Of ‘tantrism’ and trickery

Inside the world of cons created by fortune tellers

Faruk, a poultry dealer in Karwan Bazar who hails from Laxmipur, got married to his childhood sweetheart from the same village he used to live in. While they were staying in Dhaka, his wife got pregnant with their first child. But then, the couple had an altercation, and his wife went back to the village to stay with her parents.

Three months have passed, and she refused to return to him. That's when he saw a poster near his shop in Karwan Bazar, advertising one "Rayhan Tantrik", who claimed to be an expert in solving such conflicts, among other things, in 24 hours with his powers and expertise.

When Faruk phoned Rayhan, the tantrik, commonly known as a shaman, asked him to visit his chamber with Tk 15,000 for the arrangements. "Also, bring some of your wife's clothes," he told Faruk. "I need them to find out more about her."

So Faruk went to Chandina in Cumilla to see Rayhan. Inside the chamber, a perfect stage was set for the show to begin.

There were metal pots and lots of smoke inside the room, creating an atmosphere of mysticism. Noises were made in the background, which sounded other-worldly, thanks to the influence of the ambience created beforehand.

Bati Chalan" used to be a common tactic used by tantriks, which they would use to bring back stolen goods. Nowadays, making predictions of one's lives and perils based on some basic Sherlockian deduction techniques, these con artists have gained quite a fanbase.

Twenty-two days had gone by after Rayhan Tantrik completed the ritual. Faruk's wife refused to come back still. He asked Rayhan for a refund but was refused. Rather, Rayhan told him that Faruk must have done something "wrong" and he should repeat the rituals again, which obviously meant spending more money.

Faruk and his wife eventually got separated.

Countless tantriks as such have been scamming people forever in the country. Mysticism has been a crucial part of this culture, transcending boundaries of castes and religions. With years going by, their marketing has seen new dimensions, and so have their tricks. Every corner of every city has posters with striking visuals, advertising the brilliance of these tricksters. A tantrik usually has clients from all religious backgrounds.

"Bati Chalan" used to be a common tactic used by tantriks, which they would use to bring back stolen goods. Nowadays, making predictions of one's lives and perils based on some basic Sherlockian deduction techniques, these con artists have gained quite a fanbase. And cashing in on the pre-existing superstitions of people, they have expanded more than ever in the last 10 years, especially after the pandemic, across the country -- like in Chattogram, Sylhet and Munshiganj.

Besides solving marital, financial, physical or emotional problems, these days many such tantriks are offering their "expertise" to solve the current load-shedding crisis too, which can be seen in countless posters pasted on the city walls and pillars.

This prevalent culture has encouraged poverty-afflicted members of the Bede community -- who became even more vulnerable during and after the pandemic -- to join in on the scam as well.

This correspondent got a first-hand experience of this phenomenon when he visited three villages in Savar, known as Bedepolli, to look for one "Khoka Kabiraj" (78), who claims to have trained in "Tantra" in India's Kamrup Kamakkhya for 12 years and has been in the profession for 45 years.

While looking for Khoka in Porabari village of Savar, several Bede women approached this correspondent. While one claimed to be Khoka's wife, others claimed to have the "power" as well. A shopkeeper couple claimed to be tantriks themselves, sitting inside an old shop, which worked as proof of their worsening economic status.

Upon reaching Khoka's tin-shed ancestral residence, it was known that he gets visits from six to seven clients a day and gets clients from India and Nepal as well. Arabic scriptures were hanging on the walls in a room that had a traditional "chouki" and chairs. Khoka appeared in simple clothes but was wearing three gold rings on his fingers and two gold chains on his neck.

He put on a show by making some random and vague assumptions about this correspondent's life and claimed to solve everything -- from domestics to loss in business and lawsuits. "You have recently faced a financial loss," said Khoka.

"Impressive. What else can you tell about me?" asked this correspondent.

"You also have a mole on the left side of your back," he replied, making a safe assumption.

Khoka then asked Tk 2,150 in advance for a "tabiz" that would prove beneficial.

"I could summon a 'djinn' to prove my powers. But I will need some money and a metal plate in exchange," he replied when this correspondent refused to pay for the Tabiz.

When showed eagerness in the djinn summoning part, he backed away.

This correspondent talked to several people who fell victim to such scams. However, none of them reported the incidents as they had no receipts of the transactions and the amounts were mostly limited to a few thousands.

When asked, Savar Police Station Officer-in-Charge Kazi Moinul Islam said, "We have received no such complaints. If we do, we will take action accordingly."


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