What did Swami Ramdev say that so riled up the IMA, which has led to the spiralling controversy that refuses to die? Swami Ramdev, as is his wont, went a little overboard when he claimed — he later clarified that he was reading from a WhatsApp message — that allopathy was “stupid” and that it had failed science and lakhs of people had died due to “allopathic” medicine. The Indian Medical Association, a national voluntary organisation of physicians in India, was up in arms and wrote to the union government, asking that strict action be initiated against Ramdev. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, himself an otorhinolaryngologist, wrote a stern letter to Swami Ramdev, asking him to withdraw his comments and tender an apology.
Swami Ramdev while expressing regret, shot out a list of 25 questions that essentially questioned the efficacy and credibility of modern medicine in the light of several documented treatment failures and a lack of a cure or proper treatment for some diseases or disorders like Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, for example. The IMA, in turn, asked the Patanjali Yogpeeth Ayurvedacharyas to participate in a public debate where they would not only answer these questions but also pose several of their own. Additionally, the IMA also questioned the credentials of both Acharya Balkrishna and Ramdev, claiming that they had never “shown’ their certificates of qualification.
As the volley of accusations and counter-accusations continued back and forth, the mainstream media had a field day, calling it a “Ramdev versus IMA” fight and most of them taking the side of the IMA while egging participants on televised debates and talk shows to take pot-shots not only at Ramdev but also at the ancient system of Ayurveda. The standard narrative still playing out is that the doctors are ‘martyrs’ whose contributions to the country, particularly during the pandemic, have been so great that anyone who questions them is “anti-national”. Perhaps, encouraged by the narrative, the IMA took the fight to the next level, asking the government to book Ramdev under the sedition law while the Uttarakhand IMA filed a defamation case, demanding compensation of 1,000 crores.
Meanwhile, the incumbent president of the IMA, Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal in an interview to Christianity Today, made some startling claims that made the whole issue even murkier. Some of his quotes from that interview could only be sourced from secondary sources because the primary source on the Christianity Today website returns an error message:
The page in all probability has been taken down because of the outrage and anger it caused across the country. Some of what Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal is alleged to have said in that interview makes us wonder if he is a doctor or an evangelist in the garb of a doctor. Consider the following:
The most common system is modern medicine based on scientific evidence. The government of India, because of their cultural value and traditional belief in the Hindutva, believes in a system called Ayurveda.
For the last three or four years, they have tried to replace modern medicine with this. Now, you will have to study this alongside Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, homoeopathy, yoga, and naturopathy.
Not only does his grouse seem to be against Ayurveda but against Hindus in general, the government and Hidutva in particular:
They want to make it one nation, one system of medicine. Next, they will want to make it one religion. This is also based on the Sanskrit language, which is always traditionally based on Hindu principles. This is an indirect way for the government to introduce the language of Sanskrit and the language of Hindutva into the minds of the people.Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal in the interview
Strangely, while he seems to have a problem with “Hindutva” entering into the minds of people, he has no issues it seems in “proclaiming the message of Christianity”.
I am able to see, even amid persecution, even amid difficulties, even amid the control by the government, even among the restrictions we face in openly proclaiming the message, by various means and ways, Christianity is growing.
My primary concern when I work as a Christian doctor is to ensure that I have time to talk about the mental well-being and spiritual healing of the person. We need more Christian doctors to work more in secular institutions, mission institutions, and medical colleges.
“I am working as a professor of surgery in a medical college, so it is also a good opportunity for me to carry on the principles of Christian healing there. I also have the privilege of mentoring graduates and interns…”
He is very clear about his active opposition to the government at the centre even in the midst of a raging pandemic that has destroyed lives and livelihoods across the country:
As the leader of the Indian Medical Association, I need to continue filings against the government. We have organised various demonstrations and protests. In the last 14 days, I have organised a hunger strike across the country, and most of our modern medical doctors have participated. But at the moment, I am also seeking the wisdom and guidance of God Almighty about what I will do in this difficult time.
