Hinduism and the Hindu community are going through rough times in the USA. Not that they were very great for them any time before, but all of a sudden things have changed and changed for the worse. When it came to the depiction of Hinduism in Academia and media and perception of Hindus in general, things have nosedived in the past few weeks. The sense of security, at least in the physical space seems to be waning and as news of assault on one Hindu after other comes in.
Last weekend, on a calm spring Sunday, the weekend almost over, many Hindus anxiously tuned their TV sets to CNN to watch the first of a six part series called “Believer” presented by Reza Aslan. What played out on the first part of this series exploring “Aghoris” a set of ascetics in Hinduism left almost all of the Hindus watching the episode stunned beyond belief. There were protests preceding the telecast of this show. Hindu American Foundation made CNN & Reza Aslan aware of the objections. But despite these objections and offense which this episode might cause to the adherents of Hinduism, CNN went ahead and broadcast the show. But the absolute ignorance and repulsive content of this show was not the only reason that left Hindus aghast.
About two weeks earlier on February 22nd, at a bar in Olathe, KS Adam Purinton shot Mr. Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Mr. Alok Madasani leaving Mr. Kuchibhotla dead. Apparently, Mr. Purinton, had asked the immigration status of the victims before shooting them. Mr. Purinton later confessed to a waiter in an Appleby’s about 70 miles away that he needed a place to hide, since he had shot what he thought were two “middle-eastern” men. The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime. Apart from the white supremacist bigotry, which may have been one of the motives, another chilling motive could be Mr. Purinton‘s hatred for middle-eastern people by extension Muslims. The inability of Americans to distinguish between Muslims and Hindus is a huge cause for concern among Hindus in the US. ThiHindus more or less share the same skin tone with middle-easterners and their languages are equally strange to most Americans. Thus being victims of mistaken identity is raising the levels of anxiety among Hindus.
In these tumultuous times, when the whole American Hindu community is grappling with fear, came Reza Aslan’s rather pernicious documentary about Aghoris. In a country where only 36% of Americans could answer a single question about Hinduism, such repugnant portrayals made matters even worse. With such a vast knowledge gap about Hindus and Hinduism in the US, these sort of documentaries only help in creating an ugly stereotype of Hindu community. That at a time when Hindus are already reeling under fear for their safety. These incidents clearly reflect that, prejudices and ignorance about Hindus are abundant and need to be tackled firmly. It is these prejudices, which lead people like Adam Purinton to shoot two peaceful Hindus mistaking them to be Middle Eastern and ignorance like Mr. Aslans which led him to showcase Aghoris specifically as a representation of Hinduism.