I remember, while growing up, I saw a lot of my relatives giving money to ‘babas’ and other such people who, they believed, could cure their ailments and get rid of the troubles in their lives. I saw their, and my own parents’ money being spent on promises made by such people. It did bring a fortune though, not to us, but to their bank accounts. Similarly, a lot of our students and their families believe in the promises made, and the ‘miracles’ performed by these godmen. They are made to believe that these men and women can communicate with the ‘heavenly powers’ and can cure all kinds of diseases and put them out of their misery. Some of them prefer spending their hard earned money on them, rather than going to a doctor, in case, their family members are suffering from a serious illness.
Keeping this in mind, we had the opportunity of inviting Narendra Nayak, a rationalist and an activist, who travels around the world to debunk the ‘miracles’ performed by such godmen. He is also the current president of Federation of Indian Rationalist Association. He was accompanied by his brother, Rajendra Nayak, a professor of Zoology in K.J Somaiya College in Mumbai. They conducted an interactive three-hour workshop with the girls where he taught them about the importance of buidling a scientific temper. Mr. Nayak did demonstrations for the students and showed them how to perform the so-called miracles of these godmen, thereby, exposing how some popular godmen fooled the common people and got money from them. He showed the students how to ‘produce’ the ‘holy’ powder (bhabhoot) from the hands, ‘creating’ gold chains and paper notes from thin air, ‘performing’ operations on patients by mere use of hands (without any surgical instruments) and getting rid of ‘evil spirits’ in people’s bodies.
During the workshop, the girls asked Mr.Nayak many questions regarding magic, religion, illness, and God. Some girls asked for the explanation behind these acts, to which, he patiently explained to them the scientific principles behind them.
This workshop brought about a paradigm shift in how the students perceive such ‘miracle-men’. They were encouraged to demand scientific evidence in such cases. Many of the girls wanted to carry forward this message to their families, schools and community. They requested him to conduct a similar workshop in their neighbourhoods as well, where their families could also benefit from hearing about this first hand.
We hope that the lessons from this workshop are remembered. We also hope that they continue to question, and demand reason and evidence for different things they are made to follow.