Doctors fighting a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus across India are furious over “insulting and insensitive” remarks made by popular yoga guru and successful businessman, Ram Kisan Yadav, aka Baba Ramdev, last week.
“More people died of allopathic treatment than those who died of oxygen shortage or because of Covid-19,” the 55-year-old saffron-robed guru told his legions of followers, triggering a huge backlash by India’s modern medicine professionals.
Thousands of doctors across India on Tuesday put on black armbands and called for the arrest of the hugely popular guru who has claimed yoga can prevent Covid-19 and that modern medicine has killed thousands of coronavirus patients.
The guru, creator of a successful traditional medicine empire, said last month the pandemic showed modern pharmaceuticals to be “stupid and failed science” and claimed hundreds of thousands have died because they took allopathic, science-based, medicines.
The doctors’ association at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), one of Delhi’s biggest government hospitals, called Ramdev’s comments “disgraceful”.
Many doctors also changed their social media profile pictures to black squares to show their condemnation, Al Jazeera reported.
Dr Mehak Bhushan of the Federation of Resident Doctors Association told Al Jazeera, “In a country like India where people tend to follow spiritual and yoga gurus too blindly, when people like that spread mistrust and misinformation, it becomes very difficult for us science-based doctors to wipe that misinformation out.”
Ramdev, a keen supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, retracted some of his negative comments following an appeal by India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.
The guru maintained he had merely been reading out other people’s WhatsApp messages on the subject.
He then caused a further outcry by saying that he did not need a coronavirus vaccine because he was protected by yoga and traditional medicine, or Ayurveda.
Ramdev’s company Patanjali Ayurved is a multinational consumer packaged goods company based in Haridwar. It sells everything from toothpaste to jeans at its many outlets. It has its own TV channel and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, ranking 13th in India’s most trusted brands in 2020.
Ramdev has claimed his company has cures for cancer, homosexuality and AIDS, and earlier this year, it launched a herbal remedy called Coronil that Ramdev claimed would cure coronavirus and was approved by the World Health Organization.
Doctors say Ramdev is taking advantage of the pandemic to persuade his millions of followers to buy his unapproved products.
One follower, Anil Sabharwal, who sells his products, told Al Jazeera, “I don’t sell Patanjali products just for business. This is a matter of faith. Guru Ramdev shows us the way.”
Dr Jaswant of the Resident Doctors Association at AIIMS told Al Jazeera, “Ramdev loves controversy. He is trying to make use of this attention to further his business propaganda.”
In May, as people across India were desperately scrambling to find life-saving oxygen cylinders, a video was released of Ramdev mocking them.
“God has given us free oxygen, why don’t we breathe that? How can there be a shortage when God has filled the atmosphere with oxygen?” Ramdev said in the video. “Fools are looking for oxygen cylinders. Just breathe the free oxygen. Why are you complaining about shortage of oxygen and beds and crematoriums?”
Many people in India have a deep trust in gurus and alternative medicine. But doctors say Ramdev’s claims cannot be substantiated, and he must be held to account for his statements, especially during a pandemic when many thousands are dying, desperate for accurate information and life-saving healthcare.