Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Guardian: Sanal Edamaruku on Prahlad Jani

India's man who lives on sunshine

Prahlad Jani's claims to have survived without food or water for decades is being bolstered by people who should know better

Sanal Edamaruku

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 May 2010 15.30 BST

Article history

The crimson-clad old man with the nose ring tries to tell us that he hasn't eaten or drunk anything since the goddess Ambaji touched his tongue with her finger. That must have been around the time of the outbreak of the second world war.

As there are few things so well established as the biological law no human (and no animal) can survive without the regular intake of food and water, it may be sensible to approach his claim with a degree of scepticism. It is not usually very difficult to expose such characters; I have done it in several cases. But Prahlad Jani has some influential protectors.

Dr Sudhir Shah, neurologist and head of Ahmedabad's Sterling hospital, propelled the silly story of Prahlad Jani into the limelight. In a sensational "scientific" research project, he and his team subjected him between 22 April and 6 May to observation and medical scrutiny. This project is financed and supervised by the Indian defence institute of physiology and allied sciences (Dipas), a wing of the defence research and development organisation. The public figurehead of the study is Dipas director Govindasamy Ilavazhagan, who seems to share Shah's enthusiasm for the case. Jointly, the gentlemen were reported to have confirmed that Jani did not eat a crumb and – more crucially – did not drink a single drop of water during his 15 days under observation – which seems completely impossible. Can scientists be so gullible as to salute a man who claims to turn the basic laws of biology upside down? Did they close their eyes (and the non-stop CCTV camera) when Jani quenched his thirst? There is no doubt that the "total surveillance" had loopholes and the "great scientific test" was a farce.

While the test was running, I exposed some of those loopholes in a live programme on India TV: an official video clip revealed that Jani would sometimes move out of the CCTV camera's field of view; he was allowed to receive devotees and could even leave the sealed test room for a sun bath; his regular gargling and bathing activities were not sufficiently monitored and so on. I demanded an opportunity to check the test set-up with an independent team of rationalist experts. There was no immediate reaction from Ahmadabad. But a sudden call from Sterling hospital invited me – live on TV – to join the test the next day itself.

Early morning, ready to fly to Gujarat, we were informed that we had to wait for the permission of the "top boss" of the project. Needless to say: this permission never came.

Similarly, we were unable to attend Shah's first Jani test in November 2003 (that was financed by Dipas too). Shah has a long record of conducting these studies, which up till now have never been discussed in any scientific journal. They merely try to prove his strange sunshine theory: that humans can stop eating and drinking and switch to "other energy sources, sunlight being one". Prahlad Jani is not Shah's first poster child. In 2000/2001, he tested one Hira Manek for more than a year and confirmed his claim that he was feeding on sunshine only (and sometimes a little water). The idea that Shah's research was investigated by Nasa and the University of Pennsylvania was officially denied by both the misrepresented parties.

Shah is a deeply religious Jain. As the president of the Indian Jain Doctors' Federation (JDF), he proposes that via research, the still imperfect science of medicine is to be brought in line with the Jainist '"super-science" as revealed by the omniscient Lord Mahavir. We can only wonder whether his researcher eyes are sometimes clouded by religious zeal. Interestingly, many members of his team are Jains and his partner in the Manek test was a former president of JDF too.

Shah has also suggested this phenomenon might have potential "military use". And – what a shame! – the Indian defence ministry took the bait. Can they really be so naive as to consider putting the army on sunshine diet? We are trying to find out.




Debashis Mukherjee said...

Such frauds need to be exposed -- both for the sake of rationalism as well as to protect the gullible 'believers' from exploitation by greedy 'godmen'. Congratulations on your good work.

Dipangkar Baruah said...

Ha Ha Ha.... Mr.Edamaruku,
I am laughing not for the Craps of Prahlad jani, but for his success in Baiting NASA & the Indian Defence Ministry with his Craps. it just proved that what an idiotic nature of beliefs we humans have inside us regarding the unknowns.
My heartiest Congratulations to you for joining the revolutions of trying to pull such craps off from this world.

