On Wednesday evening, members of the district wing of the Indian Medical Association noticed a barrage of WhatsApp messages which invited people to a workshop at NITSAI International Training Centre in Kovaipudur on August 26. The organisers claimed that it was a free one-day counselling session, where they would be taught how pregnant women women can give birth safely in their home without medicines, vaccines, blood tests, doctor visits or scans. It claimed that this was the best way of giving birth.
The advertisement also said that the camp will have experts who will give advice to the participants. This lead the IMA and the police to ‘Healer’ Baskar, a self-proclaimed medical practitioner and television show presenter.
On Thursday, the Coimbatore police arrested him. For over four years now, he promoted unscientific methods and 'natural cures' to treat numerous ailments. His arrest, along with an accomplice, comes after he advertised a training programme promoting unsafe childbirth practices which ensured 'normal deliveries' at home.
"We were alarmed by the claims made in these invitations and they were being forwarded to everybody.
We immediately informed our state President and then sent a petition to Collector Hariharan, the chief of our quackery committee, on Thursday morning. We have been worried by Baskar's Youtube videos in the past, but those could not be controlled. A physical training programme, however, is taking these unscientific messages to the next level," said Dr V Rajesh Babu, the Coimbatore secretary of the IMA.
What sent authorities in a tizzy was the death of a 28-year-old woman in Tirupur due to pregnancy-related complications, as she attempted to deliver the child at her residence.
“This Baskar is encouraging home births and spreading the wrong message. Undertaking home births without competent medical personnel and the required infrastructure is against medical ethics," explained Deputy Director of Health Banumathi.
"Steps like this will increase the maternal mortality rate. Hence, I and the Joint Director of Medical Services gave a formal complaint to the District Collector, who ordered the Commissioner of Police to take action,” she said.
The police soon discovered that Baskar, along with co-accused Srinivasan, was running the 'Anatomic Therapy Foundation' in Coimbatore and arrived at the centre to arrest him on Thursday evening. But, even they were unprepared for the scale of operations run by Baskar, who they have now ascertained is a 'quack'.
Who is 'Healer' Baskar?
Baskar, a resident of Coimbatore claims to be a civil engineer who suffered from various ailments including allergies, chronic headaches, epilepsy and skin problems as a child.
In a video, he slams allopathic, ayurvedic and homoeopathic medicine, alleging that they did little to help his ailments. For years, he allegedly “ate a handful of pills and took an injection” a day, but to no avail. The trauma of taking these pills affected his mental health and he found himself one day in a Bengaluru bus stand with no recollection of who he is, he claims.
He then claims that he learnt about natural medicines from a naturopathy specialist in Coimbatore and then from books and courses. (the exact nature of which are never specified). In short, this 'healer' has no formal medical training. But, he began to offer natural treatments to people and, by his own admission, made a tidy sum for the cures he offered.
He then founded the Anatomic Therapy foundation and gave himself the sobriquet ' Healer'. Baskar began to address public gatherings and upload Youtube videos under his foundation's banner, propagating a 'nature-allied lifestyle'. His videos grew in popularity and his messages spread via social media.
In one of his earliest videos from 2014 for the foundation, he can be seen taking on vaccines, alleging they are part of a larger corporate scam.
"We should never take vaccines. They have no medicinal value. Do you know why they give you vaccines as soon as you are born? You will be shocked to know. It is so that the child suffers from illnesses all his life," he proclaims. "Mother's milk helps in immunisation for the first three months. But when given vaccines, the body does not absorb antibodies from the mother's milk," he claims.
Health department officials confirm that Baskar's vociferous campaigns against child immunisation hampered the measles vaccination programme they undertook in schools in 2017. The department had to threaten suspension to ensure children were safeguarded against the disease, as parents lapped up the healer's propaganda.
Such was Baskar's popularity that he was offered a show on Vendhar TV, a Tamil channel, in late 2017. He shot over a 100 episodes, touching upon topics ranging from kidney problems, eye diseases, what foods one should consume, and even world politics.
"He came on the morning band along with the breakfast show at 10 am. His videos garnered a lot of viewership on TV and also did very well on Youtube," a former member of the channel's programming team told TNM. Baskar reportedly left the show four months ago as he wanted to focus on his research.
But, was his content fact-checked?
"We would ask him to remove some things, but mostly what he said was right. The channel didn't have a problem and he presented his content in a very simple manner. Others may have a second opinion," the member said.
The website of his foundation describes Baskar as a saint.
"Irrespective of any particular field, he (Baskar) gets to know of those, first hand, either through research, experience or through scientific methods. He finds out new methods and teaches the common man, its benefits in the easiest way, in a service motive. He is working towards spirituality, and for the welfare of all the souls of the world," describes the website of the foundation.
