Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

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Mar 7, 2017

THOUGHTS: Demonetization of Vedic Currency - PART II AGHORI On CNN Series 'Believer by Reza Aslan'

Here is a question...
What do you think are the reasons behind recent spurt of violence against Indians in USA?

In my opinion, there is an underlying current of the archaic worldview of India which is inciting the fringe groups and racist people to commit acts of violence against Indians. There are popular shows in USA that talk about religion, Hinduism and Ancient Vedic Customs, peppered by stereotypes like caste-ism, bizarre fakirs and their theatrics and, to top it all, now Cannibalism as well (Thanks to CNN's bizarre episode to demystify Hinduism in 'Believer'), which goes on to create ugly impressions of India and Indians across the world.

A Sadhu friend from an ashram in Varanasi
I know that there are some views in Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Smiriti etc. which is not acceptable in 21st Century by people of the modern world, including me but that does not mean that the Indian Culture and Vedic Heritage does not have anything to share and learn from. There are numerous ideas and thoughts within thousands of our ancient scriptures that are worth all our consideration. Not only there is a beauty in the language of those ancient manuscripts, which alone can change us into becoming a better human being but there are deep thought processes and philosophical discussion which can help mankind to become more inclusive and at peace with each other.

However, my issue is not with people who talk about Vedic Culture and Hinduism but with people who 'cherry pick' things from the ancient books and our cultural heritage and present a distorted world-view of India as country of savages, cannibals, fakir, snake charmers and abhorring caste-ist, who generally treat women as an objects of oppression.

Here is a thought experiment...
You have been approached by a prominent Electronic Media (read CNN) to curate and host a popular show on religious beliefs across the world and in one of the episodes, you are asked to go and shoot in India. What kind of belief system from India you will pick up to showcase?

If you are anything like Reza Aslan, (Who is Reza Aslan, you may ask and I will come to that later in this post) you will of course pick one of the most obscure, mysterious and abhorred (by mainstream Hindus) form of religious beliefs like Aghoris and go live 'on air' with CNN’s program ‘Believer with Reza Aslan’. And having done that, you will promptly jump on to  ‘Late Night show with Seth Meyers’ with a copy of the edited footage. Of course the footage that you have, is to show how immersive you have been within an obscure sect of Indian Cannibals and bring their 'way of life', out of obscurity. You will emphasize with the full force of your academic credential, that you went 'deep' within the secretive sect to get out the outrageous sound bytes of Aghori, who wanted to cut off your head and eat.

Well, few days ago, this actually happened. CNN aired a particularly controversial episode of 'Believer with Reza Aslan' despite many protests by Hindu Community leaders, Scholars, prominent TV Critics and even by a Congress Woman (some of them were not even Indians). Hindu American Foundation’s also voiced their protest against the show, by highlighting that the program devoted ‘copious footage to highlighting stereotypical and sensationalized presentation of Hinduism.' CNN program is latest addition to the narrative of Indian society as weird, theatrical and cannibalistic.

“Many of the groups and leaders featured here are so fringe that their bizarre philosophies and theatrics distract from Aslan's main mission -to demystify lesser understood faiths and find a commonality that makes us all believers in something." wrote LA Times reviewer Lorraine Ali. (TOI)

Tulsi Gabbard, elected to US Congress in 2012, condemned the episode on twitter as '...perpetuating bizzare and ugly impression of Hindus and their religion'...

"CNN on Sunday aired the first episode of a new series called “Believer” hosted by Reza Aslan. For this episode, Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism. Aslan and CNN didn't just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals—as if touring a zoo—but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma, and reincarnation that Hindus have been combating tirelessly.  CNN promotional materials and trailers that included a scene showing a group of Hindus under a caption “CANNIBALS,” perpetuated bizarre and ugly impressions of Hindus and their religion." - Tulsi Gabbard

And here is CNN Promo for the 'Believer' episode. 
(Please note the video contains graphic content)

