The ministry’s order has polarised opinion and met with criticism, but how the union government responds to the crisis remains to be seen.
In a move that may stoke a political controversy, the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) has directed its subsidiary organisation National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) to introduce yoga classes in around 500 of its educational centres. The MHRD also asked the NCPUL to prepare its centres to celebrate International Yoga Day on 21 June, 2016. The order has become a source of friction between the MHRD and some NCPUL executive board members who oppose the directive on the grounds that yoga classes may cause unnecessary disorder in the NCPUL centres, most of which are located in madrasas or minority institutions.
The NCPUL issued a circular on 29 March, 2016, directing all its centres to comply with the MHRD order. Speaking to The Wire, the assistant director of academics at the NCPUL Shama K. Yazdani, who issued the circular to its centres, confirmed: “We issued a circular to our centres after the MHRD order. The order instructed us to publicise Yoga Day in our centres.” When asked whether the NCPUL has also been directed to hold compulsory yoga classes, Yazdani said there was no such compulsory requirement, but refused to divulge further information on the MHRD order.
In a report in Muslim Mirror, Yazdani is quoted as saying: “In fact, we have received a circular from MHRD to make special arrangement [sic] on International Yoga Day. The circular also directs [us] to start yoga classes at NCPUL centres across the country.”
Opinion divided within the NCPUL
An NCPUL employee who wished to remain anonymous told The Wire that the MHRD order was issued to comply with an earlier directive of the Ministry of AYUSH to introduce yoga in all publicly-funded educational institutions of India. He said the MHRD order contained an advisory note listing the health benefits of yoga, by the union MHRD minister Smriti Irani. According to him, the order contains a list of instructions that explains how to perform various yogasanas. For example, it recommends namaskar mudra and various recitations like “Om Shanti.” It also recommends 45-minute classes everyday.
An autonomous body under the MHRD, the NCPUL was established in 1996 to promote Urdu. But over time it expanded and introduced technical and vocational courses like computer applications, business accounting and graphic designing to increase its students’ employability.
The MHRD order is therefore odd, according to the NCPUL employee, because it requires the NCPUL to function outside its mandate.
Many in the NCPUL feel similarly, that the MHRD order is unprecedented. One staff member who wished to remain anonymous said, “One such order to observe Yoga Day came last year as well. But this year, the order contains a clear and detailed list of instructions. The very fact that the MHRD wants the NCUPL to introduce yoga classes in its centres makes it compulsory. How can one disobey the order?”
Many of NCPUL’s executive board members have also not responded well to the MHRD order. Tariq Anwar, board member and Nationalist Congress Party leader, said: “I am not against yoga but I oppose the imposition of it in NCPUL centers. The MHRD should have first tried to interest the NCPUL students in yoga. Interested students could then come forward themselves and join yoga classes. They should have that choice.”
Similarly, board member and Vice-Chairman of the NCPUL Muzaffer Hussain questioned NCPUL’s Director Irteza Karim’s intentions: “Yoga is a Hindustani tradition, but people should exercise their discretion to practice it. Such imposition of it makes the MHRD order look suspect. The NCPUL could have chosen to write a strong letter against such an imposition. But the present director is bent on projecting himself as Hindutva ka thekedar (Hindutva’s agent). He was recently appointed by the NDA government and has openly publicised positions in favour of the BJP. The NCPUL has become a dysfunctional body – almost a symbolic one. The present director has made no efforts to strengthen the institution from the time he has joined. We want him to do his job instead of pandering to the whims of the government.”
Despite several attempts, The Wire could not reach Karim, who is presently travelling outside India. Karim, who was appointed as the director in June 2015, was in the midst of a controversy earlier this year when the NCPUL issued a declaration form that required Urdu writers who wanted financial aid from the institution to affirm that their work would not criticise the government. This form was highly criticised by the literary community as attacking the right to free speech. Later, the NCPUL withdrew the controversial clause.
Karim had then told The Indian Express: “If a writer wants financial aid from the government, then of course the content cannot be against (the government). NCPUL is a government organisation and we are government employees. We will naturally protect the interests of the government.”
The MHRD order on yoga and the NCPUL’s silent submission has already polarised opinion within the organisation. Many members of the executive board plan to raise the issue in their next meeting, as they fear the present director’s decisions have compromised the institution’s autonomy. It remains to be seen how the union government responds to the crisis in the NCPUL – the most important national institution to promote the Urdu language.