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In less than a fortnight, India and indeed the world would be celebrating the first International Yoga Day. In December last year, the UN adopted an India-sponsored resolution which called for 21 June to be declared as the International Day of Yoga. The resolution, led by India, was adopted without vote by 177 out of the 193 countries that constitute the UN. It had 175 co-sponsors, the highest ever for any such resolution in the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Interestingly, the first proposal for a “World Yoga Day" came in 2001 from Portugal, where it was led by the Portuguese Yoga Confederation and the Yoga Samkhya Institute. The first “World Yoga Day" was celebrated on 21 June 2002.

In his maiden speech to the UNGA in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfillment, harmony between man and nature, a holistic approach to health and well being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day."

The event in India will be flagged off from the heart of the national capital, Rajpath at 7 am, and Modi would be leading the 35-minute celebrations. Nearly 40,000 people are expected to attend the event for which Central government employees may be roped in.

Reports suggest that celebrities will also be brought on board to promote the event. “We have made many celebrities brand ambassadors and are trying to include them in this. There are names like Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty and Virat Kohli," said Shripad Yesso Naik, minister of state for Ayush.

Schools and other educational institutes have also been instructed to organise yoga-related events on 21 June. Some state governments, including Maharashtra, have made it compulsory for students and teachers to attend school and participate in yoga sessions, with the option of a compensatory holiday at a later date. Even the Central Board of Secondary Education has written to affiliated schools to organise events between 7am and 7:35am on 21 June. To ensure wider participation, the University Grants Commission has also written to all universities under its aegis to organise yoga-related activities on Yoga Day.

Global outreach

Indian missions in nearly 190 countries will be overseeing Yoga Day celebrations in association with various local organizations or local chapters of Indian spiritual organizations like the Art of Living. Overall, nearly 250 cities are expected to hold yoga-related programmes on 21 June.

According to reports, Indian missions in Sri Lanka, Jordan, Norway, Argentina and Thailand will be hosting the mega event on 21 June. Dubai, however, will be celebrating Yoga Day on 12 June, nine days before its scheduled date. This is because Ramazan, the holy month for Muslims, is scheduled to begin from 18 June.

Controversies

The plan has come under criticism from a few Muslim clerics and politicians. Opposing the government’s move, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi told PTI, “The government has no right to make yoga compulsory for children. While doing yoga, one needs to do surya namaskar, which means you pray to the sun. The government needs to understand Muslims cannot pray to anybody except Allah. Secondly, it will be Ramzan that day. Why put people through unnecessary physical stress in our holy month?"

The BJP, however, rejected Owaisi’s allegations. “Yoga is not bound by restrictions of religion, caste, area. Whoever wants to take part can, and people who don’t want to, don’t have to," Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister of state for minority affairs told news agency ANI.

Interestingly, India’s resolution at the UNGA was supported by a majority of Muslim nations—46 members of the Organization of Islamic Countries, including Iran, Qatar and the UAE. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia were among the few countries that stayed out.

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