The Politics of Value and the Construction of Indian Medical Traditions: Ayurveda and Unani Tibb in Professional and Public Cultures, 1982-2007
In Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market: The Modern Image of the Ayurvedic and Unani Industry (Orient Longman, Hyderabad/London, forthcoming), I argue that Indian medical traditions such as Ayurveda and Unani Tibb have largely become an upper middle class urban phenomenon. Ninety percent of Ayurvedic and Unani medicines are sold as over-the-counter branded medical products without the advice of an Ayurvedic or Unani practitioner. These Ayurvedic and Unani medicines, known as fast moving consumer goods, are offered against the "modern" diseases of affluence such as diabetes, obesities, high blood pressure, stress and impotence. Looking through the lens of large manufacturers makes us aware of the commodification and commoditization of contemporary Indian medicine. To complement and criticize the perspective of large manufacturers catering to the needs of the urban upper middle class, which is central to Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market, my new project brings in the perspective of other parties such as non-governmental organizations and government bodies that are involved with Indian medical traditions, as well as the view point of two other consumer groups: daily wage earners and the traditional elite.
The Politics of Value and the Construction of Indian Medical Traditions: Ayurveda and Unani Tibb in Professional and Public Cultures, 1982-2007 wants to look at the cultural-social politics of defining, framing and putting to use Indian medicines in professional and public cultures. To this end policy makers, practitioners, and two patient groups will be interviewed and observed. How is the commodification of India's medical traditions and the commoditization of its substances, and the fact that at least large manufacturers cater to the needs of urban upper middle class consumers, looked upon and evaluated by non-governmental organizations and government institutions involved in contemporary Indian medical traditions? How is the friction between profit and charity, medicine as business and service, been commented upon and mediated in these arenas? Do these organisations consider Ayurvedic and Unani medicines as affordable alternatives for the poorer sections of Indian society as has been the case for over hundred years? Policies and views of relevant non-governmental organizations and government bodies will be analysed within the context of the representation and application of Ayurveda and Unani Tibb in the popular media such as television, radio, magazines and newspapers. This is in line with my impression that though for over hundred years modern science was the arbiter for deciding the worth of Indian medical forms, nowadays the consumer and the market potential play a more important role in legitimating of Indian medicine.
As we have seen the health and social concerns of urban upper middle class consumers dominate Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market. Large Ayurvedic and Unani manufacturers propagate their health products as detoxifiers of the venom of urban and westernised life-styles and promise their customers to make them effectively modern, e.g. successful in the highly competitive job market of the urban upper middle class. Ayurvedic and Unani health products are also said to facilitate the "modern" pleasures of eating fast food, consuming alcohol and sex as a recreational activity. Urban upper class Ayurveda is also linked to the way Ayurveda is represented, practiced and put to use in the United States, Canada, Europe and among the upper middle classes of countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. To put into perspective and complement for this urban upper class form of Indian medicine, The Politics of Value and the Construction of Indian Medical Traditions wants to research and expose the form Indian medical traditions take for two new consumer groups: daily wage earners and India's traditional elite such as affluent industrialists, business people and landowners. What have Ayurvedic and Unani to offer to daily wage earners if the price and health benefits of medicines have increasingly been brought into line with the purses, life-style, anxieties and strivings of the urban upper middle class? What kind of Ayurvedic and Unani formulas and services do these people use and what institutions and professionals are involved in their dissipation? Daily wage earners are known for making fun of "middle class tonics" which they see as commodities that reflect and reinforce the strength of those in power. They have other worries and priorities of their own. Here Ayurvedic and Unani aphrodisiacs - an important class of Ayurvedic and Unani formulas - are foremost means to get "healthy offspring" not pleasure enhancers. On the other end of the social spectrum we have the traditional Hindu elite that uses Ayurvedic medicines and regimes to make them more sattwic (pure, balanced) and spiritual. Here taking Ayurvedic medicines is part of a Hindu life-style and religious rituals and their distribution by someone who is in the possession of gai guna (the power of hand) is seen as increasing the efficacy of these indigenous medicines. Are these "mechanisms of action" also acknowledged in Unani Tibb? Is there in difference between the Hindu and the Muslim traditional elite in this respect? Looking at the promotional campaigns of mega-manufacturers Indian medicines refer to a uniform Indian identity that links rationality and spirituality, medical therapy with a moral and hygienic life-style. In opposition to biomedicine as the "alien other", Ayurveda and Unani Tibb make up one front. Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market shows that both Ayurvedic and Unani mega manufacturers claim Indianness for their products. However Ayurveda is easily associated with religion while Unani projects herself as secular and rational (and sees Ayurveda as a plot of Hindus to export their life-style and religion.) Is the relationship between Ayurveda and Unani Tibb as cosy as the marketing discourse of large manufacturers suggests? How do Unani people look upon the efficacy and moral standing of Ayurveda and vice versa? Patients, their health caregivers and family members will be interviewed and observations will be conducted at different types of health care and religious facilities.