The portrayal of Hinduism in a CNN show on Sunday night has drawn strong protests from many Indian-American groups that found it negative and devoid of adequate understanding of the religion. The episode on Aghoris in the CNN serial ‘Believer’ made by religious scholar Reza Aslan had graphic images of the marginal sect’s extreme forms of practicing their faith. “Eating human corpses? How far would you go to prove your faith? Enter the world of the Aghori,” the CNN said in a tweet promoting the show.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) were among the organisations that protested. Democratic Congressman from California, Ro Khanna, also expressed his disappointment. “Aslan has free speech! But sad he has made a career of sensationalism over scholarship re: Christianity & Hinduism,” he said on twitter. Mr. Aslan’s works on Christianity have been found offensive by many Christian groups in America.
Shock religion porn: HAF chief
HAF leader Suhag Shukla termed the show “shock religion porn.” “What does it mean to live without fear? It means CNN and “experts” like @rezaaslan don’t engage in shock religion porn,” she said. “It will promote ignorance about Hindu traditions and promote ridicule of Hindu children in the schools. For example, a teacher has requested CNN on Facebook if the Hindu-related episode will be available for teaching ancient Indian history to her sixth grade class! … this will have wider Hinduphobic societal impact,” Ajay Shah, convener of AHAD said. At a time when racial prejudices may be increasing and violence targeting Indians is on the rise, such portrayal of Hinduism is unhelpful, these groups have said.
HAF and AHAD also argued that caste system was not a scripturally sanctioned part of Hinduism and accused Mr. Aslan of mirepresenting the community. The episode showed caste as part of the Hindu belief system and the Aghori sect as a rebellion against the notion of the purity-pollution binary that forms the basis of caste system. HAF representative Mat McDermott had met with Mr. Aslan and had a preview of the episode. An HAF statement said the show perpetrates stereotypes about Hinduism and Hindus. “There is the stereotyped image of a naked Aghori sadhu, drinking alcohol from a human skull, literally eating what is ostensibly human flesh, taking Reza on as his disciple, threatening to behead him if he talks any more, and then throwing his own freshly excreted urine at him, all on camera for viewers to see,” said an HAF statement.
'Will he make a film on Islam?'
Both organisations also wondered whether Mr. Aslan would make a similar film on Islam, the religion that he practices. The filmmaker, an Iranian American, told Mr. McDermott that he had to abandon the plan to shoot an episode on the Ashura festival in Pakistan as no insurer was willing to cover the crew. “If and when there’s a second series of Believer, Aslan assured that Islam would definitely be included,” the HAF statement said.