We write as concerned scholars, many of whom have long been indebted to yoga and pranayama for their therapeutic effects, about the many plans that are being made to declare June 21 as a successful start of International Yoga Day. While mindful of yoga as a most desirable option for health care, we are concerned by the central compulsion driving the directives issued by the present Government, namely about entering the Guinness Book of Records through a show of numerical strength. We are even more alarmed about the government order addressed to university teachers and staff and school students to perform yoga on 21st June in public, and construe this as a compulsion that amounts to misuse of state authority.
It is most unfortunate that a national government is mobilizing so much effort, resources and people for a one-time spectacle, without any long term planning for or investment in the health and well being of the people. International Yoga Day, which is not backed by any plan of affordability or accessibility, appears ironically as an advertisement for a new breed of Yoga teachers and assorted Indian gurus who have already amassed colossal wealth by selling public goods like yoga and meditation at enormous prices. Like the largely symbolic Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan which refused to raise questions of water supplies, sewage disposal, and the continuance of demeaning scavenging practices, IYD is meant as a spectacle for media consumption.
More important, the BJP has made this event, and the compulsory practice of yoga in educational institutions, into another yardstick by which to judge the loyalty of people to the Indian nation and its cultural traditions. International yoga day has little to do with the improved health and well being of the people. It has everything to do with the great visibility it gives to another attempt to enforce cultural homogeneity. Any knowledgeable practitioner of yoga would say that it cannot be mandated or made compulsory, and must not turn into an acrobatic display. We therefore strongly object to the goals of the international yoga day, to the manner in which it has been organized and imposed upon Government employees, to the cultural nationalism that is being invoked around the event, and to the overt support it gives to all those who sell yoga.
The petition is up on Change.org. Those wishing to sign it can do so here: