A 32-year-old marketing professional, whose girlfriend suddenly stopped talking to him says he didn’t know what to do. Were her parents forcing her to end the three-year old relationship? Was she seeing someone else? Last week, says the man, a marketing manager with a consumer products company, he turned to a baba he came across online for help.
He recounted his conversation with the baba to Hindustan Times.
“Babaji, I am ruined.”
“Do not worry, son, God has sent you to the right place. All you need to do is WhatsApp me your and the girl’s photographs,” the man told the marketing professional.
“Will it be okay if I send you only her picture, Babaji?”
“No, I need the pictures of both. I need your picture so that there is no mistake when I inspire love in that girl. Otherwise, my mantras might make her fall in love with someone else.”
“Babaji, what else am I supposed
“You do not have to do anything; now I will do whatever needs to be done,”
“Babaji, hope your mantras will not have any negative effect on her.”
“Do not worry son, my mantras have no side-effects.”
“How much do I have to pay, Babaji?”
“Just PayTm me ₹12,000.”
“Babaji, are you sure my problem will be resolved.”
“Son, you do not know my powers, I have resolved thousands of such cases.”
The marketing professional says he eventually did not send money to the baba, who claimed to have learned black magic in Bengal. “What made me suspicious was that though Baba said he lived in Delhi, he just would not give me his address,” he said.
There may or may not be a baba or ‘godman’ behind the shocking suicides in Burari, but there are hundreds of babas, tantriks, faith-healers and gurus freely operating in Delhi, promising to help gullible people get back their lost love, find a job, treat chronic illness, or buy a house with the help of magical chants and black magic.
Most prefer to call themselves by generic names, Babaji, Vashikaran Guruji, Bengali Baba, and other such. And most conduct their business online with just a website and phone number.
There are others who have taken the YouTube way to money and happiness (although they are likely to have been hit by the platform’s recent change of policy). They offer self-help tips for resolving simple and complex problems on their YouTube Channels. They have curious names and a formidable following – Chamtkari Totke, for example, boasts of 1.6 million subscribers; Desi Totke has 6,65,000; Tilsimi Duniya has over 2,60,000 subscribers; Kaal Chakra has 2,71,000 subscribers. They regularly post new videos – a new ritual, tantric trick, or a mantra.
Rationalists sound a note of caution. “Delhi has over a hundred self-styled tantriks and miracle healers. Superstition is a big business thriving on the gullibility of people from all sections of the society. They now use modern communication tools, making the task of fighting the influence of these people much more daunting,” says Sanal Edamaruku, president, Indian Rationalist Association.
Many of these babas who operate online claim to be “gold medallists” perhaps appealing to the Indian weakness for excellence in something. For instance , Tantrik Baba Khan Bengali claims to have over 25 gold medals.
When HT called him to ask about his ‘practice’ and his gold medals, the man on the other side said, “Most clients come seeking cure for black magic”.
“And what is your name?”
“Just call me Baba Khan.”
“Could you please tell us about your gold medals?”
The baba hung up.
Indeed, not too many of his ilk wanted to engage with HT.
It is not just obscure babas and tantriks who offer magical solutions to love and marital problems. There are many suave, English-speaking astrologers, who claim the same.
Ankit Sharma’s website refers to him as a “love back specialist” and “love marriage specialist”. He claims to count 8,500 people as “satisfied customers”; the website has testimonials on how the guruji helped them win back their lost loves or get the girl of their dreams, even how he made their inter-caste marriage possible.
The website says he learnt vashikaran (influencing someone’s mind) from his father, who is known as a ‘pioneer’ in the technique. “I do not practice black magic. I generally use meditation and healing techniques. I believe every problem has to do with your horoscope. I am like a taxi driver, you choose the destination and I take you there,” Sharma said.
Sharma is angered when quizzed about his techniques. His website also sells yantras (lucky objects and instruments). One of them is called a ‘Sampurna Vivah Sukh Yantra, which will resolve all marriage and relationship issues’. The cost? Rs 999, plus courier charges.
Other astrologers such as Vaibhava Nath Sharma and Brij Mohan Suri are popular online; Nath and Suri have popular YouTube channels with 723000 and 516000 subscribers respectively. One of Suri’s videos – ‘if a mother can do this, the success of her children is guaranteed’ – has over 2.8 million views.
Then there are many enterprises in the city that teach you occult techniques, including the high-sounding All India Institute of Occult Sciences in Patel Nagar. The institute has air-conditioned classrooms with whiteboards and writing chairs. “By occult we mean gupt gyan, mysterious science. We teach astrology, tarot, numerology, etc,” says Indrrajeet Kashyap, an astrologer. Starting with one student a few years back, he now has over 150. “The number of our students has been steadily rising. They are mostly well-educated people wanting to practice astrology as a hobby,” he says.
Another, Occult Paradise offers online courses such as “Dark Arts, Occult Magic & Spiritual Sciences”. The academy has interesting catchphrases: ‘Begin your spiritual journey; find a way for peace and ultimate salvation; enlightenment is your prize’. The topics covered include mantra shastra, tantra shastra, yantra shastra, serpent occult, spell casting, white magic, black magic, witchcraft, sorcery, alchemy, demonology, ritual magic, invocation, healing among others.
If you are already tempted to try out one of its courses, there are strict criteria for admission. “We examine you personally before we start. So let me highlight that you require patience, interest, commitment, dedication, kindness, concentration and wisdom. It is good if you are a VEGETARIAN,” the website says. It has no phone number, no address of a physical office, and HT’s email to the ‘academy’ remained unanswered for three days till the time of going to the press.
Vikramendra Kumar, who teaches sociology at Delhi University and specialises in the sociology of religion, says most people turn to babas and tantriks when they fail to get an answer to their problems and sufferings. “The babas give them ready-made, though bogus, answers, and people fall for them. Sometimes things such as black magic act as an outlet for their suffering. Superstitions cut across all religions and social strata,” says Kumar. “Growing isolation and urban loneliness have made people insecure. Tantriks, babas and faith-healers feed on insecurities of people.”
According to rationalists, people’s belief in superstitions is not waning because indoctrination of children begins at home. “We have been fighting the charlatans who fool people in the name of religion and have exposed their so-called miracles by performing them in public places. But the problem is while children learn science in school, at home they see their parents believing in superstitious practices, which become part of their lives,” says Manish Ray Chaudhuri, general secretary, Science and Rationalists’ Association of India.
“These faith healers, tantriks and babas can be booked under The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, meant to control and prohibit advertisements for certain remedies alleged to possess magic qualities. But there is no political will to fight them,” Chaudhuri says. The Association has set up a Rs 50 lakh challenge for anyone who can prove their supernatural powers.
Sanal says our education system teaches science but not scientific temper. “Heavy dependence on religiosity promotes hyper vulnerability and critical faculties are suspended. So, people easily accept the irrational claims of the gurus, babas and tantriks about their supernatural powers,” says Sanal.
“The shocking Burari mass suicides prove where superstitions can take you. It is high time the government monitors and controls the activities of babas and faith-healers and take steps to educate people about the need to use their critical faculties to fight superstitions.”