Albert Einstein once said about Gandhi “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood. Gandhi is a man who took the greatest colony away from the greatest empire in history. He is compared to the Alexander -The Great in Greece from ancient times, George Washington in United States of America from preindustrial period and Mao in China during the modern age. He did it in such a style and fashion that even those who followed the path of revolution became his followers in one way or another. At the onset of celebration of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary (2nd October, 2018) this article tries to attempt an introspective review of Gandhi and health in the past 150 years and its influence and relevance today. This article will describe the views and the evaluation of the above-mentioned factors in the following areas such as Health Medicine Hygiene Nutrition Health care. “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”
A timeline evaluation: Gandhi’s views and today’s world of medicine
Gandhi lived in a period where there was a rapid development in medical health field around the world.
A few of the game changers in medicine field which happened during his life time (1869 – 1948) were development of vaccinations of Cholera, anthrax and rabies by Louis Pasteur, medical usage of X-rays, discovery of different blood types and even the discovery of vitamins. However, inventions like Cloning, Polio vaccine, Pacemakers, In Vitro Fertilization, Insulin pump and Stem cell therapy are the few developments in medical field which happened after his death.
We also have to understand that it was a time period where the fastest mode of communication was still the telegram or the limited availability of telephone lines in the western/colonized world. Hence, we need to view this topic of Gandhi and health from a birds eye view and considering the variable factors such as the evolution of faster ways of communication and methods to disseminate information at lighting speed at this new age.
Gandhi – medical enthusiast
Under the aura of Gandhi as a political activist and his profession as a lawyer it was often ignored that Gandhi’s initial desire was to become a medical practitioner. It was the pressure from his family that he has to choose the profession of lawyer. However, his principles of nonviolence, sympathy and his personal views prevented him from dissection of animals and working of corpses which he would have to undertake as a medical student.
But the interest of medical practice and the interest of Gandhi in medical field never left him during his life time.
This peculiar interest about health and healthcare fields made Gandhi to write several articles under the Guide to Health in or about the year 1906. However his most famous works in this field was the articles which he had written under the heading “ Key to Health” during the period 1942-1944. He had also had his brief stint in Ambulance corps and his service in a cottage hospital in Natal in South Africa. All these articles were written with one intention in his mind – To avoid the harmful use of human body. For Gandhi, a human body was the form of universe itself.
Health perspective: Country vs Individual Gandhi believed the wellbeing of a country is in the wellbeing of its individual citizens. His loves for his country didn’t prevent him from seeing the harsh realities of his own nation from the angle of health care.
He was extremely realistic and a practical man. Today there is a huge partiality in the world, in the health care conditions of the developed world and the developing world. We often believe it is the duty of the government of a country to take care of the health of the citizens. Gandhi believes that it was the duty of the individual to take care of his own health for the wellbeing of his country. He said “The choice of country is not our choice, but where to live within the country is ours” When we see an influx of people from the villages to the cities, from an angle of health perspective, Gandhi advocated that we must try not to live in too congested places but in places with lot of ventilation. This is so true in today’s world where there is huge migration to the most happening city or town, where an individual scarifies his own health for the state of the location.
Food habits: A view of Mahatma 150 years after the birth of Gandhiji it is still a hot topic on what kind of food diet one should follow. In today’s scenario where there is often news about mob lynching happening in the name of food habits, it would be an interesting study to look into Gandhi’s perspectives. He was a strong advocate of vegetarian diet. He even went to the extent of explaining what kind of a diet an individual should take. He also explained that a sterile egg is a vegetarian food and the milk is a non-vegetarian food. Gandhi had restricted the usage of cattle meat, not from a religion’s view but from a health perspective. He held the practical view that all the domesticated animals are not completely healthy since even the periodical vetinary medical checkups can skip few alignments that domesticated cattle can have in its body. He also sites an example about a cow which had TB in Sevagram but went undetected for a long period, but the milk of the animal was used for the inmates of that ‘Ashramam’. He also points out that it is practically impossible in India to cover all the cattle’s under the medical supervision by practiced doctors. Hence it would be safe for an individual to avoid meat to stay health and not to contract diseases. Example – Nipah scare In today’s world, this topic will always remain as a subject of argument from the pros and cons side. While Gandhi’s views are valid in case of Nipah outbreak where there were Nipah viruses mutated from piglets to human beings from the pig farms and created a worldwide scare. Similar are the cases with Bird flu and H1N1.
However, it must also be taken in to consideration that meat is mostly the easily and cheapest available source of protein for the people from lowest income strata.
Mid noon meal scheme in India Even with his strict vegetarian views Gandhi had advocated the need for including milk and eggs in the diet, to ensure that each and every individual gets the respective daily nutrition. His views were later confirmed through scientific research and the same was later included in the famous midnoon meal scheme in schools which was implemented in India as part of our Food security act Water and Health “When in doubt take water only after boiling” – Gandhi It must be astonishing to find that Gandhi possessed an amazing knowledge in need for clean air and water. He insists on using boiled water even from one’s own well. This came at a time when the majority of the country was even unaware of the need for such a hygiene practice and considered one’s own well water as pure sourceof water. There are so many messages which are circulating in today’s social medias which advocates the need for having enough water for human body. It must be quite surprising for the authors of such messages to know that Gandhi had already advocated for the same to the masses before 75 years itself.
