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One industry that appears to be thriving during the pandemic is Ayurveda. Dabur India reported over 50% growth in its Ayurveda business during the June-ended quarter. A recent Kantar report estimated that the immunity segment (including products such as chawanprash, honey, herbal tea) saw 38% year-on-year growth in fiscal 2021 in urban India. While covid-19 may have provided an opportunity for the Ayurveda industry, the Indian government also played an extensive role in promoting the Ayurveda economy, valued at 30,000 crore, according to CII estimates .

The increased push during the pandemic intensified the trends over the past few years. The budget for the Ayush ministry increased five times between 2014-15 and 2021-22, while the total budget grew only two times over this period.

Export data suggests that the appeal of Ayurveda during the pandemic was not just limited to India, with Ayurveda exports growing even when other exports were declining. The five biggest importers were the USA, the UAE, Nepal, Russia and France, accounting for 42% of total Ayurvedic exports from India.

“The fact that in the west Ayurveda for the last 30 years has been positioned as something for wellness, not treatment, fitted in with the immunity-narrative during covid-19," said Madhulika Banerjee, a professor of political science at Delhi University. “The demand for Ayurvedic products in countries such as Russia and France, where institution-level collaborations have happened over the last few decades, confirms its reach beyond the Indian diaspora," she added.

Ayurveda vs Allopathy

Ayurveda has always been at loggerheads with allopathy but it took an ugly turn during the pandemic when representatives of the Indian Medical Association exchanged sharp words with Patanjali Ayurved co-founder, Baba Ramdev . While allopathic practitioners refuse to engage with alternate medical systems, proponents of Ayurvedic treatments often use that tag to market their own proprietary drugs  even when their manufacturing process could be abandoning key Ayurvedic pharmacological principles, argues V. Sujatha, a professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The rampant use of hydroxychloroquine and plasma therapy to treat covid despite limited evidence on their efficacy, and the spurt in cases of black fungus because of excessive use of steroids may have tilted the scales towards Ayurveda. When it comes to fighting covid-19, more people trust Ayurveda over allopathy now, the latest round of the Yougov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey showed.

The lack of a definitive allopathic treatment for covid-19 has meant that the focus has shifted to boosting immunity, in turn boosting the appeal of traditional medicinal systems that emphasize immunity boosters.

Demographic Markers

Younger, less educated respondents reposed greater faith in Ayurveda than in allopathy, data from the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey shows. The online survey covered 10,285 respondents spread across 203 cities and towns. Roughly half the respondents were millennials (24-39), the rest were pre-millennials (40+) or post-millennials (aged 18-23). Richer and more-educated respondents also trust Ayurveda, but their trust levels are on par with that in allopathy, the survey showed.

 

“The educated, urban middle class suffers from many chronic ailments for which they seek effective ways to manage the condition and resort to ayurveda and homeopathy," said Sujatha. “As for age, my understanding is that they may say that they trust ayurveda because they are open to it."

Faith and Politics

While Ayurveda as a medicinal system may not discriminate against people of different faiths or political alignments, the discourse around it has acquired political hues in recent years, with the right wing linking it to a glorious Hindu past. Some proponents such as Ramdev have openly backed the BJP in the past. This may have led to a polarization of views around the subject, with Hindus and BJP supporters far more likely to express faith in Ayurveda.

However, a relatively lower level of trust in Ayurveda among Muslims or supporters of non-BJP parties should not be taken as distrust in alternate medicine as such. The level of trust in other alternative medicinal systems and homeopathy is comparable among groups of different faith and political alignments, the Yougov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey data shows.

“If you ask Muslims, they, too, have their ‘hakeems’ whom they consult for various ailments," said Banerjee.

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