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Varsity researches traditional medicine

- Dibrugarh University to hold seminar on health practices of indigenous communities

Jorhat, March 3: Dibrugarh University is researching the effectiveness of local medicinal herbs used by different communities of the Northeast and exploring the possibility of protecting their intellectual property rights.

Professor Sarthak Sengupta, head of the department of anthropology and director in-charge of Centre for North-East Studies, Dibrugarh University, told The Telegraph that a UGC-sponsored seminar in this regard — Indigenous Health Practices with Special References to the Tribes of Northeast India — will be held on March 22 and 23.

Sengupta has already written a couple of books on the subject.

“Ethnic communities are steeped in superstitious beliefs. However, besides the mumbo jumbo they also consume some things that are traditionally believed to cure them of diseases. We also have our ayurvedic medicines but the communities here use these indigenous remedies which use locally available herbs and other items. We have just started work in this regard and were considering tabling them in order to protect the intellectual property rights,” Sengupta said.

“The research papers that will be presented in the seminar will help people get a wider picture of what is going on,” he said.

Selected papers will be published in a book with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Sengupta has worked on the tea tribes’ and the Mising communities.

Dibrugarh University’s move has come close on the heels of chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s recent instruction to Srimanta Sankardeva University of Health Sciences to conduct comprehensive research on the scientific value and current relevance of indigenous health practices in Assam.

Gogoi, who is also the chancellor of the health university, said modern healthcare has become expensive and there is a need to make a detailed study of the benefits of indigenous health practices.

“The entire region provides shelter to numerous populations of various ethnic affiliations, having different social structures and cultural heritage. Owing to gradual adaptation to their respective environment, each tribe has developed their distinctive customs, values and belief system about the causes and cures of illness. They have developed a system of medicine and there were instances when such systems even cured disease like cancer,” Gogoi said at a recent function at B. Borooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati.

Sengupta said indigenous health practices of preliterate societies might be classified into two sub divisions — personalistic and naturalistic systems. In the personalistic system, diseases are believed to be caused by the “active purposeful intervention of an agent, who may be human or a ghost or supernatural being.

In contrast, the naturalistic system explains illness in impersonal, systematic terms. Disease is thought to stem, not from machinations of an angry being but rather from such natural forces or conditions as cold, heat, wind, dampness and above all from an upset in the balance of the basic body elements.