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Health care for marginalised and deprived

Health care for marginalised and deprived

The Madhya Pradesh government has decided to open outpatient departments (OPD) for astrologers and soothers who will give consultancy to the patients. In these outpatient departments, teams of experts and neo-astrologers will study the planetary combinations and changes reflected in the horoscopes of patients. The prognosticators will also analyse the diseases of the patients who come without horoscopes using the 'Prashna Kundali' technique.

History of development of mankind in general and medicine, in particular, has taught us that during primitive ancient times when knowledge of causes and effects about the happenings around was hardly there, people attributed these events to some celestial power. Same was true for diseases. With no knowledge of how one fell ill, people thought that these are happening because of some evil shadow. Therefore, the remedies also developed accordingly. The witch hunters became contemporary medical practitioners throughout the world. The process persists even today to a miniscule level.
In our country, the 'Ojhas' or persons doing 'Jharra' or the 'Tantriks', would get the evil out to cure the person. This was done for all sort of diseases. For example, a person having epileptic fit was made to smell the shoe in the belief that she/he would get rid of the attack of epilepsy. A person with facial palsy or mumps would visit such 'Jharra' people, generally an earthen pot maker (Ghumar) in north India for the treatment. Such systems have been much more prevalent for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Many a time the so called healers would be merciless to their 'patients' who in many cases would even lose their life. Women, of course, were witch hunted much more.
With the passage of time, people started getting advice of some 'wise men' who popularly came to be known as astrologers to learn about the probable outcome of the treatment who would also predict the future of illness based on planetary configurations. But all these systems have been a matter of belief which varied from time to time, place to place and person to person.
The quest for truth and knowledge drove men in the long process of discovering which plants are edible. Humans in the Stone Age identified many such plants which seem to cure ailments or soothe a fever. Herbal medicine is the earliest scientific tradition in medical practice, and it remains an important part of medicine to this day. But the early physicians stumbled upon herbal substances of real power, without understanding the manner of their working. The snakeroot plant has traditionally been a tonic in the east to calm patients; it is now used in orthodox medical practice to reduce blood pressure.
Doctors in ancient India gave an extract of foxglove to patients with legs swollen by dropsy - an excess of fluid resulting from a weak heart; digitalis, a constituent of foxglove, became a standard stimulant for the heart. Curare, smeared on the tip of arrows in the Amazonian jungle to paralyse the prey, became an important muscle relaxant in modern surgery. Sushruta, a physician working in India in about 6th century BC, was able to list hundreds of herbal remedies. The modern scientific medicine developed as a continuous process of this quest for further knowledge. It studied the anatomy, physiology, causes behind the disease, symptoms, pathology and developed investigative procedures to reach to the root causes of the illness and then find the treatment to apply it to the society. These developments took centuries. And as these developments occurred, the role of faith healers and the role of belief system or planetary configurations started losing ground.
Nowadays most of the people go to doctors for medical advice. But it is an irony the government wants to revert this and send them back to the faith healers. No wonder Education and Revenue Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Atmaram Parmar of the Gujarat government attended a conference of the exorcists and felicitated them in Botad district's Gadhada village in June this year.
The effort of the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh to introduce astrology for consultation for the patients is very retrogressive and seems to be motivated by some other considerations. The job of the government is to get the society on scientific lines. But this decision is meant to push the society to Stone Age. Any astrological consultations about the disease could be misleading and even dangerous. For any organisation including the government to exploit the beliefs of the people, is a crime and sin.
It is time all rational thinking people come forward to oppose such moves which are aimed at spreading obscurantism and push the society to medieval mindset. Rationalists, scientists, and other right thinking people have to speak for the deprived as we cannot push the marginalised people to the mercy of faith healers. More and more Science marches need to be held across the country on the pattern of one organised at Delhi on August 8.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is an ENT specialist based in Ludhiana. He is the Senior Vice-President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development and presently a member of the core committee of Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare in India. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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