LONDON: Rationalists and large sections of Britain'sAsian community are dismayed at the increasing influence of witch doctors and charlatans who advertise extensively in newspapers and television channels targeted at the community.
Most newspapers catering to an Asian audience, in various languages, invariably have pages of advertisements from people of suspect powers who promise to cure all ills, remove spells and bring luck to those who believe in spells and occult practices.
Several television channels also advertise their services, but with the proviso that they do not endorse the services. Many such astrologers, witch doctors and charlatans reportedly charge for their services.
Lavkesh Prashar, president of the Birmingham-based Asian Rationalist Society of Britain, told Asian Lite that such witch doctors and charlatans were exploiting the superstitious and gullible people from the Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities and earning thousands of pounds every year.
Prashar said: ?We challenge them to prove that they have magical powers under scientific conditions. They charge anything up to 300 pounds for a simple chat and claim they can cure anything from serious illness to bad luck?.
?They are nothing more than charlatans. They are preying on the more traditional members of our society who have been brought up to believe in this kind of thing.
?We announced a prize of 2,000 pounds in 1997 to any such person who can prove to posses magical powers before the media and scientists. No one has come forward so far. We hope someone will now come forward to claim the higher prize money of 10,000 pounds?.
The society, set up in 1997 to promote scientific awareness, works closely with the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association, and has branches in Derby, Leicester and Coventry.
Prashar said the fact that such individuals could afford to spend hundreds of pounds to advertise in various newspapers in Britain every week indicated that they were doing good business.
He said his organisation had brought such practices to the attention of the British government, but the police were not able to move without a victim coming forward and lodging a complaint.
He said: ?Many victims come to us and narrate how they have been cheated of thousands of pounds, but they either don'twant to expose themselves by going to the police or are just too scared of having a bad spell cast on them for doing so.?
Apart from those who advertise in the Asian and Afro-Caribbean papers, Prashar said there were many more who were active within the communities. Many such individuals come to Britain on visitors? visas and earn money by claiming to possess divine powers, he added.
Prashar said: ?If they can do all of the things that they claim, and they do have divine powers, then they should come forward and prove it to the world. If they cannot, then they are exposed as the cheap street magicians they are.
?The problem is not only confined to the superstitious people in the Asian community. Others also fall victim to such promises. The victims feel trapped and do not come forward to help put an end to such practices.?
He said the rationalist body had written to ministers in the British government and others to put an end to such exploitative practices.
Tax authorities were also asked to inquire whether individuals offering such services were paying taxes on the income earned, but official action was stymied by the lack of victims coming forward to complain.
Recently, officials in the Sandwell area of Birmingham cautioned people of Indian origin to be vigilant when responding to calls on their doors from individuals claiming to be from the Hindu holy city of Haridwar and promising to carry out prayers and rituals for a fee.
Officials have branded such people as ?rogue callers? who may or may not be genuine. The most vulnerable people are first generation Indian migrants now living alone and those who feel cut off from their Hindu religious roots in Britain.
Individuals claiming to be from Haridwar in India have been knocking on doors in areas that have a large presence of people of Indian origin. Such areas include Leicester, parts of London and the Sandwell area of Birmingham.
The individuals ask for donations and try to gain access to houses by offering to carry out prayers and other Hindu rituals for a fee. No untoward incident has so far been reported, but officials are worried at the crime potential of house owners providing access to such people.
Bob Robinson, manager of the official body Trading Standards in Sandwell, has warned the Indian community to be on their guard and to report any offenders. The organisation has publicised a number for people to report such callers.
He said: ?We are very concerned that these men may be bogus callers, and we are advising residents not to deal with them and under no circumstances to allow them into their homes.
?Sandwell Trading Standards offers a rapid response service to incidents of doorstep crime. Anyone encountering these men or anyone else acting suspiciously who calls at their home should telephone us for an immediate response.?