Skip to main content

From 'Naatu-Naatu' to 'Nipah-Nipah': Dancing to the tune of western pipers?

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* 

Some critics have commented that the ecstatic response of most Indians to the Oscar for the racy Indian song, “Naatu-Naatu” from the film, “RRR” reeks of sheer racism, insulting visuals and a colonial hangover. It was perhaps these ingredients that impressed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one critic says.
“Naatu-Naatu” isn’t just another peppy Indian movie song with colourful sets. If it were so it wouldn’t have fetched an Oscar the critic concludes. Instead, the song depicts a demeaning and dystopian colonial setting in which two of dark-skinned Indians are desperately trying to impress at an all-white English cocktail party. The five minute song conveys on how the West-admiring Indians obsequiously try to impress their Western counterparts.
As an epidemiologist and public health expert for over four decades, I am dismayed to see this obsequiousness among our public health experts, scientists, policy makers and politicians in matters concerning health of our people. This attitude generates greater acts of omissions and commissions than commercial movies. At stake are lives and livelihoods of Indians.
Present day scientists seek celebrity status at par with movie stars. When Nipah last emerged in Kerala, in 2018, scientists and policy makers claimed they controlled the virus by their efforts. Local film makers and musicians even made a celebratory music video out of it! This was perhaps a sign of things to come in the future. 
We have entered an era of commercial movies instead of serious science on matter of health and disease glossing over uncomfortable truths. Of course now we have a full fledged blockbuster on the Covid-19 pandemic –"The Vaccine War," which celebrates “Made in India” Covaxin for Covid-19, a vaccine which was hardly used in India, with only 16% Indians taking this vaccine.
Around 80% Indians were administered Covidshield which was developed by Astrazeneca in UK and Serum Institute of India was the sweatshop for mass production of the Covishield brand. A large number of countries had halted the rollout of Astrazeneca/Covishield due to Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI). 
There was nothing “Made in India” about Covidshield except for cheap Indian labour scaling up the production of a vaccine which was rejected by the West. Nothing to cheer about a “Lost Vaccine War” as our “India Made” Covaxin’s contribution to our vaccine rollout was a mere 16% compared to 80% by the British-Swedish Pharma giant Astrazeneca vaccine marketed as Covishield.
One who pays the piper calls the tunes. Western pharma giants find a vast market as well as cheap labour in India to scale up their sales and manufacturing.
The latest revived tune is “Nipah-Nipah.” We should not take any emerging or re-emerging infection lightly. Making movies and musical videos are not serious science. More pipers enter the fray. In addition to pharma giants and well meaning philanthropists with amateurish scientific insights, movie moguls eye the box office profits. 
Fiction and glamour overtake serious science. And of course career scientists who now have the incentive to become celebrities overnight in addition to promoting their careers. Let us examine the science of the Nipah virus sans the glamour of movies and music videos.
Nipah virus is a zoonosis, i.e. primarily an infection of animals. Humans can get accidently infected. The reservoir (where the virus thrives) is the fruit bat also called flying fox. Some of them may even enter human dwellings. Some fruit bats are even consumed as bushmeat by some communities. The virus was named after the village in Malaysia where it was first identified in 1999.
The virus crossed the animal barrier from bats and infected humans resulting in encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) with up to 40% mortality. The outbreak was first recognized in pigs that consumed fruits partially eaten by the fruit bats and transmitted the infection to humans.
In the same year, Nipah virus infection was confirmed in 11 male abattoir workers in Singapore out of which 1 died. His death was suspected to be due to handling imported pork from Malaysia. The outbreak in 1998-99 in Malaysia and Singapore resulted in 265 cases of acute encephalitis with 105 deaths and near collapse of the billion dollar pig-farm industry.
In 2004 Bangladesh confirmed its first Nipah outbreak by the presence of anti-Nipah virus antibodies in serum samples. Between the years 2004-2010, Bangladesh had nine outbreaks and another one in 2011 in a remote village in which 15 people died. In Bangladesh, the main source of transmission was eating raw date palm fruits.
In India the first outbreak of Nipah occurred in Nadia in West Bengal in the year 2007. Then in 2018, Nipah outbreak was reported in Kozhikode, Kerala with fruit bats as the source of the infection. During this outbreak most deaths occurred among health care workers in close contact with infected patients. A total of 60 infected people died. Another outbreak occurred in 2021 in Kerala and since then Nipah had claimed 20 lives and is reported to be spreading in Kerala.
Nipah virus infection in human has a range of clinical presentation from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infections, fatal encephalitis (brain inflammation), and severe neurological disease. The death rate is 40-75% according to reported outbreaks since 1998.
The high fatality rates is inversely related to its epidemic or pandemic potential as higher fatality translates to lesser transmission potential as reflected by R0. The R0 of the Nipah virus is less than 1 i.e. one infected person will transmit the infection to less than 1 person. Infections with R0 greater than 1 have higher chances to cause epidemics and pandemics. Nipah presently does not show that potential.
