Hindu, Hindutva and Bharat are the soapboxes of the day, which every obscure wannabe nationalist uses as a podium. Last week, the Dean of Madurai Medical College got it in the neck for administering the ‘Charak Shapath’ to new medical students, instead of the traditional Hippocratic Oath. Fortunately, present was Tamil Nadu’s modernist-reformist Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan who would have none of it. The Dean was in sympatico with the National Medical Commission’s letter on February 7, that the Hippocratic Oath should be replaced by Charak Shapath. One of the vows enshrined in the Madurai Medical College’s ‘shapath’ is the Talibanesque dictum that a physician should examine a woman only in the presence of a male relative.
The desperate desire to redefine India as an eternal entity is fraught with cultural peril, caused by intentional ignorance. Hippocrates was Greek, not Muslim or British. Of course, comical examples and memes that describe Alexander having lost the war to Porus and made to say “Jai Sri Ram” by Chandragupta abound in India’s contemporary culture scape. Perhaps the fact that Hippocrates separated medical science from religion, expostulating that illness is not divine punishment but arises from factors such as lifestyle, diet and the environment, must be sticking in the craw of the Medical Commission. Ignorance is a wonderful thing for both ambitious politicians and semi-literate believers because it gives the retrenched revisionists both power and identity. But the Idea of being Indian can be confusing since anarchic activists will lynch, assault and troll anyone with an opposing point of view. To be Indian takes more than that.
Archaeologists have discovered the impact of foreign cultures on ancient Indian costumes, such as pakol hats of Pashtuns and Punjabi pagris. It was only in 500 AD that the sari became popular. Sharp embroidery needles from China (you don’t say!) came down the Silk Road into India, and tailors began to stitch clothes for the wealthy classes. The truth is that India has always been an eclectic potpourri of influences, a truly global landscape that cannot be shrunk into a limited version concocted by culturally claustrophobic fantasists. So, how can an authentic Bharatiya claim true Swaraj? By removing everything foreign from Indian culture and life? Burn all tee shirts and jeans, which are products of Western degradation and imperialism? Indian women cannot be allowed to wear the Islamic dress derivative, the salwar kameez. Shut all banks and cricket stadiums, ban computers, tractors, buses, TV channels, cars, trains, airplane travel, chilli chicken and the internet, of course.
There are 313 million illiterate people in India, which enables WhatsApp University professors to effortlessly spread puerile propaganda about what Real India should be. But to be truly Indian, create an educated workforce which competes with the best of the world, like Indian doctors abroad do. The just unemployed Dean can use his time wisely to start a campaign to stop profiteering politicians and businessmen from owning medical colleges and charging obscene amounts for admissions.
A PHFI study found that every year, medical expenses forced around 55 million Indians into poverty; another report revealed that about 44 percent of patients were advised unnecessary surgery. India has only 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people against the WHO advice of an average of 2.5 doctors per 1,000 citizens. I’m certain that Charak had no clue that the Indian medical system would become so degenerate. Should Charak Shapath be read out by fresh medical graduates, recommend it for Ayurveda Colleges, which are doing a commendable job of reviving lost medical treasures and methods.
Forget Hippocrates. Stop being hypocrites.