ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Phantoms or fantasies ? Dealing with grief and violent death in Uttarakhand


Bindi Serena - Université Paris Cité, Université Paris Cité, Paris, France


37 – Violent births and deaths: coping with challenging life experiences in South Asia


Are the victims of bad death present among the living? Should the living cultivate attachement to them?

In the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, as in many regions of South Asia, there is a shared idea that those who have suffered a violent dead stay in relation with the living. If such relationships are usually initiated by the dead, they can, in some cases, be nourished by the living. The possibility for relating with the dead is sustained by ritual practices of “possession” which support the idea of the deceased’s presence and ground it in people’s tangible experience of their body and its symptoms.

Such practices seem to be at odds with psy-related languages and practices of dealing with grief which have been freshly introduced in the region, in the wake of several catastrophes. Supported by a secular epistemology, psy-related practices tend to attribute not an ontological but a psychological status to the deceased: overly persistent in the patient’s mind, these produce “visions,” “beliefs” or “forms of delusion.” Therefore the living should not be in relation with them.

In short, we could say that the victims of a violent dead nowadays are on one side phantoms (i.e. ghosts, spirits of the dead) and on the other, fantasies (i.e. imaginary entities). 

How do people – both patients and healers – deal with this situation?