I have been uncertain what to say about this situation. If you aren’t inundated with information about this like I am, CNN just came out with an episode of their show Believers in which Reza Aslan (an expert on Islam and Christianity) showcases various unusual beliefs around the world that featured a very unusual aspect of Hinduism.
He visited Hindus called Aghori who practice some very strange things having to do with death including cannibalism.
So of course this show is about sensationalism and strange, exotic, unusual things. They’re looking for views and they want to say, “Wow, how strange is this?”
A lot of mainstream Hindus are very concerned that this is airing to a big audience of people who know absolutely nothing about Hinduism. Even though it’s only showing a small sect of Hindus, it might be the only thing someone hears about Hindus. A big concern is that Hindu children in the west might be ridiculed for assumptions about their beliefs and practices.
I’ve been asked to boycott CNN and sign petitions to ban the show. And I do not feel comfortable doing that. I am very uncomfortable with censorship.
But I do think it is in very poor taste to come out with a show like this at a time when Hindus’ lives are in danger because so little is known about us that we are frequently mistaken for Muslims. Americans need to know more about Hinduism, but to start with the very strangest aspects is an upsetting decision.
Unfortunately all this fuss and anger is basically free publicity and letting way more people know about this show than would have before. So CNN has no incentive not to do this.
One of my white American friends on Facebook shared an article about the controversy that was basically making fun of Hindus for being all worked up about a show. And I was surprised because he’s someone who is usually all about social justice, caring for others, preventing offense, etc. When I told him my concerns about it he said, “But it’s really clear this is only a small group.”
To which I replied, “Don’t worry, scared white Americans, not all Hindus are cannibals.”
I think that got through to him.
What I think we should do about this situation and others like it is to be a louder voice. Not to tell people not to like something or not to watch something, but to talk about mainstream Hinduism louder than others are talking about weird parts. I think focusing on taking a positive step is more effective than framing the negative. In other words, saying “look at this cool thing” is better than “stop looking at that person’s thing.”
I think we need to flood the West with information and stories about Hinduism and all its beautiful variety.
Make our own shows, pitch tv stations, write articles…be a voice to share what Hinduism is really about to the people who right now know nothing about it and are ready to learn.