A Hindu nationalist group claims to have produced some 450 "superior babies" through Indian medicine, planetary configuration and specific diet. Health experts say the initiative is manipulative. Murali Krishnan reports.
Arogya Bharati, an outfit linked to the right-wing Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently made headlines in the media regarding its campaign to produce "perfect" Indian children.
Its Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project, which has five medical centers in the western state of Gujarat, claims it has so far made possible the birth of 450 "customized babies," adding that it targets to establish similar facilitation centers in every Indian state by 2020.
"We follow a scientific process. It is a combination of diet, ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and other practices such as planetary configurations that allow a woman to deliver an 'uttam santat' (a perfectly customized) child," Karishma Mohandas Narwani, the national convener for Arogya Bharati's Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project, told DW.
"We hope to produce more than 1,000 children in the next few years," Narwani added.
The RSS is the parent organization of Prime Minister Narender Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Arogya Bharati doctors say they are receiving a lot of encouragement for their work.
According to them, the parents of the "superior babies" go through a three-month "purification" period. Couples seeking "customized babies" have intercourse at a time determined by planetary configurations, have to abstain from sex after the baby is conceived, and then the pregnant women follow through specific dietary regulations until they give birth.
Doctors at these centers say that during the "purification" period they "cleanse" sperms and eggs that help get rid of any genetic defects. Once the baby is conceived, the doctors focus on the pregnant woman's diet.
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'Unscientific' and 'manipulative'
Mainstream doctors are skeptical of the Arogya Bharati initiative and maintain it has no scientific basis.
"It is not based on the principles of ayurveda. It is hogwash," Dr Puneet Bedi, a gynecologist, told DW.
But Hitesh Ishwarlal Jani, the national convener for Arogya Bharati, dismisses allegations that the process is unscientific.
"It is a tried and tested scientific program. We don't believe in gene manipulation to produce the finest progeny. Ayurveda has hidden secrets," Jani told DW.
"We believe that even poor parents can have superior kids. But there are certain procedures they need to strictly follow," Jain added.
Many in India believe the scheme is yet another manifestation of the Hindu nationalists' belief that they are a "superior race." Also, there is no evidence that the "uttam santat" babies are really superior to the normal children in mental and physical attributes.
"It will take some years to actually prove that, but our objective is to make India a strong nation," said RSS' Karishma Mohandas Narwani.
The scheme was criticized in the Indian media, with one report saying it was "straight out of the Nazi playbook." Eugenics - the controversial belief that one could improve the human race by selective breeding - was a popular idea in the first half of the 20th century and was notably used by the Nazis.