Earlier this month in India’s city of Pune, a black magic mystic “godman” performed a rite of exorcism on a 24-year-old woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Sandhya Sonawane, the woman, died days later, and her family went to the police. On Saturday, the hospital submitted an account of the event, but local authorities have rejected the report as insubstantial.
“This is a clear case of medical negligence and we demand a detailed inquiry into the matter,” Sonawane’s brother Mahesh Jagtap told local media.
“My sister was suffering from breast cancer after her second delivery,” the brother recalled, according to Britain’s Daily Mail. He said she went to Dr. Satish Chavan, the man accused of inviting the “godman,” in November. “Even after her first surgery with him, she suffered from the same problem and another lump was detected in her breast.”
“Chavan then advised a second surgery, but soon after that as well, her condition became even more critical, and she experienced major bleeding. When Chavan asked us to shift her to Deenanath [Hospital], we were confused.”
“I was present at the hospital when Chavan came with the godman. I filmed the incident and went to Shiv Sena [a far-right regional political party] leader Sachin Tawre,” the brother continued. “He helped me and my family with approaching the cops.”
Sonawane passed away Sunday before last, days after the filmed attempted exorcism, in which the “godman” attempted to ward off evil spirits. Footage of the event has gone viral on social media.
Japtap’s video showed the godman removing an object from his bag, and waving it over Sonawane as she lies on the hospital bed. The godman moved the object from her head to her toes while chanting a kind of incantation.
The family said they were not notified of the attempted exorcism beforehand.
According to the family’s police report, Sonawane was admitted to Chavan Nursing Home on November 29, but after one surgery the following day, Dr. Chavan transferred the patient to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Deenanath Hospital on February 21. The doctor did not show up to check on her until March 10, when he appeared with the godman and told the family he would finish “the last part of the treatment,” the local Pune Mirror reported.
After Sonawane passed away, a Deenenath Hospital spokesman denied any involvement in the exorcism. “Our hospital has nothing to do with this incident or with Chavan. We do not allow such practices. Sandhya was admitted here due to some complications. Her condition was critical and she was under the treatment of Dr. Sameer Jog,” he said.
While the spokesman confirmed her death, he vociferously denied any connection between the hospital and the exorcism. “Our hospital is not responsible for any such superstitious practices.” The hospital even denied any connection with the staff shown in the video.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) health department compiled a report on Dr. Chavan, which the state’s health services manager dismissed as weak and devoid of proper facts.
“This was supposed to be submitted to the director of health services, the health commissioner and even the principal secretary of health. But this report includes only information fo the incident and the treatment history,” an anonymous senior officer said, according to the Pune Mirror.
“The report lacks investigation and findings over whether the death of the woman was caused due to greater importance being given to black magic rather than treatment,” the official added.
For his part, Dr. Chavan denied the allegations. “When I went to meet the patient, the godman was in the hospital and when I told him about Sandhya, he insisted on meeting her,” the doctor said in a statement. He insisted that he asked Sonawane’s family for permission.
“I took permission from Sandhya’s husband and relatives. When I was speaking to the patient, the pujari was on the other side of the bed and removed something from his pocket,” the doctor said. “I did not want foreign objects in the ICU so I took it from him and put it in my pocket. I still don’t know what he did.”
Dr. Chavan did not explain why his account seems to differ from the footage of the exorcism.
Before approaching the police, Sonawane’s brother and the local party leader went to the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), an organization “that works towards eradication of blind faith and superstitions across the state,” the Hindustan Times reported. Some traditional beliefs support exorcism, but the practice and the ideas behind it find a great deal of opposition in Indian society.