Irrational belief in supernatural powers of ‘holy men’ is commonplace in this society.
Even otherwise well-educated individuals, including prominent politicians, are not free from it and in fact are known to call on certain spiritual persons famous for subjecting their devotees to some sort of physical punishment as a way of giving them blessings for good luck in their future pursuits. What has happened in a Sargodha village, however, is beyond belief. In a bloody ritual there, the custodian of a shrine murdered as many as 20 people, including three women, a business graduate, son of a retired deputy superintendent of police, and a police constable.
According to reports, the self-styled faith healer, Abdul Waheed, routinely inflicted physical pain on his disciples purportedly to cleanse them of their sins. Although the police and witnesses say this time too the victims presented themselves for “cleansing of their sins” they may not have bargained for the kind of purification that lay in store.
They were drugged before being brutally murdered with clubs and sharp edged weapons. One of the four victims who survived to tell his tale managed to leave the place and inform the police, who reached the crime scene the next morning and arrested Waheed along with two accomplices, his guard and driver.
In his confessional statement Waheed told the police that he had not committed any crime and that “I have cleansed my followers of their sins and sent them to heaven.” That may remind some of various examples from other countries where people committed mass suicide on the command of their cult leaders, such as the November 1978 incident in which 918 Americans, members of the Peoples Temple, died or the March ’97 suicide by 39 followers of Heaven’s Gate in California.
There is a big difference, however, between those cases and the present one. There the cult leaders killed themselves along with their devotees while in the present instance the so-called faith healer had no intention to join his disciples in the after-life. Given the insanity of his act, the first general reaction was that the man must be suffering from a severe mental illness.
But there seems to a method to his madness. First of all, it is worth noting that Waheed held a senior post at the Election Commission of Pakistan before giving it up to install himself in a more lucrative position as the custodian of a shrine. Second, he had two accomplices; all three could not be insane.
Third, he had asked each victim by phone to come, which means he had a premeditated plan to kill them. Fourth and most importantly, the victims include a son of the late spiritual leader in whose name the shrine was built as well as a claimant for the shrine custodianship, Naeem Shah. Hence the gruesome mass murder could well be the result of a succession feud.
No wonder, the RPO said initial investigation shows Waheed felt his position was threatened by those he killed. Whatever the motive behind this chilling crime, the perpetrators must be given exemplary punishment.