Congress MP Naveen Jindal's NGO has a new pain relief solution- no medicine, just a copper bangle that cures gout and muscle pain, and empowers the wearer with energy and vitality.
The catch: the bracelet called the Tiranga bangle and launched in India on January 26 by Jindal's NGO, the Flag Foundation of India, has no independent scientific evidence supporting its claims.
Jindal, a champion for the right of citizens to display the national flag proudly, finds himself facing criticism from top physiologists who have questioned him for endorsing the bangles, warning that support for dubious science from public representatives could have adverse public health consequences.
"There is no physiological basis for such claims," Dr. Ramji Singh, president of the Association of Physiologists and Pharmacoligists of India (APPI), and a professor of physiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Patna told HT. "Unless people making such claims can present scientific proof, this isn't good for public health."
On social media, where the 42-year-old Kurukshetra MP is active, critics have accused him of peddling voodoo science. Jindal and the Flag Foundation have rubbished critics, insisting that the bangles have proved helpful to wearers, though they have not offered any scientific evidence to support their assertion. They have also clarified that the Flag Foundation is not selling the bangles, but is offering them free.
Jindal - with minister of state (MoS) for human resource development Shashi Tharoor by his side - launched the Tiranga bangles at a public meet on Republic Day. The bangles, its makers said, are built with "tri-vortex technology."
The bangles are placed for 24 hours in a chamber where they are exposed to a series of natural sounds. The bangles "create flowing molecular structure giving you energy, vitality, balance and relief from pain," the Flag Foundation website claims. "By wearing the bangle, you will improve muscle communication and have increased strength and better balance," it asserts.
But when asked for scientific evidence establishing these claims, Flag Foundation head Cdr. KV Singh - who this reporter was directed to at the Foundation office, to speak on the subject -- told HT: "There are certain things you have to personally experience, that can't be measured by experiments."
Singh, 70, claimed he felt like a 40-year-old after wearing the bangle for 10 days, and offered this reporter a bangle to experiment its benefits. "It really works," he said. "These (the critics) are just pseudo-intellectuals who love to criticize everything."
Faced with criticism online, Tharoor has distanced himself from the Tiranga bangles. In a statement posted on his website, Tharoor said that he was merely obliging a friend (Jindal) by launching the bangle.
"I have the highest respect for Mr. Jindal and his excellent work promoting our national flag," Tharoor wrote. "Nonetheless, let me clarify that my launching the product does not in any way amount to an endorsement of any of the claims associated with it."
Jindal however, has challenged his critics on Twitter. "One can contest a scientific innovation, but (it's) unfair to dismiss it without knowing about it," the MP tweeted on January 27, responding to messages by a critic.
But this "scientific innovation" hasn't had a smooth journey even before Jindal's Flag Foundation launched it in India.
A reputed South African consumer rights website reports that an activist, HA Steinman, filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) of South Africa in 2012, against a company advertising a seminar where the tri-vortex bangles were to be made available.
The ASA evaluated the advertisement, and its specific claims that the bangles and services would result in "natural pain relief, without chemicals...improved vitality and balance (and) reduction of negative effects from radiation in cell phones and electronic devices." The advertising regulator asked the company for evidence to back these claims but received none. The ASA concluded that the advertisement was "unsubstantiated" and ordered the company to withdraw the claims it made in the advertisement and refrain from making similar claims, according to the website.
Copper bangles have long been peddled, in several countries, as a solution to multiple illnesses, including arthritis. But in 2009, British scientists from the University of York, Durham University and the University of Hull concluded , based on their research, that copper and magnetic bracelets had no therapeutic effect on patients of osteoarthritis.
"There's a simple way for anyone making these claims to gain credibility," a senior physiologist at AIIMS in Delhi said, requesting anonymity since he is not authorized to speak to the press. "It's the way of science -- just show the evidence."