Myth Busters on the Move: Magic of Rationalism at Work

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), August 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

Myth Busters on the Move: Magic of Rationalism at Work


India, Aug. 3 --

Every day, round the year, in the towns and villages of Punjab, rationalist Jasvir Soni (55) and his travelling band of Tarksheel Society recite this couplet and explain magic tricks to schoolchildren.

Slaying sorcery with science, Tarksheel Society member Rajinder Singh Bhadaur guides children gathered around a mobile library to a book, at Government Boys School, Lehragaga, in Sangrur district; and his colleague, Jasvir Soni, explaining a common trick at DAV School, Lehragaga.

Close on the heels of five murders and the suicide of the culprit 'tantrik' (witch doctor) at a village near Moga on July 17, these men of scientific temper caution youth against witchcraft and self-styled godmen at a Lehragaga government school for boys in Sangrur district. "No magic but only hard work and education can give you a good life," Rajinder Bhadaur, Soni's fellow activist, explains to the children. The rationalists mingle with members of the school staff, discussing the challenges in educating people. The 30-minute lecture that includes the tales of tricksters' magic also explains to people that it is not voodoo but plain science.

Later comes the display of books ranging from ghost stories (that dispel the myth) to Kalpana Chawla's biography or Tasleema Nasreen's 'Lajja' - the daily routine of Tarksheel Society during the morning assemblies in schools. The books are from the band's mobile library. Children giggle as Bhadaur uses humour to explain the content of a book, "Pippal Wala Khoo", the story of three boys who scare the villagers by playing tricks and posing as ghosts at a well under a sacred fig tree. The books are all affordable paperback editions, the price ranging from Rs 20 for a Punjabi folklore to Rs 120 for the biography of astronaut Kalpana Chawla. The society earns more than '1 lakh a month from the sale.

"Let the knowledge flow, only then they will grow," said Bhadaur, smiling when pointed out that the boys had also picked a book on sex education from the racks. The van is on the move since January 2014 and has, so far, covered the entire Malwa region, and will go into eight more districts this year.

Superstition kills

Pallo, who remained behind bars for a year on the charges of lynching her 5-year-old niece for human sacrifice.

Some 130 kilometres from the Lehragaga school where the myth busters are at work, Pallo 'the exorcist' rests in her poor dwelling at Moga's Bhinder Kalan village. She was behind bars for more than a year, on the charges of human sacrifice, lynching her niece (5) "possessed by a demon spirit". …

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