Bad Medicine, Fake History, Postcolonial Complicity: Ayurveda in the Time of COVID

Palm leaves of the ‘Sushruta Samhita’ from Nepal, saved at the Los Angeles County Museum…

Bad Medicine, Fake History, Postcolonial Complicity: Ayurveda in the Time of COVID

Palm leaves of the ‘Sushruta Samhita’ from Nepal, saved at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photograph: Community domain


  • “What we have received here is a let-them-take in-cake COVID-treatment regime: 5-star hospitals for the loaded and the highly effective, Ayurveda for the masses.
  • “Ayurveda and yoga as symbols of Hindu sciences have always been a section of the Hindu nationalist worldview.
  • “For additional than a century, proponents of Ayurveda have been honing a style of argument which I call ‘strategic inclusivism’,” suggests Meera Nanda.

The subsequent is the full textual content of a lecture that historian of science Meera Nanda delivered at the ‘Dismantling World-wide Hindutva’ convention, held on line on September 12-14, 2021. The text has been evenly edited for model.

I will start out with poor medicine and give a short overview of the Narendra Modi government’s promotion of probably dangerous Ayurvedic cures to fight COVID-19.

I will shift on to the concept of bogus record. I will glimpse at the workings of what I contact “strategic inclusivism” by which modern day Ayurveda has claimed parity with modern-day science, whilst fending off the scientific scrutiny of its foundational axioms and truth of the matter-promises.

Last but not least, I will argue that postcolonial critics of science have enable us down. For a lot of a long time now, they have been raging versus the really notion of objective reality as a mask for Western electricity. For many many years, they have been clamoring for alternative methods of understanding that can set modern day science in its spot. In their zeal to challenge the hegemony of modern day science, these critics turned a blind eye to the issues of testability, trustworthiness and validity of the fact-promises of different sciences.

Now that we have so carefully dismantled the thought of aim real truth, what grounds are we left with to problem Ayurveda’s bogus remedies and flawed epistemology? What is even even worse is that the postcolonial arguments for celebrating the “hybridity” of Indian science are exactly the arguments that the Ayurvedic establishment takes advantage of to dress their pseudoscience in the extravagant costume of science.

Undesirable medicine: Ayurvedic treatments for COVID-19

From the get started of the pandemic in early 2020 by means of the deadly second wave in India in mid-2021, the Ministry of AYUSH authorized a selection of Ayurvedic remedies, either as antiviral cures or as immunity boosters. These medication do not call for prescription, and can be put together with allopathic therapies. I will not go into all the information but briefly glimpse at what was accepted and how it was distributed.

4 ayurvedic natural medication make up the main of the AYUSH remedy system: Samshamani vati, Baba Ramdev’s Coronil, ashwagandha and AYUSH 64. Samshamani vati and Coronil have a herb called guduchi, or giloy, which has been located to bring about significant liver harm in a range of research in India, Europe and the US. The Ministry of AYUSH downplayed these very well-attested toxicity research, preferring the time-worn defense of “thousands of many years of use.”

AYUSH 64 was produced 40 a long time in the past as a get rid of for malaria, which it failed to do. This unsuccessful antimalarial drug was “repurposed” as an antiviral dependent on computer system modeling and the sum whole of just one medical examine, which was so shoddy that even the advocates of Ayurveda discovered faults with it. At a time when folks essential safe and sound and dependable treatment, AYUSH grew to become a purveyor of possibly hazardous medication.

In May possibly 2021, AYUSH introduced that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate, Seva Bharati, will be the government’s lover for distributing AYUSH 64 and a Siddha drug, Kabasura Kudineer. In times, reviews poured in of RSS adult males and ladies handing out this things in BJP-dominated states. States like Haryana paid out millions of tax-payer rupees in obtaining and distributing Ramdev’s Coronil, and a similar pattern was noticed in Gujarat for homeopathic medicine.

What we have bought here is a enable-them-consume-cake COVID-care regime: 5-star hospitals for the rich and the impressive, Ayurveda for the masses. If AYUSH has so considerably assurance in its own treatments, why did the AYUSH minister, Shripad Naik, not pop some Samshamani vati when he examined good for COVID-19 ? Why did he go for plasma treatment if AYUSH 64, or Ramdev’s Coronil, could clear the virus?