Unknown said...

It's a real shame, but it has always been India's bane, the nexus between these kind of pseudo saints and the politicians. The other day I was appalled to see a Facebook community urging support for the idea of giving Mata Amritanandamayi the Nobel peace prize for 2010; that, I felt, is the height of absurdity. And imagine the Indian government coming out with an open statement against the BBC for coming up with a well-researched documentary on the organized fraud that is known as Sathya Sai Baba. Prahlad Jani and fraudsters like him get attacked and exposed frequently, but I feel the Rationalist Association should be targeting the bigger fishes first. We rarely see articles like these on the Amritanandamayis and the Sai Babas. I genuinely feel the Rationalists Association is not doing enough on that front.

PGPanikkar said...

Any rationalist should investigate such claims by the so called super men with an unbiased method.Had Mr Edamaruku`s team caught the holy man red handed, I would have been happy.
But sadly I did not find that.One should not go on inferences though inferences may be correct. Dr Shaw`s team should have kept the subject under tight security of impartial persons where as the same was not done.
So both teams can now blame each other and stuck to their guns.Hence I request DrShaw to once again conduct the research in front of impartial persons with tight security.Then perhaps, the holy man will cry for food loudly!!

sashikumar kurup said...

In another discussion elsewhere, i met many educated people who refused to be skeptic about the claim till it was tested ( they thought they should be fair-minded). As if millions of years of open, universal, geographically and ethnically unrestricted and still ongoing 'testing' did not give them a clue that man cannot live without food for long, and without water for much less ! Thanks Sanal

Gopi Shankar said...

As always good work Sanal…you make us proud! If not for a handful of sensible people like you, Indians would become the laughing stock of the world. This reminds me of the hoax that the herbal petrol (some Raman) played on the entire country! We seem to be so desperate for a scientific breakthrough that we are willing to believe every cheat and charlatan. I hope our Government and people realise there is no shortcut to hard work, commitment and perseverance.

Unknown said...

Why not put Dr Shah on sunshine diet? If his research is scientific, he will survive otherwise his abode will be heaven or hell, depending on what view the all knowing God takes.

Shybu said...

Excellent Sanal,

I was stunned by the story! How to defend this claim as a rationalist?
Thanks for your writings, It clears the doubts of a lot of people. There are lot of scientists in this country who lacks common sense! Our country is rich with all such frauds and babas whom you always defended.

Balkrishnan said...

Thanks Mr Edamaruku!
Really the situation is a shame for the nation in general and the scientific community of country, in particular. We feel ashamed that we harbour such pseudo-scientific people in our institutions.

Lata Tauro said...

Hats off to Mr. Edamaruku for his efforts towards spreading rationality over blind faith. The twin pillars that support irrational faith, are fear and greed. There are unscrupulous people always willing to exploit this situation, and lots of gullible victims ready to fall prey due either to their fear of some eventuality or due to wanting to get something without putting in the necessary effort.

Segar said...

Well done Mr Edamaruku for bringing some light to the darkness though many close their eyes at that time!

Haris, Manjeri said...

Our medias are still spending for this kind of baseless "revealings". They may have to show atleast 5% logics before they air this kinds of media garbases.

Thank u very much Mr. Sanal Edamaruku

Unknown said...

keep up the great work, mr Randi is right, we need more people like you

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Is it so difficult to put this fraud in a sealed glass room with air-vents? He could even have some shade for times when there's an over-abundance of his "food" i.e sunshine.

Besides, he shouldn't need a loo - no food and no drink = no poop and no pee.


brian katz said...

Thank you Mr. Edamaruku.

Anonymous said...

Great job, this is the way to approach such "sensational" claims. The burden of proof should not fall onto the shoulders of the ones who listen, but the ones who claim such things.
If there is no convincing proof that something happened, there is no need to disproof it.
I mean, that is how it should be.