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Ramdev part of Hindutva brigade's lunatic fringe? Allopathy isn't above board either

By Aviral Anand* 

I am no fan of Baba Ramdev. I also know that being the devil's advocate in cases like these cannot be a well-liked thing, especially among progressive circles. I also very consciously distance myself from all his Hindutva-like pronouncements.
Currently, all of the major bodies of the allopathic doctors' associations are up in arms against his uncouth statements. The BJP-government's health minister has upbraided him, no less. So I seek a little indulgence from the reader as I try to present my arguments as to why the current reaction by India's (allopathic) medical community seems out of proportion.
I am not a medical professional, so I have no personal axe to grind in this, especially by advocating this medical system or that. As someone who receives consultations and treatments on occasion, I am squarely in the "patient" category. What I really care about is "wellness," and "getting well-ness." I do not care which system of medicine cures me. My own preference is no medicine; but if there is a medicine or cure that I require, then I would prefer to go with one that is in harmony with the bodily systems.
More recently, as someone whose mother has been undergoing various treatments for at least 2 years, I am also an "attendant" ("patient ka attendant") in cases of hospitalizations. So, I have had a ring-side view of the various kinds and trajectories of (allopathic) medical processes.
And I have to admit, all treatment procedures, which are not downright straightforward, seem to flirt with the limits of scientific knowledge. There is an element of the unknown or the unknowable, especially when it comes to matters of the brain (i.e. neurological issues).
I am not sure how many times I heard the phrase from doctors regarding a particular issue: "We do not know when it will heal; we cannot predict." And then just as an extended disclaimer, the doctors would add, "There is the age factor, na..."
That is fine with me but then one must acknowledge the fact that medical science has its limitations. If it operates in spite of such limitations, then it is acting on "best case scenarios," and "hopeful projections."
There is also the issue of the (allopathic) medicine-based treatment itself. Very often, the first round of medicine to a patient with an ailment slightly more complex than a body-ache or the common cold, seems experimental. There does not seem to be a prescription based on some thorough and rigorous diagnosis or what in other fields is called a "root-cause-analysis."
When we sought treatment for my mother's incessant babbling recently, a highly-recommended neurologist prescribed medicines which just ended up heavily sedating her all day long. The moment the effect of the sedation started to wear off, my mother would start to babble again. So, what exactly was the point of those medicines, which were originally prescribed for 10 days but we had to curtail after just three days? I can keep multiplying such examples.
Now, of course, a common reaction could be that I just need to look for another doctor, a better doctor. In my defence, I ask -- how many doctors do I have to keep consulting, for I have already consulted a good number. And why should finding a "good doctor" be a quest like finding a spiritual guru or something like that?
It might be pertinent to mention here that my mother's latest condition, where she is a bedridden patient suffering from several issues, is on account of a mishap while she was undergoing a medical procedure at a reputable private hospital. It was a risk going into the procedure, we were later told, and that "such accidents happen." Since that "accident" we have not had a moment from attending to my mother to even think of apportioning blame. How does one determine responsibility and accountability in such cases? Follow the American model of suing for medical malpractice?
The well-known author who is also a practicing doctor, Atul Gawande, poses the following questions in his book, “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science”: "How much input should a patient have? How can young doctors gain hands-on experience without endangering lives? And how responsible are these doctors for their mistakes?"
What holds for "young doctors" can apply to more experienced doctors also. Who bears responsibility for errors and slip-ups? How does one rationalize treatments which seem to be no more than wild-goose chases?
None of the above is meant to be an outright rejection of the entire discipline of modern medicine. This piece does not aim to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, a fair critique of the discipline must be allowed so it gets the feedback it needs to improve and rectify its processes and methods.
After all, the lives of human beings are involved and the tolerance for errors, oversights and mistakes can be very limited. Knowing full well that doctors are also human beings one can still expect a certain notion of humility from them about the effectiveness of their methods and science.
Current popularity of yoga among Indians, where it is recommended as part of the Covid-recovery regimen, owes a lot to Ramdev
As civil rights activist Harsh Mander's experience in a Delhi hospital during the pandemic last year demonstrated, there are huge gaps in healthcare delivery even in established medical institutions. Siddhartha Mukhejee, another practising doctor and a writer, comments in a piece on American medicine during the virus last year, that "Medicine is a system for delivering care and support; it’s also a system of information, quality control, and lab science. All need fixing."
A recent report regarding a yoga institution in the Coimbatore area highlighted how its nearly 3,000 residents have remained largely disease free. They also imbibe some ayurvedic concoctions, which they feel helps them against threats of a disease. They have shared the drink with residents of several villages around Coimbatore, who have also remained largely unaffected by the virus while it has been rampaging through the city of Coimbatore.
