Sorcery belief, a mental disorder (India)

Deccan Chronicle, July 25, 2011, SULOGNA MEHTA

Psychiatrists say that belief in sorcery and black magic is a mental disease, a kind of psychopathological and somatisation (psychiatric distress manifested as imaginary physical syndromes) disorder. Hundreds of vulnerable elderly people, especially women, in Andhra Pradesh are burnt to death or are beaten up and tortured for allegedly indulging in “sorcery”.

Socio-political, sexual and economic motives also often work behind labelling people as sorcerers, say mental health experts. In case of natural calamities like floods and droughts or recurrent illnesses or deaths in rural and tribal areas, there’s a natural tendency to term a particular villager as a witch, sorcerer or black magician and ostracise, torture and even kill the person. This socio-cultural belief has been prevalent since the Dark Ages in societies worldwide, in different forms. This stems from an inherited socio-cultural belief prevalent in areas where the locals are usually uneducated and superstitious, said Dr S.R.R.Y. Srinivas, assistant professor of Government Institute of Mental Health and secretary of Hyderabad Psychiatry Society. “People may be dogged by mental stress, depression, fear and psychiatric distress, which further leads to conversion or somatisation disorder or hypothalamic pituitary adrenal stress axis syndrome. Under its influence, people suffer from delusions or imaginary physical pain and illnesses and attribute these to sorcerers,” said Dr Srinivas. “However, sometimes the village head or some person with vested interest may deliberately label someone as a sorcerer. It stems from class, caste, economic or political differences. Sometimes, if a woman or someone in her family spurns sexual advances of a villager, especially if that person is of some importance, this person may try to malign the image of the woman and her kin,” said Dr G. Prasad Rao of Asha Hospital and director of Schizophrenia Clinic.

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