Kushire is a small town like any other town in Maharashtra, situated in Panhala Taluka of Kolhapur District. Gurav brothers hail from this place. They once had a dream or may be, Jyotiba (the deity from the nearby famous temple of Jyotiba) revealed himself in a human form before them; and this miracle brought the town in lime light. The story goes: Gurav brother’s bullock had become blind. In their dream, they were told to put the juice of the leaves of a certain plant in the bullock’s eyes. It is also said that they were told about this medicine by someone from the forest. They used that medicine and to the surprise of everyone, the bullock had its normal vision back. Now Gurav brothers reasoned, there couldn’t be much difference between the eyes of a bullock and those of a man. (Which proved right by the huge crowds that gathered in Kushire town.) So the medicine that cured the bullock’s blindness should cure that of human beings too. They decided to try it out. They started treating patients and the news spread like wild fire, faster than an epidemic of eye-infection. A crowd of 4-5 thousand people gathered every day in Kushire. Very soon people from faraway districts, even from Karnataka started coming for treatment of eyes. In a short period of just three months, the number of patients being treated rose to over 3 lakhs per month. This service rendered to the blind people looked like missionary work as it cost a patient only one coconut. (The fact that this mission brought the brothers 3 lakhs x 6 ruppes = 18 lakh rupees per month should open the eyes of all superstitious people.) The Kolhapur Municipal Corporation arranged for special bus services on Wednesdays and Sundays, the days of the treatment. The buses displayed boards saying, ‘Let us go to Kushire and cure our eyes’. The local news papers, some weeklies and the local cable TV gave excessive publicity to the two brothers. Innumerous rumors were spread as authentic claims of cures like improvement in vision, being able to see without spectacles, etc. The rumors spread around that those who are in the queue for the treatment, just throw away their spectacles because they are sure that once the medicine is put into their eyes they will have no need of them. At the height of publicity, loud claims like ‘two drops of medicine make cataract operation redundant’; ‘a blind man recovers his vision’ etc. were made. In addition it was also made known widely that the person who revealed the secret of this medicine and then disappeared had warned not to become greedy; for demanding money will result in loss of this knowledge.
I visited one such healing camp. 8-10 thousand people, all from rural area, had arrived there for treatment. The police personnel who had come there to control mischief and maintain order were making people stand in queues. Most of the people were 45 to 50 years old and uneducated. Quite a few women and very old people too were there. All of them appeared to be very poor. Most of the women were anemic, starved of vitamins and especially vitamin A that is essential for eyes. The method of treating the patients was not just strange but atrocious. 10 to 15 persons were made to lie down in a row in one room or in the veranda with their heads on one side. Not a single examination of any kind was made. The medicine was kept in a dirty vessel with a dirtier cloth dipped in it. The cloth wet with medicine was taken out and squeezed and then again squeezed over the eyes of the patient to put two drops in each of his eyes. No one complained about anything because the treatment was quite simple, very cheap and sanctified by its supposedly divine power.
The tremendous response to the treatment is a sign of the prevalence of eye ailments in our society and lack of facilities to treat them. The number of patients was simply astounding. This method of treating eye ailments spread and clinics were opened at 5-6 places in the Kolhapur district. All of them claimed to have inherited the knowledge directly from the Gurav brothers. Simultaneously the brothers announced that they did not have any branch anywhere. It created a tumult that was given publicity by the local news papers. See the news published in Ratnagiri Times of 16th, Sept 1997 from Alore. It says, “Many men, women and elderly people from the nooks and corners of the district have crowded into Alore. When asked why they were treating all ailments with the same medicine when the ophthalmology institutes from Kolhapur and Pune have opposed it, the director of the camp Ashokbhai replied that the question will be answered by the enormity of the crowd. Then he added, the doctors have looted these people several times while the treatment here is free. So the doctors are crying wolf because they will lose their lucrative practice. It is also reported that the patients were made to sign a printed form which said that every patient that comes here takes the treatment at his own responsibility and the attendants who administer the medicine will not be blamed if it is found defective.” (A clever ploy indeed.)
