By Sid Sharma
The world recently celebrated International Yoga Day. Yes, it was a thing. At first, I sat there with a somewhat smug face, deriding the whole affair. I wondered, “Which ad agency did this little nugget cook in?”
Surprisingly enough, it was a pretty big thing. Apparently, 200 million people across the world participated in it.. Not surprisingly, the big guns of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were there too. I suppose they had to at least appear to be gung ho about it, given that their boss is apparently a yoga junkie. Besides, who wouldn’t like to spend a day away from hard work?
If you think that I sound cynical about the whole thing, you’re right. I really find any situation in which more than three people are in agreement somewhat claustrophobic. Obviously, there were domestic Indian political considerations at play here. You could say that the celebrations indicated that matters were taking a more fundamentalist turn in India. Perhaps, but we have to remember that plenty of Muslims got in on the act as well. Perhaps it was more of a health thing? Maybe I’m being naïve here.
Among the spate of headlines regarding the “festivities” was a plan by the Modi government to start accrediting yogis. India Today writes
“According to Dr RP Singh, secretary general of Quality Council of India (QCI) – the agency devising the benchmarking system – the logic is that yoga needs to be standardized so as to make it a truly global discipline and prevent masqueraders from bringing a bad name to the ancient discipline.”
To some, the regulation of yoga sounds like the state’s grasping tentacles suffocating native practice. It might seem like a fundamentalist government taking ownership of and aggressively deploying yoga to further some nefarious agenda. One could conceivably make the argument that this is India’s version of the China’s often reviled Confucius Institutes. Is it all a thuggish attempt to market an official state-friendly doctrine?
Consider this hypothetical situation. Suppose that, in some far-flung year, the Prime Minister decides to take over the country and declare himself the Great and Eternal Leader. Furthermore, imagine that there is a freedom-loving yogi who organizes marches and protests against the dictator. Under the regulatory auspices of the state, the PM could move to have this yogi declared a charlatan and, in the worst case, throw him in jail.
While I can sympathize with such a view, on balance, I feel that it is fantastic. The world is plagued by people who claim divine sanction and run around the country as holy men. (Oddly enough, their bank accounts evidence much richer appetites.) These people need to be held accountable. I can almost guarantee you that a process of strict regulatory accountability is better for the general public than is the status quo which seems to leave vast portions of the Indian population everywhere in shameful ignorance of science or healthy behavior.
Furthermore, Indians do not have a monopoly on charlatanism. I can spend some time growing a rather long beard right now and make a handsome living teaching some high-sounding gibberish about rebirth and being “present” at some Arizona retirement center. This is a stunning indictment of the state of yoga both here and abroad.
At this moment, yoga is like a packet of tainted Maggi (a noodle brand currently facing some trouble for lead contamination). The regulatory power of the state is necessary to guarantee that practitioners actually realize health benefits from it. It is not a religious practice, so there should be no questions regarding the intrusion of the state into otherworldly matters. I would even welcome global practice standards to police yoga worldwide.
Charlatans and vile “men of god” need to be stopped from abusing the innocent in India as well as America. I welcome the Modi government’s drive to set standards around the world. Of course, the devil is in the details, so this might turn into some monster. But, for now, it is much welcomed. Indians need this. So does everyone else.