In June this year, a joint undercover operation conducted by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) blew the lid off the illegal trade in hatha jodi, a ‘sacred plant root’ that is, well, something else entirely. Jose Louies and Prerna Panwar, members of the investigative team, present this cocktail of superstition, cruelty and barefaced fakery, served with a side order of just deserts.
Photo: Riddhi Mukherjee/entry-Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2015.
When our undercover team first visited Acharya Kalki Krishna’s office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in late June, the former customs official was busy with another customer. Preeti (not her real name), a WTI investigator posing as an aspiring astrologer, and her companion, an undercover WCCB constable, were directed to the Acharya’s wife.
The Acharya’s occult business was clearly buzzing. Scattered around his office were several telecallers fervently working the phones, processing orders. There were a few young people on computers as well, keeping the self-styled spiritualist’s website purring, pushing the online sales of various tantric items.
Mrs. Krishna offered to examine Preeti’s kundli (birth chart) until her husband was free, but Preeti was all business. She was only there, she told the lady firmly, to evaluate the quality of the hatha jodi, siyar singhi and indrajaal – powerful charms and totems that any occultist-in-training would want in her arsenal.
A short while later the Acharya himself obliged, taking Preeti and the constable up to his warehouse on the third floor, revealing his treasure trove of ‘miracle products’. He also showed off his aura machine – a piece of electronic chicanery with two L-shaped arms that rotate through 180 degrees if one’s ‘aura is charged’. He demonstrated how Preeti’s depleted aura was enhanced to its maximum once she was handed the hatha jodi he was peddling. Finally, bringing his knowledge as a former customs officer to the fore, he told her how the...