“Ayurveda is a way of life. If the world can accept yoga, it will also accept Ayurveda.” This validation by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 6th World Ayurveda Conference held at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan last week brought cheer to hundreds of “folk healers” present who have been fighting for recognition of their craft. These practitioners, mostly in rural areas, use healing techniques learnt from previous generations. It’s well known that Modi is a vegetarian who practices yoga and the recent establishment of a Ministry of Ayush (acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) is possibly a reflection of his lifestyle. In September, Modi even asked the UN to consider establishing an International Yoga Day.
In a quote given to this newspaper (10th November, Delhi Newsline), one of the practitioners at the Ayurveda meet who has studied till class 8 said: “We don’t need MRIs and CT scans. We are masters of pradarshan bhasha (language of symptoms). I treat with 3000 herbs personally picked from the Western Ghats.” But according to a report published in Down to Earth magazine, 16 per cent of freshwater fish, dragonflies and aquatic plants in the Western Ghats are going extinct due to water pollution and effluents, and the lack of a solid waste disposal system. God help anyone eating a paste made of herbs from here. If India is serious about promoting these old therapeutic traditions, quacks operating within the system have to be stopped.
The proponents of alternate forms of medicine present the argument that the West has dominated our thinking with allopathy since they have contributed the most to the world as it is: you can’t argue the biggest funder of medical research is America’s National Institute of Health (NIH). Yoga has however, gained legitimacy and in the next few years with the increase in the stature of India, the logic is the world will sit up and take notice of ayurveda. Contrary to most sceptics’ perception, ayurvedic doctors do have to go to some sort of medical school and get the Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS). For Unani, there’s the Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (with a rather unfortunate abbreviation, BUMS). Both are five-year courses with a one-year internship. It can’t all be bunkum. Yet, most of us think they have as much scientific credibility as snake charmers and extra terrestrials.
Weirdly enough, people are willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to homeopathy. Yet, I don’t know one person who hasn’t tried it and many continue to swear by it. A scientific minded person will say these remedies violate the laws of chemistry. But if one is getting better, which is the aim after all, isn’t it a good thing to be reacting to placebos? With Ayush, plant origin medicines, naturopathy and meditation will get a real shot at going mainstream. Allopathy hardly has all the solutions. The patient only cares if the medicine works— not why.