Gandhi and Quakers
Gandhi through his extensive reading and his interaction with his friends in medical field had a deep knowledge about the need for fiber content in diet. When the world moved from the rugged looking unpolished rice to the smooth and shiny polished white rice, we forgot its nutritional value. Today when the dieticians graduated from Ivy League colleges ask us to include unpolished rice in our diets, it would be interesting to know that this man had advocated the use of unpolished rice to us before even the independence of the country. In a world where Quakers and other MNCs are transporting plane loads of oats and other cereals to India, Gandhi also known as the Father of Nation had already advocated the need to including the home-grown cereals in our country-in our diet.
Gandhi – As a dietician “You are what you eat” Mahatma Gandhi had his views on what would be the optimal diet for a common man in a developing country like India. This despite the fact that his writings were 75 years old still holds ground today. Today we have diet talk shows across TVs, radios, blogs and most of the content from the talk shows were already advocated by Gandhi during his days. Few examples are given below Rice chapatis – It must be interesting to know that Gandhi had already identified before all the internet sensation that rice digests faster than wheat and had proposed Indian to use rice chapatis made out of rice flour without removing the pericarpum Dal- Roti combo – Gandhiji found that the typical Indian habit of dipping food in gravy or dal leads to swallowing of food and to indigestion. He understood the concept of chewing and pitched for it to his fellow Indians Banana and Milk – The breakfast suggested by Ivy league doctors and dieticians was already in the menu list of Gandhi.
Ghee for oil
Gandhi was an advocate of ghee against oil. However, he had realized that the markets wouldn’t stick to moral practices and may sell adulterer ghee and oil. In such cases he had asked us to avoid the same Sugar – Even though he fought against English, he admired the good qualities of his adversaries. One such was, the English men avoiding sweetened food in India even at the cost of the taste. Even long ahead of insulin injection was invented he advocated for us to abstain from such sugary substances.
Social Evils on Health: Alcohol/Tobacco/Opium Gandhi very well understood the need for elimination social evils such as alcoholism and substance abuse. He realized way ahead of Bollywood showing the alcohol and tobacco warning on the cinema screens. While the elite of his generation considered drinking as an upliftment of social status Gandhi knew the ill effects of suchsubstance abuses. He was a staunch criticizer of such materials and tried to warn his fellow countrymen about the ill effects of the alcohol/tobacco and other drugs. While there is clamor around the world to legalize the usage of opium/marijuana for medical purposes, Gandhi was one genius who had identified that blanket ban of such substances would deprive the need of usage of opium for medical needs.
Gandhi and Calories
It would have been an interesting study about how much kilometers a fitness tracker would have cloaked during Gandhi’s famous Dandi march vis a vis the calories burned if he had worn the same. One could always wonder how he, such a lean man, could have walked for hundreds of miles or went on Satyagraha for days for bring down a might empire. Even before all the treadmills, smart watches or smart shoes were introduced Gandhi propagated the need for brisk country walks and exercised for those who are deprived on manual labor work. He understood that only though exercises a man can take care of his body to its full potential and prevent the wasting of one’s energies through wasteful activities. This particular idea has already made a comeback in today’s world with the need to exercises where our works are being moved from manual labor to more and more static cubicle frames Mental Health “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO) Cognitive behavior therapy in today’s modern medicine can be translated to the principle of Bhramacharya in the world of Gandhi’s ideologies. He proposed that a health man should not only be healthy in his physical condition, but also in his mental condition. Yoga is finding a foothold in each and every corner of the world to ensure that today’s human beings stay within the control of their own self. In today’s world of mindless rush, it is these principles of our age old practices through yoga one can achieve the desired mental wellbeing which he had propagated as celibacy.
Gandhi – A human being
Every human being is prone for errors and so is Gandhiji. His views on medical world and health were based on his research and extensive readings. He also had his own views about various medicine practices. After the initial decade of 20th century, he distanced himself from Western medicine practices. However, he found his interests in natural therapy treatments such as Mud therapy and Hydro therapy. He had subjected his own son affected by double pneumonia to naturopathy treatment against the advice of his doctors to success. He was also known to undertake mud therapy for scorpion stings and wasp stings on his followers and disciples.But it could also be found that Gandhi dint believe blindly in following the path of alternate medicine. During inauguration of a Unani institute he confronted the inability of traditional medicine methods like Ayurveda and Unani not moving ahead with time and substantiating their results with experiment results. In today’s world it is often stressed on highlighting the glorious past of medical achievement of Ayurveda but not substantiating the same with new research methods. This was already identified by Gandhi during his time period. Gandhi was also known for his anger outbursts and trouble in his family life. However, it was a boon for all humans that he understood that healthy state of living was not only in physical wellbeing but also in mental wellbeing. He soon controlled his anger issues which was necessary for leading a large country like India against the mighty British empire. After all it must be just to say that a Father of Nation was also a human being who was prone to his correction but errors from a modern medical judgement angle in health and medical field.
Dr. Milcah Roy