The website called Healer Baskar a “great saint of this generation”, but according to the Kuniyamuthur police, he is anything but that.
Of his YouTube videos, a five-part series on pregnancy is particularly disturbing. He starts off by claiming that only weak women feel pain during childbirth and that is also because people have stereotyped the process as painful.
"If you are a strong woman, you will feel no pain," he claims. "You think you are in pain because for years people have termed childbirth as painful," he adds.
He further provides a three-step method for natural delivery."When your water breaks, don't immediately call the 108 ambulance. Don't go to the hospital," he advised. "You can walk around your home, drink tea and even talk to people...If you don't do anything, the baby will come out by itself," he further claims in the video.
He further claims that if the water is white it is a boy child and if it is red, it is a girl.
"If you want to have children without any pain, ask people to keep hot water packs on your back. You can even do this in the bathroom. The baby will automatically be born," he claims.
"In fact, if you do breathing exercises, the baby will come out like a halwa. Just inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. In the olden days, they used to put the woman in a room, make her stand up, hang from a swing and give birth," he says in the video.
The Coimbatore IMA points out that his directives are misleading and there is a reason women are asked to go to the hospital for the birth.
"During childbirth, there could be complications and the only way to deal with them is to have trained practitioners," said Rajesh Babu, Coimbatore Secretary of the IMA.
"We suspect that the woman in Tirupur also fell prey to Baskar's videos. All pregnancies have to be registered and it is this process of institutional deliveries that have brought Tamil Nadu's maternal mortality rate down to 62. In fact, in Coimbatore, the rate is only 22. This is because of proper examinations in hospitals. Not only is he telling people to not go to hospitals, but he is also demonising caesareans, which are necessary in the face of complications to save the child," he added.
From treating eye problems to world peace
"He is a fraud and has been cheating people across the state in the name of naturopathy," said an investigating official.
"He started this Anatomic Therapy Foundation in Coimbatore three-and-a-half-years back, and it doesn't have a license. It is an unregistered trust which has 35 people working there. Baskar himself is a civil engineer who has studied acupuncture. The other employees there have only studied till 10th or 12th standard. Over the years, thousands of people from multiple districts have come to him for treatment. But because nobody has registered a complaint, there has been no action so far," he said.
According to the police, there are 80 rooms in the centre and it offers 'natural cure' for up to five days. Patients are asked to pay Rs 1000 for the basic treatments.
The course description says that in addition to 'Asanas, Meditations, Exercises, Pranayama and Naluma yoga', it also teaches 'earning through small scale industries, the nutritious and natural food preparing, the herbal drinks, the traditional organic agriculture, the awareness of law, the knowledge of world politics, share market, family health, social welfare and world peace.'
"People come to him after seeing him on TV and watching his YouTube videos. They believe the drivel that he offers and arrive here with confidence. With this free counselling session, however, he took it too far. And even though he calls it free, there was a larger plan to swindle money behind it," the officer said.
Once the unsuspecting people would arrive for the workshop, Baskar was allegedly going to tell them that delivering a child at a hospital cost anywhere from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and advise them to deposit Rs 10,000 - Rs 20,000 to his trust in return for his training on natural delivery. This money, he would claim, was to help poorer patients who cannot afford treatment.
The police have filed cases against Baskar and his accomplice Srinivasan under IPC sections 420 (Cheating) and 511 (Punishment for attempting to commit offences). "The threat is not completely eradicated. His videos talk on YouTube talk about self-cleaning of fluid from the lungs, a practice that only trained doctors should do. He even says that snake bites can be cured by the body and people don't have to go to the hospital. This can't be left unchecked," he said.
State health department issues orders
The state health department does not see this arrest as an isolated violation.
"All district departments have been instructed to be vigilant. We are not looking at this matter in isolation. We need to keep an eye out for such treatments that do not have scientific temper," said Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Dr Radhakrishnan.
When TNM pointed out to the Health Secretary that despite his arrest, Baskar's Youtube videos continue to be available to people, the Health Secretary said that there was little that could be done to prevent that.
"What we can do is spread awareness and counter the effects of the video," he said.
In a formal directive to health officials, the department has asked all district directors to keep an eye out for practices of unqualified persons attempting delivery.
“Further we need to reiterate the need for early registration, at least three antenatal checkup’s, following up of the relevant immunisation schedule, ensuring awareness to check and treat pregnancy induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, anaemia, identification of high risk pregnancy and follow up among others,” the directive states.
The Coimbatore police meanwhile have approached the Revenue district official to inspect Baskar's foundation.
"We will ensure that closure orders are given," says the investigating official.