Kolkata, India: Thousands of doctors across India wore black armbands to demand the arrest of a well-known guru on Tuesday, who claims that yoga may prevent Covid-19 and that allopathy or modern scientific medicine has murdered thousands of coronavirus patients.
Baba Ramdev, the creator of an uberly successful traditional medicine empire, said last month the pandemic showed modern pharmaceuticals to be “stupid and failed science” and claimed hundreds of thousands “have died because they had allopathy (conventional) medicines”.
Photos on social media during Tuesday’s “Black Day” of protests showed medics holding placards demanding the arrest of “Quack Ramdev,” while others wore PPE suits with #ArrestRamdev printed on the back.
After the former’s comments against COVID-19 immunization and the efficacy of allopathic or modern medicine, yoga guru Ramdev and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have been locked in a verbal battle over the previous few days.
What was the controversy?
Ramdev’s remarks on modern medicine were deemed “disgraceful” by the doctors’ association at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), one of Delhi’s largest government hospitals.
After an appeal from India’s health minister, Ramdev — a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — withdrew his remarks, claiming that he was simply reading out other people’s WhatsApp messages.
However, his words triggered India’s medical fraternity. IMA has earlier said Ramdev must make a public apology for his comments, or else the group will move forward with an Rs. 1000 crore defamation notice.
But he sparked even more controversy by claiming that he didn’t need a coronavirus vaccine since yoga and traditional medicine, or Ayurveda, had protected him.
Earlier this month, a video of Baba Ramdev criticizing patients for struggling to obtain oxygen went viral.
It’s unclear when he made the remarks, although he was overheard in April and May mentioning oxygen problems in various places.
“God has given us free oxygen, why don’t we breathe that? How can there be a shortage when God has filled the atmosphere with oxygen? Fools are looking for oxygen cylinders. Just breathe the free oxygen. Why are you complaining about a shortage of oxygen and beds and crematoriums?” he said.
Doctors and families of Covid patients slammed the statement and sought an explanation.
— Dr.Aninda Debnath (@aninda12987) May 22, 2021
“Allopathy [modern medicine] and the doctors attached to it have given new lives to millions of people. It’s very unfortunate for you to say that people died from consuming allopathic medicines,” India’s Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who himself is a practicing allopath wrote in a letter to the Yog-Guru amid growing pressure from the doctors’ body.
“We should not forget that this battle can only be won through united efforts. In this war, our doctors, nurses, and other health workers are risking their lives to save people’s lives. Their dedication towards serving mankind in this crisis is unparalleled and exemplary.”
Dr. A Fathahudeen, a prominent pulmonologist who has treated thousands of Covid patients, told the BBC that such statements have long-term consequences.
Healthcare workers like himself have been in a war-like situation for more than a year, Fathahudeen said, adding that thousands of lives have been saved as a result of their efforts. Reading such things is extremely sad, demeaning, and painful, he stated.
“We follow the evidence-based practice. At any given time, thousands of researchers are working to come up with cures. Look at the progress we have made in cancer treatment. We have to constantly evolve and learn. It’s hard to trust any branch of medicine that offers absolute cure for every disease.”
A king in the making?
Despite Baba Ramdev being embroiled in controversies, the guru is a financial powerhouse and commands an FMGC empire worth admiring.
Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved is valued at several hundred million dollars, and its outlets sell everything from toothpaste to trousers.
It launched a herbal medicine called Coronil earlier this year, which Ramdev, who also owns a TV channel, claimed would cure coronavirus. The health minister was present at the launch event.
According to rankings published last year, the firm has previously claimed to have cancer treatments, and Ramdev has allegedly claimed to be able to “cure” homosexuality and AIDS.
According to the Indian Medical Association, the Coronavirus has killed at least 330,000 people in India, including over 1,200 doctors.
COVER IMAGE VIA THE BBC