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June 24, 2019

Black and white


June 24, 2019

The report about Anita Bibi in Lahore, who allegedly with the help of an aunt burnt her two young children with a candle while performing a black magic exorcism of some kind at her home in Qila Gujjar Singh has made the national media. Anita Bibi is currently in custody, awaiting trial. Her children, Maryam, 3, and George, 2, are under treatment at Mayo Hospital and mercifully stated to be in a stable condition. Their father is tending to them and has stated he was shocked by what he found when he visited the home where the ritual was taking place, with a goat tied in the same room as the two children, who had been fastened to a bed and a sofa.

The account has drawn public interest. Its details are bizarre. But perhaps this is so because many of us, especially those who considered themselves educated and removed from the world of superstition and shadow that so many in the country live under, do not know what happens in homes all around us. There have been no authoritative surveys on such practices and the extent to which they prevail in Pakistan. But the anecdotal evidence which exists suggests that the practice is extremely widespread, with a foothold in almost every home across the country, even those belonging to the privileged. In the cases of those who are less able to turn to science, modern medicine or other expert help due to a lack of resources and a lack of knowledge, black magic is still more popular. It has brought terrible tragedies. It is almost inevitably the poor and most vulnerable who suffer as victims. We do not know what was going through the mind of the mother who used a candle to burn her children.

Sadly, too many in our country are left in this uncertain world of such practices. There does not appear to have been a reduction in the dominant belief in such dark practices, even as we enter the modern age and literacy grows in the country. To liberate people from the hold of those who manipulate them using their fears, and create more streamlined knowledge which can help society move forward, we need to re-examine teaching at schools, the science curriculum and the manner in which it is delivered to children. Reports that these practices are on the rise may be due to the increasingly uncertain times we live in. There is no evidence of precisely what is happening, but clearly we must not accept any situation in which persons do harm to others.

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