05/18/2016, 15.06
INDIA
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University Grants Commission wants to impose Hindu mantras on all students for International Yoga Day

by Nirmala Carvalho

International Yoga Day falls on 21 June. An Indian department issued a protocol on how to celebrate it. This includes Hindu sacred mantras. However, imposing Hindu rituals on Christians and Muslims goes "against their freedom of religion."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued a directive asking universities and colleges to follow the AYUSH Department's yoga protocol, which includes chants and sholakas during Yoga Day celebrations on 21 June.

For a number of Indian activists and intellectuals, this decision affects the right of minorities to freedom of worship and shows insensitivity towards Christian and Muslim students.

"This kind of official celebrations are unwarranted,” said Ram Puniyani, president of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai. “People must be free to decide whether or not to observe the festivity."

Last year, the United Nations celebrated the first International Yoga Day. This year, India’s Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) issued a Common Yoga Protocol that calls for chanting 'Om' three times, and ends with “Om Shantih”, the mantra of peace.

In his letter to universities last week, UGC secretary Jaspal S Sandhu called on vice chancellors “to draw up an action plan” that would “ensure wide participation of students and teachers”.

However, for Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities Prof Akhtarul Wasey, “This is very unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with yoga, but forcing people to chant shlokas and Om is not correct and proper. How can one compel a Christian, a Sikh or a Muslim to chant them? It should be left to the freedom of the individual to chant any meditations”.

"Yoga includes various aspects,” says Ram Puniyani. “One of them is singing sholakas and Om. But some sonnets are part of Hindu prayers as well. Some leaders feel this a part of sun worshipping.”

For the activist, this type of official celebrations associated with Yoga Day are unwarranted. “Worshipping anybody but Allah is not part of the Islamic tradition. In Western countries, yoga has picked up, but mostly it is modified yoga where meditation and physical exercise is the core part.”

“As far as schools are concerned, the government should take steps to improve the nutritional levels of students and children, and boost sports facilities rather than push activities that some people find uncomfortable. We need to pay attention to the sensitivities of all citizens.”

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