‘Surya Namaskar’ Order Stokes Controversy In J&K

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Mainstream Parties, Religious Groups Criticise Govt Move

Srinagar- The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Friday said that people performed ‘Surya Namaskar’ exercise in some areas of the union territory under a government initiative, which drew criticism from several political and religious groups who termed it an interference in religious matters.

An official spokesman said the Youth Services and Sports Office in Anantnag organised a large-scale virtual and physical performance of ‘Surya Namaskar’ by students and staff members on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.

The exercise was performed at the district headquarters and some other areas of the district following COVID-19 guidelines, the spokesman said.

The participants showed a lot of interest in the exercise as they all believe that such events improve physical fitness, particularly when they are in home isolation due to Covid restrictions, he claimed and added that the initiative was taken as part of the ‘Azaadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav’.

Various political and religious groups criticised the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s order directing college heads in the union territory to organise the exercise on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, saying it was interference in religious affairs.

The widespread criticism prompted Farooq Khan, the advisor to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, to say that the participation in the event was not compulsory.

“Those who want to do it can do it and those who don’t want to do, are free not to do. Nowhere in the order it is mentioned that there will be repercussions if anybody refuses to do it. It is just a part of yoga, it is named namaskar which might have given rise to religious connotation to it. So there is no need to give a twist,” Khan said.

In a related development, a militant group, The Resistance Front, has issued a threat to the officer who had signed the order.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), an amalgam of several religious organisations, took strong exception to the order and said the authorities were well aware that Jammu and Kashmir is Muslim-majority and like people from other religions, Muslims will not participate in religious practices of other religions.

“To deliberately force them to do so by issuing directives is mischievous,” it said.

“The Muslims of J-K are respectful of all religions and believe in harmonious coexistence, but will never yield to any pressure, if and when there is any interference in matters related to their faith,” it said in a statement.

“The recent open call to genocide of Muslims of India at a religious conference in Haridwar and the silence of the state in this regard is a shocking case of bigotedness and discrimination against Muslims, which has become the order of the day,” it alleged.

The amalgam asked the administration to desist from issuing such orders in the future.

Former chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — and various political parties also criticised the order.

“Why should Muslim students be forced to do anything, including yoga, to celebrate Makar Sankranti? Makar Sankranti is a festival & to celebrate it or not must be a personal choice. Would the BJP be happy if a similar order was issued to order non-Muslim students to celebrate Eid?” Abdullah, the National Conference vice president, wrote on Twitter.

Mehbooba, who is also the PDP president, said the Centre’s “misadventures” aim to collectively “humiliate” Kashmiris.

“GOIs PR misadventures aim to demean and collectively humiliate Kashmiris. Forcing students and staff to perform surya namaskars by issuing orders despite their obvious discomfort with imposition of something laden with religious connotations gives an insight into their communal mindset,” Mehbooba said in a tweet.

Peoples Conference (PC) president Sajad Gani Lone also criticised the directive, saying the administration was undoing what liberal Muslims had earned.

In a series of tweets, Lone said the government will not succeed and the will of the people will eventually prevail.

“Why is the govt so insensitive. Now comes the surya namaskar episode. I wish the govt of the day understands that along many bloody battles fought in Kashmir — of immense importance was the war between liberal and radicals,” Lone wrote on Twitter.

“And these were not verbose battles. The blood of the Kashmir liberal Muslim was spilled on the streets. The liberals fought to keep the secular liberal traditions of Kashmir alive. They fought the violence. They fought the bullets. The liberals rendered sacrifices,” he said.

Lone said with the ‘surya namaskar’ directive, the government was “emulating the radicals”.

“We have seen the brute power of the radicals all through nineties. U will not succeed. The will of the people will eventually prevail,” he said.

Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari also took strong exception to the order and said educational institutions must be kept aloof from “political maneuvering” and emphasis should be laid on providing quality education to students.

“Celebrating festivals is an individual choice and the state has no right to interfere in it. However, this recent edict for observing Surya Namaskar in colleges across J-K is undoubtedly a dangerous enterprise that carries serious implications.

“The administration must stop communalising the academic atmosphere and should rather focus on upgrading these educational facilities,” he said.

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