The news further added, ‘since there was no complain of any dire consequence of the treatment, the opinion of the patients present there was that treatment with this medicine should continue. Many government servants and drivers of various vehicles have done away with their spectacles. Dr. Ketakar, Dr. Pawar, Dr. Patel and Dr. (Mrs) Mane availed of this treatment. More than thousand people take advantage of the treatment on any one day.’
This provided a great opportunity to local social organizations to do something useful for the society. In Math, a town in Lanja Taluka of Ratnagiri District, a youth organization called ‘Sanmitra Mandal’ invited Gurav Brothers to hold a camp there during their Navaratri Festival. The camp site was crowded with jeeps, tempos, rickshaws, taxis and bikes since early morning. More than 3000 people from nearly 100 nearby villages gathered there. The camp was organized by a senior Shivasena worker Sanjay Chavan. The two political parties, the Congress and the Shivasena are sworn adversaries of each other while the Republican Party abhors Shivasena. But this ‘socially useful camp’ brought them all together. The senior Congress Leader, Mukundrao Savant inaugurated the camp and the Republican Party Workers helped in its proper management. News papers had publicized that despite all opposition from the organization of medical practitioners of Ratnagiri District and the Andhashraddhaa Nimoolan Samiti, people attended the camp, completely ignoring their appeal. Such camps were blatantly held in Kanakavali, in Sidhudurga district, Masoor, Dahivadi, Khandala, Phaltan and Medha in Satara District and several places in Pune and Solapur.
The ANS tried to oppose this unashamed cheating, vehemently. Many other organizations helped the ANS branches active in the respective districts in confronting the camp managers. In Kolhapur, the ‘Janaswasthya Dakshata Samiti’, an organization active in the field of social health and ANS had demanded that the government investigate the use and aftereffect of this medicine on the eyes of people and save them from the possible damage. But the Government Health Department did not care. The District Commissioner, Manukumar Shrivastav and the Inspector of Police, Madhavrao Sanap did not do anything whatsoever. Every department would shirk from the responsibility and pass it on to some other department. Then ANS took a firm stand against this fraud, first in Kolhapur and then in all other places.
I met with the District Commissioner, Manukumar Shrivastav on 10th September 1997 along with some of our activists, and explained our stand in this connection. Our stand was: ‘The government have declared to provide health facilities to all by the year 2000. But people like the Gurav Brothers are dabbling with people’s health while the District Commissioner looks on. This is not correct or acceptable. The medicine used by these brothers should be analyzed and they should be allowed to continue their treatment only when it proves not only harmless but also beneficial for eye ailments.’ We had a plan ready which we submitted to the District Commissioner. Gurav Brothers should administer their medicine on a few selected patients suffering from eye ailments under supervision of eye specialists. If the patients are cured of their ailment and the medicine proves effective, only then should the brothers be allowed to continue their treatment. We also demanded that the name of the plant from which the medicine is made be revealed to the public. Whether it possesses any medicinal property for the treatment of eye ailments at all can be verified with the help of Botanical and Ayurvedic sciences. If the brothers are scared that revealing the name of the plant amounts to giving up their business secret and adversely affect their occupation, then ANS is prepared to arrange to provide them with a temporary patent for their medicine. We also brought to their notice that treating patients with any medicine that has not undergone all the essential processes of validation is a culpable crime under the 1954 ‘Drugs and Magic Remedies Act’.
The District Commissioner did not seem to be in favour of taking any positive action. He agreed only to prohibit this treatment till the reports of the tests were available. This report, in fact, was not much of use because the medicine was Ayurvedic and made of plant leaves. So all that can be verified was whether the medicine is harmful. The compulsory process that every allopathic medicine has to undergo before being brought into the market does not apply to traditional Ayurvedic medicine made from plants. However although it was not possible to take action against Gurav Brothers on this account, they were surely guilty of producing medicine on large scale without government authorization and their bogus treatment without any proper medical certification. Since the government evaded taking action, Gurav Brothers started their business again after a short gap.