Fake heritage

I now switch to the historic problem of how we bought listed here.

The proximate will cause are obvious enough: Ayurveda and yoga as symbols of Hindu sciences have constantly been a part of the Hindu nationalist worldview. It was no shock that just after coming to power in 2014, Modi missing no time in upgrading AYUSH from a section less than the Union well being ministry to a complete-fledged ministry. The funding for AYUSH went up, new educating and research institutes have been developed, Ayurvedic treatment options have been lined less than the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, wellness tourism was promoted, and ‘Dhanvantri puja’ was declared ‘National Ayurveda Day’.

But there is a deeper history as to how we acquired listed here. For far more than a century, proponents of Ayurveda have been honing a model of argument which, borrowing from Paul Hacker and Willhelm Halbfass, I call ‘strategic inclusivism’. Hacker outlined the Indian design of inclusivism as “claiming for one’s personal worldview what belongs in actuality to an additional, international or competing method, [at the same time] dealing with the foreign elements as if they are basically lower levels on the way to one’s own worldview” (p. 411).

When applied to present day science, strategic inclusivism usually takes the subsequent sort: “When you, contemporary experts, say X, it is what our sages intended when they explained Y and our Y is greater simply because it includes and goes past your X.” This amounts to an endeavor to beat modern science at its own match by boasting the recreation itself.

Inclusivism is no common hybridity or syncretism. Syncretism is about mixing concepts, symbols and practices from distinct traditions. Inclusivism is additional like a hostile takeover: it lays ownership claims on the status-boosting ideas and methods borrowed from alien traditions. Like all hostile takeovers, it erases the distinctiveness of what is taken in excess of: fashionable science is scrubbed clean up of its revolutionary, custom-complicated epistemology and turned into a “merely materialistic” and “reductionist” way of being aware of what was presently acknowledged to our sages.

Ayurveda has been participating in this inclusivist match considering that Ayurvedic vaidyas began to organise into skilled bodies all around the starting of the 20th century. Two very well-recognised physicians – Kaviraj Gananath Sen (1877-1944) and Srinivas Murti (b. 1887-?) – laid the mental foundations for the hostile takeover of modern day medicine. The jingoism of Modi, Ramdev and the AYUSH institution is a product of this takeover.

At the core of this takeover bid is the declare that Ayurveda was not basically a rational, proto-scientific organization within just its possess conceptual classes – but that it was scientific in conditions of the approaches of present day pure sciences that Ayurveda was modern from its pretty inception. The empirical custom that began with Galileo and received institutionalised less than the impact of Francis Bacon – the tradition that insisted on experimentally demonstrable and quantifiable evidence – was go through back into the strategies of Charaka, Sushruta and other ancient physicians.

But, and listed here is the rub, the empiricism of modern science was at the same time claimed and ridiculed in favor of the ‘Eternal Truths’ of Ayurveda. In truth, the same Srinivas Murti who breathlessly described the “shared ground” among Ayurveda and modern day scientific system went on to give a rousing protection of shabda pramana, invoking the authority of the apta, the non secular masters who knew the Vedas. The term of the apta, Murti insisted, is legit empirical evidence due to the fact it is primarily based on “direct observation” of the yogic masters, who did not want toys like microscopes or X-rays, but could see the unobservable concentrations of fact in their minds that experienced been perfected by yogic sadhana.

It is this certitude in the everlasting Reality (fact with a funds ‘T’) of what is composed in Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita that has stored the tridosha idea of Ayurveda outdoors the purview of scientific scrutiny.

Apologists like Murti, Gananath Sen and a total line of all those who adopted in their footsteps, began to deploy the language of biochemistry, physiology and physics to describe the a few doshas, gunas and ojas, and released the embarrassing spectacle of laying precedence promises, with out proof, for almost everything, together with germ concept, vaccination, blood circulation, elaborate surgical procedures and genetic engineering.

