The Business Of Spiritual Pirs

Spiritual soothsayers, popularly known as pirs, exploit people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They are routinely involved in extorting large sums of money from their clientele, mostly uninformed people seeking alleviation of their grievances

The Business Of Spiritual Pirs

“What brings you closer to God is being in service to others. I think any religion or spiritual way of life will indicate that service to others will lead to a connection with a higher power”—Steve O

In order to survive, human beings have to make a living for which they must seek employment, engage in business, adopt a profession or vocation, provide services, practice agriculture, utilize assets and so on. People can conduct their livelihood affairs in two ways—either honestly or dishonestly—with both bringing in earnings, thus allowing them to lead comfortable lives. Those who pursue their activities sincerely have nothing to fear. They may not make a lot of bucks, but sleep with a clear conscience. They may not be able to enjoy extraordinary luxuries but are generally content with whatever they can afford.

Those few who aspire to just add to their wealth engage in all kinds of legal or illegal acts that can convert them into billionaires overnight. They indulge in different forms of nefarious activities, with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the negative effects on others. Such dishonesty includes acts like smuggling, food adulteration, selling defective products, embezzlement, fabrication, collusion with the objective of defrauding, theft, bribery, cut-backs, or even murder.

One of the most interesting businesses anyone can imagine is that of spiritual soothsayers, popularly known as pirs in our country. They exploit people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, especially those related to faith. All they need to do is concoct some miracles in connivance with their partners in crime, and within no time they are surrounded with hordes of the distressed seeking cures for their ills, physical, financial and emotional. Thinking that these clairvoyants have instant solutions to their problems, people flock in large numbers to their doorsteps. Some may openly fleece them in terms of money, but the discreet ones profess free treatments with boxes for ‘whatever’ nazrana (donation) they may want to drop in them. These boxes can be seen in almost all known and unknown shrines in the country. People willingly fill them up with their hard earned money, but ask them to pay their taxes, a host of excuses prop up.

People throng in large numbers to these shrines or asthanas (places of residence) in the hope of having their wishes fulfilled

When a society is afflicted with undue restrictions, particularly in relation to females, but is quite liberal when it comes to freedom exercised by men, there is bound to be mistrust, frustration and emotional lava that brews beneath an artificial façade of morality. When anyone dare questions why what is wrong for one is right for the other, the response is extremely harsh and many a times, quite brutal. The self-proclaimed saviors of society spring into action to stifle any dissenting or rebellious voices. In such suffocating circumstances, men in general and women in particular, resort to the slightest element of support that they can get their hands on. Exploiting these human beings in despair becomes the pastime and means of income for these wicked pirs.

Once these blood-sucking parasites successfully ground themselves somewhere, they start thriving on their false claims, exorcism and all kinds of voodoo tricks. They lure people with their glib tongues or with the aid of their companions who walk among the distressed indicating the route to achieving happiness or solutions to personal issues by telling them their own cooked-up stories. Through these sly means, people get robbed of their money in return for alleviation of their grievances that are mostly on account of personal or social injustices. 

Anxious mothers seeking grooms for their many daughters that were borne in the hope of a son, issueless couples desiring children, men looking for jobs or wanting to go abroad, terminally ill patients hoping to get cured, young men and women wanting to possess the apple of their eyes, frantic mothers-in-law or daughters-in-law seeking to grab control over the household, property and wealth seekers desirous of finding treasures, unsuccessful businessmen—throng in large numbers to these shrines or asthanas (places of residence) in the hope of having their wishes fulfilled.

With due apologies to sanity, if this was to remain restricted to merely stripping devotees of a few rupees, perhaps it would not matter so much but regrettably, sometimes these wolves in sheep’s clothes can go to the extent of sexually molesting women under the garb of ridding them of mental and physical pain. These predators unashamedly make men agree to leaving their wives, daughters and sisters alone in their company. Credit goes to these irrational, not to mention poor-willed husbands, fathers and brothers who easily fall prey to this idiocy. News items such as “Fake pir sexually assaults woman at gunpoint in Punjab” or “Teenage girl violently beaten up in a bid to get jinns (demons) out of her body” or “Fake pir arrested for blackmailing, extorting 50 tolas in gold from woman”, frequently adorn headlines, yet these imposters continue to flourish.

It is mind-boggling how people get attracted to these charlatans and their shenanigans. Barring a few who appear decent, the majority are even detestable in appearance with their unclean looks and smelly attire. One wonders how one can be exposed to the bad breath as they blow on one’s face or eat from their chewed left-over. One can only lament over people’s faith in these fraudsters and their willingness to be abused at their hands. Scholars have undertaken studies in their efforts to expose these fake businesses, but it seems that regulators are just silent spectators, having no power to put an end to these depraved activities.

The Inland Revenue Service (IRS), along with other revenue collection agencies is quick to pounce on persons doing their work legally and to a great extent, honestly, but are oblivious to the millions being earned as income by fake ‘pirs,’ although their business concerns cannot be unknown to them. Tax law principles do not just relate to legal sources, but also cover even the illicit ones, yet what can be done when government agencies deliberately keep their eyes shut much to the public’s dismay.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)