Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration’s order directing colleges to ensure that their faculty members and students perform Surya Namaskar on Makar Sankranti on Friday has triggered a fresh controversy with former chief minister (CM) Mehbooba Mufti terming the directive as the reflection of a “communal mindset” and her predecessor Omar Abdullah saying it is a matter of “personal choice” to celebrate the festival.
An order dated January 12 and signed by professor Yasmeen Ashai, director of colleges, J&K higher education department, stated: “To mark the holy occasion of Makar Sankranti on 14th January 2022, Government of India has desired that on the occasion a large scale virtual Surya Namaskar be organised under Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations.”
The order directs the colleges to “ensure that all faculty members and students actively participate in this programme” so that it becomes “a People Centric (sic) Successful Programme with [the] tagline ‘Surya Namaskar for Vitality’.”
The directive has been widely slammed by regional political parties and several Kashmiris who termed it as an act of imposing religious practices on a majority population against its traditions.
Terming the order as the Centre’s “PR misadventure”, Peoples Democratic Party leader Mufti tweeted that it is meant to “demean and collectively humiliate Kashmiris” and “gives an insight into their [the Union government] communal mindset”.
Questioning the logic behind “forcing” Muslim students to perform yoga to celebrate Makar Sankranti, Mufti’s predecessor and J&K National Conference (JKNC) leader Abdullah tweeted: “Would the BJP be happy if a similar order was issued to order non-Muslim students to celebrate Eid?”
Terming the order as “religious interference” and demanding its rollback, JKNC provincial spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar tweeted: “The fact that heads of colleges in Kashmir have been directed to “ensure” participation of faculty, students and the fact that these Heads are now forced to force Muslims to perform ‘Surya Namaskar’ is a proof of religious interference. Roll the order back.”
Others questioned the timing of the directive with the administration disallowing Friday prayers at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. “The order asks us to reject the basic tenet of our faith. It is incendiary to disallow prayers at Kashmir’s most important mosque and then ask people to salute the Sun god. If we perform Surya Namaskar, we won’t be Muslims,” a student from Srinagar’s Amar Singh College requesting anonymity told Newsclick.
Three-time legislator and JKNC dissident Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi cautioned against participating in the activity and blasted Ashai for signing the order and being a “slave”.
“If an individual can sign an order which is against his/her faith and freedom of religion, it’s more worrisome than the oppression itself. If the people asked to attend, give in to this order and participate, it’s us (the society) (sic) to be blamed for the consequences, not them,” he tweeted.