Daily Editorial Analysis for 11th July 2022

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What ails the current approach to Ayurveda

GS Paper 2: Government policy and Intervention
Important for:
Prelims exam level: Policy related to ayurveda sector in India
Mains exam level: India’s traditional medical practices and their present relevance


India planned to achieve “health for all” by 2000. We are nowhere near achieving this target even today. For, since Independence, the country followed a healthcare policy that ignored the indigenous, Indian systems of medicine. The consequences were disastrous.

India and Ayurveda

• Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine, has been in practice for close to three millennia.
• This ancient system serves the healthcare needs of millions of Indians. The adaptation of a traditional knowledge system for current use comes with its challenges, which, if dealt with lackadaisically, can endanger the welfare of its users.

Speculations versus facts

• Ayurveda’s ancient treatises, for obvious reasons, cannot be expected to retain relevance in their entirety. They contain useful portions alongside obsolete ones.
• Valuable observations relating to health promotion and illness management need to be carefully sifted from outdated theories, implausible conjectures, and socio religious superstitions.
• Benefits of physical exercise are as valid today as they were 1,500 years ago when they were first documented. But, such continued validity cannot be claimed for the physiological and pathological conjectures, same applies on Urine formation.

What has led to this sad situation of Ayurveda

Two main factors, one theoretical and the other epistemological have led to this sad situation.
• First, the tridosha theory of Ayurveda, is a rough-and-ready model that the ancients devised to systematise their medical experience.
○ Clinical features of illnesses and therapeutic measures to manage them were all classified on the basis of this heuristic model.
○ In the absence of a cogent understanding of the biological processes underlying health and illness, speculations on these topics were also woven around the same model.
○ The theory thus has aspects that are heuristically tenable alongside those that are merely conjectural.
○ Recasting the theory in a way that retains the relevant aspects while jettisoning the obsolete parts is a priority area in Ayurvedic research
○ The research centres under the Ministry of AYUSH have remained oblivious to this important work and their omissions have resulted in retaining the theory, lock, stock, and barrel. Consequently, outdated pathophysiological conjectures have become fossilised in the current approach to the subject.
• The other factor that has been instrumental in choking the renewal of Ayurveda is the widespread belief among its academics that ancient texts, by virtue of their being divined by sages in deep yogic states, retain timeless relevance.
○ The belief in epistemic superiority has dethroned ancient medical writings from being revisable scientific treatises into being dogmatic scriptures.

A renewed plea to reform

• A recent article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has renewed the plea to reform and update Ayurveda. Titled “Confessions of an Ayurveda Professor”,
○ Article has candidly admitted that the anatomy and physiology contained in the Ayurvedic classics is mostly outdated and that the official approach to this subject is misguided.
○ Article has called for a thorough change in the curriculum for Ayurveda studies.
○ This article also points out the flawed approach of making ancient concepts sound relevant by superimposing current scientific findings upon them.
○ In addition to resulting in a travesty of truth, such misinterpretations in a practical field such as Ayurveda carry the risk of leading to dangerously wrong clinical choices.
While petitioning for a scientific scrutiny of Ayurveda’s foundational theories, the Article hopes that Ayurveda students get to unreservedly study current anatomy and physiology.

The basic truth

• The Ministry of AYUSH must wake up and take cognisance of the suggestions given by various field experts.
• People associated with AYUSH institutes need to see how sinful it is to hand over an unprocessed protoscience to gullible youngsters and then mislead them into believing that it is a supersophisticated advanced science.
• As a medical system, Ayurveda is valuable immensely for its observations, only marginally for its theories, and not at all for its speculations.
• The sooner the establishment comes to terms with this basic truth, the better.

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