AYUSH ministry says RTI reply showing it follows a discriminatory recruitment policy of not sending Muslims as yoga instructors abroad is a ‘fabrication’ but the reporter and newspaper which released the documents stand by their story
New Delhi: The Ministry of AYUSH, the Central department responsible for implementing International Yoga Day, has denounced as a “fabrication” a document published by a weekly newspaper, Milli Gazette, which indicated the government had a policy of not inviting, selecting or sending abroad Muslims to serve as trainers/teachers during World Yoga Day 2015.
However, Milli Gazette, which published the document as part of a story by the investigative journalist Pushp Sharma, insists the “ministry’s rebuttal … is factually incorrect” and that it stands by its original story.
Pushp Sharma told The Wire on Saturday night that the document in question was sent to him by the ministry via the normal RTI process and that he has preserved all the receipts and envelopes.
In support of the AYUSH ministry’s charge of fabrication, the Press and Information Bureau released what it said was the ministry’s reply to an RTI query by Sharma in which it was categorically stated that invitations were sent to yoga enthusiasts “without reference to their religions.”
However, the document in which the ministry made a candid admission of discrimination on the ground of religion came in response to a separate RTI application by Pushp Sharma. In his query, Sharma sought information on how many candidates from the community had applied for the post of teachers or trainers of yoga. To this, the ministry had replied that “a total of 711 Muslims had applied for the short term abroad assignment”.
The ministry also said that a total of 3841 Muslim candidates had applied till October 2015 for the post of yoga trainer/teacher with the ministry but none was selected.
The ministry’s reply is in ‘Annexure 1’ – the authenticity of which the government is now challenging – was provided in October 2015 and has been published by Sharma in the latest issue of Milli Gazette.
In it, the ministry – which deals with ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy – states that the reason none of the 26 trainers sent abroad on this assignment was Muslim was because of “government policy”.
In the article, Sharma comments on the “sad situation under a government which does not tire of raising the slogan of ‘sabka sath, sabka vikas’ … Here we have, for the first time in the life of this government, a written, blunt RTI reply in our hands which unashamedly says that it’s Modi government policy not to recruit Muslims in government jobs.”
Stating that the reason given by the ministry was even more obnoxious as it terms it a “government policy”, Sharma said, “this reply obviously concerns a certain scheme in a small ministry. You can only think of the wider implications of this policy across the government.
Incidentally, World Yoga Day was organised for the first time on June 21 last year after the United Nations had acceded to the demand of the Government of India to declare the day as such. In several countries across the globe, events were organised to mark the occasion. In India, the main event took place on Rajpath, where Modi had in his address said: “Rajpath became ‘Yogpath’ on World Yoga Day. World Yoga Day tells us that the world is curious to know about India and we must tell the world about our culture, we have to be proud of our culture.”
While some Muslim organisations had vehemently opposed participation in yoga events, saying the ‘surya namaskar’ or the chanting of ‘Om’ went against their religious tenets, many from the Muslim community had participated in these events and even trained others for them.
The Wire had asked minister of state (independent charge) for the Ministry of Ayush, Sripad Naik, why it is government policy to not hire Muslims as yoga teachers. His ministry now insists the RTI document on which Milli Gazette’s story is based is a fabrication. The Milli Gazette editor and Pushp Sharma, on the other hand, insist the replies were all received from the ministry in the normal fashion and has uploaded the relevant envelopes and receipts as a PDF file.
Note: This story was edited at 10 pm, March 12, to incorporate the Ministry of AYUSH’s statement and the response of Milli Gazette and Pushp Sharma.