The ongoing controversy about yoga is yet another example of deceitful polemic. It began with a reminder that yoga has nothing to do with religion. Of late, however, sundry political swamis have announced that anyone who disapproves of compulsory yoga should leave the country. So now yoga is essential not only to Hinduism but to national pride. Refusal to submit to this rule is treachery. The Sangh Parivar presumes to decide what is or is not “national”, and who may or may not live in India. Perhaps some energetic policemen will lodge a case of sedition against anyone refusing to perform suryanamaskar.
This manufactured controversy exemplifies the Parivar’s modus operandi. It is not wisdom that interests them, but the compulsory unification of thought and culture. As for the objections raised by certain self-appointed representatives of Indian Muslims, surely the reduction of any aasan to its symbolic origins is far-fetched? I have practised yoga for over 30 years; including suryanamaskar. At no time did I imagine myself to be worshipping the sun god — it was simply an exercise beneficial to my health. Yoga is accepted the world over as an excellent aid to longevity. To treat it as a Hindu religious ritual is equivalent to believing that aerobics are a step towards Christianity or that acupuncture is an insignia of Chinese imperialism.
But I learned yoga of my own free choice (and, incidentally, was taught by a Muslim friend). In this regard, the statements issued by some Muslim groups are appropriate. It’s the compulsion that is the problem. RSS representatives in government are attempting to enforce their version of Indian culture. And their behaviour indicates that they treat culture as a means of political domination.
If the Parivar wished to promote Indian tradition, why did it cause A.K. Ramanujan’s works to be dropped from Delhi University’s history syllabus in 2011? Ramanujan was a world-renowned scholar who loved the Ramayana. Reading “The Three Hundred Ramayanas” can broaden most people’s understanding of Indian culture. But the Parivar’s representatives campaigned for its removal, even though an expert committee approved of the author’s scholarship. Their student wing resorted to intimidation in the process. As Mukul Kesavan observed in an article on the controversy (The Telegraph, October 27, 2011): “The expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the matter had four members, three of whom endorsed Ramanujan’s essay without reservation. The fourth, while praising the essay’s scholarship, came to the conclusion that it would be difficult for college lecturers to teach with sufficient context, especially those who weren’t Hindu.”
This reasoning is typical of the RSS, which tends to conflate wisdom with cunning. Most lecturers are Hindu anyway, and surely the aim of education is to broaden our minds? No, it is plurality that alarms them. In Kesavan’s words, “Hindutva seeks to remake the diversity of Hindu narratives and practices into a uniform faith based on standardised texts.” Standardisation, uniformity and compulsion are the ideals that inform the Parivar’s concept of India (an imperium); its view of the Ramayana, whose many versions it wishes to sanitise, as well as suryanamaskar, whose health benefits are of less significance than the expectation that Muslims might object to it. All the gestures of the RSS are assertions that they alone represent Hindus, and designed to evoke adverse reactions. Such reactions can be used to tell their critics yet again to “go to Pakistan”.
The RSS thrives on animosity. They would have been truly upset had Muslims not objected to compulsory yoga.
Popular sovereignty has been perverted in South Asia. It refers not to the people but to the Emperor’s Moustache. The people may not define their nation — it is the Nation that defines the People. The people are seen as a biomass of zombies — hamara maal, as the Sarsanghchalak once said. Our imperial metaphors symbolise the inner world of communalists. The RSS is no different from the maulanas they love to hate. They wish to lay down the law (and defy it when they like), flatten popular culture, and tell us all how to behave.
The Hindutva brigade should wake up from its ideological stupor. Their desire for political supremacy shines through their diktats.
We will learn yoga, not to please the RSS, but for our health. Here’s a suggestion for the Sarsanghchalak: please read the essay you censored, by A.K. Ramanujan. It’s available on the internet. Make it compulsory reading for your cadre! It’s a brilliant celebration of Indian culture. And it’s thought-provoking. Thinking is something your followers sorely need to do. The next time they do suryanamaskar, they could actually experience light.
The writer is a labour historian based in New Delhi