Thursday, January 19, 2006

L'Affaire Swami Ramdevji Maharaj

He has been very much in the news for more than a year now.He rose to fame with his much- seen Aastha channel on TV. The asanas he taught to a large receptive audience seemed to have made him a cult figure.For millions of his followers every morning,Swami Ramdev is the 5am family physician.He taught his shisyas pranayam too,meditation and other techniques to improve the quality of life.He guaranteed cure of ailments like asthma,high blood pressure,diabetes,migraine,cervical spondylitis,bronchitis,constipation etc. And many were really cured.That increased his credibility and popularity and fame exponentially.He is a proud Indian,with strong belief in our traditional medicines and value system,He started the Divya Yoga Mandir at Hardwar and in a span of 10 years he has created a huge organisation and a terrific brand equity for himself. His followers swear by him and are prepared to give up their lives,if required. Indeed,he is a Messiah to his disciples.

Then what went wrong. Firebrand Brinda Karat,CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP took him on. She accused him of using human and animal matter in his preparations advertised as Ayurvedic and herbal.She had his medicines bought and analysed by Ayush,the wing of the Union Health Ministry which deals with indigenous medicine.The initial findings indicated that human and animal bones have been used in the so-called herbal preparations.The mud slinging started.

Brinda also accused Swami Ramdev of unfair labour practices in his factory at Hardwar and wanted the Ministry to take action. She even paraded the sacked workers who gave testimony that human and animal bones were indeed being used for preparation of the herbal medicines .Swamiji accused her of instigation at the instance of the MNCs to bring about a bad name to him in particular and Ayurveda in general. Swami Ramdev regularly speaks out against fast food and MNCs. One of his favourite lines is: "Cola matlab toilet cleaner." His supporters burnt her effigy and indulged in earsplitting hullabaloo.His big followers from his 'circle of influence' rushed to give him a clean chit and have called Brinda and company as traitors and denigrators of Ayurveda,yoga and even Hinduism.Why are millions queuing up in his support? Simple. Most owe their improved health to the breathtaking art of pranayama.By simplifying pranayama he has made it accessible even for the aging and obese.I don't think Brinda had bargained for this. And not even his friendly b-i-l Prannoy whose NDTV gave her huge publicity.

There is a school of thought that thinks that Swami Ramdev's desi aphrodisiac is giving stiff competition to Viagra which has recently started sales in India and that this is a MNC conspiracy to discredit him.

Where does the truth lie? As in such cases, somewhere in between. I am currently reading a book titled" Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery" by Kenneth Zysk.In one chapter he writes that sick monks required fats as medicines.The Buddha allowed five types of animal fat to be used as medicines and consumed as oil before meals.Fats from bears,from fish,from alligators,from swine and from donkeys.Oil of the permitted fats were used as medicine.I have also read that Ayurveda prescribes the powder of deer horns for preparation of medicine for certain ailments.Buddha permitted it and Ayurveda has been using it for thousands of years.Then why all this tamasha now.We should not just get carried away by sensationalism.

What needs to be done is to ensure that all ayurvedic products exhibit the ingredients of the product. Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940,stipulates that.Unfortunately because of some unscrupulous manufacturers,sale of Ayurvedic products is being banned in some countries.We all know that Ayurvedic medicines also contain lead, mercury and arsenic.What need to be ensured by the regulatory mechanism is that they are all within safe limits for human consumption.Pharmaceutical procedures must be regulated.And Ayurveda needs to integrate more organically with modern medicine.These important issues should not get missed out in the mudslinging battle.We need to address the key question whether the ayurvedic and herbal products of the Divya Yoga Mandir conform to the requirments of law and public health or not.If not,what corrective actions are required to be taken by the Government to ensure that these medicines are fit for human consumption.

If Swami Ramdev emerges unscathed out of this Agnipariksha, his reputation will soar. If he doesn't, the folk hero's downfall would be imminent.

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