Jhapa locals resort to religious function to cure ‘conversion disorder’In the past one and a half months, 24 students at Pashupati Secondary have been afflicted with the condition.
At noon on Sunday, a violent seizure gripped Yunisha Dhakal, a ninth-grader at Pashupati Secondary in Amdangi, Jhapa. She was surrounded by her classmates. Keshav Pokhrel, a teacher, frequented the scene, asking about Dhakal’s improvement, which seemed unlikely at the moment. Kritika Kafle from grade eight had suffered the same condition two days earlier.
“I became unconscious while sitting on a bench. I can’t recall anything after that,” Kritika said. “Before that, I felt a sudden pain in my body and my muscles contracted.”
Another pupil at the school, Nishma Kafle, went through the same ordeal a month earlier. But Nishma’s mother, Seema, said she doesn’t show the symptoms when she is at home. “Once she gets home, everything seems all right, as if nothing had happened,” said Seema.
In the past one and a half months, 24 students at Pashupati Secondary have been afflicted with the condition. Sometimes, students are taken over by violent shivers; they run in the middle of class and fall unconscious. What started with a couple of students has now spread to two dozens. According to the school administration, the condition is apparent in students of grades eight, nine and ten. Gokul Subedi, a teacher, said it has disturbed the classes.
The school, however, hasn’t searched for a scientific remedy. Neither have the students gone through medications. Instead, the school invited jhankris—the traditional faith healers—twice in search of a cure.
When the school administration learned that jhankris were unable to solve the crisis, it has now opted to organise a Puran Puja, a Hindu religious ceremony, on the school premises. The date for the seven-day affair has already been fixed—February 6 to 12—as decided by a joint discussion among the ward chair, Nabin Baral, local representatives, guardians and teachers.
But Principal Lakshman Pradhan said that the school administration was pressured to invite the jhankris and organise a religious ceremony.
“Even though we don’t believe these measures would solve the crisis, we had to agree as it was decided by mass consensus,” Pradhan said.
Dr Nidesh Sapkota, a senior mental health specialist at BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, said the condition that has gripped the students is mass hysteria. According to Sapkota, the condition is a minor problem that can be cured through psychological counselling.
“If the student who faces the condition is removed from the crowd, it gets cured gradually,” he said.
Psychologists call the condition ‘conversion disorder’, which causes the patient to shiver, shout, collapse and ultimately fall unconscious. According to Sapkota, the condition starts with a single person and then spreads to other people. This is a kind of psychologically transmitted condition that spreads out of fear and anxiety, said Sapkota, referring to the reason why it’s called mass hysteria.
“The disorder is caused when the subconscious anxieties and fear manifest physically,” Sapkota said.