Pro-Hindu Prime Minister Modi calls on nation to rejoice in celebration of national identity but some claim cultural bias
Yoga enthusiasts mark International Yoga Day at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore on June 21. Downward-facing dogs, cobras and warriors were set to sprout all over the world as the annual event was held for the fourth time. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP)
World Yoga Day proved a big hit across India on June 21 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the nation to revel in and promote its culture but it was largely ignored in Christian-dominated Mizoram state.
While many Catholics in other parts of the country joined the mass group exercises organized that Thursday, some religious groups in the northeastern state dubbed the event “anti-Christian,” according to local media.
“Ours is a Christian state. We cannot accept yoga because we see it as a part of Hinduism,” said Vanlalruata, president of the People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (Prism), a newly floated political party.
“We refuse to practice yoga and we will keep opposing this celebration in our state,” he added.
Prism formerly served as an anti-corruption watchdog before reinventing itself as a political party.
Even state ministers appeared to distance themselves from the celebrations, the fourth time the annual event has been held, while the general feeling in this northeastern state was it was “no big deal.”
Some people in Mizoram, which is 90 percent Christian, told ucanews.com they considered it incompatible with their local culture and religion.
“Here, the International Day of Yoga is just a normal day,” said Father K.M. Arulappan, vicar-general of Aizawl Diocese, the state capital.
“People here don’t consider it a big deal and the church neither encourages nor discourages people from practicing yoga,” he told ucanews.com.
The event has been viewed as controversial in Mizoram since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which rose to national power in 2014, began promoting it as an important part of Indian culture.
Modi echoed the same views this year as he performed yoga exercises after sunrise with a gathering of 50,000 people in the Himalayan foothills, in the hill town of Dehradun.
Yoga is “enriching millions of lives all over the world,” Prime Minister Modi, a staunch Hindu nationalist, reportedly said in a speech.
“The gems of India’s unique heritage, such as yoga, will be respected by he world at large only when we ourselves respect our culture and traditions,” he added.
Similar state-sponsored mass gatherings and exercises were organized across India led by federal ministers and leaders of various political parties.
But while Mizoram, a state of 1.1 million people, held a “Healthy Mizoram Campaign” last year replete with seminars and programs, the day passed without any official mention of World Yoga Day this June.
“I don’t know about any such event. I’m currently in my constituency, carrying out rescue and relief works in the wake of the floods,” Pu Zodintluanga, the state minister for sports and youth affairs, was quoted as saying by local media.
Meanwhile, in Kerala in southern India, Sister Infant Treesa has been teaching yoga to hundreds of people. She led a special event on June 21 and said the ancient practice can promote both holistic and spiritual growth.
In Mumbai, Father Joseph Pereira was scheduled to address the British House of Lords on the benefits of yoga to mark the event this year.
The Catholic priest said yoga has improved his life and can also be used to rehabilitate those whose lives have become ruined by narcotics or chronic illnesses. He said he has seen many such cases at the Kripa (Grace) Foundation in the city, which he helps run.
The U.N. General Assembly officially inaugurated the International Day of Yoga in 2015 after India proposed it along with several other nations.