BANGALORE: Vasudeva Sharma was shocked when two men walked into his office with an offer last week. They placed on his desk an application that would fetch him an honorary doctorate from a Sri Lankan university.
“They told me I had to pay $3,500 (`2.13 lakh) to get an honorary doctorate for my social work,” said Sharma (48), executive director, Child Rights Trust.
The men identified themselves as Suresh and Ananth, and said they represented the Open International University of Complementary Medicines (OIUCM) in Colombo.
As it turns out, scores of people have received not just honorary doctorates, but are also practising as doctors with OIUCM degrees in homeopathy, acupuncture, ayurveda and naturopathy.
The university’s website, which contains many false claims, states its mandate is to popularise alternative medicine.
In India, OIUCM offers courses through 11 dubious institutions, one of which is located in Bangalore and another in Mumbai, the rest being in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Its courses are offered in 12 other countries, including the United States, China, Australia and Pakistan.
“They said I had been referred for an honorary doctorate. When I asked them who had referred me, they said a team of researchers had assessed my work. They tried to lure me with the possibilities of having a ‘Dr’ prefix to my name,” Sharma said.
He was not the only one they approached. Mathews Philip, executive director of the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), was also “shortlisted” for a doctorate that would cost him `3 lakh. “I refused outright and threw them out of my office. I knew it was a fraud,” he said.
PhD in Two Months
Posing as a student looking for a PhD, an Express reporter approached the National Institute of Alternative Medicine Systems in Shivajinagar. The institute is affiliated to OIUCM.
“The fee is `50,000 and it is negotiable. You can get a PhD certificate in one month. If you wish to go in depth, you’ll get a certificate in two months, with a seal from OIUCM,” said Dr A R Samiullah, the institute’s president.
He claimed the degree was recognised internationally and many students were pursuing OIUCM courses. Interestingly, the institute offers courses from the Karnataka State Open University as well.
The Sri Lankan High Commission in Delhi informed Express OIUCM was not registered with the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka. Even Dr N J Nonis, registrar of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, said OIUCM and its degrees were not recognised.
Dr Prashanth Shetty, principal of SDM College of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences in Ujire, said he had heard about OIUCM and its activities in India. “It is a fake university. They provide MD degrees in naturopathy and acupuncture in three to six days,” he said. “I hope the law takes its course.” He was concerned about the quacks practising on the basis of such MDs.
Only 16 legitimate institutes in the country offer naturopathy and yoga courses. “No such thing as an alternative medicine course exists. Only those institutes affiliated to the RGUHS are recognised,” he said.
Vijaykumar Gogi, director of the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH), promised action. “Educational institutions do not come under our purview, but I will raise this with those concerned. We have already proposed stringent action against those practising without registering with the Karnataka Unani and Ayush Practitioners’ Board,” he said.
Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar received an honorary doctorate of philosophy in holistic medicine from the OIUCM in 2006. In 2010, godman Swami Nityananda also received an honorary doctorate from this dubious university. The OIUCM falsely claims recognition from the WHO and the United Nations.
(With inputs from Yacoob Mohammed and Sayantan Ghosh)