At a time, when Varanasi became cynosure of Indian media for the high-decibel political activity, right across the globe a tendentious attempt was made to create “Hinduphobia” under the ruse of unravelling the spiritually vibrant Banaras city. The obnoxious portrayal of Varanasi, the “City of Light” as the “City of Death” by Islamist Scholar, Reza Aslan, in a six-episode Spiritual Adventure series, Believer elicited sharp responses from the Hindu community. Broadcast on CNN, the articulate anchor who wouldn’t take an iota of criticism on Islam had tarnished the reverberating Spiritual iconoclastic civilizational values of India. The episode which aired grotesque images of corpses depicted the Aghori cult of Hindu believers in a poor light. The attempt to portray random brown bearded men as people practicing cannibalism at the height of racial crimes in US is abominable. The brutal misinterpretation of the sanctity of the river Ganges and a reckless assault on the faith of millions of people is indeed callous.
In the last few weeks, Indians in US have become victims of racial discrimination. This insidious misrepresentation of the third largest religion in the World will not augur well for Indian Americans who are already facing the heat of the anti-immigration. For decades, India Americans are known for their invaluable contributions to American society and are widely reckoned for their peaceful coexistence. While Reza Aslan and CNN had the temerity to grossly distort the sanctity of the scared city of Varanasi could they ever dare say a word against Mecca or Jerusalem?
Post 9/11 to defuse Islamophobia, Aslan passionately argued that Islamism and Jihadism were different. Further he tried to impress that Al-Qaeda was waging a cosmic war with the West. He expounded that Cosmic war “is a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in heavens”. He even prescribes that “Cosmic war is not to fight, but rather to engage moderate Islamic political forces in the democratic process”. Hence, he tones down the necessity of waging a war on terrorism. [With this he had necessarily evaded from condemned the brutal beheadings and inhuman atrocities committed by IS against minorities and specifically Yazidi women]. In fact, Washington Post, commends his thought process saying that it “offers a very persuasive argument for the best way to counter jihadism”. The New Yorker too applauded his interpretation. Reza thus had a phenomenal success in allaying fears of Islamism at least in intellectual circles. By why on earth should CNN and Reza stoke fears among Americans with dehumanized portrayal of a fringe mystic Hindu group?
Indian Americans have earned a distinct repute for making outstanding achievements and are among the top tier of the American society still why do channels like CNN relentlessly endeavor to portray India as land of snake charmers? Why this cynical obsession of offensive portrayal of India? This disdainful representation can’t be simply ignored since the Western media has an extensive outreach and penetration through which it can make or break narratives. At this juncture, it might perhaps be important to draw lessons as how the western media functions and how Hindus must learn to handle the gross misinterpretations of Hinduism. In the controversial California text books case, an attempt was made to replace “Hindu” and “India” with “South Asia” amounting to erasing and diminishing the significance of India. It could have been a brazen obliteration of India from the historical precincts. Due to the stellar efforts of the Hindu-American organizations, a literary battle was waged. The honors were equally divided with some of the corrections recommended by Hindu groups reinstated and some historical aberrations corrected. But still there were some discrepancies in the interpretation of Hinduism and India. Indeed, this was one of literary battles waged by the Indologists in Contemporary times who managed to win it partially. The battle of narratives between the Left-Liberals versus the “Hindutva forces” or “Conservatives”, has brought to fore the absence of authoritarians on Hindu intellectuals. Despite being one of the oldest religions, India grievously lacks the intellectual firepower or a battalion of scholars who can defend santana dharma on any platform.
Religion in modern times is judged by the Abrahamic axioms that basically deals with faith in God and mandates the followers to religiously abide by the principles outlined in a holy scripture. But Hinduism unlike the modern religions is more about seeking and urges the seeker to look within to realize the “Brahman”. Interestingly, the all-encompassing Hinduism is so flexible and amenable that it exhorts believers of the faith to pursue different ways to seek salvation. While the beginners are initiated into the religion through simple rituals, ardent seekers inclined to ascend higher realms of spirituality are persuaded to enter the next level. Religious leaders or Gurus emphasize on Sadhana or meditation for the enthusiasts. Resplendent Hinduism is thus an ocean of knowledge which can’t be judged by preset boundaries or narrow definitions. To defend this iconic religion a person must take a plunge into the treasure troves. Unfortunately, despite inheriting this enviable treasure troves, successive Indian leadership failed to promote the Indic narratives. Interestingly, there are distinguished chairs and study centers for various religions in India in top-tier universities, but no dedicated center for Hinduism. Ancient scriptures, invaluable literature receives scant attention. While there will be a spurt in outrage when Hinduism is mocked at, India critically falls short of the intellectual arsenal to give a befitting reply. Even now Sanskrit, mother of all languages and the only medium to unravel ancient scriptures is derided. Though the offensive attacks on the religion can be combatted with intellectual might, the rabid misinterpretation can stop altogether if India aspires to become a developed country-economically and militarily strong.