Ritualistic killing in Pakistan happens more often than we realize

Ritualistic killing in Pakistan happens more often than we realize

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On December 27 last year, the body of Daya Bheel, a 45-year-old woman belonging to the most downtrodden Hindu caste of Sindh, was discovered in the mustard fields of Sinjoro, a small town in Sindh’s district Sanghar. 

Her head had been severed from her body and the flesh had been removed from her skull. She had been partly skinned, and it seemed as if an effort had been made to remove her internal organs. The sheer horror of the scene was such that from the outset, it was clear this was no ‘ordinary’ murder story. 

Whispers began circulating that the ritualistic killing was linked to the practice of ‘black magic,’ a prevalent belief in that area. The police were reluctant to confirm this in the beginning. With national outrage ensuing once the details were made public, the police, spurred on by the provincial government, sprung into action and conducted DNA tests of locals. Consequently, four men were arrested alongside two ‘sorcerers’. DIG Younus Chadio, whose team cracked the case, said the sorcerers confessed to using internal organs in their ‘magic’ rituals. 

While the barbarity of this particular crime has few parallels, this is by no means the first time a murder has occurred in the name of ‘black magic’ in Pakistan. Even a cursory search reveals close to a dozen such murders in the past decade alone: From Sikander Bagerani, who murdered at least three children at the behest of his ‘exorcist’ uncle, to the infamous cannibals of Bhakkar who claimed to consume people in order to appease ‘dark powers,’ the thread of deadly superstition runs through many such crimes. 

From Sinjoro to the cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico, why do people around the world resort to such acts of horror? The answer is as mundane as it is terrifying.

Zarrar Khuhro

Across the border in India, the situation is much the same with similar beliefs claiming lives in horrific ways. In 2022 alone, several cases of black magic related murders were reported from several Indian states, all of which involved human sacrifice for personal gain. In Maharashtra, the situation became so serious that the state government had to pass the ‘Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act’ in 2013, which specifically forbade, “Carrying out or encouraging inhuman acts or human sacrifice in quest of some bounty or reward.” The man who pushed for this law was himself murdered shortly before the Act came into force and to date, dozens of arrests have been made under this law.

From Sinjoro to the cult of Santa Muerte (Holy Death) in Mexico, why do people around the world resort to such acts of horror? The answer is as mundane as it is terrifying: In an uncertain and unfair world, many desperate and desirous people will fall prey to the beckoning of self-styled sorcerers and witches to make their wishes come true. Almost all the cases we see hinge around the desire for gain, whether personal, financial or political, at the cost of another human being. So, we will see a father kill his own children in the belief that this will grant financial success. Or we see, as in Uttar Pradesh, a woman sacrificing her infant nephew so that some ‘unseen powers’ grant her a child. In this world of ‘magic,’ the price of wishes is blood. And it’s not just the aggrieved and downtrodden who are willing to pay.

Take Tanzania where the belief in ‘black magic’ is prevalent, and top businessmen and politicians alike flock to witch doctors who perform blood rites to bless their patrons. While some of these involve sacrificing animals, the truly potent spells involve using the body parts and organs of albinos. Why? According to an Al Jazeera report on the subject: ‘Fishermen believe that if they sprinkle the hair of someone with albinism on the water, fish will jump into their nets. Miners think that their blood is a “metal detector” that can help find new deposits.” In fact, an entire industry has cropped up in Tanzania that specializes in the abduction, brutalization and murder of albinos. 

In Pakistan and elsewhere, today’s generations may pride ourselves for living in the modern world, but in the shadows, an old and deadly spectre still looms, and its blood-stained breath is a reminder that we are not as far removed from barbarity as we imagine.

- Zarrar Khuhro is a Pakistani journalist who has worked extensively in both the print and electronic media industry. He is currently hosting a talk show on Dawn News. Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

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