The murder in Bahawalnagar of a five-year-old boy by his own father cannot fail to shock. Accused of slitting his son’s throat, the man told the police that he committed the crime upon the command of his pir.
The barbaric act is illustrative of the manner in which so-called spiritual leaders and faith-healers gain inordinate influence over a superstitious and under-educated populace. There is no dearth of cases where pirs exploit their devotees to extract livestock, goods, cash and even land. In some reported incidents, women and children are given over into the ‘care’ of pirs, condemned thereby to anything from a life of prostitution to slavery.
In the Bahawalnagar case, it is difficult to immediately perceive how the pir stood to gain from instigating the crime; nevertheless, it is clear that if the pir indeed gave such instructions, his influence was unquestioned and absolute.
Such ‘spiritual leaders’ can exploit with ease because of the combination of a backward societal mindset and an inefficient state. For example, a large number of women in the rural areas approach pirs, seeking ‘cures’ for childlessness or mental instability. The actual medical problem often goes unrecognised because of lack of awareness, or cannot be treated properly because of poverty, although blind faith in pirs is not restricted to the disadvantaged sections of society.
Certainly, the institution of the pir has a long history in the subcontinent, stemming partly from the Islamic Sufi tradition and partly from the more general ascetic ‘holy man’ traditions in other subcontinental religions. But the manner in which they have gained unbridled influence amongst Pakistan’s citizenry is unacceptable.
The ambit of their authority must be curtailed through education and awareness-raising. Improving socio-economic conditions in general would go a long way towards undermining a superstitious societal mindset.
Source : Dawn