The Politics is Brewing Over Yoga

On 21 June, International Yoga Day was celebrated with much fanfare utilizing the popularity of Yoga, which already existed worldwide before the present BJP government came to power. The Prime Minister may have just consolidated the self-motivated separate efforts and has been able to market it as of uniquely Indian origin. The United Nations has also acknowledged it by agreeing to dedicate June 21 for this cause since the last year. It definitely holds a great symbolic value. Its main attraction is its offer of mental and physical wellbeing, which are increasingly becoming scarce in the modern society globally. Otherwise it is like any other stream of spiritualism, which offer solace at an individual level. But what is the achievement beyond that? How is celebrating Yoga internationally going to solve any of our international or national problems? Does it even have a collective value? Most people take it up for purely individual health reasons.

India’s Permanent Mission to the UN organised an event titled, ‘Yoga for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals’ this time. UN General Assembly adopted SDGs on 19 July 2014 as a desirable set of 17 goals, which the countries around the world would like to achieve by 2030. These goals mainly include ending of poverty and hunger, achievement of food security, promotion of sustainable agriculture, ensuring healthy lives, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, achievement of gender equality, ensuring availability of water and sanitation for all, promoting inclusive and sustainable economic development, ensuring work for all, reducing inequality, ensuring sustainable production and consumption, combating climate change, conserving oceans and forests and providing access to justice for all. It is not clear how Yoga is going to achieve this ambitious set of agendas. From among the above set of objectives it has a direct role in ‘ensuring healthy lives’ only and that too only for a very restricted section of population as we’ll shortly see.

The danger is Yoga can give us a sense of complacency. Most of the above mentioned problems require serious policymaking exercise based on concrete research followed by strong political will for implementation of right kind of policies and programmes. In spite of best of our efforts we’re going to fall ruefully short of the declared goals by the time 2030 arrives. Creating confusion that Yoga has any role in solving these problems will only be an avoidable distraction. This is a typically Narendra Modi programme – high on publicity, low in content.

90% of Indians and significant population around the world which is engaged in hard labour to earn its living doesn’t need Yoga nor will you see them in any of the high profile collective organisation of Yoga sessions or any of the paid or unpaid Yoga classes. It is only the educated class, and only 10% of Indian students make it to college level education beyond their schooling, which constitutes the middle class still dominated by upper caste, which willingly or unwillingly becomes part of the ruling elite, who have been cut off from physical labour because of the nature of education that s(he) has received, who need Yoga to keep themselves fit. Most of the people belonging to this category have sedentary jobs or jobs involving little physical work or their nature of job are too mundane.

Therefore they need to take time out to engage in physical activity or an activity that can be mentally refreshing. Some of them play some sports or do jogging in the morning or evening. Some prefer cycling or swimming. With increasing prices of fossil fuels now more bicycles can be seen on road. Even the government is promoting cycle tracks.

Mahatma Gandhi used to spin a Charkha. While the important reason was the ‘Swadeshi’ ideology but another reason might have been to associate oneself with production activity in at least one of the three areas of primary economy- food, clothing, shelter that fulfill basic needs of human being. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of education was to involve learning some useful production activity too along with reading, writing and mathematics. However, this idea could not become part of our education system and we adopted an essentially British model which was meant only to produce people who could help run the administrative system of the government. It is not surprising that Civil Services remains such an active proposal for educated youth, especially in North India, whereas a very small number of students go for higher education and research careers.

People who have figured out some method of keeping themselves physically engaged will not feel the need of doing Yoga. It is only a very small section of our and international society which doesn’t do anything to keep themselves physically fit who need to do Yoga. Its importance must not be overemphasized and its role must not be exaggerated. People will do it voluntarily and at an individual level.

The PM and the government have more pressing problems to worry about, like price rise, rather than be part of some kind of international jamboree with only a symbolic value. The timing of announcement of opening up of civil aviation and defence sectors for 100% Foreign Direct Investment, on the eve of Yoga day, also raises certain doubts about government’s intention. This move is definitely not in national interest and it is quite possible that the time was so chosen that any criticism would be drowned in the mood of jubilation on Yoga day. n

Sandeep Pandey
Writer is a prominent social activist, Co-Founded ‘ASHA’. A Magsaysay awardee & P. Hd. from University of California

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 4,July 2016)

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