of the Hindu American community and Hindus around the world, I believe that a personal
apology and public denouncement by CNN is long overdue for Reza Aslan’s recent
episode, “Believer with Reza Aslan,” which grossly misrepresents one of
the world’s greatest, oldest, and most peaceful religions, not to mention one
that is steeped in more science than any of the mainstream rival philosophies.
so-called documentary is a stunt the CNN network pulled at a very ominous
moment in the history of the US, with equally ominous content. It demonstrated extreme
emotional and cultural insensitivity and lack of sensibility. Overall, it displayed
poor judgment on the part of CNN to air this show, which was hardly
newsworthy if its intent was to create any objective educational presentation while
purporting to glorify some hi-falutin’ philosophy of Hinduism.
can have very little positive impact in promoting true and fair understanding
of Hindus and their beliefs or way of life; on the contrary, it will have
more negative consequences among the wider American audience.
million Hindus residing in the US and one billion all around the world all cremate
their dead. It is a sacred last rite in the life of a Hindu.
presenting cremation as a vile and dirty act, as Aslan has done, all the
while ignoring the fact that the ashes are sterile immediately upon removal
from the funeral pyre, he and CNN showed an utter lack of scientific
understanding of cremation. Besides, the Aghori sect that Reza chose to
dramatize in his presentation does not count for even 100,000 in the 1.2 billion-strong
population of Hindus. In all, the episode makes a mockery of Hinduism and Hindus
and instigates disrespect for one of the oldest and most profound philosophies
and its mainstream practitioners across the globe.
offshoots or cults under the rubric of many religions that are not considered
even as sects or even as associated with the religions they claim affiliation
with. Would mainstream Christians acknowledge that the evangelical tongue-talkers
and snake charmers of the American South, or the animal (and, sometimes even
human) sacrificing Satanic or “vampire” cults that claim origin in Christian/Biblical
traditions, represent Christianity?
mainstream Muslims accept the jihadi terrorists that have become a threat
around the world through organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda, represent the
peace-loving Muslims that make up the majority of the population of
the Aghori tribe is not, and has never been, accepted by mainstream or
traditional Hinduism; in fact, mainstream society has no access or interaction
with them or their high priests, and little if any knowledge of their religious
doctrines. True, they cannot be called non-Hindu as they worship Hindu gods and
meditate in Hindu cremation grounds, and pre-date the arrival of non-Hindu
faiths on the Indian mainland.
should not be represented, as the Aslan show on CNN does, as representing
Hindus or Hinduism. There are many curiosities for cultural anthropologists to
explore all over the world, that live and interact with mainstream religious
populations that accept and tolerate these cults, but to represent them as the
mainstream religion is a travesty that CNN is perpetrating.
that persons like Reza Aslan will not risk a fatwa from hostile fellow “believers”
by mocking their beliefs publicly in any media, but will rather hide behind “freedom
of speech” and First Amendment rights when confronted with the impropriety and
inaccuracies of facts, and their calculated distortions, deliberately expressed
to offend other cultures – as he has done in this instance to target the peace
promoting and scientifically based religion of Hinduism.
even begins with intent to create disgust about the sacred act expected of
every Hindu son [child] to serenely perform the funeral of his parents. To
ridicule cremation in the manner in which the CNN show did, offends millions of
Hindus. Many may have recently performed this ritual for their loved ones.
Aslan represents a culture that buries its dead. Rather than promoting the
beautiful culture and tradition of a more ancient tradition as one who is truly
interested in learning objectively, he displays lack of empathy, lack of
cross-cultural understanding, and bigotry, implicitly comparing one peoples’ funeral
traditions to another’s as if the one he represents is “correct” and the other
is “unhygienic.” All Hindus are civilized enough not to compare and contrast
the disposal of the last remains of loved ones. They have learned how
dignity is to be maintained by not making any negative comments about this
necessary process variously executed by different cultures.
however, imagine the process of decomposition that human bodies are subjected
to when interred, even if embalmed. Those uneducated about this process
would want to present cremation as dirty, and the disposal of sterile
ashes into a large body of water as unhygienic and disgusting. A
Hindu journalist could retaliate, but will not out of common decency. He could
present visually disgusting and aversive sights showing the various stages
through which dead bodies go through when disposed of in such fashion by so
called civilised cultures, not to speak of showing how a devotee of a
mummified Catholic Saint bit off a toe from a 500 year old preserved body, when
exhumed in Goa, India.