But they at the same time decried and ridiculed Western medication for constantly revising its periodic desk and coming up with at any time new theories of condition, when celebrating the Eternal Reality of our panchabhutas, tridoshas and tri-gunas, which in no way desired revising. Consequently, fashionable science was at when included and subordinated – appropriated for its prestige in the modern-day world but rendered toothless when it arrived to an objective evaluation of the foundational axioms, solutions and health-related procedures of Ayurveda.

This two-action dance – proclaiming scientific legitimacy but steering clear of scientific scrutiny – is exactly the running theory of the AYUSH ministry. The same ministry that was furiously whipping out “scientific” proof for COVID medications, has no compunction in declaring Ayurveda to be a “holistic science” that can’t be examined by double-blind medical research.

In 2019, AYUSH tried using to censor any study in ayurveda that was not to start with vetted by AYUSH gurus in get to secure the “public image” and “sanctity” of the custom. The ministry justified this gag purchase on the basis that “the ideas, principles and strategies of AYUSH units and their drug-based mostly interventions are not at all similar to the prevalent fashionable health-related system.” AYUSH let the cat out of the bag: claim the seal of acceptance of science to push its treatments, and declare incommensurability when threatened by falsifying proof.

Pseudoscientists around the entire world have a ton to learn from AYUSH!

Postcolonial complicity

I now switch to how postcolonial science experiments have unwittingly legitimised the hostile takeover of science I have just outlined.

The AYUSH ministry’s two-phase dance is precisely what was to be expected from the variety of hybridity that Gyan Prakash celebrates in his substantially-cited ebook, A different Cause (1999). For Prakash, and his many fellow-tourists, how the 19th century Hindu thinkers managed to hybridise science of their colonial masters with their possess archaic know-how methods is a indicator of their company. It demonstrates that Indian intellectuals residing underneath colonialism were no copycats who obediently mimicked the science of the white guys.

For Prakash, this stitching jointly of the historic and the modern is not to be decried as a hostile takeover by our nativists, as I do, but a little something to be celebrated as an act of self-assertion and creativity of the colonised persons.

Interestingly, Prakash spends substantial amount of money of ink on Srinivas Murti’s “negotiations” with modern science and lauds him for asserting “Ayurveda’s ineluctable difference” even though announcing Hindu Vedas as the “original property of modern day science”. This, in Prakash’s telling, was a “profoundly contestory proposition,” (p. 230) an act of “tremendous creativity” and an act of anti-colonial resistance (p. 229).

What will make it “contestory” and “anti-colonial”? It is contestory because, by hitching modern day science to the spiritual traditions of Hinduism, nationalists have been equipped to obstacle the phony universality of Western science with their have statements of Hindu universality. This translation of science into a Hindu idiom permitted Indians to existing “Hindu culture as common knowledge” (p. 89) and not basically a faith of the Hindus. Hindus could now present that Western know-how was not the only sort of common knowledge, but that Hindus, also, possessed a knowledge-tradition that was similarly universal.

Herein lies the coronary heart of the problem: For postcolonial science studies, the universality of Western science is purely a make any difference of raw imperial energy. So any discourse that worries it is by definition anti-imperialist. The opposite position which I adhere to – that fashionable science’s universality lies in its sturdy methods that allow it to get our descriptions of the authentic world as proper as probable – is condemned as a signal of “mental colonisation,” or a whiggish positivism.

The dilemma is that the postcolonial perspective of details as social constructs of power leaves us with no grounds to check with: are the Ayurvedic theories of illness and wellness objectively legitimate? Do they make it possible for us to get the underlying truth of the struggling entire body ideal? These inquiries of goal validity of Ayurveda cannot even be meaningfully posed, enable by yourself answered, in postcolonial science reports.

Of course, Hindus can existing “Hindu culture as universal knowledge” by outfits it in science – and that is exactly what they have been executing given that Vivekananda’s popular Chicago address. Sure, we can test to conquer the West at its very own match by proclaiming to be born scientific “5,000 many years ago”. But at what value? As the fiasco of Ayurvedic medicines in the time of COVID-19 has shown us, pleasure hath a tumble.

Meera Nanda