Home Articles ​How about apolitical Yoga Day next year?

​How about apolitical Yoga Day next year?

Now that the brouhaha over International Day of Yoga is over, it is time to think of how a yoga day for all can have better impact and reach the ‘Last Person’, the one that Mahatma Gandhi spoke about.

By Ravi Nitesh,

The First International Day of Yoga was observed on Sunday across the globe. The Government of India under the reigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, is advertising it as a success of the ‘government’, especially to ‘Modi’ for bringing ‘pride’ to India even when the credit goes to the United Nations for declaring it as the Yoga Day.

Reality is there are hundreds and thousands of people who like Yoga and these millions of yoga practitioners and experts put in their efforts. But beyond its peaceful background and history, the disturbing ‘present’ is something that we need to pay attention to.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi_Yoga
Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi participating in the International Yoga Day celebrations, in Faridabad, Haryana (Courtesy: PIB)

In India, from the day of its declaration, Yoga Day became a debate. It seems that fanatics from both Hindu and Muslim communities do not want to leave any opportunity to create a mess. A step ahead is probably government itself that despite a tag of anti-Muslim and radical Hinduism supported group, did not make any effort to advertise it with neutrality.

It seems that organising the Yoga Day was more about showing the strength of (government of) India than a real strength of highlighting real objectives. Also, by this way, it seemed that there was something that was connected with saffronisation and the government made no efforts to remove these doubts.

However, in all these politicisation, what was left behind was again common mass of the country among which few were completely against, few were completely in favor and few were neutral due to various reasons suited as per their ideology.

Yoga is an exercise and must not be divided on religious grounds. How can an exercise be Hindu or Muslim or others? Or how a type of exercise can even belong to only one religion? It is required to understand that yoga is not a form of worship, instead just an exercise, a simple to do exercise that involves stretching of body, fitness and promotes to the activeness of organs.

As of now, it is adopted by the United Nations and June 21 every year will be the International Day of Yoga. It is again very clear that such a worldwide observation or declaration to observe and making it an international day by an international organization cannot be a religious decision. If UNO accepted it, there are sufficient reasons to ‘believe’ that this observation does not disturb anyone’s ‘belief’ system. Also, as United Nations is an organization that cannot be expected to work in favor of any religion, such a dispute seems uncalled for.

The International Day of Yoga was declared by UN General Assembly on December 11, 2014 by a resolution which 193 members of the UN General Assembly approved it. As many as 177 countries, several of them Islamic nations, voted for it as co-sponsors. Now, do we say that all those in India, who have a problem with the International Day of Yoga, are trying to say that UNO did wrong?

It is true that there can be different sets of belief systems that may exist at the same time period but ultimately it should be towards a vision of unity, of friendship, of humanity. We cannot change much in whatever happened till now, but today, when the world is developed and we think that we must see the greater cause of humanity, there must be efforts to stop divisions further. As Yoga Day is debated, it is painful to see that we are still unable to stop such divide.

The debate has only increased friction between the harmony, rather than shaping it in fruitful ways. There are numerous examples of Yoga that it is allowed and even practiced in Muslims. Unfortunately, Yoga is being seen as a ‘Hindu’ exercises.

By declaring Yoga for Hindus, or in other word, as Hindu exercise, we are just creating a rift in life style patterns and insulting ancient civilization, people who were not necessarily Hindu and who have contributed in human development through gradual inventions. We forget that it is the same air where we all take and leave our breath and therefore all our inner and outer environment is the same. At the time, when we are dividing such exercise, we should not forget that there are ancient ways of therapies such as Ayurveda and Unani that are also divided in medical studies and spread among common people as study branches for Hindus and Muslims. However, with time and need, it can be seen that students of both communities are opting both types of courses for their study. It will be more important to know that now when it comes to use, you will find that a patient is a patient and uses any type of therapy that may help in being well.

When department of AYUSH was formed in India, it was to include Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha and Homoeopathy, it was to include traditional forms of therapies and other alternative medicine systems. Earlier, it was formed as the Department of Indian systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (1995) but later its name was changed to AYUSH (2003).

Now, when people like Toagadia are saying that Yoga is only for Hindus and saying that the name of Allah during yoga is an insult to Shiva, then it is only to malign the status of this traditional systems and to capture it by right wing elements and to use it as a tool of disturbing harmony or spreading misunderstanding among communities.

Similarly, when Muslim clerics ask not to do Yoga because it includes Surya Namaskar – although the government had already circulated information that Surya Namaskar will not be included – there is a need to understand that Surya Namaskar is not a form of worship. The word Namaskar does not mean worship, else it would have been ‘Surya Puja’ or ‘Surya Poojan’. Moreover, such symbolization of names cannot be a cause of believing something. Over the time, some chants (mantras) have been included along with few yoga styles, but neither it is popular nor compulsory.

It is more about controlling your breath and thoughts. It is more about natural ways of being well, however, politics upon this is in fact, unwell and unhealthy and needs to be challenged by people together.

I also see that in the Indian context, majority of people are farmers, street vendors, labours and other kind of daily wage workers, from all religions, all communities. These people are involved in struggling for their life for a greater yoga that includes arrangements for bread, roof and clothing. They do not have access to basic facilities and sometimes, lack even food. Yoga seems to be more of a middle class, urban mass or elite class activity. I think that a farmer who wakes up at 5 am and goes to field to sow seeds is doing bigger and greater yoga than urbane us.

If yoga is all about well-being, we must also think that well-being of minds is more important. In this sense, Yoga falls short, as it probably does not represent everyone when it comes to actual practice. However, in theory and objective, it is definitely an activity that can address one’s lifestyle and thought-style in better way than one is addressing it at present. Despite such various contrasts, it seems that such events must happen completely on voluntary basis without making it expensive or without making it political.

An apolitical Yoga day for all can have better impact and it must reach the ‘Last Person’, the one that Mahatma Gandhi spoke about.

(Writer Ravi Nitesh is founder of Mission Bhartiyam and convener of Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign. Blog: www.ravinitesh.blogspot.in and Twitter Handle: @ravinitesh)