However, there is again hype of an emerging pandemic on occurrence of two deaths due to the Nipah virus in Kerala in the past few weeks. Only a handful of people have been found to be infected on contact tracing involving thousands of people.
Ham-handed restrictive and draconian measures have become the protocol for all infections post Covid-19 pandemic. Studies have established that these crude unscientific measures caused more collateral harm with negligible benefit particularly in poor countries. Going against this evidence base, thousands of offices and schools have been closed in Kerala and containment zones have been established around nine villages. Such measures fracture society and are uncalled for. More rational would be preventive measures at individual level by proper awareness among the masses.
We have entered an era of commercial movies instead of serious science on matter of health and disease glossing over uncomfortable truths
This can be achieved in several ways. Social media platform and local television channels are important platforms for proper risk communication without causing panic. Others include FM radio stations and local newspapers and posters. Farm workers may be informed to avoid direct contact with farm animals, especially during slaughter and disposal, wearing appropriate personal protective clothing during hazardous tasks. Villagers may be told to avoid eating date palm fruits and drinking date palm juice that may be contaminated if fruit bats live on these palm trees.
These are similar to the simple measures we teach to avoid getting killed in road traffic accidents. We educate the public to follow traffic rules. In vain it seems in our country, and the police too is casual in penalising defaulters unlike the gusto they display in enforcing draconian measures like mask mandates and lockdowns! If media hypes each case of road traffic accident occurring on a daily basis, people can be psyched to stop using motorized transport and stepping out as well.
Daily around 422 people mostly young die due to road traffic accidents in India and many more get disabled for life. This is perhaps more than all the deaths due to Nipah virus since it was discovered in 1999 in Malaysia, almost 24 years ago! 
Imagine, and get the perspective – every day in India we lose more lives than the total lives lost due to Nipah virus in 24 years! It would save more lives if the policy maker and police came down more heavily on traffic rules violations than close schools and businesses due to viruses and pathogens which abound in nature and are not amenable to control by such unscientific interventions.
Even as infections go, over 1400 Indians succumb to TB daily, and dengue kills more in a year than Nipah has killed in 24 years just to give a couple of examples as data is not robust for communicable diseases that kill many time more than exotic infections. For example data on dengue is not current on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website. The latest figures are till 31 July 2023 and that too provisional.
We lose over 2,000 children daily from mundane preventable causes. Japanese encephalitis and Leptospirosis kill many times more than the sporadic Nipah and so on. A far deadlier zoonosis than Nipah, rabies with 100% mortality killed 307 people in India last year with 48 deaths in Delhi. 
Stray dogs still abound on Indian streets with frequent news report of a child or an elderly being mauled by them. How callous can our policy makers be – neglecting these obvious public health menaces and chasing an exotic virus with far less deaths at the population level!
Scientists should continue their research activities in the background without clamouring for immediate media attention. Media hype distorts the information and creates public panic which can be counterproductive. Besides, pharma and the pharma backed WHO are desperately on the lookout for the next pandemic so as to push through the Pandemic Treaty which will give extraordinary autocratic powers to an unelected body and deprive democracies of their autonomy.
Regrettably similar to colonial times we are dancing to the tunes of the strong Western dominated pharma lobby and Western powers and Western “philanthropists” with deep pockets. Any death is a tragedy, Nipah or otherwise. But public health demands setting health priorities which depend on the burden of mortality and morbidity. Certainly, Nipah comes low down on this criterion. Trying to chase this at huge cost will divert resources from our other pressing public health problems.
The National Institute of Health (NIH), USA, has already launched clinical trials of mRNA vaccines for Nipah virus. Some time back a private institute in South India, Manipal Centre for Virus Research, was surreptitiously collaborating with the US based Centre for Disease Control (CDC) for research on Nipah virus which has also been identified as a potential bio-weapon. 
The lab was being used without approval of the government of India to map the Nipah virus which can be used to develop the vaccine, the intellectual propriety rights of which will not be with India. Studying how the human host reacts to the virus can also potentially help in the notorious, “gain of function” research.
History repeats itself. We have modern versions of Mir Jaffars who dance to the tunes of their Western masters, be it Naatu-Naatu or Nipah-Nipah!
Private institutions are under immense pressure as well as career scientists and academicians to get “foreign” grants for their research to advance in their institutional rankings and careers, respectively. Alas in this desperation they are liable to sell their souls if not their country to Western powers.
*Epidemiologist, presently Professor in a Medical College at Pune; had served as an epidemiologist in the armed forces for over two decades; has written the book, Covid-19 Pandemic: A Third Eye



'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.