A schizophrenic India cannot advance scientifically

India is subjecting itself to contrary pulls. It wants to be reckoned among powerhouses of modern science and technology. At the same time it is obsessed with its past and wishes to pit ancient India against the modern world. India’s commitment to modern science is only skin deep. The space allotted to it has been rapidly shrinking, and elements, which at one time were considered to constitute the lunatic fringe, have been brought centre stage and made the new mainstream.
Slogans such as ‘We have to defeat corona’ or ‘We have to chase corona far away’ have been coined and repeatedly mouthed as if we were a different virus challenging the supremacy of the corona. Community ringing of bells, clinging of utensils, and use of military helicopters to shower petals may appear to be a striking exercise in public relations, but it diverts attention from the real issues. The pandemic should have been used as an opportunity to discuss the sad state of government hospital system and medical education, but apparently it is more convenient to talk of inanities rather than address real problems.
On the one hand Indian government wants our medical experts to quickly develop covid vaccine. At the same time, false and exaggerated claims are being made quoting government sources. A manufacturer of popular brand of bread has added ‘Ayush Mininstry recommended immunity ingredients’ such as ginger, turmeric, clove, cinnamon, jaggery, etc., and started advertising it as immuno bread, as if eating it would be medically beneficail
Immunity is the new buzz world. By an unwarranted extrapolation, immunity boosting has been equated with cure and that too for covid. A video uploaded on 24 July or a little earlier shows the Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal endorsing a brand of papad being manufactured in his parliamentary constituency. He declares that it has been made under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) initiative and ‘will prove useful in the fight against corona virus’. A manufacturer has added ginger and turmeric to its bread and rebranded it as immuno, giving the imp
Cleverer people recognize the value of claims of scientific validation. At a press conference held on 23 June, Baba Ramdev, a television Yoga guru, and a successful businessman who is known to be close to the highest power centres, launched an Ayurvedic drug called Coronil, claiming that it had cured within a week all covid patients who took part in a trial conducted at the privately-run National Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Jaipur. The Chancellor of NIMS and many members of the faculty shared the dais with the Baba. Under pressure from the government and the media Ramdev backtracked from the cure claim and declared that the Ayush Ministry had used the term Covid ‘management’ for our medicine and not Covid ‘treatment’. The clever distinction is going to be largely wasted on general public.
The Uttarakhand state Ayurveda department has clarified that it has granted license to Ramdev’s pharmacy for manufacturing an immunity booster and not a covid cure. The medicine consists of ingredients traditionally employed in flu and fever cases. Whatever immunity-related properties it may have, they can only be of a general nature and not specific to covid. The government is guilty of permitting the medicine to be given the misleading name, Coronil.
Ramdev has recently been prevented from using the name coronil, not on grounds of medical ethics as should have been the case but on infringement of trade mark. The Madras High Court judge went beyond copyright issues and declared: that Ramdev’s pharmaceutical company, Patanjali, has been “chasing further profits by exploiting the fear and panic among the general public by projecting a cure for the coronavirus, when actually their ‘Coronil Tablet’ is not a cure but rather an immunity booster for cough, cold and fever.” The court has imposed a fine of ten lakh rupees on the company, but this is unlikely to faze Ramdev or weaken his political connections.
Playing the victim card, the Baba declared that practitioners of Yoga and Ayurveda were being treated like terrorists and criminals. Throughout the world there is respect for ancient herbal healthcare tradition. Subjecting traditional cures to rigorous testing to bring them into modern medical mainstream is a greatly valued endeavour.
In 1969 China appointed Tu Youyou as the head of its anti-malarial drug project She interviewed patients, read Chinese medical classics, examined numerous Chinese herbs, and visited practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. In 1981, she presented the findings relating to her discovery artemisinin at a meeting with the World Health Organization. By 2006, artemisinin had become the treatment of choice for malaria, and fetched her 2015 Nobel medicine Prize. Scientific mainstreaming of tradition is a slow, painstaking, altruistic, and long-drawn exercise. Objection is not to herbal cures but to the unethical ways employed to market them.
In times of crisis it is customary for many people to turn to ritual and religion for peace of mind. Many ancient mantras are being promoted as personal ‘protection chants’. For the Lok Sabha member, Pragya Thakur, covid provided an opportunity for pushing forward her political agenda. She exhorted people to recite Hanuman Chalisa five times a day from 25 July to 5 August to ‘rid the world of the coronavirus pandemic’, and to conclude the ritual by lighting lamps on August 5 and offering aarti to Lord Ram at home..
Usually when pandits prescribe time period fo ra ritual, they suggest say from a Monday to the next or from a full moon to the following new moon. An ‘English’ date entered Pragya’s prescription because the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya was scheduled for that day. Individual prayers may have a soothing effect, but organized community ritual can only inflame political passions. Perhaps that was the idea.
Today we recognize the scientific and technological pre-eminence of the West and use it as a benchmark in various ways. It will be instructive to see how the Western mindset has evolved over the past six centuries. Long oceanic voyages as well as encounters with new peoples, new cultures, new geographies, and new ecologies taught the Europeans an important lesson: knowledge does not lie in the past but into the future; not in the church or ancient libraries, but in observation, exploration and experimentation.
The Recent India has chosen to dwell in the past and constantly dwell upon it. If India wishes to progress, it will have to largely resolve its inherent contradictions and jettison a substantial part of the past baggage it has chosen to carry. Unless India learns to value scientific methodology and becomes futuristic it cannot gain strength and command respect in the world.//

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