Swallowing live fish in a traditional treatment for asthma administered at a festival every year in June is now under fire with child rights groups demanding that children under 14 be banned from the treatment.
Hundreds of thousands of sufferers gather annually in Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh to gulp down small live fish and a special herb paste.
AdvertisementThe Goud family, which says it received the medicine recipe from a Hindu saint in 1845, treats people from across India for free during a two-day period determined by astrologers and the onset of the monsoon.
The wriggling five-centimetre (two-inch) fish, which the family says clear the throat on their way down, will be dispensed this year on June 8 and 9.
Child rights group Balala Hakkula Sangham has lobbied the state's Human Rights Commission to stop children under 14 from taking the medicine as it is "unscientific" and a violation of human rights.
"The process of giving the medicine is unhygienic as the person gives it to lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people without washing their hands," added the petition seeking a ban.
Andhra Pradesh's Human Rights Commission on Tuesday ordered a report into the complaints.
The Goud family claims "fish medicine" has been proven to cure asthma and other respiratory problems, but it declines to reveal the secret herb formula.
"It has been the practice of the Goud Family for the past 166 years to offer this medicine free of cost to those who need it," Bathini Harinath Goud, head of the family, said ahead of the event.
He told AFP that children were not at risk and that people who complained were in the pay of pharmaceutical firms that produce mainstream asthma drugs.
"These companies are paying money to rake up the issue as they are worried about the fish medicine affecting their business interests since what we administer is a permanent cure for asthma," he said.
Goud said that last year 400,000 people swallowed live fishes handed out by 200 family members.
The Indian government arranges special trains for the "fish medicine" festival and extra police are on duty to control crowds.
After digesting the treatment, patients are told to go on a strict diet of specific food for 45 days.
The commission has ordered the report to be delivered on June 6.