And he claims that it is the Church that is doing its bit to treat and provide succour during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the government has failed in its duties
The majority of people who got sick were from the middle or top socioeconomic statuses. The people on the lower level — yes, it was a problem, but most of the time it’s really the churches who were taking care of them. The government has not come forward to support them.
The IMA, which took such umbrage to Ramdev’s comments, strangely jumped to Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal’s defence, saying that all of this was “false propaganda” and threatened to take “necessary action in due course of time” This in itself should inform us of the bias within the IMA.
Where does all of this leave us and what does one make of all of this? It is important to understand first and foremost that the IMA is neither a government body nor does it represent all the doctors of the country. As per the IMA website, the body has 3,27,207 members while the total number of modern medical practitioners in India is 12,01,354. So, at best they represent about 25% of allopathic practitioners in India. Secondly, the IMA’s defence of Dr Johnrose Austin Jayalal goes against its own pledge, specifically point-3 which says,
“I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient”
Thirdly, and most importantly, the biggest issue that practitioners of modern medicine and agenda-driven mainstream media outlets seem to have is the fact that somebody like Ramdev who does not cater to the sensibilities of the suave and chic doctors and media personnel who represent modern India has still managed to make a dent in the healthcare market in India.
Further, while one may have issues with the language and style of Swami Ramdev, it needs to be acknowledged that many of the questions he raised are indeed valid. Modern medicine still struggles with lifestyle disorders like Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, endocrine disorders like diabetes and intervention and symptomatic management seems to be the only approach to the management of cardiovascular disease.
Allopathy or modern western medicine as we know it, is a relatively new science that emerged in the backdrop of the Industrial revolution of the 18th century in Europe and the Americas with an initial focus on infectious diseases’ management that were a direct result of rapid industrialization and spreading urban sprawls.
Today’s medicine and the medical establishments bear no resemblance to what was practised 150 years ago. Today modern medicine is a multi-stakeholder business with large corporate hospitals and government hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pharmaceutical distributors and pharmacies and medical insurance companies who are all in it for the “business” with the possible exception of the government. That is why healthcare today is no longer about service (as the IMA website declares in its vision statement) but about ensuring profitability and pushing the business motive.
It is in this light that this fracas between Ramdev and the IMA needs to be viewed. Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved’s revenue from operations touched Rs 9,022.71 crore in the year ending 31 March 2020 and net profit increased by 22%. Here is an upstart that has threatened to upstage the practitioners of modern medicine and corporate Institutions by offering an alternative — the opportunity of preventive healthcare as opposed to therapeutic interventional care. Without a doubt, the advent of Patanjali has served to rejuvenate not only the ancient practice of Ayurveda but enhance the credibility of more than 7.8 lakh Ayurvedic practitioners across the country.
Ramdev, by being intemperate with his choice of words, provided the perfect opportunity for the practitioners of modern medicine and the IMA in particular to mount an attack on the indigenous system of medicine that has flourished for thousands of years in our country. Something that has stood the test of time for so many years cannot be completely false nor can it be discarded as redundant. Make no mistake, Ramdev is incidental to the greater objective of discrediting Ayurveda. His statements have simply been weaponised and turned against the ancient system of medicine indigenous to our country and its Dharma.
Finally, it is important to realise that India will never be able to get its health care under control till the time it gives step-motherly treatment to Ayurveda. The only principle that will work for a large and diverse country like ours is when Ayurveda is made the norm and Allopathy as the emergency fallback option.
Ayurveda deals with well-being, a holistic approach that is based on the premise of strengthening oneself across all four dimensions – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – such that not only are we able to live in harmony with our environment but also are able to develop a flexible and adaptive immune system that is responsive to the environment around. Allopathy is about breaking down the human body into its component parts and treating the parts without looking at how each part is an integral part of the whole. There is space and place for both and a synergistic approach is the key to India’s health and wellbeing.