It is an edge-of-the-seat suspense. All eyes are fixed on the man lying on the table bare chested. As everyone looks on breathlessly, Vikram Baba waves his hand in the air, chants some mantras and then cuts open the abdomen of the man with his bare hand. Blood oozes out and the Baba puts his finger in the stomach and pulls out a piece of ‘diseased flesh’. The audience lets out a gasp as the patient sits up and looks fit like a fiddle – his pain gone.

It was one of those ‘psychic surgery’ and it was performed without using a scalpel, forceps or any other surgical instruments. For a change it was not a ‘fake Baba’ pulling a fast one on gullible people, but a member of the Jana Vignana Vedika (JVV) exposing the faith healers.

On the occasion of its first national conference, the rationalist organisation demonstrated a number of magical tricks here on Thursday to expose the charlatans who take people for a ride. The Public Gardens saw the JVV members walking on burning charcoal, pulling a car with strings hooked into the flesh, driving blindfold, dipping fingers in boiling oil while preparing ‘bhajjis’. Shilpa Bai, a student from Anantapur, was the cynosure of all eyes as she squatted in mid-air with nothing to support her.

“There is no magic or mantra involved here. “Anybody can do it. Every trick has a scientific explanation,” said T.V. Rao, national secretary, JVV. It is actually the ‘mantra dandam’, the baton on which she rests her hand that supports her. “The L-shaped rod is fixed two feet deep into earth that acts as the supporting base,” explained M. Shankar Prasad of JVV.

After presentation of every trick, the JVV members explained the scientific principle involved in it to dispel superstition. Onlookers were surprised when told the trick behind the woman dipping her fingers in hot oil while frying bhajjis. “She dips her fingers first in cold oil before placing them in the pan,” a volunteer explained.

Prime Minister Narender Modi’s controversial remark that plastic surgery and genetic surgery existed in ancient India also came in for attack at the JVV programme. “It is absurd. If science was so advanced in the past why did they write on palm leaves instead of paper?” Mr. Rao asked.

JVV representatives from Telangana, AP, Pondicherry, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha attended the programme which aimed at promoting scientific temper in the country. “We want the Telangana and AP governments to bring out an Anti-Superstition Act. Such a legislation is already being implemented by the Maharashtra government,” Mr. Rao said.