A rational ayurveda

A rational ayurveda
04-Jul-24 05:17:31

The goal is the welfare of mankind. The new govt must take steps so that the Ayush establishment is peopled with those who are knowledgeable enough to base their policies on truth

Ten years ago, the Narendra Modi government created a new ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy). The budgetary allocation for this ministry has increased from 691 crore in 2014-15 to 3,647 crore in 2023-24. Given the length of time and the significant increase in financial support, at least a few noteworthy outcomes were expected from the government’s declared endeavour of enhancing the evidence-based quality of Ayush systems.

The reality is otherwise. Barring one or two promising projects in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research, the progress in scientific research in the Ayush systems has been lacklustre.

Traditional medical systems are based on ancient texts. These texts serve as the repertoire of health-related observations and therapies. Their use for patient care, however, necessitates timely, evidence-informed revisions of the textual content. Without revisions, these systems would only be suboptimally safe and effective. The ability to differentiate between ancient beliefs and verifiable facts is the key to such reforms.

An ideological position that holds that ancient Vedic and allied philosophical texts contain advanced science couched in mystical utterances is antithetical to revisions. The Gazette of India voiced that ideological position in February, 2022. A National Commission for Indian System of Medicine notification published therein equated padartha vigyan, a subject on the philosophical bases of ayurvedic theories in the first-year ayurveda degree course, with quantum mechanics. Another detailed document on padartha vigyan brought out by the NCISM even said that a study of quantum physics will enhance the understanding of concepts explained in Indian philosophy. Despite protests in academic publications of repute, there has been no retraction of this view by the Ayush establishment.

Scientific facts are being erroneously summoned to prove the supposed timelessness of ancient philosophical speculations. To add insult to injury, the Ayush establishment came up with a more ‘innovative’ idea thereafter. It introduced Medical Astrology in the Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Sowa-Rigpa curriculum as an elective course. Far from enhancing the evidence-based character of classical ayurveda, this move formally dragged ayurvedic studies towards the fantastical and the pseudoscientific. That the top echelons of the Ayush establishment were misguided became clear when Sarbananda Sonowal, the then minister of Ayush, insisted in the Lok Sabha that there was no proposal to reconsider the introduction of medical astrology as an elective in the ayurveda degree course.

Even as the Ayush establishment busied itself with imparting pseudoscientific ideas to students, a welcome development took place. A senior professor of ayurveda from Banaras Hindu University wrote an article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics confessing that the official approach to ayurvedic studies is marred by an institutional inability to sift usable facts from obsolete speculations in ancient medical classics. The article was widely discussed in the ayurvedic community, but the Ayush establishment only saw it with hostility.

The aforementioned acts of omission and commission make it plain that the Ayush establishment has cared little for science and scholarship. It scarcely realises that its ‘innovative’ moves are diminishing the scientific quality of ayurveda while also stifling the intellectual abilities of young ayurveda students. The injustice being meted out to the patient community is unthinkable.

Science needs an ecosystem to thrive. It needs researchers who are animated by a fondness for truth. The goal, of course, is the welfare of mankind. Ayurveda and other traditional medical systems are in desperate need of a scientifically-vibrant ecosystem. Financial resources are of little value unless a field is equipped with the intellectual resource that can put them to proper use. The new government must take urgent steps so that the Ayush establishment is peopled with those who are knowledgeable enough to base their policies on truth.

G.L. Krishna is an ayurveda physician and researcher