Human sacrifice: Superstitious beliefs immune to education


The gods are angry. They need to be pacified. They require the offering of a human sacrifice! Only then will the deities be pleased, and endow their blessings upon us.

By Kanika Rangray

These are the lines which have been reportedly used as a curtain to hide the barbaric act of human sacrifice. It is a custom deeply embedded in the superstitions of several religions.

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In India, the concept of human sacrifice can be dated back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. A sculpture from the Harappan civilisation shows, what some believe it to be, the human sacrifice of a woman offered in the honour of the Mother/Goddess. In the same manner, some agree and some disagree about the prevalence of human sacrifice in the Vedic era. However, the existence of this barbaric act is proven on the basis of its practice in Bengal, a continuation of traditions dating back to Vedic period, by Rajendralal Mitra, a key figure in the Bengal renaissance.

The practice of offering human sacrifices to goddesses like Chamunda for victory in war, is recorded in the Kalika-Purana to have been prevalent in Northeast India in the 11th century. This became increasingly common during the medieval period.

The tradition of human sacrifice decreased during the post-Vedic period due to the influence of ahimsa and penetration of religions like Buddhism and Jainism. However, even as a large section of the Hindu culture continued to condemn human sacrifice, the practice continued as a manner of worship of the goddess Shakti until the early modern period, and continued till around early 19th century in Bengal. Some tantric clans also continued this practice around the same period.  

And quite ironically, Islam–the religion based on the Holy Qur’an— which has been recently linked with terrorism and genocides (type of human sacrifice) strongly condemns human sacrifice, as a “grave error and sinful act” and an “ignorant, foolish act of those that have gone astray.” Even though it goes out of context, it is a thought to wonder upon if we have been righteous in linking genocides and such killings with religion.

Human sacrifices in 21st century

It is strongly believed that now India has developed, economically and socially, to an extent where everyone understands the practice of human sacrifice as barbaric and not religious. But there have been recent incidents which prove that social development of our society, at least some sections of it, have not reached the level where one understands the atrocity they commit in the name of human sacrifice.

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The skeletal remains of four persons, suspected to be buried by quarry owners as human sacrifice, were unearthed by the police from a burial ground nearby Melur, Madurai. This inhuman act came to light when M Sevarkodiyan, who worked as a driver with PRP granites in Madurai, made a complaint alleging that mentally ill were killed and buried by mining baron PR Palanichamy’s associates each time PRP granites expanded its business or bulldozed local temples for mining operations.

In another such demonic act, a 9-year-old girl became a victim to the horrendous act of human sacrifice in Bengaluru. Her parents alleged that she was used as bait to drive away evil spirits during the construction of a new apartment block close to her school. What is more astonishing and disappointing is that her teacher has also been accused of being involved in this crime. Clearly, education is no deterrent to such superstitious beliefs which are murderous to the victims.

The extent of belief in human sacrifice exceeds the limits of parental love. An unemployed father sacrificed his only daughter, who was 9-year-old, in Kanpur with the belief that this “offering to god” will bring good fortune to his family–all this on the advice of a warlock. There is another incident in which a father sacrificed his 15-month old daughter in Bihar to uncover a treasure hidden in the ruins of a nearby fortress. How inhumane can one be?

These are just four examples. Many more can be given. A five-year-old girl was sacrificed in Karnataka to magically uncover buried treasure at a construction site. A seven-year-old girl was murdered in Chattisgarh to yield successful crop, as locals believed that the girl’s father was casting black magic spells against them; to counterbalance, they performed the traditional ritual of human sacrifice and offered her organs to Hindu goddess Durga. In Uttar Pradesh, a boy was made the sacrificial lamb by a woman–on the advice of a warlock–to assuage a curse she believed she was living under.

Are these examples enough to depict the strongly embedded superstitious belief in human sacrifice or more need to be given?

Is this superstitious belief invincible?

Most of the incidents of human sacrifice surfaced in areas which were economically backward or perhaps people ignored and lacked access to education. But there have been incidents, one such mentioned above, where the sacrifice not just happened in a “civilised” area but also involved a teacher as the accused party. They might dampen spirits a bit and they may shake the belief that awareness and education are tools which can be used to abolish human sacrifices, an illegal religious tradition which is practised till date.

But all one can do is try and try again in a hope and faith that these superstitious beliefs would flash and perish like lightning in the sky!