Twisting tradition: The curious case of a seedy medicine

Rajesh Kochhar and Ramesh Kapoor

 

 

Recently, Sh. K. C. Tyagi, a Rajya Sabha MP, speaking in the House, protested against an Ayurvedic medicine, Putrajeevak Beej, on the ground that it promoted gender discrimination. Responding to the charge, Swami Ramdev, who is associated with the Hardwar-based Divya Pharmacy that manufactures the medicine, stated that the medicine was named after ‘the scientific name of the herb Putranjiva roxburghii’.

The argument is fallacious. The species is a tree which was inducted into modern botany by a British naturalist, William Roxburgh, who has placed on record his reasons for the nomenclature. Roxburgh wrote in 1826 that in Madras, the parents bought the seeds of the so-named tree some cases, families have preserved some trady in the bazaar, strung them, and put them ‘round the necks of their children, to preserve them in health’. It is ironical that the mere latinization of a Sanskrit term denoting ornamental use of a tree is being invoked to claim scientific validation for  its supposed medicinal properties.

 

The term Putrajeevak Beej is misleading. The correct usage would have been Putrajeevi Vriksh ke Beej ( that is the seeds of a tree called the Putrajeevi). By using Putrajeevak as a qualifier for Beej, an impression is being created that the seeds have a son-related attribute. The impression is strengthened in the minds of people by the circumstance that planting the seed has the popular connotation of impregnating a woman.

 

Demands have been made that the name of the medicine be changed. The issues involved however are more fundamental than mere name-change. The label describes the drug as Ayurvedic Proprietary Medicine. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 (as amended from time to time) makes a clear distinction between the traditional and the proprietary in the context of Ayurveda.  A traditional medicine consists of standard ingredients, combined in strict accordance with the classical texts (example: Chyavanprash). Proprietary medicine also contains only standard ingredients, but now combined in a novel manner, based on personal experience and research (Example” Liv-52). It can be manufactured only after receiving a license. Putrajeevak Beej consists of a single naturally occurring ingredient. There is no question of any novelty here.

 

Categorization of an Ayurvedic medicine as proprietary implies controlled experiments and clinical trials. In such a case, the manufacturer  should  make a clear and unambiguous statement on the indications, benefits, side effects, etc. of the medicine. In the case at hand, however, the benefits claimed to be obtainable from the medicine vary from packet to packet, or from batch to batch, as if they were no more than marketing slogans.

 

The licensing authorities should explain how a simple natural produce which has not been processed even to the extent of being powdered has come to be classified as proprietary medicine implying scientific research and development.

 

(The first author has been professor of pharmaceutical heritage at National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Mohali, while the second author has published original research on Ayurvedic system of medicine.)

 

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