A delegation from Kushire arrived at the District Collector’s office while we were holding a meeting with him. In their opinion ‘Gurav Brothers’ discovery was a great boon for humanity. It would ease government’s responsibility regarding health at least as far as eye care is concerned. Moreover people opt for this treatment on their own responsibility just like those who eat Gutakha (a popular tobacco product). When government does not ban the harmful Gutakha , why then should it ban this harmless medicine?’ But their real purpose was something quite different. They said that because of the success of Gurav Brothers’ medicine, many others have started eye treatment claiming that they too have the knowledge of it. So they had come to request the collector to put an end to the bogus business of these imposters. What had happened was that one Baliram Chaugule living in the village Pohale, close to Kushire had claimed that it was he, who first discovered the medicine. He too, was organizing camps in the Konkan area. He too could not answer many questions like: – what is the expiry period of this medicine? Why is the colour of the medicine different at different times? Are these medicinal plants available at any places other than the mountain of Jyotiba near Panhala? Etc. Like Gurav Brothers, he too refused to give a sample for examination to the government. His camps too were overcrowded and many NGOs and political parties vie d with each other to help this supposedly humanitarian campaign without giving a thought to its authenticity. ANS demonstrated against such camps in Kanakavali (district Sindhudurga) and Jaysingpur (district Kolhapur). Some likeminded organizations and ophthalmologists supported ANS. But the mad rush for treating eyes with the untested medicine did not abate. People could not understand why ANS is obstructing this so called good work.
In Satara District this questionable activity started at several places simultaneously. Despite the disappointing experience of the Kolhapur district administration, I went to see the district Police Superintendent, Meera Boravankar along with some eye specialists. I pointed out that curing all sorts of eye ailments with just one drop of a single medicine is a miraculous and supernatural treatment. The law provides for strict action against such treatment. I also pointed out that a coconut or cash in lieu of the coconut collected from every individual totals up to several thousand rupees per day in every camp. Dr. Saravate, the eye specialist who accompanied our delegation explained how badly the medicine can and already has affected some patients. We also brought to her notice that the Ophthalmologists’ Organization of Maharashtra have publicly denounced it and demanded that action be taken on the perpetrators of this crime.
Surprisingly the Superintendent of Police in Satara District, unlike those of other districts was convinced and promptly issued a circular to all police stations as follows.
27th October 1997
Sub:-Re stopping illegal treatment of eyes
In various parts of Satara district, camps for treatment of all eye ailments are being conducted on large scale. The person who treats the patients has no medical certificate. Just one drop of the medicine is put into the eyes of the patient, once a week, whatever is the disease. This medicine is neither licensed nor produced by medical experts. This treatment has been publicized as some divine miracle. Propagating any treatment in this manner is a cognizable crime under ‘the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954. Similarly to accept money or things from patients for such treatment is plain deceit. The patient is likely to lose his vision by such treatment. Chiefs of all police stations should investigate thoroughly and take appropriate preventive action against those persons who offer this illegal treatment. Similarly if the ANS activists contact the police station in connection with this treatment or make a complaint in this regard, they should be given complete co-operation and proper action should be taken promptly.
for Police Superintendent, Satara.
Copy to all police Stations, etc. etc. Satara.
This circular proved an effective weapon for us not only in Satara but in all other districts like Pune, Solapur, Usmanabad, Nagar etc. of Maharashtra , wherever this illegal act was spreading. Our activists met with the Chief Police Officers of the concerned place with a copy of this circular and requested them to issue similar circulars. With the help of such circulars we successfully closed down one camp after another. However in the Kolhapur district no such circular was ever issued.
The crowds gathering at Kushire for the treatment of eyes by the so called ‘medicine that brings the dead eyes to life’ (Netra Sanjeevani) dwindled but at the cost of efforts, time, wisdom and money of innumerable people!
Translated by Suman Oak