At a time when the Indian-American community in the US is seeking answers over the sudden spike in attacks on its members, Hindu Americans were left shocked by the extremely stereotypical portrayal of them in a latest CNN television series titled “Believer”.
The influential community has alleged that Reza Aslan’s six-episode Spiritual adventures series portray Hinduism in a negative light.
The first episode of the series featured the mystical sect of Aghoris, who live in seclusion on the eastern bank of the Ganga in Varanasi.
While most Indians, including many non-Hindus, understand and accept the Aghori way of life, the fact remains that Aghoris have been, almost always, portrayed in poor light by the western press.
However, given the trepidation being experienced by some sections of the Hindu American community in view of the alleged hate crimes, the airing of the series will add more to the misrepresentation of Hinduism, many Indian-Americans feel.
Eminent Indian-American Shalabh Kumar said, “this is a disgusting attack on Hinduism”.
Kumar tweeted: “Hinduism has been attacked because a large number of Hindu Americans supported Trump during the election campaign.” “I condemn @rezaaslan, CNN for airing Believer with fiction.
Disgusting attack on Hindus for supporting @POTUS @stephenkbannon @newtgingrich,” Kumar, also the founder of Republican Hindu Coalition and National Indian American Public Policy Institute said in a tweet.
A petition ‘Stop Reza Aslan’s Hateful Show Against Hinduism’ is also being circulated on change.org.
“With multiple reports of hate-fuelled attacks against people of Indian origin from across the US, the show characterises Hinduism as cannibalistic, which is a bizarre way of looking at the third largest religion in the world,” the statement read.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) said, “The episode focuses on the Aghori sect in Varanasi, India, whose sadhus deliberately appear and behave in ways alien to common Hindu practice, all in an effort to transcend dualities and realize spiritual oneness. Though renunciation is a key part of Hindu practice broadly speaking, Aghori babas are the epitome of spiritual occult and stand apart from other sadhus in most ways. The deeply mystical — sometimes revolting — practices of Aghoris, a sect comprising the smallest minority of Hindu sampradayas (spiritual traditions), has long invited the spotlight of foreign journalists. And too often, that spotlight has not been kind.”
“Religious literacy in the United States about Hinduism, as every Hindu American knows, is woefully inadequate. The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey of 2013 found that only 36% of Americans could answer a single question about Hinduism: Whether Shiva and Vishnu were deities associated with Hinduism. When the knowledge deficit is so stark, and minority communities are facing a rise in hate incidents across the US— a Hindu American was killed and Sikh American was shot in likely hate crimes in the past week — why would Aslan and CNN sensationalize the Aghoris as a primetime introduction to the faith of a billion Hindus, most of whom have never seen or met an Aghori?”
“And the initial promotional materials and trailers on CNN include the titillating, with a banner headline “CANNIBALS” to a revolting scene of a Sadhu flinging urine. But there is also a trailer that describes the spiritual significance of Aghori practice, core beliefs, and scenes of a tranquil school where children of all castes and creeds were being educated by practicing Hindus living the Hindu Aghori faith of loving, serving, and caring without discrimination.”
HAF’s Director of Communications, Mat McDermott, met personally met Aslan and raised the question of whether Believer would showcase an episode covering Aslan’s own faith, Islam. Aslan informed him that the producers originally intended to shoot an episode featuring the Ashura festival in Pakistan. Everything was scripted, scouted, and ready to go. But no one would insure the production to shoot — at least at a price that didn’t break the show’s budget. The episode was abandoned. If and when there’s a second series of Believer, Aslan assured that Islam would definitely be included, the HAF statement added.