managers of CNN do not need to be reminded of the origins of the nursery rhyme “ring
around the Rosie…. ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” Since CNN evidently
gave no thought to the implications of airing Reza Aslan’s episode that promulgates
stereotypes, misinformation, and bigotry, which reflects badly on CNN, allow me
to remind the readers of its origins.
and Reza Aslan may not be aware that during the epidemic of
plague in England, mass cremation of bodies was undertaken to prevent
further spread of the disease. That is what led to the composition of this
history, Aslan in his ill-informed episode conveniently ignored a fact or did
not want to mention that only two of the forty-eight “ghats” on the Ganges
in Varanasi are earmarked for crematoria (Manikaran and Harishchandra). He gave
the impression that all “Ghats” on river Ganga are like what he presented.
What a sinister thinking. To describe and create an impression that one of
the most ancient holy cities of Hindus, Varanasi, is a gigantic
crematorium or city for the dead is an act of hate towards a different, “other”
It must by
now be obvious to everyone that one of the greatest concerns I am attempting to
convey to readers and through my suggestion for public apology is to take
corrective action as soon as possible before the show leads to some preventable
but irreversible horrible consequences. Although President Trump’s travel ban
and guarding of borders is not directed at Indians, a majority of who are
Hindus or Sikhs, there have been documented and publicly reported increases in
hate crime towards Hindus and Sikhs as a result of his Executive Order. CNN’s
airing such a show at such an inopportune moment serves only to pour more fuel onto
socially responsible media, a leader of one of the most unbiased and largest
news networks, CNN needed to be aware of the consequences of broadcasting of a
xenophobic show referring to some Hindus as cannibals. Sanjay Gupta, MD, practicing
Indian neurosurgeon in Atlanta, is CNN’s leading medical expert and a
Hindu who would have informed the CNN management that there is no cannibalism
among the Hindus, absolutely zero.
and by proxy CNN, have created a disgusting picture of an average Hindu for
those who know very little about Hindus and their way of life. This is
a deliberate act of hostility towards the so-called “non-believers,” and CNN
network provided him the platform to spread such hate for mass distribution.
purporting to really understand Hinduism is disingenuous, and I hope CNN does
not gloat over Reza Aslan and his not-so-concealed sadistic attitude towards
Hindus. He repeats, “I cannot wrap my head around” how reincarnation
with consequences for “sins” during this life can lead to negative experience
in the next life.
he should stick with promoting religions he claims to understand, with their beliefs
about eternal burning in hell for those who have not accepted his Prophet or the
Christian God, or the claim of being gifted upon death with multiple partners in
the afterlife for dying while committing jihad. It would be interesting to see
how Aslan wraps his head around such concepts.
writer implores readers to denounce Reza Aslan, demand that CNN distance itself
from his shameful and derogatory portrayal of a religion and culture of which
he so obviously knows nothing, and has no desire to even understand with the
least due diligence.
now not only a highly industrious minority in the United States of America, but
in the entire Western world; they make up a hugely productive and successful
population, and add much rich positivity to the world we live in. They can be
potentially subjects of great admiration and recognition, as in the case of Dr.
Murthy being appointed as a surgeon general of the United States, but could
also easily become objects of paranoid projections if their image is not
projected positively for the larger majority in any Western country.
It is for
the younger generation of Hindus all over the world to become conscious of how
to project a positive image in the world media, consistently uphold the respect
and recognition for their present and future true achievements and accomplishments.
To do this without large funds is a challenge our younger generation will need
it would suffice to contemplate how Hindu intellectuals have to formally object
to such negative depiction of their culture in the world media, creating an
aversive image of Hindus in the world view. This is how hate germinates, and if
not curbed, becomes magnified into hate crimes and even larger violence towards
maligned or marginalized sections of society.
castigation of the caste system is oblivious to its original spirit of
inclusiveness with simultaneous respect for different identities of subsections
of populations, so as to help them coexist peacefully while maintaining their
identity and subculture. It is more humane than holocausts, extrusions into
reservations, colonies, segregations, lynching the unwanted if found in the
town after the sunset, and such practices, which eliminate the unwanted from
the larger society.
these historical facts under the carpet, Western society takes pride in
flaunting “the absence of caste system” in the West, which is not really true
if one takes a close look at the manner in which those who could have existed peacefully
as different castes/groups in the West were totally annihilated. CNN has given
Reza Aslan a free hand to throw hackneyed aspersions at Hindus publicly for
their age-old caste system, with no opportunity for Hindus to present
countering views. Concerned Hindu American communities need to approach CNN to
start taking corrective action.
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