The saffron-stained health sectortext_fields
The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (NCISM) is a central government body for research and development of Indian medical systems. Last February, this institution, which came into existence two years ago, issued a strange circular. BAMS, the country's recognised Ayurvedic medicine graduation course, is adding a new subject: Medical Astrology. With the blessings of the Indian Council of Astronomical Sciences, a body dominated by Sangh Parivar, the NCISM aimed to teach witchcraft and astrology to medical undergraduates through such a syllabus change. But the move to include in the curriculum what modern science has dismissed as absurd in the name of tradition and faith has not succeeded. Scientific organisations such as the Breakthrough Science Society and a few rationalist movements began a vigorous campaign against the Centre's move, and NCISM had to desist from the mission. This is only one chapter from Sangh Parivar's plan to transform the issues, which were considered absolute myths for so long, first into history and then into a scientific discipline. Apart from this, there are other efforts of saffronisation too going on unchecked in the field of health education.
As the elections are nearing, those moves have accelerated. The most recent event was the inclusion of Dhanvantari in the National Medical Commission logo. The brazen tendency of the fascist government to use state machinery to propagate the ideology of Hindutva needs to be protested against. The Hindu god Dhanvantari has been included in the logo, replacing the Ashoka pillar, the national symbol. And, instead of India, the name has been changed to 'Bharat' as has been done in many other places. What is behind this sudden change is all too clear. The concept of Dhanvantari is the god who is the physician of gods. Considered an incarnation of Vishnu, Dhanvantari is described as the god of health and healing in the Vedas and Puranas. Dhanvantari is totally part of Hindu religious belief. It has to be said that by including such a concept of god in the Medical Commission logo, it is an open violation of the secularism guaranteed by the Constitution. This is not the first time that the Medical Commission has taken such steps. Earlier, the Commission had suggested that instead of the Hippocratic Oath, which MBBS students have to take after completing the course, it is enough to recite the 'Charak Shapath'. This very deliberate and clever addition of images of Hindu philosophy and concepts is part of Hindutva propaganda; If this trend continues in the health sector, as done in many other spheres, it is bound to lead to greater dangers.
Even as of now, our health sector is in a debilitated state. Looking from the safe zone of Kerala, it may seem that there are no major problems. However, the condition of many states is very poor when looking at various health indices. There are many areas where the health systems of a country, that has yet to recover from the health emergency created by the Covid-19 era, need to focus. Slipping away from all of them, the health department and the central government are revelling in Hindutva populism. Apart from the aforesaid saffronisation programmes, the Union Ministry of Health does not seem to be doing anything constructive towards public health. At the same time, the Centre is trying its best to undermine the states, that are working in the health sector and setting an example, and sabotage their work. In Kerala, 'Aardram Mission' is a health scheme that has been performing fairly well for several years. Last week, the Centre suggested that the name of the 'Janakiya Aarogya Kendra' built by the state government under that scheme, should be changed to 'Ayushman Arogya Mandir'. But this did not make big headlines. The ministry ordered not only the renaming but also the scheme to be heavily advertised with the tagline 'Arogyam Paramam Dhanam'. It should be noted that 95 per cent of the cost of this project is borne by the state government. Thus it turns out to be just a ploy to steal the credit of a successfully running programme run by the state government. Also, words like 'mandir', which are often used as substitutes for temples, have other political agendas. And the finance minister's statement that such name changes will be considered as a condition for grant of the Centre's financial assistance also smacks of a threat. It should also be seen as a clean intrusion into federal values. In short, it has to be said that what the Ministry of Health is currently working on is a completely fascist agenda, and for that very reason a move to be resisted.