Is Justice Katju criticizing Ayurveda and Unani system of medicine?

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Condemnation of Ayurved and Unani systems of medicine

Is Justice Katju criticizing Ayurveda and the Unani system of medicine?
Is Justice Katju criticizing Ayurveda and the Unani system of medicine?

By Justice Markandey Katju

I saw this recent interview of Dr Aviral Vatsa, a renowned medical doctor of Indian origin based in Scotland, by Valli Bindana, a film maker who hails from India but is settled since long in California.

Although not a medical man, I largely agree with what Dr Vatsa says. He rightly criticises Indian products which are sold as medicines, but which really have no medicinal value or effect. He rightly insists on a scientific approach in evaluating the worth of many traditional 'medicines' like Arjun ki chhaal, by rigorous scientific testing. He also rightly says that regulatory bodies in India are often compromised and unreliable, and there is no proper quality control over things sold as medicines in India.

I too, like Dr Vatsa, am highly critical of Baba Ramdev and his Patanjali products. Dr Vatsa rightly condemns quackery, and he refers to a doctor in India who ate gobar ( cowdung ) and stupidly spoke of its beneficial effects.

Like Dr Vatsa, I am not a 'nationalist' so far as medical science is concerned. Medicine is a science, and we should accept scientific ideas and achievements, wherever they come from, and there is no doubt that in the last 200 years or so Western countries have gone far ahead than us in the medical field ( though at one time we were far ahead of the rest of the world e.g. the works of Charak and Sushrut ).

However, with great respect to Dr Vatsa, I disagree with some things he said, and in fact find them unscientific.

Dr Vatsa begins by rightly saying that regarding herbal medicines we must collect evidence about them, and if it works it is science.

But then Dr Vatsa goes ahead to condemn Ayurvedic and Unani systems wholesale, and totally rejects them, calling them unscientific, nonsense, and a scam. With respect, this is a sweeping generalisation, and unscientific, and Dr Vatsa is guilty of the same charge he levels.

It is quite possible that much in Ayurved and Unani systems may be unscientific, and therefore worthless. But without rigorous research and testing can one say that everything is worthless ? Is Dr Vatsa not guilty of throwing the baby out of the bath tub along with the water.

Dr Vatsa says that if Ayurved and Unani had any worth why was there so low life expectancy in the past ? In fact he has given the answer himself. There was no innoculation, anti-biotics etc ( which were discoveries by Westerners ) in the past. But how does that necessarily prove that all indigenous medical treatment and indigenous medicines were worthless ?

To my mind, a system of medicine practised for thousands of years is unlikely to be entirely bogus, though much of it may be so. We have to separate the grain from the chaff, by rigorous scientific research, and not discard everything by just labelling it as unscientific and a scam.

For instance, Chinese indigenous medical treatment, like acupuncture, has been proved to be beneficial, though it may still be inexplicable how it works.

There are some diseases like arthritis and common cold which have no cure in allopathy, and some others like asthma, spondylitis, etc which can be controlled but not totally eliminated. Possibly Ayurved and/or Unani may have a cure for them, though of course that has to be proved by rigorous testing.

I submit that Dr Vatsa needs a course correction in his evaluation of traditional Indian medical systems. He too needs to develop a more scientific mind.

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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