to seek help for a particular problem. They should be careful that they are not becoming party to propagate a superstition.  In this electronic age, the role of media has become even more important considering their reach and impact. While reporting this kind of news, the underlying reality, impact on people, and related scientific and logical solutions should also be reported. For example, many deaths occur following snake or dog bite, some of which are linked to people spending time in faith-healing without seeking appropriate medical help. The reports describing these should provide scientific evidence based solutions and suggest how to avail that. Criticizing people who follow superstitions is not going to be helpful. Understanding, supporting them timely and frequently with appropriate information may change the social attitude to the superstitions gradually. While the initial concerted effort should be towards preventing most serious and life-threatening practices, theprocess should gradually prevent others and evolving superstitions.

(Dr Kar, MD, DPM, DNB, MRCPsych, is a consultant psychiatrist, in NHS,England. He lives in Wolverhampton. Email: nmadhab@yahoo.com)




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