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KVS in tricky yoga terrain

New Delhi, Jan. 2: The Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan will make yoga lessons compulsory in Classes VI to XII from April, with Muslim organisations saying the exercises are fine but must not be given any “religious connotations”.

The decision marks a policy somersault, for these central government-run schools had over the past decade been gradually discontinuing their till-now-optional yoga classes following girl students’ complaints about some male instructors’ behaviour.

But from the next academic year, the pranayama, surya namaskar and the chanting of “Ohm” will become part of life for all the 11 lakh children enrolled in the country’s 1,094 Kendriya Vidyalayas.

“Yoga education contributes to not merely the physical development of the child but has a positive impact on psychological and mental development as well,” says Monday’s circular, asking the schools to hire yoga teachers if they don’t have any.

The class-wise yoga syllabuses include practical and theory lessons on asanas, concentration tips, the Karma Yoga doctrine of nishkam karma (action undertaken without desire or expectations) and various other aspects of yoga.

“We have no problem with the exercises, but they should not have any religious connotations,” said Zafarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of several minority organisations.

He said Muslims only pray to Allah, so the surya namaskar (salute to the sun god) and chanting of “Ohm” may not be permissible for Muslim children. Many Muslim organisations had protested when the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh introduced the surya namaskar in schools sometime ago.

M.A.A. Fatmi, a Muslim leader from the Rashtriya Janata Dal who was junior human resource development minister in the UPA I government, defended yoga education at schools.

“If somebody has a problem chanting ‘Ohm’, he can chant ‘Allah’. The idea is to improve your concentration skills — whether by chanting ‘Ohm’ or ‘Allah’,” he said.

On the objections to the surya namaskar, he said the students should have the option to skip certain exercises if they don’t like them. Fatmi suggested that women yoga teachers be hired so girls didn’t feel uncomfortable.

A Kendriya Vidyalaya source said no Muslim body had protested the latest decision. He said at least one practical and one theory class on yoga would be held every week.

Sources said the National Curriculum Framework prepared by the National Council for Educational Research and Training had advocated yoga classes in all schools nationwide but this was probably the first time any school had made it compulsory.

Yoga as an optional subject has always been part of the Kendriya Vidyalayas’ curricula but following girl students’ complaints, it was decided in 2004 to ease yoga out of the syllabus in a phased manner.

The Sangathan restricted yoga teaching to the larger schools, and, even in these schools, stopped hiring new yoga teachers to replace those leaving or retiring.