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Indian politicians prefer science to fight coronaviruses


MUMBAI: Are you worried about the coronavirus? Well, turn to the always helpful cow. On March 2, Suman Haripriya, elected member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, told me that cow urine and dung could be used to fight the epidemic. Chakrapani Maharaj, a Hindu chief, Told a news site, he would host an event to educate people on the use of cow products to fight disease.

These are not the only remedies in the Hindu nationalist toolkit. Baba Ramdev, a popular guru, told a television channel that Ayurvedic remedies could be deployed. And a few days ago, Yogi Adityanath, the fire-breathing Hindu nationalist minister from Uttar Pradesh, urged Indians must practice yoga to overcome stress and stay strong against various diseases, including coronavirus.

The promotion of nationalist pseudoscience under the BJP has worried Indian scientists and skeptics for years. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, even some scientists seeking to ride the wave have debited allegations that ancient India had planes and stem cell research, then fierce fighting on attempts to license practitioners of traditional medicine. The government restructured existing departments to create the Department of AYUSH (the acronym combines several traditional or pseudoscientific medical schools), to cover such practices.

Public figures, in particular members of the Hindu right, defending folk remedies or defending ancient wisdom are therefore neither new nor surprising. In recent years there have been gems such as: a chief minister of state for the BJP claiming the ancient Indians used the Internet, the Prime Minister himself alluding to plastic surgery as the possible reason for the elephant head of the god Ganesh on a human body, another chief minister of the BJP to affirm that the cows exhaled oxygen, and the union ministers who said that the two cow urine and yoga can be used in cancer treatments.

The coronavirus added fuel to the fire. The Ministry of AYUSH Posted a questionable opinion on January 29, soon after the spread of the virus increased outside of China. It was titled Homeopathy for the Prevention of Corona Virus Infections: Unani Medicines Useful in the Symptomatic Management of Corona Virus Infection and Suggested Traditional Remedies. A second opinion claims the arsenicum album 30 of homeopathic medicine could be used as a preventive prophylactic. Homeopathy is a pseudoscience invented in the West that dispenses microscopic doses of treatments, and it has become very popular in India. he do not work.

Health disinformation has always been an issue, especially since the formation of AYUSH which officially disseminated health disinformation, said Pratik Sinha, co-founder and editor of Alt news, a fact-checking site, which has run through pieces of demystifying claims.

India has so far recorded 43 confirmed cases of the virus, but no deaths. Given the country's population density and creaking public health infrastructure, experts fear that the disease can quickly overwhelm health systems if it is not treated properly.

And while the virus can spread without being seen in India, the same goes, more obviously, for a series of baseless assertions. It's a big challenge to identify and debunk medical disinformation, said Nabeela Khan, deputy editor of Health Analytics Asia, a data-driven health information platform. Even when you debunk it, it barely reaches people because fake news travels faster, but when influencers and leaders make dubious statements, people tend to stumble across it more easily. It is important that politicians say things that are based on scientific evidence and rationing.

The government is taking the issue of coronaviruses seriously. This week Modi announced that he would ignore the celebrations of Holi, a festival that starts on Monday and typically draws a huge crowd for fun events, and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said all international passengers were checked upon arrival. In Delhi, Rajasthan and Hyderabad, where it is known that infected people have traveled, several others have been quarantined and tested. But as Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health, bioethics and health policy at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, pointed out, what the Ministry of Health says and what the Ayush Ministry says are not necessarily in conjunction .

The dangers of misinformation and misinformation are obvious: in a developing country with high internet connectivity and low literacy, bad information could have fatal consequences. Whether in times of conflict or an epidemic, any irresponsible statement can have very negative implications by stoking alarmism and the spread of panic, said Bhan.

With the fake news and the general virality of WhatsApp, two serious problems in India, The politicians and influencers were also guilty of acting irresponsibly.

Different types of disinformation are disseminated for different reasons. Political misinformation coming from a position of hatred and anger, this is not the case with medical misinformation, which is often out of worry or fear, said Sinha. With some of these pseudoscientific claims, motivation is a false sense of nationalism, which leads to a feeling of victimization that traditional Indian remedies are looked down upon.

India is constitutionally a "secular" state, and its prime prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, helped lay the foundation for a scientific climate in the country, focusing on building institutes of newly independent Indian teaching and research. India has seen a growing technology industry since the 1990s and, with its ambitious space missions, it aspires to join the ranks of the world's superpowers. However, as the Hindu right has grown stronger in recent decades, science, pseudoscience and religion have mixed in a homogenizing nationalist campaign underpinned by the glories of the past.

Public figures have made unscientific statements, but in the past six years this has increased considerably. Nowadays, we also see university vice-presidents making such statements to please politicians, said science professor and astrophysicist Aniket Sule.

The BJP, which returned to power in 2019 for a second term, has long considered India to be fundamentally a Hindu nation. Claiming ownership of modern as truly Indian discoveries or innovations has become a way of signaling the glory of India as a civilization.

We are in a time when populist politicians everywhere have a fan who does not think critically. This creates a problem – so how do you convince people? Part of it stems from ignorance because populist movements don't have a strong intellectual background, so an inferiority complex turns into a superiority complex, said Sule.

In an article published in 2017, opposition leader and writer Shashi Tharoor strongly condemned the government war for reason. Science and rationality threaten such conformism, as they encourage skepticism, free inquiry and the testing of traditional perspectives that the BJP is so eager to entrench. wrote. This is why, while the BJP is trying to transform secular India into a Hindu state, it must weaken the role of science.

Over the years, the BJP has been accused of stifling all criticism or dissent, while promoting religious polarization and nationalist pride. Their growing political power also made godmen and gurus more important, while rationalists and activists have been attacked.

Academics and scientists have increasingly spoken out against Modi's BJP attack on universities and institutions. But as ridiculous as some of the pseudoscientific statements from politicians and gurus are, they show no signs of slowing down. The comments on the coronavirus are just the latest in a war against rationalism that could be long and hard. If scientific funds, already weak, are going to be diverted to study the effects of cow urine or scriptures, this will have very real consequences for science policy and research, said Sule.

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