Are we really approaching a time when Ayurveda would defeat science in a race to customise and conceive a perfect baby? India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing voluntary organisation, claims to have a solution for a fair, healthy and intellectual baby.
A birth science information centre is the subject of debate and discussion in India right now. While the RSS claims to have successfully delivered over 400 ‘customised babies’ so far, their plan to setup a ‘Garv Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra’ in every state by 2020 remains a vital issue spurring debates over superstitious, regressive practices and violation of child rights.
After holding successful seminars in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Arogya Bharati, the health and family welfare wing of RSS, planned and executed a similar workshop in Kolkata on May 6-7. Claiming to help couples plan and conceive ‘extraordinary babies’ through ancient Hindu practices, the workshop was held in Bhowanipore, at the heart of the city, to impart knowledge on ‘womb purification and rejuvenation’.
Over the last decade, the womb purification process has garnered much interest and popularity in Gujarat. However, the eastern states have remained stoic and rather apprehensive about this otherwise ancient and seemingly regressive procedure.
The process, according to one of the RSS activists in Bengal, aims to revive the old culture of India and bring back a happy and healthy married lifestyle. The couple has to go through a 162-day cleansing programme, which includes 90 days for the wife and 72 days for the husband. Food, activities, and lifestyle should be punctuated before the couple decides to conceive. According to a statement by Dr Karishma Narvani of Om Ayurvedic Hospital in Gujarat, where ‘Garv Sanskar’ takes place, “It is all about keeping yourself in a good state emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually for the sake of your unborn baby.” The doctor went on to claim that the couple can communicate with their unborn child in the womb.
The #garbhsanskar workshop is a regressive idea that takes us back to stone age. Oh I forgot, that is RSS plan right? To turn back in time.
— Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) May 7, 2017
Child rights, misogyny, and hypocrisy
Tinku Khanna, the Director of Apne Aap, an NGO working against child trafficking and child healthcare in brothels and other marginalised sections of the society, had her case sorted. “Birth healthcare workshops should be an open forum; but, what I perceive from the agenda of this workshop is that it fuels the desire to have male babies, which is also very evident from the content of their websites,” Khanna said.
Every form of healing, be it Allopathy, homeopathy or the traditional Ayurveda, has its own scientific basis. However, the claims of having a fair, male child with no physical deformities remain highly debatable according to her. “I felt a political undertone in the entire workshop. We were driven out of the halls by the organisers and I don’t understand the entire hush-hush about it,” Khanna added.
Khanna believes that the medical wing of RSS, known as the parent organisation of the party that is currently helming the Indian government – promising prospective dark-skinned parents who undergo its workshop and procedures babies with fair complexion is nothing less than eugenic and regressive to its utmost level.
“The hypocrisy lies in the fact that they want to highlight Ayurveda but is trying to promote the idea of a perfect male child in broad daylight,” Khanna adds with much conviction.
Science vs. Superstition
The workshop was reprogrammed after an order issued by the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Nishita Mhatre, came in on May 5. This was following the Public Information Litigation (PIL) filed by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) against the programme and its organisers, Arogya Bharati.
Ananya Chakraborti, the Chairperson of WBCPCR, shared the PIL with us, an excerpt of it reads as follows:
This is to inform you that West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) had filed a PIL against a programme being organised by “Arogya Bharati”, the medical wing of the RSS in Bhowanipore on 6th and 7th May.
The PIL is against the most unscientific, regressive “Garbh Sanskar” mela which is proposed to be conducted in Kolkata to have ‘designer babies’. The mela is propagating the dream of having good looking, male, and achiever babies through obsolete ancient Hindu rituals. WBCPCR strongly feels that this kind of unscientific, regressive, discriminatory programme not only violates the rights of a child but is also unconstitutional and illegal according to the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act.
The case is still under the jurisdiction of the High Court that had earlier instructed the organisers to avoid any kind of workshop that violates the human rights cited in the PIL and requested discussions restricted to the well-being of women during pregnancy. The court also instructed the organisers to videotape the entire programme due to be produced before the court at the forthcoming hearing.
Urmi Basu, a human rights activist from Kolkata, was approached for a statement and her reactions to the entire scheme of things were quite objective and terrifying. “We know that there are traditional practices of destroying a female fetus in India and this absolutely in the line of that,” Basu said in a telephonic conversation. The activist was a part of the PIL filed by the WBCPCR and has expressed strong concerns about the breach of Court order as well.
“In my understanding, Garv Sanskar as a practice is nothing but a eugenic design to control and destroy human diversity, intrinsic individual physical and intellectual disposition and thereby create a society where only a certain kind of people will have the possibility to thrive. Historically, it is frighteningly close to what happened in Nazi Germany almost 80 years ago,” Basu said.
— Urmi Basu (@urmibasu1) May 6, 2017
While Ayurvedic antenatal care, Ayurvedic garv sanskar and infertility experts are making their presence felt, a balanced approach could be a holistic medical seminar that looks at child healthcare from an objective point of view. Yes, India is a country that takes pride in the organisation of Ayurveda but that does not come with a leeway of muscling regressive perception behind the screen of misogyny and racial discrimination. As the medical science faces challenges that are democratic, the government should allow an open debate to clear the air of suspicion. The logic, in this case, remains in favour of those who opposed the Sangh and the organisation is yet to come back with a suitable reasoning. Stay tuned till we unfold the video story.