About Author: Abbakka Prerana.
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In the current crisis of coronavirus, India seems to be doing better than the western world. Countries like US, UK, Italy which are expected to have better health facilities and hygiene have extremely high number of deaths. This has led everyone to think about what the underlying cause could be. Recently, scientists have come up with a hypothesis that the BCG vaccine could have helped India contain the spread of corona virus. The surmise that BCG could be a major factor in the fight against corona virus comes from a western drishti – there can’t be anything that India (natively) did better than the West.
When some country can withstand some crisis, there can be reasons which can be grouped into 4 different categories –
- There were some factors in our traditions/culture which were designed to save us from diseases or perform better during crisis situations.
- We did some things during the crisis that helped overcome the situation.
- There were some natural factors like weather or demographics that helped.
- Some factors that involve luck e.g. Major part of the population had BCG vaccine. Or Indians are used to many diseases, so the immunity helped to fight coronavirus.
Let me list out some possible factors from first 2 categories that I can think of –
Category 1 – Deriving from Tradition
Western world has unhygienic way of greeting (hugs & kisses or handshakes) even people they just got introduced to. So that must have spread the disease at an extremely fast pace.
We have some hygienic traditions like removing shoes at the door; washing hands, feet, face after entering home; blowing nose at the wash basin so hands are washed after that; having a regular bath etc.
Our food habits and recipes are based on Ayurveda. Also, majority people still eat freshly cooked home food. Cooking is not considered a lowly task, except for some part of the population which is westernized.
Our daily habits are based on Yoga/Ayurveda. E.g. We have a concept of उच्छिष्ट (uchchhishta in Sanskrit, jutha in Hindi) – not spreading our saliva into food that will be consumed by others. But in other countries, they are not aware of where their saliva is going. There are also some religious practices like kissing the cross or using a common spoon/cup to receive communion. In most Roman Catholic masses, believers sip the sacramental wine from a common chalice.” [i]
Better family life and mental health helps with issues related to health. Nowadays, we can safely (without the risk of being labeled superstitious) say that mental health helps with physical health now that the concept has been digested into western science.
Category 2 – Deriving from situational awareness
The government was checking passengers for travel history and symptoms since past few months. On the other hand, airports in US & Europe only asked the passengers to declare whether they had visited China in the past 2 weeks. This was at a time when the infection had reached other countries and they did not even check the passenger for symptoms or passport for travel history.
Government of India made the hard decision to stop international flights at an earlier stage. India also shut schools and colleges at an early stage compared to other countries.
Developed countries have a lenient lockdown where people are still meeting each other. People can drive their cars and public transport is running.
Category 1 affecting Category 2 – Tradition influencing situational awareness
Western culture is over-dependent on planning and cannot adapt to sudden changes. E.g. UK had to wait for a Monday to pass a bill in Parliament after which they could implement the changes for lockdown. And they need to inform everyone in advance. They declared that certain businesses will be closed from Saturday which led to crowded pubs on Friday night. In India, the PM announced at 8 pm that there will be a lockdown from midnight which led to crowded shops but that was only for a few hours.
Western culture is more materialistic – so the governments were apprehensive of announcing a lock down. People would not be ok with closing their business or losing their income. They even came out on the streets to protest. Western countries have idealistic notions of freedom and find it most important to fight for liberty and rights – so they are not ok with the police telling them to stay home. On the other hand, Hinduism teaches values like daana and kartavya, not just rights.
But most of the research/articles these days, are about the last 2 categories (of the 4 mentioned above), there is hardly any research about the first two. These kinds of articles imply that there is no achievement of our own when it comes to containing coronavirus, it is only because of this product of western science (BCG vaccine) that we just happened to be using. If the western world had done better, we would have seen articles about how they have better hygiene, better systems, better decision-making governments, etc.
