Two good men

Published: Monday 15 August 2005

Amongst a dying breed: Rehmat< Healers for All Reasons director Vijay S Jodha produced by Public Service Broadcasting Trust, Delhi 28 minutes

"The only resource in which the poor are rich is their knowledge," says Rehmat Khan Solanki. Picking his way through the undergrowth in the darkness, Solanki locates herbs for an emergency. Meanwhile, his friend Karimbai Musabhai Sumara prepares a remedy for skin conditions using mustard oil and seeds of local herbs, refusing payment for the cure. Rehmat and Karimbai are members of a dying breed of village healers in Gujarat.

"I was trying to pack in as many ideas as possible within half an hour," says Vijay S Jodha, the maker of Healers for all reasons . The documentary follows Rehmat and Karimbai through their work in rural Gujarat. The snapshots of these healers convey their intrinsic sense of service to their communities. They highlight the community spirit that lies at the heart of rural medicine. Both men feel a natural responsibility to disseminate their knowledge freely amongst the needy in their community. The healers, in turn, are trusted and respected figures in their village, regardless of their Muslim religion in a predominantly Hindu region.

"Around 60 per cent of the Indian population rely on rural medicine for both their health and that of their livestock, but all of us have a stake in such systems," says Jodha. The fundamental message of the film is one of warning. The hereditary knowledge of herbs, over 1,000 years old, is dying out at an unprecedented rate; only a fraction of it has been recorded. The blame, Jodha explains, lies with rural youngsters' lure of cities, changing soil conditions and encroaching companies, intent on patenting and selling herbal cures, thus wiping the non-profit rural practitioners out of the market.

The documentary highlights the problem of maintaining a traditional system within modern corporate structures. But says Jodha, "Traditional and modern healing systems can be integrated if rural knowledge is valued". "Without respect, such knowledge will only remain in museums," he warns.

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