Under this BJP government’s aggressive global campaigns, India appears to be seeking a global positioning not on the basis of its internal strength, economic or otherwise, but on the basis of such ‘accomplishments’ as having the UN General Assembly declare International Yoga Day on June 21. A PM-led government patronaged event on Delhi’s Rajpath, where public gatherings have been banned since the demolition of the Babri masjid, is aiming to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest public participation in yoga exercises.
There can be no dispute over the practice of yoga postures improving the quality of life. Leaving aside the controversies over the promotion of a Hindutva agenda, such a mega marketing exercise definitely smacks of a dubious effort to Hinduise our richly diverse people and society. There is a running thread of a not too subtle campaign in the demonstrative ‘marketing’ that Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertakes. Remember, that the RSS, in order to advance its agenda of replacing our secular democratic Republic with its project of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’, has all along spoken of ‘liberating’ the temples at Ayodhya (Ram Janmasthan), Mathura (Krishna Janmasthan) and the Benaras Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Babri masjid has been demolished, Modi is the MP from Varanasi and Mathura was the chosen venue for launching the first birthday of this government. A distinct subterranean pattern.
Yoga is an ancient Indian set of practices that predates the Vedic civilisation. Several seals discovered at the Indus Valley Civilisation sites depict figures and positions resembling yoga meditation poses. The Rig Veda and various later Upanishads mentioned this term. The Katha Upanishad, believed to be composed between the fourth and third centuries BCE, describes yoga as the steady control of the senses leading to a supreme state. The Buddhist Pali Canons and earlier Jain texts also speak of meditative postures to liberate cognition. There are Patanjali’s yoga sutras. The Bhagwat Gita gives the descriptions of karma, bhakti and jnana yogas. It is believed that there is an energy lying dormant in every human body, Kundalini (which in Sanskrit means coiled like a snake). The aim of yoga is to arouse this energy lying at the bottom of the spine to reach the brain, leading to spiritual liberation. The exercises prescribed to achieve this state were broadly believed to be the yoga postures.
Such sublime spiritual pursuits, however, are not the concern of Modi. Yoga is to be practised for improving the quality of life. Indeed, many find it useful. It is marketed in the West, particularly in the US, as a cardio exercise supplement. Pranayam and body stretches to ensure the flow of oxygen to all cells could be as ancient a practice as human existence itself. An unsung yoga teacher once drew an analogy with a dog immediately after awakening stretching its entire body to activate itself. Today’s yoga postures may well have emerged from our ancients, the hunter-gatherers, stretching themselves as the day begins to embark on their adventures.
Whatever may be the implications of all these, yoga exercises are universally recognised as ensuring a healthier existence. But the moot point is that people have to first live, only then can they improve their quality of life. Such concerns, however, appear mundane for Modi’s campaigns.
Official propaganda spreads that India’s GDP growth, following dubious statistical exercises of changing the basis for calculations, overtakes that of our neighbouring economic power house, China. This, notwithstanding a media headline reporting on the UN’s FAO report on ‘State of Food Security in the World 2015’ reads: ‘Dubious Distinction: India leads world hunger list; overtakes China.’ This report estimates that India accounts for the highest number of undernourished people in the world with 194.6 million, or about one in every four people in the world. India lags behind Nepal and Bangladesh.
Save the Children’s ‘State of the World’s Mothers’ Report, 2015, ranks India at 140, behind countries like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Iraq, in an index that measures risk of maternal death; under five mortality; the number of years of formal schooling; per capita GNP and women in government. Out of thousand children in India 52.7 die before their fifth birthday. ‘Public sector health systems are typically under-funded, and often fail to reach those most in need’.
The Global Slavery Index 2013, ranking 162 countries, shows that India has the dubious distinction of being home to half the number of modern-day slaves in the world — 13.3-14.7 million out of 29.6 million. Modern slavery includes traditional slaves, those in debt bondage, forced labour, forced marriage and children sold as victims of trafficking.
People have to live first in order to improve the quality of their life through yoga, is it not? What our country needs today is not the ‘marketing’ of such not so subtle demonstrative activities seeking to promote the Hindutva agenda but concrete measures that the prime minister and the government must undertake to remove such gross deprivation of our people. The country needs the government’s attention to be focused on tackling the deepening agrarian distress that has led, during this government’s first year, to a shocking 26% rise in the incidence of farmers’ distress suicides. The country needs a more effective public distribution system to feed our people and not its abandonment. The statutory minimum hundred days of work under the MGNREGA has dropped shockingly by 60% during this year. The country needs the government to spend more money on public health, which today stands at an abysmal around 1% of our GDP.
There is no dearth of resources to do all these. This needs a shift in our policy direction away from enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor. Only then can yoga follow.
(Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M) and a Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed are personal)