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Ramdev And His Allies: Pseudoscience In India

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

A video of Baba Ramdev slandering Allopathy and accusing the system of medicine to be responsible for the death of lakhs of COVID-19 infected people has done its fair rounds on social media. While the Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust on Saturday “clarified” his statements and their intent, he can in no way be absolved of the criticism of peddling pseudoscience.

corona medicine baba ramdev

Baba Ramdev’s claims are extremely dangerous, especially in the pandemic situation that India is currently in.

It is no news that this multi-billionaire has built his empire selling an unverified and hence unscientific system of medicine; however, what makes it relevant now is that he is in a relentless pursuit of expanding this empire even amidst a pandemic that has had the entire nation gasping for breath. In June 2020, when the scientific community was still struggling to devise a comprehensive treatment procedure for COVID-19, he launched what he claimed to be the “first Ayurvedic cure” for the disease based on a trial conducted on just 280 patients!

Despite the backlash from the scientific community, the Ayush ministry permitted the sale of this product as long as it is sold as an “immunity booster”.

Fast forward a few months to February 2021 when we saw the Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari at the launch ceremony of the same “medicine” alongside the release of a “scientific research paper” supporting the claim by Patanjali that it is the “first evidence-based medicine” for COVID-19 that has received certification from the AYUSH (the acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa, and Homoeopathy) Ministry as per the WHO certification scheme, a claim that WHO soon clarified to be untrue.

Growing Government Support For Pseudo-Science

While the pseudoscientific claims or prophecies of a God-man might not come as a surprise to most Indians, the unwavering and unhidden state support that he receives should be examined as together they are widening the cracks and crevices of an already fragile public health system. The God-man figure of Baba Ramdev and his endorsement of traditional systems of medicine has indeed provided a fillip to the right-wing extremist ideology that seeks to exalt and popularise anything that seems to have an Indian origin.

The tendency of this regime to support alternative medicine systems for the sake of jingoism is precisely what led to the formation of the AYUSH Ministry just months after it came to power in 2014, which was previously just a Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The “research” that is said to be conducted by this Ministry upholds little of what is today accepted as the scientific method.

It is biased in its approach to the scientific question and quick to conclude anything favoring their chosen belief (proof of which is their endorsement of Coronil as an “immunity booster”) and has little regard for the ideas of reproducibility of results and rigorous external review. 

Why Are People Rejecting Modern Medicine?

Even before this hyper nationalistic narrative gained wider traction, these alternative systems of medicines have had a considerable consumer base, be it the popularity of Ayurveda among the upper castes and the urban elite or the relatively affordable medical support it offered the poor in our country where a lack of public health facilities is juxtaposed with the exorbitantly high charges demanded by the private sector.

The prevalence of these alternative systems across the country must be read in conjunction with the acute lack of scientific temper among the populace and a growing state-sanctioned spread of pseudoscientific news and practices, which makes it much more convenient for people to reject the solutions devised by modern medicines and resort to other methods that aren’t even necessarily authorized. This can prove not just ineffective but also potentially harmful.

The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party is complicit and even actively supported the spread of pseudoscientific methods in India.

Let us not forget that the leaders of the ruling party have not hesitated to advocate the use of gaumutra (cow urine) for the treatment of COVID-19. While this clamor for unscientific practices might come from the higher echelons of power, those that reap the consequences of these are inevitably the most vulnerable in our country. 

In the wake of a worsening pandemic and a growing number of reported cases of mucormycosis, the government needs to immediately stop funding unscientific practices of medicine, hold its practitioners accountable and be proactive in prebunking to prevent pseudoscientific news from doing rounds among the masses for it to hold any credibility in blaming the opposition for issues like the vaccine hesitancy among people.

Those in power at the moment have clearly done much more damage to the overall scientific temper of the people by spreading manufactured, unscientific news and weakening people’s confidence in modern science.

We might be able to vote the right-wing nationalists out of power someday, but the culture of barbarism and pseudoscience that they ingrain in the people would take much longer to mitigate and threatens to destabilize any genuine progress that has been and can be achieved in the field of public health and community welfare.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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