Dear Yoga, I Am Breaking Up With You, Because It’s Not You, It’s ‘Mandatory’

Posted on June 23, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Abhishek Jha

Being away from my college is a nice “detox” period for me, if I understand the term found often in health columns and among salad recipes. And I guess this must be so throughout the country, given the number of #CampusWatch articles that find distraught students voicing themselves on this website. For a brief period, the critical-thinking-glasses do not flag danger signs that have to be dealt with immediately.

watch out iit roorkee yoga
Photo Credit: WatchOut! News Agency

Mandatory Yoga Camp And The Notices

So when I found myself reading a copy of a notice put up in my college back in Roorkee that made attendance “mandatory” at a Yoga camp in the campus premises, I bought a plate of biryani ASAP. After that half an hour of lip-smacking gastronomy, I was lulled into sleep. I excused myself from reading newspaper articles and television debates that had anything to do with the IDOY or Yoga. Click, click, click. Sleep. That, dear reader, is the sound of despair.

DNA has since reported that the Dean has clarified that those who had a problem had been exempted from the camp. Of course, they were exempted. The question is not whether I will be exempted from Yoga if I have a broken ligament or if I will hurt from sweating in the month of Ramzan. That he made it mandatory for unsuspecting students, those who do not have a problem, and those who did not register a complaint with is in itself problematic. As for his comment that it was not mandatory “in the strictest sense of the term”, does he know that there were notices put up in hostels that threatened action in case one didn’t attend? An inmate of Kasturba Bhawan said the notice warning of action against defaulters residing in the hostel has been removed and cannot be found anywhere now. Does that look fishy? It does not appear that one could miss the camp if they didn’t feel like it, if they do not wish to be yoga-healthy. Now why is that a problem?

The Problematic Aasans

There is nothing wrong that I find with Yoga per se. An absolutely fine combination of exercises that hasn’t hurt me in anyway. I have no grudge against it. But as soon as it is in the hands of power, it is political, which opens it up for interrogation in fields other than medicine and healthcare. With the ruling party- one which has close association with communal politics, which rose to power partly dividing people on the basis of religion – appropriating it, one thing that could be said with certainty: if Yoga did not have religious colours, it has now, or it will acquire soon. The Prime Minister, therefore, was putting yoga at the risk of interrogation by saying, “Yoga is not a system but a state of being. It is a philosophy and not just a set of exercises.” Given BJP’s history, it isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that Yoga is just another tool in its hand to impose its philosophy. After celebrating Good Governance Day on Christmas, imposing a Matru-Pitru Diwas on Valentine’s day, it becomes all too obvious. All these actions of the BJP and the all too Hindutva elements associated with it is what makes people look for religious symbolism in Yoga that the BJP might use.

Also, what does the Prime Minister imply when he says, “There can be enormous reduction in cost of healthcare if yoga is practiced“? Is the government planning to reduce spending on healthcare facilities by saying that it has done its bit by introducing yoga? Irrespective of the benefits of yoga, budget cuts will hurt the poor, because, after all, yoga isn’t a panacea to all illnesses. There have been large protests against the government’s corporate policies. So out in the open the pro-corporate stance of these policies has been, that even Rahul Gandhi looked good in the parliament speaking against them. This makes it worth to protest against such a mandatory camp that might be paving ways for acquiring support for such a budget cut.

It is in this light that we must see the compulsory yoga camp imposed on students in IIT Roorkee. Because mandatory yoga classes – hitherto only practiced by those who felt like it – also became a punishment for those accused of indiscipline in IIT Roorkee soon after BJP assumed power at the centre. The timing – in light of what has been said before – cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, compulsory yoga (3 days extra for each day missed) as punishment (that too for any and all kinds of “indiscipline”) appears ludicrous. So, the campus news magazine Watch Out! had questioned the Dean of Students’ Welfare last year. Prof. Nauriyal had said the following then: “It is very easy to punish the students with the kind of system we have in place. It is easy to suspend and deduct their marks. But does it really reform them? We discussed a lot on the topic and after that we came around the view that we must give the student an opportunity to mend ways, if something is not desirable. We are also aware that many students on campus indulge in drug and alcohol abuse. Punishing them won’t do them any good and would in-turn jeopardize their career. The most plausible and least undesirable way would be put them to Yoga classes. The idea is to make them realize that they have to accept the community norms. Yoga would help them gear up for the day as well as teach them better ways to live their lives. Parents have also supported us in this.

Norms And Such Like Things

Thus the benevolent act of not hurting the students’ grades – bound to make the students acquiesce- quickly develops into making them follow “community norms“, which has now snowballed into a compulsory Yoga camp that everybody – whether they are in conflict the rules of the institute or not – must attend. Now making “an indisciplined student” follow community norms might appear again to be completely normal, until you ask what those community norms are. Do those “community norms” imply only the rules of the institute or do they include the ones being forwarded by Yoga?

The popular Yoga guru Ramdev claims he can cure homosexuality with it. Given his close association with the BJP and BJP-members’ own comments on homosexuality and the BJP-introduced International Day of Yoga, which some zealous administrators in the institute have planned to celebrate with a mandatory camp, how can one attend such a camp without feeling disgusted about the party that is selling it? Perhaps a mode of resistance – one that can befuddle them- would be to attend the camp and yet come out as a homosexual. But there are other norms that I would like to debate and discuss before I am required by decree to attend a Yoga camp in light of its appropriation. And just in case, one was moved by the benevolence of not hurting the students’ grades, it would perhaps help to inform that there is generally a suspended sentence in lieu of which the Yoga classes are imposed. And when I was found sitting idle in one of those reformatory yoga classes, another Dean inspecting the class did not forget to remind everybody that we were being punished and should be ashamed of the same. So much for reformation.

This institute’s actions – in my detox period – may not have worried me. But there seems to be no stopping this cultural homogenisation. Already a syllabus for Yoga has been prepared by NCERT and an optional practice in central government run schools might soon became mandatory. And in this narrow, shallow chamber, breathing is difficult and detox impossible. Dear Yoga, I will have to break up with you.