Don’t blur the lines in the name of respecting religious sentiment

Representative image

Representative image

Baba Ramdev has demonstrated an uncanny and astonishing ability to stay in the headlines, and he is also no stranger to controversy, harsh criticism and vile abuse. A few years ago, a leading English news magazine had him on its cover with a photo in gross taste. He was also accused by Brinda Karat of exploiting his staff and mixing animal products in his Ayurvedic drinks.

It didn’t take long for the Baba to bounce back and deliver a near knockout blow, showing off his nationalist credentials. But this time it seems he went too far and slipped while skating on thin ice. The Supreme Court has refused to accept his ingeniously worded ‘unqualified apology’, which he filed only after the court threatened to ‘tear apart brick by brick’ his claims of bona fide statements made in public interest, etc.

Let us make it clear at the outset that what happens to Ramdev and Patanjali should not distract us from the serious issues raised in this case. Yoga and Ayurveda are undoubtedly an integral part of our priceless cultural heritage. Treating this in a half-baked way with religious intolerance can only create an explosive mixture.

Yoga, as masters like Swami Vivekananda have pointed out, is a complex system with many branches to meet the needs of different individuals. Hath Yoga focuses on the physical, but has aspects that draw on spiritual and psychological insights. Jnana, Bhakti and Karm Yoga give priority to knowledge, unconditional devotion and discharging one’s duty impartially.

Perhaps the most esoteric, Raj Yoga is intended for the select few who risk physical and psychological well-being in the pursuit of enlightenment that frees. Yoga is of course also a system of Indian philosophy. What is important here and now is that mastery in yoga can be used (or abused) to claim expertise in another specialized field such as Ayurveda? Can a yoga instructor claim guru status for himself? The guru in India is ranked higher than god: he is sakshat parabrahm.

Those who follow their chosen master and mentor are welcome to do so, but should not the government services and the laws of the land apply equally to gurus, godmen and their lay followers? A good number of these worldly-wise bhakts use guru kripa to navigate the choppy waters of bhavsagar (dangerous waves of the ocean representing the material world).

Baba Ramdev should be given credit for popularizing Ayurveda among the urban middle class and creating a unique business model that seamlessly combines desi jugaad and modern technology. There have been other gurus who have followed the path he laid down by setting up units that produced their own products based on ancient Ayurvedic prescriptions.

The trouble started when Ramdev and Co. started using allopathic medicines during the Covid pandemic to market their products with wild claims. It’s one thing to market toothpaste with jadi booti, ​​traditionally associated with dental care and tonic restoratives like chyavanprash, without looking before the jump; the challenge is far more dangerous when miracle cures or foolproof remedies are hastily created or rediscovered, without any trial or peer review when millions of lives are at risk.

In the past, this Swadeshi entrepreneur has also fallen on his face with a wonderful yoga touch. Public memory may be notoriously short, but his attempt to escape the police dragnet, clad in salwar kameez and dupatta, does not make for a glorious chapter in his biography. He refused – to his great credit – the Padma awards given by the government to sadhus and sants who showered their blessings on the Saffron Party led by the ‘Hindu Hriday Smarat’, thus seeming to draw a line between the spiritual and the political. Events as they have unfolded since then have forced us to reconsider that he is not above the temptations of power and patriotic glory.

Before we conclude, we must first address the most critical issue. The public debate is dominated by the story that the Indians in the ‘Amrit Kaal’ should not continue to suffer from the burden of colonial deadwood. We must revive, restore and celebrate the ancient Indian science and technology that was reviled by the white masters. This has created a dangerous climate in which anyone who dares to expose deceptions or charlatans can be labeled a blasphemous traitor, a foreign agent, etc. and punished by a kangaroo court.

We live in astonishing times. Police officers deployed for security duty at the Vishwanath temple are dressed in the orange attire of the priests and carry the tribune mark on their foreheads. The logic is that officers in the khaki wardi hurt the religious sentiments of the darshan-seeking bhakts, who were reluctant to follow through on their crowd control measures. Soon the month of shravan and kanwariyas will be with us. Will we witness police officers in suitably altered sacred garb? How will motorists on the highway separate the two? It can be dangerous to blur lines to avoid hurting feelings.

Pushpesh pants

Former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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