The killing of a man suspected of sorcery last year is a disturbing and tragic incident. There was another incident a few years back of another woman suspected of witchery being murdered.
These are isolated and rare occurrences but a reminder of how dangerous superstition and irrational beliefs can become.
List almost all communities globally, we’re a superstitious community.
Some of our superstitious beliefs are harmless. But some are a risk to the fabric of community. For instance, like the men who murdered an innocent man, suspecting him to be a sorcerer, there are hundreds of others who flock to astrologers. These astrologers supposedly can reveal the unseen: who may have stolen a lost valuable item, or identify someone with ill intentions towards the client.
Such information risks sowing discord within families and communities, and sometimes can result in devastating consequences like the murder of Sangay Tshering.
Sometimes such astrologers also predict natural disasters which can cause panic and disrupt people’s lives on wide scale. With such influence, astrologers must always remain a blip on our radar.
It is for these reasons that we are hopeful that the science curriculum in our schools is able to provide students with sufficient understanding that some beliefs are not possible. It is also hoped that our youth’s critical analysis capabilities are strengthened so they question irrational practises and are able to logically deduce certain relationships.
We ran a story only yesterday about how people are reluctant to use Thimphu city’s underpasses because of traditional beliefs. Some believe that using an underpass risks bad luck. While it is an individual right to believe in an irrational correlation, if it hampers development, there is a need to begin addressing such beliefs with a more sustained and concentrated approach.
There is also a need for the local governments to be vigilant about such beliefs taking root or being propagated in the rural communities.
It would be advisable for agencies concerned like the departments of local governance, culture, and the police, among others, to work closely with local governments in identifying beliefs that could pose risks, and addressing them without infringing individual rights.
Such an effort would undoubtedly be bolstered with members of religious bodies also joining the agencies in discussions so that risks can be identified, strategies formed and awareness raised among the people through meetings and through the other platforms like the media.
Some of our beliefs are cultural, and are important to respect. However, when such beliefs threaten lives or risk discord, they need to be challenged and debunked.