Who is Reza Aslan?
Reza Aslan is professor of Creative Writing, who keeps on insisting that he is an expert in the field of religion. Though he claims (falsely) to have PhD in History of Religions, (He is PhD in Sociology from Univ of California - 2009) he mostly uses his master’s degree (MFA from Iowa -2002) in Fiction Writing when he talks or writes about religions he does not know or understand, specially Hinduism. Fictional writing comes easy to him as the only consistent academic position he has, is 'Professor of Creative Writing'. The interesting part of his qualification is the fact that he does not even know the problems facing his own community (Female Genital Mutilations, Terrorism etc.) and goes on to judge other religions based upon his false interpretations and biases. Though he keeps reminding viewers, in his various interviews, that he is an expert of religions, he clearly is not.  Click here to know 'Why Reza Aslan Can Not Be Trusted'  

For Fact check, clickDavid Pakman Show

What is wrong in the clip Seth Meyer has shown on the late night show with Reza Aslan?

Below is the full clip, edited part of which was shown in the Seth Meyers Late Night show. The host Seth Meyers was seen and heard, putting across his own distorted world view of Hinduism, with words like ‘Human Ashes’, ‘They All go like that?' etc. to which Reza Aslan magnanimously replied ‘They (the particular group of people in the clip) were more easier with their views’.  Reza claims that he does the show after immersing himself with the believers instead of just taking interviews. With this small snippet of a very small sect of Hinduism (probably less than 0.00001% of Indian Population) which most of the main stream Hindus abhor, Reza projects the Indian diversity (with its third largest Muslim population) as a culture of weird theatrics and cannibalism. He is showcasing a group of people as Aghoris who themselves vehemently deny to be Aghoris in the first place. 

See the whole footage below and my interpretation / translation of Hindi, spoken by the person along with what was given in the subtitles at Late Night show with Seth Meyer.

Reza: (Asking one of his team member, probably a local guide) Why are the people on the other side of the river are so afraid of Aghoris?

Person doing to certain practice around fire responds: Kya jinda ko kha jayein? Abhi chaho toh hum abhi (inaudible) karein. Lo toh hum apne hi maas ko kha ke dikhay. tab kehna Aghori.

SUBTITLES: Should we eat the living? Shall I show you by eating my own flesh? Then call me Aghori.
My Translation: (Do you think) that we should eat the living? If you want now, I will right now (inaudible) do. Look here, shall I show you eating my own flesh? (When I do that i.e. eat flesh) then you should call me Aghori.

Reza: I see. Why.. Why (probably trying to repeat his previous question - why people are afraid of Aghori’s)??

Person: (Getting angree) Aghori ki Ma **** Ab jyada bola toh tohar garden hi kaat ke kha-oonga.

SUBTITLES: I will cut off your head if you keep talking so much.
My Translation: (Angered by Reza’s repeated question that people are afraid of Aghoris and probably the person was trying to tell Reza that they are not Aghoris, who Reza believes them to be, breaks out in abuses) I will **** Aghori’s Mother. Now if you talk more then I will cut your neck and eat it.
Basically, the person was not going to literally eat Reza's head, but was trying to fend off his irritating question about the fear of Aghoris, which the person did not like as he was not but this is not what comes out in the Show. What the show and Reza Aslan has projected with this clip, is how weird and skewed Hindu Religion is. This adverse narrative is based on a lie, wrong translation and misunderstanding.

With one of Sadhu in Rishikesh
And this is the kind of projection i.e 'weird Indian society and Indians', is neither new nor a rare occurrence. It is happening across the world. The powerful media groups, scholars with vested interests (who believe 'Hindu bashing' will get them appointments and lucrative posts in academia) are continuously creating distorted 'world view' of Indian philosophy, religion and its people. These experts of Religions go on popular shows, showing off their ‘in-depth’ study of weirdness that is spread across the horrible, caste based, archaic society of India. 

What deeply troubles me is that the phenomenon is not exclusive to Western world but there are many in India as well who belittle the beauty of our language and depths of our ancient Indian Heritage and Vedic culture. There are Indian writers, Media houses, Journalists etc. who provide a misconstrued and skewed view of Hinduism to who ever listen to them as they have their own agenda, vested interest in creating a negative narrative about India, Indians and Hinduism.

This kind of narrative has to be challenged and I believe this course correction has to come from all of us Indians.

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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