Home truths

Published: Thursday 15 July 2004

-- Challenging the Indian Medical Heritage (eds) Darshan Shankar and P M Unnikrishnan Centre for Environment Education, Environment and Development Series Foundation Books, New Delhi Rs 600

Traditional medical systems are yet to be integrated into the Indian health-care system, thereby depriving people of a good option. This is a much-written about subject and the newest entry which is under review here only intensifies the lament that the discipline needs more action.

Challenging the Indian Medical Heritage tells its tale over three sections. The book follows a narrative style making quick reading difficult. But it clarifies many concepts and provides a new understanding of the subject.The book engages in the history of the fall of traditional medical systems in India, lingers over the current situation and then moves on to what needs to be done. Significantly, it separates codified traditional medical systems such as ayurveda and unani from folklore medicine. The last, is in a sorry state, as it is not even promoted by the government since it has been denied the privilege of codification. Folklore medicine is possibly the answer to the health-care needs of the rural population, who can scarcely afford the traditional medicines available in the market.

The book encapsulates the wealth of information constituting folklore medicine. Dissemination and codification of home remedies are perceived as absolutely necessary in order to preserve a useful science.

The conclusion, quite predictably, dwells on the way ahead. The authors warn against future horrors such as the monoculture of western medicine over traditional medicine or the domination of codified medicines over their oral counterparts. The ideal situation seems to be a body of medicine that culls the best from western medicine, traditional medicine and folklore.

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