The Exclusivist’s Science
As per Hindu traditions, a scientist is someone who seeks truth without any conditions or pre-conceived notions. But currently, all the “scientific” research is only concerned with western medicine and vaccinations, discarding other factors without any research. These researchers could be Indian, but they have been highly trained in the western drishti. Hence this scientific community has been ridiculing government & Ayurveda/Yoga experts for recommending remedies from Ayurveda.[ii]
The drishti is like “when my science does not have a solution for the disease how can you even claim that some other science has?”. In fact, many of them even refuse to acknowledge that there can be any other science – “my science is the only truth and everything else is false “. Don’t these sentences sound familiar? Just replace the word “science” by “religion”.
Although fanaticism with respect to Christianity has declined, the same attitude has percolated into science. Reason being that a population’s drishti depends on how their ancestors’ thought process was. Hence, the practice of exclusivity carries on. On the other hand, experts of Yoga/Ayurveda will not have such kind of reactions to some other science. They practice inclusivity as these sciences are born out of dharma. The Indian government even has included homeopathy in AYUSH giving it as much importance as sciences that developed in India, even though homeopathy did not originate in India. Interestingly, homeopathy is not accepted by practitioners of allopathy even though both originated in the west.
I would like to draw an analogy with sects of religion where one sect dismisses the other.
They will say such recommendations are dangerous for people, even though there is no visible side effect to the treatment, or the side effects are much less compared to corresponding treatment from allopathy. Normally the argument (without any research) is that using AYUSH is not helpful so patients will delay going to allopathy doctor and the disease will worsen by then. But in the current situation, western science has no treatment for COVID so that excuse does not hold true.
When they say it needs to be proved by scientific tests, the definition of “tests” is decided by western science itself. Quite like how they have decided the definitions of “religious beliefs” and “superstitions” to suit their religion, they are also the ones deciding what is “scientific” and what is “quackery” and to what extent side effects are acceptable. What WHO says is considered as the only truth, so if WHO says there is no cure, how can AYUSH experts dare to have a cure? Doesn’t that sound like WHO is gradually replacing the Church?
Sometimes, the reason given is that Ayurveda is old and hence not as good as “modern” medicine. But in case of modern medicine – there is research on some new treatment, and it gets widely used for some years after which it is proven to be wrong. At that time, the logic would be that as we “progress”, it will get better. This means the older the science the better it becomes, which is exactly opposite to the excuse used to discard Ayurveda.
The most open-minded scientists will call AYUSH as “alternative medicine”. This is the “tolerance but no respect” kind of phenomenon as seen with religions. And this lack of open-mindedness is only towards concepts that are not yet digested by the west. E.g. Some years back recommending Yoga for prevention of diseases would have been called quackery. This phenomenon can also be found in other countries with respect to Native Australian and Native Canadian science and Native American oral histories.[iii]
To conclude, we need to take inspiration from Rani Abbakka who kept the Portuguese colonization and their Inquisition out of her rajya.
We also need to think whether teaching western science in schools is leading kids to learn exclusivity resulting in ego and dogmatic thinking rather than being truly “scientific”.
Abbakka Prerana is a finance professional. She likes to live a yogic lifestyle and considers allopathy as “alternative medicine”. She has been working on decolonization of mind since she came across Breaking India while passing time on an airport, a year ago. (View More)
Vibhinnata: Paschatay Sarvbhomikta Ko Bhartiya Chunauti
YouTube channels – Rajiv Malhotra Official, Sangam Talks, Sangam Talks Hindi, Centre for Indic Studies
[i] Coronavirus Vs. The Church: Orthodox Traditionalists Stand Behind the Holy Spoon.
[ii] Recent News Articles –
Ayurvedic protection? India’s AYUSH ministry draws flak for advocating alternative medicine against Coronavirus
How true are Baba Ramdev’s claims? Patanjali draws ire over coronavirus cure
Coronavirus: Pish-posh, experts say to AYUSH homeopathy push as epidemic reaches India
Ayush Ministry Prescribes Ayurveda, Homoeopathy For Coronavirus, Twitteratis Refute Claims
Homoeopathy for coronavirus: Is AYUSH commitment to alt meds healthy or promoting quackery?
[iii] When Scientists “Discover” What Indigenous People Have Known for Centuries. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-science-takes-so-long-catch-up-traditional-knowledge-180968216/