A Devil in Pir's (socalled religious/spiritual leader) Clothing

Most of us have our own personal ways of keeping our spiritual well-being, but there are too many people in this country who place their complete trust on religious-attired old men who have limited knowledge of anything, even the religion they claim to be experts of, and take up title prefixes pir- or fakir- and take advantage of simple-minded people of the villages.

salma at hospitalSeventeen-year-old Salma Akhter had to pay a huge price for the trust her mother placed on one such pir. On the morning of July 10, while Salma was peacefully sleeping in their room, someone came in and doused her face with acid. She woke up screaming and saw the resident pir running away from the room very fast. She quickly went to the tube well and splashed her face with water. But it was too late. The left side of her face had already been burned. She was rushed to a hospital in Bhairab where doctors advised her to go to the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Jahangir Alam, a self-proclaimed pir, had been coming to Salma's house for some years. Salma's mother, who had been living with her maternal grandmother's family ever since her father left for Saudia Arabia to work, stayed in one room with her two daughters. According to Salma, this 50-something pir had been coming and staying at their house on and off for some years now. Salma's mother was so taken in by the charm of this fraud, who claimed to have spiritual powers to solve all their problems, that she allowed him to stay in the same room with her and her young daughters at night.

It began a few years ago when Alam started noticing Salma. “He used to make bad advances towards me,” says Salma, “and threatened that he would burn me and break my arms and legs if I told anyone about him.” If it wasn't bad enough that the mother of this 17-year-old allowed this man to stay in the house, the story gets worse when she (Salma's mother), besotted by the pir refused to believe that it was he who had attcked Salma.

Salma passed her SSC exams this year from Sarail Girls High School in Brahmanbaria. She was looking forward to getting admitted into college. Now she sits on the DMCH burn unit in stony silence, trying to hide her burned face, and wondering why her mother and aunt are defending a vile impostor who had just tried to destroy her life.

“My mother was a big Maijbhandari fanatic,” says Salma, “she trusted this pir completely. We are also very good friends with his two daughters and three sons. He lives in an adjoining village. We all know his family very well.” Although her mother's apathy about her daughters' safety and blind faith almost cost her, her life, Salma's spirit is not broken. She wants to put this incident behind her and get on with her life. She hopes the pir will be caught soon and she will be able to join college as soon as the new session starts (H. S. ahmed, July 27, 2007).

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