Why introducing yoga courses at Indian varsities is not a Hindu nationalist ideology


This article has been written by Sanskrity Sinha for IBTimes

Indian universities may soon be offering courses in yoga studies. The ministry of Human Resource Development has assigned a committee to develop department of Yogic Art and Science for universities across the country, said media reports.

The 12-member committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's yoga teacher H R Nagendra will identify courses as well as the qualification for faculty members and eligibility criteria for students opting for studying yoga in higher education.

The decision to start a separate department devoted to studies of yogic science was taken in early January in a meeting chaired by Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani.

Popularising yoga has been one of the core agendas of the Indian government since Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in May 2014. Proclamation of 21 June as the International Day of Yoga by United Nations General Assembly was the country's first milestone in this regard.

Proposed by Narendra Modi and introduced by India's Ambassador to UN Asoke Mukerji, the resolution on International Day of Yoga received an overwhelming support from over 170 member states. The resolution considered yoga's role in promoting sustainable development as it embodies the unity of mind and action.

Though India has several yoga schools, the inclusion of yoga studies in universities will bring the ancient knowledge into mainstream education. However, the move may fall prey to suspicion of being a political propaganda of the government, which has been blamed for politicising yoga for subtly promoting its Hindu nationalist ideologies as yoga is often perceived as a Hindu religious practice.

But Indian yoga gurus beg to differ. Speaking to IBTimes UK, Raj Kamal, a degree holder in Applied Yogic Science, said yoga is not connected to Hinduism only. He applauded the government's initiative to use yoga as what he called a "soft diplomatic tool".

"It is no politicisation or imposing of religious ideologies. The government is using yoga as a soft diplomatic tool to connect with people," he said, adding that yoga education at university level will "create employment in an industry which is estimated at more than $3bn (£2bn)."

"There is a dearth of certified yoga teachers in the world and the demand for qualified yoga trainers is huge. Yoga studies will help fill this gap," Kamal said. He added that certification from government-recognised universities is a must to curb nexus formed by private institutions who are providing certificates for money, a problem that has gripped the yoga industry.

Kamal, who runs the Yoga Wellness Center in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, argues that yoga studies in higher education will pave India's way to claim to an ancient knowledge that originated in the country.

"India can claim to yoga. We have scriptures and ancient documents dating back to more than 2,500 years ago detailing about yoga. But you have to have the infrastructure – authentic trainers, qualified practitioners, state-of-the-art yoga studios – to claim your ancient knowledge," he said. "Yoga study at university level is a welcome move."

He added that introducing study of yoga as an alternative medicine at an early stage of lifestyle will affect the overall wellness of the young population.


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