One can of course take such descriptions with a pinch of salt, but the fact remains that there is no shortage of people projecting alternative cures and treatments. Some adivasi communities in Jharkhand have decided to use their own treatments, such as neem oil, to fight Covid and they feel it is effective.
The medical profession need not protect itself to be beyond any criticism, making it almost punishable to utter contrary views, as though indulging in some offence equivalent to contempt of court.
Soon after Mamata Banerjee was elected for the third time, she announced that "quacks" would be drafted to confront the corona crisis. According to the news report about the quacks, "they often form the backbone of treatment in areas with hardly any qualified doctors." Qualified doctors in India's rural areas is a challenge that has bedevilled medical education and deployment in the country for a very long time.
Can one legitimately raise the question why the doctors who profess to serve the most underserved and needy, avoid India's rural areas - and leave them to the mercy of quacks? Where is the sense of moral responsibility in such cases? Extending the argument, where then does this system of medicine draw its moral authority from, when it seems to shrug off its larger responsibility towards the society?
People like Ramdev are probably the lunatic fringe of the Hindutva brigade that is often talked about. But it is undeniable that his advice on several matters pertaining to issues of health are followed with great reverence by many Indians.
I personally know of acquaintances who claim to have benefited from some chronic issues by following one of his yoga routines. Speaking of which -- the current popularity of yoga among Indians, where it is recommended as part of the Covid-recovery regimen -- owes a lot to Ramdev.
Close to 30 years ago when I became familiar with the system of yoga, it was still almost a niche activity in India. That has dramatically changed today, in great part on account of Ramdev.
If the speakers' list at an upcoming international conference on yoga is to be believed, several allopathic practising doctors from around the world will be participants, including those from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, and from some leading institutions in the US like Massachusetts General Hospital. The overlap between the allopathic medicine system and more traditional systems such as yoga and meditation is fairly well established now and it would be pointless to tear them asunder.
A professor at one of the leading institutes of the world, Harvard Medical School, for instance, is also on the yoga faculty of a yoga institute in the USA. There are hundreds of such examples today, especially with the popularity of research areas like mind-body interactions and integrative medicine.
One has to remember that alternative modes of knowledge exist all over the world. There are various ways to look at the human body and its processes and functioning. The western medicine mode of super-specialization, where each specialization only seems to know about its tiny little area is a bane of the system though often seen in glowing light.
Not for nothing have disciplines like systems biology started to be adopted at leading universities around the world, like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). According to one explanation, systems biology is "a holistic approach to deciphering the complexity of biological systems that starts from the understanding that the networks that form the whole of living organisms are more than the sum of their parts."
It is not difficult to see that Ramdev is merely lashing out, having been frustrated in his attempts to push through his Covid vaccine and other sundry cures. Fair enough. But even the Government of India approved vaccines are causing fatalities which are hardly being reported. 
According to one recent report, titled “Post Vaccination Deaths Raise Concerns in India”, there have been several hundred cases of people with one or both vaccine doses succumbing to Covid. How then does one impose complete faith in vaccines coming out of the western/allopathic medicine pipeline?
Surely, an egregious statement from someone known for making wild and sensationalist claims need not throw an established mode of medicine into paroxysms of rage or some kind of self-doubt. By now most of us have experienced some very admirable cures and some remarkable allopathic doctors we are grateful to. There is no question that allopathy is an established mode of practice in India.
But examples from the medical education and the medical profession from countries like Cuba show, there are more people-centric goals that even allopathic practitioners can adopt. With the privatization of healthcare in India, costs are prohibitive. As a recent news report, titled “Covid-19 in Karnataka: Families sell valuables, land to settle bills”, highlights, the costs associated with treatment, especially in private institutions are extortionist.
One had not seen any mass protests or rumblings from within the medical fraternity protesting such medical systems. Ramdev need not bother India's medical fraternity that much. But there is a case to be made regarding the physicians, and the system they are in, healing itself.
---
*Writer based in Delhi NCR

Comments

South Asia Times said…
All knowledge (including medicine) is liable to change. Allopathy term is wrong as there is no such medical system. Modern medicine is based on evidence. Trial runs use thousands of people. When new evidence comes knowledge is changed. Baba Ramdev is a quack and unqualified. His criticism of modern medicine is not evidence-based. He is also a businessman whose stuff preys on ignorance and lack of knowledge. It's not a competition between different medical systems. Baba's utterances are against science and demonize modern medicine. The saying that nothing is perfect but practically we accept what is nearest to perfect or rationally reliable. Some people can't be convinced. After all, many believe the Earth is flat.

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