Yoga guru outrages India with beheading remark
If you have a mental image of what a yoga guru does then it would probably tend towards promoting inner peace and good posture. It probably wouldn't include making public statements that it's only the rule of law that's holding them back from beheading thousands of people who don't chant their nationalist phrase of choice.
But just such a bloodthirsty remark has been made by the prominent Indian yoga teacher Baba Ramdev, making collective jaws drop and raising questions about how religious and patriotic sentiments are exploited in Indian political debate.
Ramdev is a successful modern yoga teacher - he's taught all over the world, been credited with re-popularising the discipline among India's young middle class, spoken at the UN, and even branched out into selling his own brand of noodles.
But in recent days, Indian twitter users have been using the hashtag #TalibaniRamdev to compare him to an Islamist extremist after he waded into a debate about a controversial phrase.
The phrase - "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" - means "Hail Mother India", and refers to the nation personified as a Hindu goddess. It's widely used as a statement of patriotism by the BJP, India's Hindu nationalist ruling party. Some politicians have called for all students to be taught the phrase in school.
But some Muslim clerics say it goes against the Islamic belief that there is only one God, and they're trying to stop the phrase being imposed. In March, a prominent Muslim leader said he would never utter the slogan "…even if you put a knife to my throat", and a few days later another politician from the party was suspended from the state assembly in Maharashtra after refusing to repeat it.
Debate on the slogan has raged ever since, with one BJP politician saying those who refused to hail Mother India, whatever their religion, should have no right to remain in the country.
But Baba Ramdev escalated the rhetoric even further when he spoke at a meeting on Sunday, organised by the right wing Hindu organisation RSS with the aim of promoting community harmony. Ramdev made it very clear that only respect for the rule of law was restraining him from beheading anyone who disrespected Bharat Mata. "If someone says that he won't chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai even if his head is chopped off, I want to say there is a rule of law and we respect the constitution, otherwise we can cut hundreds and thousands of heads," Ramdev said in remarks that were filmed and later posted on YouTube.
His outspoken comments have caused outrage in a country where many have commented on a rise in intolerance and bigotry. Last year 200 academics signed a letter saying that the current atmosphere in India encouraged "greater hostility and aggression, especially against religious and caste minorities."
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The hashtag #TalibaniRamdev has appeared more than 35,000 times on Twitter, and many users mocked up pictures of the guru in the place of so-called Islamic State executioners, or compared him to a Taliban fighter, for taking such an extreme position.
"Ramdev is epitome of what religion should not stand for - materialism, religious supremacy & #CulturalTalibanism," wrote one Twitter user. "This thug is unworthy of being called a yogi," wrote another. But some praised his words, saying that Hindus were reclaiming their voice.
The debate on the phrase is sure to continue. On Friday India's biggest Sunni seminary issued a fatwa - or decree - against Muslims using the phrase, while an educational trust run by a BJP leader has said it will only allow admission to students who write Bharat Mata Ki Jai on their application forms. But there are now calls for the police to investigate Ramdev's remarks.
Blog by Kate Lamble
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