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Saturday, September 25, 2021

White man’s bias in Wikipedia entry on Ayurveda is another consequence of digital colonisation

Common people consider Wikipedia to be one of the reliable sources of information on the internet. The site, which contains user generated and reviewed content, is supposed to be bias neutral but recent incidents have exposed the veneer of neutrality of Wikipedia. However an instance of white man’s bias in Wikipedia entry on Ayurveda has come to light.

Wikipedia started in January, 2001 and within a few years, became the biggest repository of knowledge on earth, surpassing printed encyclopedias. It could be edited in real time for current events, which made it more relevant and useful. Apparently, it soon attracted the attention of self-appointed leftist gatekeepers of information and Wikipedia started showing its leftist bias.

The author experienced it first-hand while trying to correct the entry on Maharana Pratap, where one could insert the phrase “Reconquest of Mewar” only after much effort. The reader can himself try and insert well known, well supported facts in the page and see how soon these edits are reversed. In recent times, the Delhi Riots of 2020 have been shown to be entirely the fault of Hindus on Wikipedia, despite evidence collected by police pointing to an Islamist conspiracy. The latest case is related to Wikipedia entry on Ayurveda, which smacks of the Eurocentric bias, and seeks to dismiss any achievements by ‘natives’.

whitw man's bias in wikipedia

White man’s bias in Wikipedia entry on Ayurveda

The article’s second line magisterially declares Ayurveda to be “pseudo-science” and its practice as “unscientific”. The first impression of a non-Bharatiya would be to compare it with voo-doo or shamanic practices. The citation given is from a book on religion written by an ethnologist from Germany and not any scientific study!

wikipedia bias on ayurveda

Further in “classification and efficacy”, the entry says that “it is possible that some substances in Ayurveda might be developed into effective treatments, there is no evidence that any are effective in themselves.” The citation for this is from American Cancer Society, which also says that ” In fact, a few of the herbs and substances have been purified into drugs that are used (along with other medicines) to treat cancer. Early studies suggest that other parts of Ayurveda may have potential therapeutic value.”

Now reading the Wikipedia article, it seems Ayurveda is not effective for any disease whatsover, while the citation is specifically for cancer. Again the article completely disregards the credit given by American Cancer Society to the therapeutic value of Ayurveda. If this is not intellectual dishonesty, what is?

The same section says that “ayurvedic medicine is considered pseudoscientific on account of its confusion between reality and metaphysical concepts.” The citation is from a book on psychiatry and not medicine! To prove the contention, the ethnologist from Germany, Dr. Quack, is again cited. Dr. Quack says that Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti officially labels Ayurveda as pseudoscience. Now is this proof enough to call Ayurveda as pseudo-science? I leave the answer to wise readers.

The article completely ignores that Ayurveda system has given so much to the world. These include importance of hygiene, inoculation/vaccination, surgery etc. Until recently, i.e. 19th century, it kept the people of Bharat healthy and was the default public health system. The apathy to Ayurveda during British rule has led to its current condition in Bharat.

The Yunani and Western medicine borrowed much from Ayurveda and yet it is categorised as pseudo-science! Just last week a research from Oxford University was reported as saying that honey is a better remedy for cold than most medicines, a fact known to Ayurveda since millennia.

Ayurveda : what it has given to modern medicine

At this point, a brief discussion on what Ayurveda has given to modern medicine will put the bias of Wikipedia in perspective. Ayurveda has highly developed concepts of preventive, curative and social medicine.

Whereas until 19th century, the western physicians did not care about hygiene, Ayurveda insisted on hygiene. This social medicine, which prevented spread of epidemics and diseases like diarrhea etc. in modern world was quite widespread in Bharat and has been attested by various foreign visitors. While, bathing daily was considered harmful in Europe and optional in Muslim countries, in Bharat it was considered mandatory. This kept the population free from a large number of diseases. Ancient texts on Yoga describe shauch, or hygiene and Tamil text Achara-kovai  also gives elaborate rules for hygiene.

Under preventive medicine, Ayurveda was the first system to focus on inoculation/vaccination against diseases including the dreaded smallpox. English accounts discuss of a caste of men, who went around a definite area every year and inoculated people against diseases. Apart from that, many Ayurvedic practices, including use of Tulsi, Neem, Haldi etc. focused on keeping diseases away. Now these are being used world over to boost immunity against diseases.

Ayurveda was the first to recognize mosquitoes as vectors for malaria some 2500 years ago and also describe certain types of cancers. Its approach to find cure in local flora was also environment friendly. Even in the current epidemic, Ayurvedic medicines for boosting immunity and managing fever etc. are proving effective and Bharat continues to have a comparatively lower death rate despite having a large number of patients.

The contribution of Ayurveda to surgery is well known. Many surgical instruments described by Susruta were adopted without change in western medicine. The first rhinoplasty in England was conducted by Joseph Carpue in early 19th century after studying  methods of Bhartiya surgeons. Carpue is also known as father of modern plastic surgery! There is evidence that Bharatiya physicians were doing cataract surgeries, cesarean sections and complicated brain surgeries in medieval times before Islamic onslaught destroyed much of Bharat’s knowledge and killed many Bharatiya physicians.

Digital colonization : the reason for bias against Bharat

Despite Bharat generating a huge amount of data, Bharatiyas do not control any big company that controls their data. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple, Wikipedia etc. are based in USA. In a world where data is the new oil, this valuable resource in hand of foreign companies is not entirely subject to Bharatiya laws.

Of the top 50  global websites by traffic, there is no Bhartiya website. Google India and Amazon India figure in the list, but are not owned by Bharataiyas. Of these 50 websites , 25 are from USA and 16 are from China. Countries like Indonesia and Russia also figure in the list, but not Bharat.

Clearly, China and USA, two most powerful countries in the world, prioritize their data sovereignty. It was natural for US to lead in the area as it had the advantage of being the first in the race and it also had accumulated capital to invest in digital ecosystem. China deliberately followed policies that resulted in blocking access to US giants and creation of its own ecosystem. We in Bharat prioritized convenience over prudence. “Open internet” is a slogan similar to “free trade”, high on idealism and low on substance. One sided free trade was a key component of colonisation in 19th century, and open access to data is likely to prove a key component of digital colonisation.


Making of a new ecosystem takes a lot of time and requires support by government. In a recent example, when govt banned Chinese apps, many Bharatiya alternatives were launched within days and are being used extensively. Similar support by China has led to Baidu becoming the third most visited website in the world. It is the search engine of China.

However it might not be possible to always create alternatives in the short term. In case of Wikipedia, for now, multi-pronged efforts should be made to ensure that entries are corrected by adducing evidence and putting public pressure. Government should also intervene in cases like this. Ayurveda is a component of Bharat’s soft power and its misrepresentation is certain to hurt Bharat’s interests.

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Pawan Pandey
Pawan Pandey is an Educator based in Dehradun, currently working as Senior Staff Writer with HinduPost. He is an Engineer by training and a teacher by passion. He teaches for Civil Service Exams as well as for Common Law Admission Test. He has deep interest in politics, economy, culture and all things Bharatiya. He fancies himself to be a loving husband and doting father. His weakness is Bharatiya food, particularly sweets. His hobbies include reading, writing and listening to Bharatiya music.


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