Meant to blog about this on Wednesday, but it’s been that kind of week!
At issue is a measure by the Hindu nationalist-led government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, that required public school students to practice the sun salutation and recite certain chants in Sanskrit during a statewide function on Thursday. The state government, controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., said that it complied with a central government policy to encourage yoga in schools and that it was inspired by a recent visit from a popular Hindu spiritual leader. Muslim and Christian groups in the state took issue not so much with the yoga exercise, but with the chants, which they said were essentially Hindu and in worship of the sun. They argued in court on Wednesday that it violated the Indian constitutional provision to separate religion and state.
The courts did the right thing. Yoga in India is definitely associated with being Hindu, and Sanskrit as well. There has been a growing tendency among right wing Hindu organizations to conflate Hindu and Indian (they do mean the same thing, after all). I would recommend any number of essays from Amartya Sen, especially those from the Argumentative Indian for a definitive takedown of this pernicious movement. The one-line answer is that India over the last 2000+ years has been influenced by so many religions and regions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, China, Arabia, Persia, Europe) that it is a foolish to ascribe any one identity to this country.
Whether yoga is religious practice is, like everything in this country, a matter of debate. Some people note that its recitations sometimes invoke Hindu gods, but others argue that its physical exercises have nothing to do with Hindu ritual. It is hardly uncommon for non-Hindus to practice yoga
And a lot of Hindus celebrate Christmas by going to the temple, funny how that works, and funny how nobody’s making them do it. The issue here was always imposition by the state and choice.
Yoga is wonderful and very good for you, and with a little care, can easily be delinked from its religious affiliations. Maybe this program can be done right, if the government is actually interested in getting it right.