Politics of Knowledge in the Debates on Toxicity in Ayurvedic Medicines

Recent Controversies over Bhasmas

in Asian Medicine
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In the last decade, a controversy has arisen over a specific type of herbo-mineral ayurvedic preparations called bhasmas (Skt. bhasman). The controversy mainly concerned serious complications or even the death of patients after having taken these medicines. Since these medicines were metal-based preparations, and specifically included lead or mercury, their toxicity was interpreted as causing the patients’ suffering. In response to that, in public discourse a plethora of writing on the issue of toxicity in ayurvedic medicines ensued, both accusatory and defensive in tone. This laid out the potential for their condemnation, with serious implications for their credibility, not to speak of their markets. This article attempts to analyse this writing, focusing mainly on the academic publications, from the perspective of the politics of knowledge. It will argue that hierarchies in the epistemologies of medical knowledge systems guide the scientific analysis of these herbo-mineral preparations, some of which contain mercury, illustrating how this happens through publications that are unequivocally critical of bhasmas, those that are defensive of them, and those that indicate a median position. It will also analyse the possible regulatory and manufacturing regimes that can emerge when a certain kind of balanced analysis informs policy-making. Focusing on the modes of translation between epistemologies of different knowledge systems that have characterised the process of making ‘traditional’ knowledge contemporary, it shows how this principally reflects the hierarchy between dominant and marginal knowledge on an everyday basis, affecting most production and marketing decisions, that backfire not only on specific products, but affect an evaluation of the system as a whole.

Politics of Knowledge in the Debates on Toxicity in Ayurvedic Medicines

Recent Controversies over Bhasmas

in Asian Medicine

Sections

References

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4

Chaudhary 2012.

7

Patwardhan Warude and Giresh 2005pp. 1535–6.

8

Singh and Rai 2012p. 178.

9

Koch et al. 2011p. 4545.

11

Saper et al. 2004.

12

Ibid. p. 2868.

14

Ibid. p. 2872.

15

Kales and Saper 2009.

16

Singh et al. 2009.

17

See for example Kales and Saper 2009p. 379 and also Priya and Shweta 2011 p. xxiii.

18

Kales and Saper 2009p. 379.

19

Gunturu et al. 2011.

20

Ibid. p. 1.

22

Gunturu et al. 2011p. 3.

23

Ibid. p. 5.

24

Singh 2008.

25

Ibid. p. 664.

28

Vahalia et al. 2011p. 77.

30

Vahalia et al. 2011p. 77.

32

Sarkar et al. 2009.

33

Ibid. p. 990.

34

Singh and Rai 2012p. 178.

35

Kapoor 2010.

36

Ibid. p. 563.

37

Ibid. p. 564.

38

Ibid. p. 563.

39

Thatte et al. 1993.

40

Ibid. p. 181.

41

Ibid. p. 182.

42

Dahanukar Kapadia and Karandikar 1982.

43

For example Dargan et al. 2008.

46

For instance Bode 2008.

49

Kapoor 2010p. 571.

50

Ibid. p. 566.

52

Ramakrishna 2012p. 57.

53

For example Chaudhary Singh and Kumar 2010.

54

Saper et al. 2008.

55

Mao and Desai 2009p. 271.

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