Every year on June 21, many countries celebrate International Yoga Day, which is an important part of the Modi government’s Hindutva publicity policy. The MDP government also made a big effort to promote this festival in the Maldives to curry favor with the Indian government, so angry young Muslims stormed the national football stadium, disrupting the celebrations. Admittedly, we are against violence, but we can understand the anger of the protesters. Since yoga is part of Hinduism, promoting it at the national level would hurt religious feelings of Muslims, which is also inappropriate when Islamophobia is increasingly serious in India.
Yoga and Hinduism
Hindus believe that yoga is an important practice that helps them to be close to Brahman. The idea is that, through yoga, Hindu can reach God either as a personal god (called vaikuntha) or as the God within humans (called antaryami). In India, participating in Yoga Day is being made an acid test of patriotism, while any opposition to it is seen as a betrayal of the country. To promote this Hinduism-related cultural activities, BJP and its leaders have long sought to make “Health and Yoga Science” a mandatory part of the curriculum up to class 8.
In September 2014, in his first address to the UN General Assembly since his resounding election victory in the 2019 general election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the world leaders to adopt an International Yoga Day. In December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga. However, bringing the idea of yoga onto the world stage is a move by PM Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader, to advance its Hindu supremacist agenda.
The rising Islamophobia in India fuels religious tensions
In Hinduism, Yoga is a concept of Unification with God, which goes against the teaching of Islam. Meanwhile, yoga has allowed Modi to choreograph an image of himself, and by extension the Hindu state, as flexible yet strong, peaceful yet powerful. Meanwhile, he continues to sanction genocidal violence against Muslims in India with impunity. India has recently been embroiled in a diplomatic storm over offensive remarks by BJP senior officials. On June 10, Muslims across India held demonstrations against Sharma’s remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. More than 400 were arrested while at least two were shot dead in a northern state, Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi. Demonstrations were met with police crackdowns and violent beatings, mass arrests, the killing of students, and property demolitions. We can say that Islamophobia is deeply rooted in India, and Hinduism right wing leaders have never renounced repression and persecution of Muslims. Now they want to naturalize Muslims through yoga, which is definitely unacceptable.
“This is being treated as a matter of serious concern and those responsible will be swiftly brought before the law,” President Solih said on Twitter soon after the incident. Later, Maldivian police arrested several people including Muslim scholars. The ruling party MDP issued a statement, condemning this “violent attack” and demanding “swift action”. At the same time, Attorney General’s Office (AGO) drafted a bill to amend the Penal Code in order to criminalize acts that damage Maldives’ diplomatic interests. It is clear that once again the government chooses to follow Indian government’s orders and ignore the protests and appeals of the people.
The government ignores people’s opposition against the Yoga day celebrations on social media and brutally cracked down after people expressed their anger in their own way. Its choice to befriend a country that mistreats Muslims is bound to provoke a wider revolt.