Who is afraid of Yoga? P A CHacko (in Indian Currents)

Who is afraid of Yoga? Not even Laloo Prasad Yadav who has a counter point for every point. In fact he was projected by interested agents on TV channels as a yoga lover. And the best yoga Laloo is said to practice is sheersana which is meant to get all uncomfortable winds and humours out of him.

Yoga is internationally famous. It has its worth as a physical exercise and a mental tonic. Some practise shavasana just to get out of this world of samsara to forget all cares and worries and float in a world of weightlessness and instant nirvana. The aam admi cannot take to this luxury as he cannot afford to relax like Amitabh Bachchan or Ratan Tata whose riches and surroundings have blessed them with enough time and space to relax. Our ordinary farmers who would like to benefit from yoga before they go ploughing can afford only halasana by shouldering the plough (hal) and manipulating it in the field. The most the common man can afford is only one type of asana, breathing exercise, to keep alive in the midst of all storms and strains in his attempt to keep body and soul together.

That June 21 is set apart as international day of Yoga is welcome news! India gets an extra feather in its cap! But the important question is whether it should be compulsory for all students to rush to their schools and colleges and spend the day for yoga practice. Should they forgo their day of Sunday prayer if they are Christians or their religious ritual of Ramadan if they are Muslims? On which national or international day is it compulsory for students to forgo their religious days of prayer?  Not even the nation’s Independence Day is marked by such compulsions.

It is not just yoga. Surya namaskar, honouring/saluting the sun-god as a religious ritual, is not the type of ritual which those who have difficulty in worshiping sun-god would stomach. It has five inhalation (breathing) postures, six exhalation postures and one suspension posture. Each posture is coupled with an OM invocation. There is an opening vedic mantric chant and a closing mantric chant. Hence those who object say it goes against the grain of their belief and way of life. Then why thrust it down their throats? Evidently under pressure from nationwide opposition it is now quite welcome that the Central Government has agreed to remove Surya namaskar from the forthcoming Yoga drills.

Let us remember that ours is a secular country with equality of religious freedom. Such religious freedom is a fundamental right. Freedom to preach, practice and propagate! That is how the founding fathers of our sacred Constitution envisaged it. Therefore, any attempt of the religious followers of one religion to browbeat the followers of another religion or force them to follow a different way of life against their conscience and against the tenets of the Constitution is an aberration. The right to defer and defend oneself is also a human and fundamental right.

The way events have been unfolding ever since Modi government took shape does not bode well. The election planks of so-called ‘development’ and ‘good governance’ have been well used by the zealots of Hindu rashtravadis to steamroll over minority religious sentiments and way of life. The way Christian school authorities have been forced to hang Ma Saraswati’s photograph in their schools in Madhya Pradesh   speaks of Hitler raj. The threatening call to all those who do not want to follow the Hindu way of life to swim across the Ganga and to get lost in Pakistan is the symptom of a sick mind. The recent diktat of MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to ban eggs in anganwadis and schools is a religiously coloured vegetarian compulsion. It also has a caste-class stink.

Sagarika Ghose in the Times of India, Kolkata, June 08, asks a pertinent question: ‘When food habits are imposed by political parties and not doctors or parents, we need to ask ‘eggsactly’ what is going on?’ It has also to do with caste-class system, says Jean Dreze. ‘Ultimately, resistance to eggs has to do with caste and class. Restrictions on choice and sharing of food play a crucial role in enforcement of the caste system. The self-appointed guardians of these restrictions typically come from privileged castes who have a stake in the system.’ (The Times of India, Kolkata, June 09)

So it is evident that those who have a stake in today’s political governance are trying to capture the centre-stage with their dictations, commands and military orders. Instead of governing the nation with a national service mentality and an unadulterated political motive, their leitmotiv is to establish a theocratic state. Its foundation is being laid by destroying Christian churches, asking Muslims to pack up and go to Pakistan,  telling Muslims to convert to Hinduism if they want to stay in India,  foisting the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot, naming illegitimate all those who are non-Hindus, declaring that God lives in temples alone and not in churches and mosques, wanting to revoke voting rights of Muslims, forcing the missionaries in Madhya Pradesh to submit in writing that “the Catholic community expresses regret if any community, religion or society was hurt by our community,” calling for shutting down Gujarat riot victim camps because the camps are ‘child production centres’ of Muslims, declaring that those not voting for Modi should go to Pakistan, forcing Christian schools to make students address Christian priests as acharyas instead of ‘father’, banning beef eating or beef sale, etc.

The hate speeches of Pravin Togadia, Subramanyam Swami, Giriraj Singh, Sadvi Niranjan jyoti, Sadvi Prachi, Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath, Sanjay Raut and others have been played and replayed umpteen times over national television channels. Out of national and international pressure Prime Minister Modi may have instructed such motor mouths to go slow. But they are not just fringe elements. They are not just acid-tongued comedians but are also important personalities in the religio-political BJP scenario. They may lie low for a time but the harm they have done already by vitiating the minds of their emotionally overwrought followers is well entrenched. The powers that are seem to selectively use all available levers of power on a gradual scale to make their presence felt. It is a well-calculated attempt to script a new chapter by subverting historical facts and Constitutional provisions.

The minority communities need not feel threatened or feel cowed down by this tsunamic wave of minority baiting for instant advantage. Within five years of BJP rule no apocalyptic event is going to happen if sensible people speak out and stand up for truth and justice. The Constitution confers on every person and every community the right to defer and defend. Succumbing to wayward compulsions and unreasonable demands is cowardly. People need to remain alert rather than go into a catatonic stupor. Rather, one must take to legal and peaceful ways of defending and resisting, chastening and challenging.

This land is for all to live in. The resources of the land are to be equitably distributed for the benefit of all. Fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all persons and communities are to be respected and upheld. No one can arrogate to himself or herself the right to dictate to other citizens to pack up and get lost.

If we are true Indians and genuine human beings, our motto should be: ‘live and let live.’ Let us not dictate to others what to eat and what not to eat. If food habit is also a part of culture, let no one trample upon it. Yoga or no yoga, we need to consciously create an atmosphere in which we can live in national fellowship and comradeship.

Let our national poet Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer and wish be ours: ‘Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.’

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