India: That charming young deity, Kali, appears to have been helping Father Darwin with his work, with reports that she is inspiring people to sacrifice children to her. The reports seem to be based around a a tiny number of incidents involving disreputable 'holy men', extremely gullible and superstitious people, plus a mediæval approach to evidence gathering.
She consulted a tantrik, a travelling 'holy man' who came to the village occasionally, dispensing advice and putrid medicines from the rusty amulets around his neck.
His guidance to Sumitra was to slaughter a chicken at the entrance to her home and offer the blood and remains to the goddess. She did so but the nightmares continued and she began waking up screaming in the heat of the night and returned to the priest. 'For the sake of your family,' he told her, 'you must sacrifice another, a boy from your village.'
Ten days ago Sumitra and her two sons crept to their neighbour's home and abducted three-year-old Aakash Singh as he slept. They dragged him into their home and the eldest son performed a puja ceremony, reciting a mantra and waving incense. Sumitra smeared sandalwood paste and globules of ghee over the terrified child's body. The two men then used a knife to slice off the child's nose, ears and hands before laying him, bleeding, in front of Kali's image.
In the morning Sumitra told villagers she had found Aakash's body outside her house. But they attacked and beat her sons who allegedly confessed. 'I killed the boy so my mother could be safe,' Sanjay screamed. All three are now in prison, having escaped lynch mob justice. The tantrik has yet to be found.
The police are aware of a number of similar incidents, and also lay the blame squarely on a lack of education, though they seem perfectly happy to accept the confessions extracted by torture:
'It's because of blind superstitions and rampant illiteracy that this woman sacrificed this boy,' said Khurja police officer AK Singh. 'It's happened before and will happen again but there is little we can do to stop it. In most situations it's an open and shut case. It isn't difficult to elicit confessions - normally the villagers or the families of the victims do that for us. This has been going on for centuries; these people are living in the dark ages.'
The tantriks themselves are concerned that their long-standing good reputation for folk medicine is being marred by a few bampots.
Indian cult kills children for goddess—The Observer, 5th March 2006.