Recently, well known Indian businessman and yoga trainer, Baba Ramdev made a sweeping statement in a viral video against the legitimacy of allopathy as a branch of medicine. Calling it a “stupid”, “failed” system which has killed more patients than the shortage of oxygen, Ramdev’s verbal attack sparked a chain of controversy.
His seething remarks about “lakhs dying from consuming allopathic medicine“, was aimed to invalidate the very foundation of allopathic medical practice, which is currently the most relied upon in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) sought a formal apology from Ramdev and expressed distress by demanding the Union Health Minister to “either accept the accusation and dissolve modern medical facilities, or prosecute and book him under the Epidemic Diseases Act.”
The protests from the medical fraternity were further backed by a defamation notice served to Ramdev by Ajay Khanna, the secretary of the IMA’s Uttarakhand Chapter. It demanded a compensation of Rs. 1000 crore if Ramdev failed to apologise within a period of fifteen days. The IMA also responded meticulously to the accusations raised by Ramdev in a letter to the Prime Minister providing accurate statistical information to counter the allegations against allopathic practice. It was made clear that among those who received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccination, only 0.06% were infected thereafter. It also dismissed Ramdev’s claim that almost 10,000 doctors succumbed to the virus, calling it a gross exaggeration meant to mislead the masses and invoke distrust in vaccines.
Baba Ramdev’s response: A product of unchecked privilege and power
Baba Ramdev’s response to this civil, fact-based criticism from the IMA was far from respectful. He scornfully declared, “Khair, arrest toh unka baap bhi nahi kar sakta Swami Ramdev ko” (Nonetheles, not even their fathers can arrest Swami Ramdev). Such an arrogant, self-assured response is the product of the unchecked privilege and power he enjoys in our society today.
Donning a religious persona, he has acquired considerable power over a significant number of people who associate spirituality and religion with Ayurveda, the branch of medicine that he promotes. This adds to the immense success of his Ayurvedic business brand ‘Patanjali’, placing him amongst the rich and influential class of the society. This, coupled with the entitlement of belonging to the religious majority, has made him power-drunk as is evident from his reckless statements in the wake of a global health crisis.
It is owing to the social privilege he enjoys that his outrageous remarks and comebacks have not been met with adequate legal action, even after it being officially demanded by various stakeholders. Citing his comments as “deliberate and malicious“, an article in The Leaflet put out an extensive list of violations under the Indian Penal Code for which Baba Ramdev can be booked. It also covers defences such as free speech, citing that such defences are inadequate to help him evade prosecution for his code of conduct.
The Leaflet further provided details of the people who were arrested for actions and speech that are the similar in nature to Baba Ramdev’s, including the arrest of 342 individuals from Maharashtra, along with a god man who called himself ‘Corona Wale Baba‘, for fraud. At this juncture, the obvious lenient treatment dished out to Ramdev is a result of his political power and privilege.
Withdrawal of statement: An apology with no intention to self-correct
Baba Ramdev soon withdrew his statements on allopathic medicines, stating that he wants to put the matter to rest, and that he was only reading a WhatsApp message in the controversial video. Several Twitter users took to the platform to voice their disapproval at how such a serious offense was let off with a half-hearted withdrawal of his statements which solved nothing. This was considering the large scale damage a viral video of someone as influential as him can cause among people. The Quint came up with a sizeable collection of similar tweets by Baba Ramdev which called out the absence of legal action against him while also underlining the religious and political biases that work in his favour.
Opinions poured in supporting the honourable work of medical practitioners and criticising the fake propaganda Ramdev indulges in. People questioned Ramdev’s free rein while comedians who made jokes on banging thaalis were labelled ‘anti-doctors‘ and people who demanded the completion of Covaxin trials were termed ‘anti-nationals‘. Under this regime, while several others have borne the brunt of the hawk eyes of the law for crimes far milder, Baba Ramdev’s saffron robes seem to go a long way in protecting him.
The irreverence and entitlement in his demeanor became further evident when he went right ahead and posed 25 questions to the IMA which contained general concern about degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and health conditions like cholesterol and migraine. He even questioned the authority of allopathy in terms of painless treatment for infertility, age reversal and how doctors are also falling ill despite allopathy being ‘all powerful’.
Bordering on childishness, his retort brought up ailments which have been the subject of research for decades, during a time when the immediate concern of the medical fraternity is a virus that has been threatening the lives of millions across the globe. Such reciprocation is inappropriate and unprofessional for someone who claims to be a healer, deeply concerned about the medical situation in the country.
Manipulating the masses with misinformation
In a letter addressed to Baba Ramdev by Prof. Shah Alam Khan, a doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Prof. Khan presents a dissociation of his sage-persona from the business mogul that he is. This separation was the foundation on which he rested his rather candid break down of Ramdev’s brazen business promotion at the cost of degrading a life-saving medical system which is the only effective resource available at this point.
He called out Ramdev’s ‘baba’ persona with a strikingly appropriate quote, “If you want the position of a saint, stay away from the king’s family.” Prof. Khan questioned his actions that have unfortunately regressed into predatory behaviour. The letter identifies the absolutism with which Baba Ramdev disregards allopathy in favour of Ayurveda. This not only discredits the labour of thousands of health care professionals during a crisis but also contributes to the deluge of misinformation the nation is struggling to tame.
The enthusiasm to promote his brand as a Covid care solution at a crucial time when vaccination drives are picking momentum is unacceptable. Such antics essentially divert attention from the task at hand by giving rise to laughable news channel debates such as the one aired by AajTak which received much criticism. People have opined that such ill-timed discussions only validate Ramdev’s comments with an importance it does not deserve.
This was in addition to the advertisement of Ramdev’s product Coronil, that was continuously projected to the viewers, during the debate.
At the end of the day, it is the lesser privileged, the under educated and the poor who are vulnerable to misinformation at the hands of such influential business moguls who take on avatars that can manipulate the masses. The silence and lack of strict legal action remain disgraceful as they only fortify this man’s drive to flourish, even as he preys on the precarious situation of the country.
Featured Image Source: Quartz India