Dhoni’s Temple

I have been working in Jharkhand for the last few days.  Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest and least educated states.  It is also home to our recent World Cup winning captain, the great M.S. Dhoni.  I really like Dhoni, but I am disturbed by some of the reactions to our victory.  Two things in particular bother me:

1. Governments of several Indian states have given a lot of land and money to cricketers who are already millionaires.  These guys don’t need more land or money.  I hate that my tax money is going to them.  Dhoni was already earning more than $10 million/year two years ago, Sachin drives a ferrari and other cars, and Yuvraj Singh earns some $4 million/year just from Reebok.  These guys can now look forward to, among other things, a lifetime of free first-class travel on Indian railways.  What a waste of money.  (one gift I found amusing rather than annoying – Dhoni is receiving an honorary doctorate, without having ever completed a bachelor’s degree.  haha)

2. One would think that winning the cricket world cup would be down to some natural talent, a lot of hard work, good coaching, luck, match-fixing, etc.  But speaking to people around here, it seems the real reason we won was that Dhoni frequently visited and received blessings from the Mata Deori Temple.  The Man of the Series, Yuvraj Singh, also immediately thanked his guru after the victory.  Yuvraj’s mother said in a TV interview that the guru gave him excellent advice like “stay calm and don’t get out”.  One billion other people could have said the same thing.  But back to the main point – I fear that when high-profile events like this are attributed to gods/God-type things, we risk creating a culture where hard work is not encouraged.  To be clear, people don’t really believe that devotion is a sufficient condition for success, but many do think it is a necessary one.

When my field team and I were returning from a village yesterday, they insisted that we stop at the Mata Deori Temple.  It was already quite late in the evening and visiting the temple required a 20km detour, but they were convinced that to successfully complete our project, we had to visit this place.  I agreed because of the outside chance that Dhoni would be around.  A few weeks ago, when I was working in Chhattisgarh, I was faced with an identical demand –
“We are near (some temple, the name of which I cannot remember)!  Lord Rama walked through this area!!  A visit to this area is not complete without going to the temple,” and then later “We can’t go to (earlier temple) without also visiting (this other temple that’s close by)!!  The visit is simply incomplete.”

The weekend before I came to Jharkhand, I was watching a super-dramatized Hindi news report from “TRIBAL JHARKHAND” about this horrifying practice of piercing the stomachs of 21-day old babies with a scalding iron rod, which supposedly protects the children from developing any stomach problems.  In the village we visited right before going to the temple, all the children had scars from this.  So I asked some adults about it, and they told me it was really helpful, and if children who didn’t have it done did develop any stomach pains later in life, they too would be put through this.  I told my team members about this, and while most of them agreed that it was crazy, one person (who is completing her MSc, though I’m not sure in what exactly) tried to convince me that this might work, as it could somehow transform cells and strengthen the immune system (incredibly, this is what some doctors are saying too).  I am not convinced that this practice is effective, and even if it does have some beneficial outcomes, many children die during the procedure, so there really should be no reason to continue it.  But such is faith, I suppose.