Part I

There are some materials that have proved medical properties and companies vie with one another just to get patents over products made from those, be they plants or plant or animal extracts. Most of these wonder drugs have become popular throughout the world on account of their medicinal properties. Research is going on to categorize such products according to their properties.

It is now common knowledge that there are several plants that have been used for curing minor illnesses for thousands of years. It is a part of the collective knowledge of certain communities. But, unfortunately, they don’t make any attempt to preserve such knowledge or capitalize them. Quite often the knowledge about the medicinal properties of the various plants is kept in the mind of the main healer who discloses the knowledge ritualistically to one chosen follower or disciple at the time of his death. That is the situation in so many aboriginal communities. The village medicine man retains the vital knowledge safe in his mind until his last days. When he transfers it to the next generation, it depends on the young man how much he can retain of what he receives from the old medicine man.

Even today, such medicinal knowledge is not written down in some aboriginal communities.

There are a lot of such communities in India.

Sometimes such communities have knowledge about the medicinal properties of hundreds of plants. Some of the plants are proved to have miraculous potential to cure even some very fatal diseases. In India, for instance, some tribal communities know some plants that have the property to heal snakebite. Even today, a significant number of people go to village medicine man in cases like hepatitis or kidney stone. There are healers who have specialized in the cure of such diseases. Sometimes doctors practicing conventional Western medicine recommend such a course, implicitly or even explicitly. They do so because the efficiency of these medicines has been proved beyond doubt. And many researches are carried out to identify the active principles in such medicines. One such research, on medicinal plants in India, S. D. Seth and others suggest that the-

“use of plants as a source of medicine has been inherited and is an important component of the health care system in India”.

The rich legacy of traditional medicine in India over the years say, “Turmeric is most well known over the longest period of time for its anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties.

Several wonder drugs have come from India. In some cases, a whole plant is believed to have medicinal properties. One example is the neem tree. Its leaves, fruit, seeds, oil extracted from the seeds, the bark, and even the small twigs are used for curing various diseases. Some extracts from the neem seeds are used as effective biopesticides and even as fertilizers for ages. The most surprising things about these uses are these: the people have known these for a long time; even laymen and women have this knowledge. They have been using this all their lives. The neem tree, in short, has always been a magic tree for the rustic people in India. They put it to frequent and common use also. For instance, in some railway stations in north India one could, till recently, see small boys lining up by the side of the trains in the mornings selling small bundles of neem sticks.

They are supposed to be very fine for the teeth.

Now there are toothpastes brought out by major companies which are named after neem and which reportedly contain the active principles of neem extracts. All this is community knowledge, but we now see the relentless attempts made by multinational corporations to avail patent rights over most of such products that are regular ingredients of indigenous medical knowledge.

Turmeric is a very good example. It has always been a favorite Indian spice and has been well received in European and American markets. Now it has been widely known that turmeric is yet another wonder product similar to the neem, coming from India and having been an indispensable ingredient of many recipes as well as many unconventional medicines.

This knowledge has been there from ancient days.

The knowledge is so common even among illiterate rural folk that whenever their chicks show sign of indigestion or when they droop for no apparent reason, they immediately give them a paste of raw turmeric, pepper and salt. In most cases they are cured. This is just one example to suggest the diffusion of knowledge about the medicinal properties of turmeric. Little wonder that turmeric has been a hot topic for quite some time displaying concerted attempts by American drug companies to acquire a patent on products from turmeric. Again we find the avarice and shortsightedness of drug companies. What right has the manufacturer of a medicine from turmeric got on turmeric that has been in frequent use throughout India for ages? Turmeric has been “in the global limelight for the granting of the controversial patent on it” precisely because of its several medical properties which have been well documented and proved.

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