In response to a recent RTI query, the Ministry of AYUSH (Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) has reportedly admitted that, "as per government policy, no Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad" as a trainer/teacher during World Yoga Day 2015.
The ministry made the statement in response to an RTI query about Muslim teachers and trainers recruited by AYUSH for foreign assignments during the World Yoga Day, a fortnightly newspaper, the Milli Gazette, reported.
The report has sparked outrage and a number of people, including lawyer Prashant Bhushan and CPI (M) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya have slammed the Ministry and the Centre for practising "a discriminatory policy".
Many came out in the support of Muslim yoga practitioners saying that yoga was not a practice specific to any religion or caste.
AYUSH denies report
The Ministry has refuted the claim made by the Milli Gazette, calling the report "fabricated" and "a piece of misreporting". The ministry has alleged that the report is aimed at causing friction between different sections of society.
Sripad Naik, the minister-in-charge of AYUSH, said:
"It's an attempt to defame us, I will order a probe into the matter. It is totally false, I strongly condemn it."
On the other hand, the Milli Gazette has confirmed the authenticity of the report and has said that it stands by the claim.
What does the Constitution say?
If the RTI response is verified, then the recruitment policy may be an outright violation of Article 14, 15, 16 and 25 of the Constitution, lawyer Shehzad Poonawalla said.
Poonawala told Catch that he had confirmed the authencity of the RTI reply with the Milli Gazette and had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee and the National Commission of Minorities, asking them to take note of the matter. He said:
"The government should immediately withdraw this discriminatory and unreasonable policy against Muslims which is thoroughly violative of the Constitution of India and should have never been introduced at all."
In the the light of the incident, it is important to look at the constitutional rights at stake here:
- Article 14 - The state shall not deny any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
- Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion,race,caste,sex or place of birth). - The state shall not discriminate against religion, race, sex, place of birth or any of them.
- Article 16 (Equality of opportunities in matters of public employment).There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
- Article 25, which guarantees freedom of religion.The Article 25 states that every individual is "equally entitled to freedom of conscience" and has the right "to profess, practice and propagate religion" of one's choice.
While The Milli Gazette is reportedly all set to present the proof of the ministry's policy, Poonawalla said he would file a petition in the matter before the Supreme Court.
The lawyer also said that he had requested that the NCM "monitor and review periodically the policies of the government to ensure they are not discriminatory against any religious minorities and live up to the slogan of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas in letter and spirit".