Dealing with COVID-19: No place for blind faith

Image Courtesy: Outlook India

The world is gripped with the novel coronavirus pandemic, a health crisis of mammoth proportions. Medical and administrative steps are being taken, but what will make the battle against this threat more difficult to deal with is the promotion of faith-based cures.

This is being done by the ruling dispensation and its myriad associates, for whom ancient Indian practices had all the ingredients we need to deal with human calamities. Two disturbing examples need to be deliberated to understand the intensity of blind practices which have become the undercurrent of our social life in recent times

Not too long ago, faith-based political ideology led to the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi. They were fighting against the practitioners and promoters of blind faith. Sections that promote superstition have got encouragement in India with the rise of sectarian nationalism.

On 22 March, the Prime Minster gave a call for a day-long janata curfew and asked people to come to their balconies to clap and beat their utensils to appreciate the work being done by health professionals. While the gesture may be well called for, it took another turn at many places. Processions were organised in which a large number of people came together, violating the physical distancing norms.

They were blowing conch shells along with making other loud noises. The reason for this was easy to find. The Maharashtra BJP leader Shaina NC, appreciating the PM for this call to make a noise, said in a tweet that it will kill bacteria and viruses. The ancient purana texts are being cited as the source for such information. Of course, WhatsApp messages were also flooding the social media with similar content.
 
The second disturbing thing was the actions of Swami Chakrapani Maharaj, who had organised a Gomutra or cow urine-drinking party, which was consumed by many on the understanding that it will help prevent and cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Another BJP leader also organised a similar program, in which one of the people who drank the urine fell sick. 

Not to be left behind, another BJP worthy, an MLA Assam, Suman Haripriya, elaborated the virtues of cow dung. 

It is not surprising that most of the gomutra and cow dung promotions came from those associated with the BJP and its ideology. Cow urine has been in the news much more over the last couple of decades, since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 1998. One of the close associates of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Shankar Bhai Vegad from Gujarat, claims that cow urine is the secret of his being healthy despite being 76 years old.

The pinnacle of such claims came with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the current BJP Member of Parliament from Bhopal and an accused in Malegaon terror blast, who claimed that her breast cancer got cured due to cow urine. Mercifully, the surgeon treating her told the the truth that he had performed three surgeries on her for her ailmen

How do we believe or reject the claims of cow urine being the magic potion treating every conceivable disorder? While this question has been looming in the air, the ruling government is allotting huge funds for so-called research on cow urine, panchgavya (a mixture of cow dung, Cow urine, milk, curd and ghee), and so on. The central research agencies are calling for research on cow products, including the specificities of Indian cows.

In medical science, the introduction of a medicine are backed up by biochemical studies, pre-clinical trials—double blind trials with placebos— and post-introduction evaluations. In case of these cow products, what is guiding these actions is pure faith, manufactured through various processes. As far as cow urine is concerned we know that like the urine of other animals, it is a combination of discarded substances from the body. It has over 90% water; it has urea, creatinine, sulphates, phosphates etc. 

There are no clinical studies to back up the claims. It is purely from an ideological inclination that some elements are imposing and propagating the worth of cow urine.

It is part of the whole project of Hindu nationalism, which wants to impose the ancient values of birth-based hierarchy of caste and gender on the society. On a parallel track, it wants to spread the notion that ancient India had already achieved the acme of achievements in all areas of science and technology, be it ‘Pushpak Viman’, plastic surgery, biotechnology, television and the internet. This is part of the overall political agenda, where in the name of a mythical golden past, faith-based understandings are being presented and people are being prompted to revere them. 

This is an attempt to propagate the superiority of elite Hindu traditional values. In matters related to cows, on the one hand, cow/beef campaigns led to lynchings and on the other the cow products are being promoted. This promotion has also led to the commercial exploitation of cow urine in different products of Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali products and others.

Fighting a pandemic of the proportion of COVID-19 requires massive efforts on the part of the government and society. In India, the growing impact of Hindu nationalism being spearhead by the RSS has spread an understanding which is totally against science and reason. The RSS, to pursue its agenda, has set up Vigyan Bharati, which puts forwards the extracts from Puranas etc. as science. Further, in Nagpur a Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra has also been established to propagate these understandings, which are neither logical nor can they stand the scrutiny of the scientific method.

The propagation of such ideas will retard progress. They are already posing obstacles to deal with the pandemic, as irrational things have been drilled into society’s understanding of happenings. The authorities who are in power have to come forward and undo these detrimental practices.

First published in NewsClick.
The author is a social activist and commentator. The views are personal.