Doctors in India are baffled. Despite being told incessantly for more than a year that only masks, social distancing, and handwashing can protect them against coronavirus , some Indians still prefer to take fake “immunity boosters” and other herbal Covid-19 “cures”, or drink concoctions made from cow dung and urine. At the cow shelter he runs in Geeta Colony in east New Delhi, Radha Kant Vats says people desperate to boost their immunity come to him for a special cocktail called panchakavyam , made of cow urine, dung, milk, curd and ghee (clarified butter). “I tell them to have it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. With this inside them, they won’t get the virus. It’s worked for me,” Vats said. Asked how the concoction was supposed to prevent infection, Vats said simply that the cow was a “mother”, claiming that as such, its waste products had disinfecting and medicinal properties that “the world has yet to discover”. An MP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Pragya Thakur, said on Monday that she drinks a glass of cow urine every day, which she claimed had protected her against the virus. At some cow shelters in Gujarat, visitors are mixing cow dung and urine, applying it to their bodies, letting it dry, and washing it off with milk. A video that has since gone viral shows men smeared in the foul mixture claiming that it cures people of Covid-19. Cows have always been regarded as sacred in Hinduism, but under the Hindu-nationalist ethos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP, they have acquired an even more elevated status in society. It was perhaps inevitable that outlandish claims would emerge about the supposed miracle properties of cows amid the pandemic, particularly as unknown numbers of Indians struggle to find medical treatment in the wake of a savage second wave of infections that erupted in March. India on Friday reported 259,551 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,209. It has recorded more than 26 million infections since the start of the pandemic, with over 291,000 deaths. The missteps that led India into an oxygen shortage amid a devastating Covid-19 surge As the tidal wave of cases has overwhelmed hospitals, a growing number of Indians have decided that since beds, medicines and oxygen may not be available if they catch Covid-19, they had better not get it in the first place. Advice on prevention has proliferated on WhatsApp, ranging from instructions to inhale steam five times a day or rub oil inside the nose, to tips on burning cow dung that supposedly releases smoke which “prevents” viral infections. The faith in quack cures cuts across classes. Many BJP ministers who cannot claim the extenuating circumstances of illiteracy or poverty express such irrational beliefs. Former BJP minister Murli Manohar Joshi, for example, previously called for astrology to be offered as a university subject. In February, yoga guru and BJP supporter Baba Ramdev launched a herbal remedy called Coronil which he claimed “completely cured” people of coronavirus. Despite these claims being entirely unproven, federal health minister Harsh Vardhan – a medical doctor – attended the product‘s launch. Various factors are responsible for Indians’ faith in snake oil remedies. One is the high degree of religious belief in the country, which can often clash with science. Another is a lack of education, and with it a failure to understand or apply the scientific method. Modi’s government, meanwhile, has actively promoted nonsense science out of an inflated sense of pride in ancient India’s achievements. Bowel cleanse for better DNA: the nonsense science of Modi’s India This has led to BJP leaders making absurd claims, such as when Modi himself cited the transplantation of the elephant head of the god Ganesha to a human as a great achievement of Indian surgery millennia ago. The Indian Medical Association has repeatedly stated that irrational beliefs in cow waste products or the “miraculous” uses of herbs to boost immunity and “cure” Covid-19 are dangerous and unscientific. Its current president, Dr Rajan Sharma, initially refused to share his thoughts on the use of cow dung and cow urine as a coronavirus therapy with the remark: “Why should I comment on idiots?” I have only one question for these people. If they have the cure, why don’t we doctors go home and shut the hospitals? Dr Rajan Sharma, Indian Medical Association president Such “lunatics” as Ramdev or Thakur should not be reported on, Sharma said, adding: “I have only one question for these people. If they have the cure, why don’t we doctors go home and shut the hospitals? Even ministers are peddling this nonsense because they have an unscientific mindset.” He illustrated his point by referring to the fact that Vardhan recently lamented the death of a well-known homeopath who the federal health minister claimed had “cured thousands of cancer patients”. “We are fighting a losing battle with views like this which are found right at the top of the government,” Sharma said. As to the question of why hospitals should exist when traditional remedies supposedly work, Vats had no answers. “Let them follow their systems. Let us follow our traditional systems of medicine. I have faith in what I do and so do the people who come here,” said the cow shelter operator. Fears grow that Nepal’s Covid-19 crisis could be even worse than India’s Others, like herbal-remedy peddler Ramdev, try to create a scientific patina around their products to fool gullible consumers. They talk of their labs, tests, medical data, and “clinical trials”, which often involve tiny sample sizes and do not follow internationally accepted protocols. Such people, while certainly dangerous, are thankfully in the minority in India, said author and commentator Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jnr. “This minority is always in the media arc light but they are not the majority. Please remember that. And in India, if people follow superstitious beliefs about health, it is because they have no access to medical facilities,” he said.