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When superstition endangers lives

Reports have surfaced from the south Indian state of Karnataka of the abduction and murder of a ten year old girl called Ayesha. The killing is believed to have been carried out on the advice of a “sorcerer” to cure a paralysed man. This presents itself as an case of extreme alternative medicine taking advantage of those in desperate situations.


Police reports state that four arrests have been made including Mohammed Wasil, the girls paternal uncle and secretary of the local mosque. Wasil is said to have planned the killing on the advice of Naseem Taj, a resident of Goripalya, who locals believe to be a practitioner of black magic. Taj allegedly told Wasil that his brother, Mohammed Rafiq, could be cured of a paralytic stroke if a child was sacrificed within 40 days.

This murder is symptomatic of a larger issue across India. Medicine and mysticism are often blurred. This is especially true of rural areas with limited access to modern healthcare. Here, communities often still turn to traditional or alternative medicine.

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Is alternative medicine largely reliant on the placebo effect?

No-one is equating simple quackery with murder but the encouragement of medical systems which are based on obscure beliefs, not science, may encourage magical thinking. An estimated 7.37 lakh (737,000) Indians partake in Ayurveda, Siddha, Homoeopathy and Unani (AYUSH), with hospitals dedicated to the practice. Though more common in rural areas, this implies that the reliance on unproven methods of treatments permeates even the highest levels of medical treatment.

Witch doctors are a common phenomenon, particularly in tribal areas. In numerous cases they have called for murder. More recently, in Angul district of Odisha, a tribal couple branded the stomach of their three month child on the advice of a witch doctor in order to cure a bloated stomach, likely caused by indigestion. This resulted in the child being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.

A reliance on alternative medicine may distract people from actual medicine, a problem that could result in conditions worsening. Though some may seek out alternative medicines simply as a last resort.


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