Yoga made compulsory

Print edition : September 30, 2016

Municipal Corporation schoolchildren in Mumbai doing yoga at a high school on International Yoga Day, June 21. Photo: Saimantick Bhadra

THE beef ban came from the food police, the thought police patrol the Internet, the fashion police strike regularly, and now there are the education-cum-health police. On August 23, corporators in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) passed a proposal to make yoga and surya namaskar compulsory in all civic-run schools.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal was put forward by a Bharatiya Janata Party corporator and passed with help from Shiv Sena corporators. The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and all Muslim corporators opposed it and demanded that they be made optional. The objection was primarily to the series of exercises that make up surya namaskar. Muslims see it as paying obeisance to the sun and, therefore, against their religious beliefs. In the current political atmosphere, the proposal can only be seen as a move to impose Hindutva ideas on the Muslim community under the guise of culture, tradition and, in this case, education and health.

The civic body runs about 1,230 schools in which more than 5.4 lakh children are enrolled. About 70 of these schools are Urdu-medium ones attended by Muslim children.

Muslim corporators have already said that the community will withdraw its children from the schools if yoga practice is enforced.

State Samajwadi chief, Abu Azmi, who sat in protest at Azad Maidan, termed the proposal an attempt to saffronise education. Raees Shaikh, a corporator of the Samajwadi Party, sent a legal notice to BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta demanding the withdrawal of the resolution. He said the mandatory nature of the proposal was a violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom.

The Congress’ Pravin Chheda, who heads the opposition in the BMC, met Ajoy Mehta along with a 22-member delegation from the party’s minorities cell and asked for the resolution to be revoked. They said the Commissioner, who has the right to reject the resolution and return it to the House, told them that he would make his decision on the basis of what is best for the children.

If health benefits to children were indeed the only concern of the BJP, then teaching them martial arts would have been an equally good alternative. The Sena had even expressed a preference for this. The Sena has ruled the BMC for a number of years and the BJP is desperate to get a firmer foothold there. In contrast, at the State level the BJP is the stronger partner. Though Sena corporators ultimately voted with the BJP to push forward the proposal, the BJP had to persuade them to do so. That was the Sena’s way of telling the BJP that it still held sway in Mumbai. As for the MNS, which Raj Thackeray formed after breaking away from the Shiv Sena, it could not be seen to be voting with the Sena, and so had to be a part of the opposition.

There are strong similarities between this issue and the Vande Mataram controversy, when the BJP tried to make it obligatory to sing the national song. Muslims had objected, explaining that Islam being monotheistic prohibited the apotheosis of anyone or anything except God.

The passing of the yoga proposal in an already vitiated atmosphere appears to be part of a larger game plan of which the saffronisation of education is one aspect.

Lyla Bavadam