Ranjona Banerji: Patriotic asana is stretching it too far
Whether it’s Baba Ramdev’s itch to behead people, or fanatics who spew venom against any dissent, they are missing the point of yoga
I had an intriguing little discussion with someone who I assume was a yoga enthusiast and a follower of yoga guru and entrepreneur, Baba Ramdev. The gentleman was upset because I had questioned claims made by a Union minister that the AYUSH ministry would have a yoga cure for cancer ready in one year.
I felt that there can be no one cure for all types of cancers, based on current scientific evidence, and that the honourable minister should have provided more information rather than raise the hopes of cancer patients. I also pointed out that I am an avid yoga practitioner myself and can be annoyingly evangelical about its benefits.
A file picture of Baba Ramdev paying tribute to Bharat Mata at Veer Savarkar Auditorium in Dadar. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
My gentleman questioner however was having none of this. Since I had questioned yoga, I was obviously an evil liberal as well as all those pleasant names that ministers in this government have given journalists who do not agree with its policies. I shall not sully these pages by mentioning them. I can however mention that this gentleman stated that yoga cannot cure the ‘cancer of secularism’ and the ‘cancer of adarsh liberals’, these two cancers presumably being more damaging than the physical disease that I and many others carry.
If Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras speak to the control of the mind, of a person’s character and desires to reach a higher enlightenment, people who claim to be in awe of the greatness of Indian culture do not show any understanding of its finer elements and its subtleties. Instead, they show a remarkable amount of vicious venom against anyone whom they feel does not agree with them.
One might even argue that this is demonstrated in the words of the great yoga guru himself. He has stated that if the law of this land allowed it, he would have cut off the heads of all those who refuse to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. How delightful that a person who teaches people to control the excesses of character finds no difficulty in giving in to his own. Let us not mention the damages done to the environment by his various factories in Uttarakhand where I now live, or the grievances of his workers, or even the high ash content of his newly launched instant noodles.
As we have seen on the banks of the Yamuna with another guru, claims to higher spiritual knowledge do not always translate well for the ground realities of Nature, the environment and our ecological balance. We have also seen that when it comes to ugly pronouncements filled with violence and hatred towards people of their religions and beliefs and ideas, those who profess great religious belief can match the worst of our species.
Where, then, does one pit Baba Ramdev’s comment? This war over slogans to demonstrate your patriotism has become more and more inflamed in these times. It is not new, however. It has surfaced periodically whenever the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its affiliates feel particularly powerful or, conversely, when they feel threatened. Central ministers, the chief minister of Maharashtra, BJP spokespersons, BJP columnists have all held forth on it. The RSS itself has spoken in more than one voice: you have to say it and you don’t have to say it.
And then we have the yoga guru and his own pain that the law of the land prevents him from chopping off heads for this terrible transgression of not sloganeering on demand or under duress.
To my tiny mind, the law of this land offers us something else. It offers us the right to be ourselves. It offers us the right to withstand the bullying and threats of those we do not agree with. Perhaps Baba Ramdev wants to be part of a nation where you can legally chop off someone’s head whenever you feel like it. There are nations and societies that will agree with Baba Ramdev. I am happy not to live in any of them. I am also extremely grateful for the Constitution that Baba Ramdev so regrets.
As for the cure for cancer through yoga, the very institute that the Union minister quoted has countered his claims and said there is no such cure. Therefore, for the non-Yogic viciousness on display, I recommend a good half hour of Shavasana to cleanse the mind.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona