Evolution of a Patriotic New Avatar of Superstition

Sanal Edamaruku

Tiranga Bangle is the name of a new product on the great Indian superstition bazaar. This copper bracelet promises to relieve you from pain, cure a range of illnesses including gout and arthritis, protect you from the damaging influence of radioactivity and boost your energy, strength and vitality. Such claims are nothing very special in a country where scores of lucky charms, miraculous pendants, protective amulets, healing crystals and holy oils are out to lure the gullible and the fearful. But this is a slightly different story. And it is alarming.

 This wondrous product does not come in the usual transcendental wrapping. No mantra tantra business. The gentlemen who make a pitch for it are well educated, suave and sophisticated Congress politicians, widely respected for their modern, liberal and socially responsible approach. The head of the bangle business, Naveen Jindal, studied management at Dallas, USA. He is one of the country’s richest industrialists and a member of the Indian Parliament. For the high profile inauguration in January, Jindal was joined by Shashi Tharoor, once Under Secretary General of the UN and currently serving as Minister of State for Human Resource Development. Tharoor is another Congress politician cultivating a modern man of the world image.

Jindal presents the bangles’ beneficial effects as achievement of cutting edge science. They are energized with what he calls Tri-Vortex technology. But despite all its pseudo-scientific blahblah, it is as baseless as witchcraft and voodoo. In an interview that appeared in the magazine OUTLOOK, I reminded at the Indian Constitution containing the fundamental duty to develop and promote scientific temper. “If ministers promote magical charms, they have no right to remain in power. They should be booked under the Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act for not verifying the veracity of their claims”, OUTLOOK quotes me. Tharoor reacted quickly and distanced himself from the miracle claims. He only spoke about the good work of the Flag Foundation, Tharoor later clarified.

Yes, that is the cue: Tiranga is the name of the Indian flag. The magic bangle has been launched and is now sold under the auspices of the Flag Foundation of India. That is an NGO founded by Jindal and his wife to promote the display of the national flag at every possible opportunity. They fought a successful court battle to get the flag code changed and won the right for every Indian to fly the banner on all days. Not too many people make use of this victory, but ever since the seventeen billion “Jindal Group” would show Indian colors in giant format. Patriotism pays in India. And now, Jindal and his NGO try to make Indians believe that wearing a bangle in flag’s name is a patriotic act. With the bracelet around your wrist you don’t just boost your personal health, you also do your bit to save the nation, as the bangle is designed to serve India’s ‘oneness’ and unity.

Patriotism is highly respected and widespread in India. Seen as a positive and constructive force to create unity in a country of great diversity, it is close to everybody’s heart.  It is not old fashioned, on the contrary. It is flourishing today among young and future oriented Indian achievers. In times of rapid developments and confusing globalism, they find stability and security in the pride to be Indian.

Superstition, neatly dressed up as science and linked to patriotic feelings is an unscrupulous new business plan. It is aiming beyond the shrinking traditional circles of incense smelling psychopaths to delve into untapped markets with great future potential. To make it sustainable, customers are asked to register their bangle on the Flag Foundations website and get reminded when it needs to be recharged.

As Indian as Jindals’ Tiranga campaign may look, it has international roots. The idea is imported from South Africa, where the energized copper bracelet is selling as “46664 bangle” like hot cake since years. It is sold by one Dr. Anton Ungerer, who popularized his business by advertising that its proceeds were to benefit the Nelson Mandela Fund.

Jindal refers to Ungerer’s elaborate scientific research on the Tri-Vortex technique that is described like this: In an electrical chamber, a powerful field of complex energy is generated “including properties of sound, light and geometry”. Within 24 hours, it creates “flowing molecule structures” in the copper bangles (or in anything else that you put in the chamber, like wood, food or water). By way of “biomimicry”, the energized items improve the “cellular coherence” and the flow of energy in plants, cows and humans, causing all kinds of beneficial effects. Sounds great, but is unfortunately only pseudo-scientific blahblah. Renowned scientists have dismissed such claims, and neither Jindal nor Anton Ungerer could so far present any evidence or independent scientific research supporting them. In South Africa, a respected consumer rights organization stood up against Ungerer. Meantime, the Advertising Standards Association of the country has ordered his company to withdraw their “unsubstantiated claims”.

Ungerer did not invent the Tri-Vortex technique. He took it from Japan. The murky source of it all seems to be the work of one Dr. Mararo Emoto, who specialized on energizing water. Emoto presented his sensational “scientific” findings in 2003 – and was immediately challenged by James Randy. Randy offered him one million dollar if he could reproduce his claimed results in a controlled double blind test. Emoto was not ready to accept.

Marato Emoto’s claim he could create healing water by transforming molecule structures and energy flows is far older than his Tri-Vortex technique. Before 2003, he used to propagate simpler methods: meditation and prayer. Or he would affix scrips with magic words on water tanks. Jindal’s Tiranga Bangle has come a long way!