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Biology of Belief: Spirituality and Science in Uzair’s Life

Biology of Belief: Spirituality and Science in Uzair’s Life

When pills don’t help, people seek platonic ways to deal with their health problems.

Haggard and pale, Uzair Khan, 24, is bedridden at a drab corner of his room. At his right side, a stack of tablet strips and syrups are making his morbidity blatant. As he sighs in agony, his woeful parents watch his cheerless transformation in sheer disbelief and distress.

He looks around in a dazed state of mind. Frustration is visible on his face. Much of this has to do with his some endless illness, excruciating pain, and hopeless healing sessions he underwent.

His family wants to drag him to hospital, but Uzair refuses. “Despite multiple hospitalisations, nothing changed,” his woeful mother said. “To relieve him of his pain, the anti-psychotropic drug is being injected as a drug of last resort, every now and then.”

Lately, when their son was struggling with his silent suffering inside his room, Uzair’s parents were advised by some of their neighbours to go for faith-healing. They flatly refused.

Their reluctance came from their school of thought—which, according to them, bars them from seeking any spiritual support. Besides, the family argued, they’re ardent believers of science and reason.

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However, as medical science wasn’t coming to their son’s rescue either, they finally had a change of heart.

They were soon shuttling the old Srinagar’s browbeaten streets along with their son to visit an octogenarian faith-healer.

Well-attired and neatly-shaved, the faith-healer was swarmed by people of all ages in his room. Some had arrived to seek his spiritual help to end their marital discord. Others wanted their bad businesses to get back on track. Many ailing ones wanted to feel healthy again, while a few young faces had come to end their beloved’s reluctance.

Uzair watched the unfolding scenes with curiosity. It seemed as if the human woes had gathered in one room where an aged faith-healer was seeking repeated guidance from Almighty to counsel the anxious and the ailing.

“Visit the shrine of Makhdoom Sahab (R.A) on every Thursday,” the faith-healer directed Uzair after taking a long look at his pale face. “You’ll be fine, Inshallah! But make it sure, whatever you do, do it with resolve and alertness. Think, feel and experience everything you’re doing.”

A day later, Uzair was gasping for breath while climbing a marathon, winding stairway to reach the hill shrine. Once inside the gate, he looked everyone with his bewildered eyes. He saw people breaking down while beseeching Almighty in the shrine.

“Even though I wasn’t feeling anything initially due to my painful numb state, I soon found solace — something which was missing on my cozy bed back home,” Uzair recalled his shrine sojourn. “Not that I was asking or pleading for anything, my silence in that sanctum was becoming my solace. And with that solace came my healing.”

Among faithful of all religions who visit the hill shrine daily are childless couples and ailing people.

“After failing to get relief from medical treatment, people with mental trauma often come here,” said Khurshid Ahmed, a khadim at this shrine. “They pray, plead, and pass through healing.”

At the shrine, dozens of faith-healers called kadims recite prayers for believers.

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Khadims of Makhdoom Sahab Shrine

“I’ve seen miracles in this shrine,” Khurshid continued. “Even the hopeless cases feel the difference in their doomed life — especially those who’ve lost their loved ones in this conflict. There’re parents of disappeared persons, war-widows and others who come and spend some time in solace and return home in a relieved state of mind. More than the place, it’s their faith which keeps them going.”

The conflict-induced trauma which Khurshid talked about has been tormenting Kashmir’s mindscape for a long time now.

Some years back, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released a comprehensive report in collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health Neuroscience (IMHANS). The report found that nearly 1.8 million adults – 45 per cent of Kashmir’s adult population – suffer from some form of mental distress. A majority – 93 per cent – have experienced conflict-related trauma.

An average adult was found to have witnessed around eight traumatic events during his or her lifetime. More than 70 per cent of adults, as per the report, have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew.

50 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men are likely to suffer from depression, according to the report, while 36 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men have a probable anxiety disorder. Besides 22 per cent of women, 18 per cent of men reportedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To cope with uncertainty, trauma and anxiety, many Kashmiris find some elusive hope in dope. According to the data from a rehabilitation centre at the SMHS hospital, a state-funded facility in Srinagar, the crisis is escalating.

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Last year, the centre treated more than 600 people for addiction. Most patients were aged between 15 and 30, and 80 per cent were heroin users.

“We’re receiving patients of every age-group in our centre,” said Rouf Ahmad, a mental health specialist. “They became addicted due to lack of awareness, easy availability of drugs, peer pressure and living in a conflict zone.”

Mental Trauma

However, today, Uzair is no longer a pale shadow of his previous morbid avatar. He has grown calm and composed. His healthy state of mind and body is making his parents happy.

“Many people denounce shrine visits in Kashmir by equating them with grave worshipping,” Uzair said. “But for me, such places have brought back a much-needed solace in my life. You don’t need to even whisper prayers there; solace in silence is what helps you to overcome stress.”

Sometimes neither medication nor psychotherapy works, he said.

“But if someone believes in something that is metaphysical and spiritual, which would ostensibly be eternal, permanent, unwavering, omnipotent, then that could be an important resource to them, particularly in times of emotional distress.”

Chipping in with the age-old ‘Dawa ti Dua ti’ wisdom, Uzair’s mother credited both medication and faith-healing for her son’s health recovery.

But some mental specialists say there’s no proof whatsoever to show that illness can be cured by faith-healing.

Some, however, do believe that there’s a psychological factor at work in illness, which is played on at soulful gatherings inside shrines and helps one to overcome mental stress.

“Psychologically weak people need something to stand by, be it faith-healer or anyone else,” said Zuhaib Ashraf, a qualified psychologist. “At the end of the day, we’re a bunch of lonely people of a modern solitary society torn by strife who need other people for care and for the need to belong.”


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