The ascent of the global yoga industry is no doubt in part about women’s reclamation of control over their bodies; yet, it is also a site of rampant and various manifestations of sexual violence. On the one hand, mega-yoga guru Baba Ramdev was instrumental in recriminalizing same-sex sex in India, which exacerbated the social and physical vulnerability of LGBTQ Indians. On the other hand, in the wake of #MeToo, there were countless revelations that influential gurus and teachers, most notably Pattabhi Jois, sexually assaulted female students. Attempts to diagnose the problem range from blaming the ‘guru model’ —pointing to the flawed attribution of infallibility and submission to gurus—to blaming the conservative sexist and heterosexist ideals certain teachers and gurus represent. The relationship between the industry and sexual violence, however, is more systemic than these diagnoses suggest. None of them sufficiently explains how so many industry leaders and gurus get away with violence against women and sexual minorities, especially when, in the popular imagination, doing yoga is associated with health and wellness, women’s empowerment, peaceful co-existence, and universalism. In this talk Andrea Jain argues that attention to different and conflicting narratives of sexual violence in the yoga industry sheds light on larger systemic issues, particularly the following: a globally pervasive neoliberal logic whereby control over one’s body is valued, but is defined as an individual achievement; and capitalist strategies of commodification that contain dissent against neoliberal individualism through gestural subversions. Together, these brew an industry that neither challenges dominant sexist and heterosexist ideologies nor holds the super wealthy accountable for sexual violence.
Andrea R. Jain, PhD is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, editor of the Journal of American Academy of Religion, and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her areas of research include religion in late capitalist society; South Asian religions; the history of modern yoga; the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion; and methods and theories in the study of religion. She is a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches and co-chair of the Yoga in Theory and Practice Group of the American Academy of Religion.
Cultures of Sexual Assault: A Symposium is supported by the College of Asia and the Pacific, the College of Arts and Social Sciences, the Research School of Humanities and Arts, and the Gender Institute.