Modern Ayurveda Anyone? The Problem With Getting Stuck In Ancientness
The task for the thought drivers of the Indian Right is an unenviable one. To build a coherent and convincing narrative from many incompatible strands within their ecosystem is not easy. Imagine them seeking to balance Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for making India a knowledge powerhouse and global tech superpower with the vociferous advocacy in certain quarters of the healing powers of gaumutra and gobar (cowdung), or talk of unleashing of the scientific spirit in the country with the anti-allopathy rant of an influential Yoga guru! It’s tough.
No wonder we find them hemming and hawing a lot these days. Their arguments, largely vacuous in normal times, focussed as they are essentially on shifting the blame and being clever, are getting weaker as these are inside matters. Surely, the Congress or the Nehruvian legacy cannot be blamed if groups considered pillars of the Right ecosystem are disdainful of modern science and Left liberals cannot be pilloried if superstitions are peddled as solutions even in the time of a pandemic. Making it worse is the stark reality of the situation out there. People are dying in large numbers and there’s scarcity in all aspects of healthcare. It’s possible the noisy mouthpieces of the new order have suffered personal losses in the pandemic too. The faux confidence is wearing thin. Even the social media zombie army appears subdued.
It’s reality time. Thought leaders of the Right must go beyond whataboutery to be credible.
It is beyond doubt that our ancients possessed great scientific minds. They would not have flourished without a general culture of curiosity and knowledge in the contemporary society. Ayurveda, a comprehensive system of health and well-being, not just medicine, grew in such a milieu over centuries. It is obvious that a lot of research, experiment and trials went into its findings those days. The question to the current champions and defenders of Ayurveda is whether they have carried scientific spirit forward or just stopped at glorifying our achievements in the past.
The common complaint against present-day Ayurveda is lack of scientific evaluation, evidence-based research and inadequate clinical trials. The practitioners treat the discoveries and remedies of the ancients as set in stone and not open to re-look in view of changes in human life and lifestyle over time. The latter certainly would have hated this pathetic approach to something so important to human lives. The challenge for the advocates of this traditional system of medicine should have been to introspect and build scientific rigour into it, and evolve. They have taken the easier route instead.
Following the current trend of discrediting the perceived rival instead of addressing one’s own weaknesses, they have launched a savage attack on allopathy. The questions – Doesn’t allopathy kill people too? Does it have remedies for all ailments? Don’t doctors prescribe poor medicine? Don’t its practitioners mock Ayurveda? – are pointless as usual, aiming basically to shift attention away from the fundamental flaws within. Allopathy is not without its weaknesses but at least it’s open to revision. Why can’t Ayurveda be modern? We are yet to hear anything about it from within its community. The titans of medicine of past would certainly hold the 21st century counterparts with utter contempt.
The same absence of reason blights the Right’s glorification of other aspects of the past. For example, how do they graft Vedic India, or whichever part of ancient India they idealise, into the India of 21st century? Can they, for the sake of the common man’s understanding, specify the period and spell out its standout features? Ram Rajya is a brilliant proposition, given it’s about a just ruler, happy subjects, fairness of law and absence of disease and discrimination. It is the ideal all states should look up to. But how does it square with the disdain for science, low faith in the judiciary, respect for superstitions, creating divisions within the society and leaving people at war with each other? Like in the case of Ayurveda, the votaries of Ram Rajya appear to reject re-imagining it it in the current context. The refusal of evolution of societies through time is all too stark here.
Lack of clarity and coherence of thought shows through as the vocal supporters of the Right make berating others, and not reasoned arguments, their sole weapon to score points in media debates and elsewhere. However, at some point they would need to deal with incompatibilities within. Bringing a Yoga Guru-turned-passionate advocate of Ayurveda and scientific research open to peer review in one seamless frame may take some effort though.