Hindu Human Rights Group (HHR) was officially formed in early 2000 to highlight cases of persecution and defamation of Hindus and Hinduism around the globe. In 2001, reports were pouring in from Afghanistan that the Taliban Regime had issued orders that all Hindus should wear Yellow Armbands and carry ID cards so that they could be “easily identified” in public.
One would’ve thought that at the dawn of the second millennium if somebody was forcing someone else to identify themselves in public simply so they could be targeted for persecution the world would notice, given that we’re aware of what happened last time we allowed such a thing to happen.
The world didn’t… major newspapers didn’t cover it, TV channels didn’t broadcast it, human rights groups didn’t highlight it, governments didn’t condemn it. Unfortunately our governments and media outlets in the West, sitting in our ivory towers, didn’t act until we ourselves got a taste of the horror that had gripped the Hindus in Afghanistan.
2001 also saw the worsening of the plight of the indigenous Hindu minority in Bangladesh with the rise to power of the BNP (Bangladesh National Party) and the extremist Islamic elements, many of these groups openly calling for the “Talibanisation” of population – their first act of achieving that goal being the extermination of what remains of the indigenous Hindu people.
1971 had seen the one of the worst genocides in the post-WWII era. According to some estimates, up to 2.4 million Hindus were massacred. Yet again the media remained silent and our government apathetic.
We have called for protest demonstrations both outside the Bangladesh High Commission and 10 Downing Street, held lectures and seminars, conducted several interviews, and written many letter and met even more public official and personalities to address the persecution of Hindus in that country. Have things changed? No…those children and women getting raped for the crime of being Hindu, those families being driven out of their ancestral house and country for being Hindu…nothing has changed for them.
But at least the world is starting to notice, if not yet speak up against it. Few other human rights groups have also occasionally mentioned it.
This It wasn’t surprising that the journalists of SAVVY magazine in India were bombarded with calls from horrified and shocked readers when they conducted a phone-in covering the issue. These people in India didn’t even know what was happening to the Hindus right across their border in Bangladesh.Ignorance is not completely surprising given the track record of the Indian Government in deliberately failing to protect the human rights of Hindus not just in its neighboring countries but also within its own borders.
Foreign funded terrorists have been rampaging in Jammu & Kashmir, and the states of the North Eastern states of India. Integral to their strategy is the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu population.
Despite the attitude of apathy among the ranks of the Indian Government, we have protested outside the Indian embassy, appealed and continue to appeal to the Indian government to stamp out the ethnic cleansing of Hindus within its own border at least and from Hindus are being massacred and becoming refugees in their own country.
Western Media’s subconscious colonial racism
Besides these cases of persecution of Hindus around the world, another worrying incident came to light – Hindu-Bashing in the British media and in particular by The Independent Newspaper, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and above all the Guardian. The Independent shamelessly declared that “The Myth of Ram’s Temple Gives a License to Kill” while the BBC held a poll on its website to decide whether Hindus should be allowed to build a monument to Lord Ram. When referring to events in India, the media had taken it upon itself to label Hindus as “fascist”, “ultra-nationalist” and “right-wing” building up an image of the barbaric natives of Skull Island in Peter Jackson’s King Kong.
However, in Britain, it is these same followers of “the Mythical Ram” who have had the lowest crime rate, have been the best academic achievers, have been the lowest level of ethnic unemployment and are most integrated community. In fact, it was ironic that the very newspapers that incited hatred of Hindu culture and Hindu people actually rely on this same community to sell their papers. In the West we are proud of the freedom of the press. However, it is important to recognize that with this freedom came responsibilities, not freedom of abuse. In this context, it is worth noting that the Nazi media machine made anti-Semitism into a social norm.
Protest demonstrations were called against such spurious journalism and abuse of the freedom of speech outside the Independent House and the BBC Television Centre. As yet neither media outlet have surpassed the Guardian which actively excludes Hindu perspectives unless they conform to an editorial substandard which fits in nicely with prejudiced and insulting views reminiscent of Victorian Orientalism.
The Guardian has been consistent in ignoring HHR’s protests of its openly double standards which treats Hindus and their culture as objects of unambiguous contempt while allowing all other views: from hardcore atheism, Islamic groups and extreme right-wing Christian missionary fundamentalist outfits which use hard-sell vacuum-cleaner sales techniques to force their laughable views down the throats of unwilling victims. Of all the media outlets the Guardian has been in the forefront of anti-Hindu ‘media pogroms’. One merely has to jump on the bandwagon of Hindu-hating to get a privileged platform from the Guardian newspaper.
Abuse of sacred Hindu imagery
Yet another aspect of the Hindu-Bashing is the continual abuse of Hindu imagery and iconography. Hinduism has a rich tradition of sacred art, with a massive array of iconography and imagery and companies, commercial ventures, public personalities and other individuals are quick to plunder Hindu culture for cheap commercial and sensationalist gains. However, when Hindus who generate and nourish that culture are persecuted in parts of the world, we find nothing but apathy from same companies and individuals.
On many occasions, Hindu imagery has been used in ways that are exploitive and plainly offensive. Images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses have been used to adorn shoes, toilet seats, underwear, tissue papers and what not. On a casual glance these might seem like insignificant controversy relative to the atrocities and genocidal attacks on Hindus around the world which escape mention in the mainstream media. However these attacks are often preceded by a long and sustained campaign of vilification in the media creating a fear/hate psychosis that encourages people to commit such horrendous atrocities. Defamation leads to persecution.
One of the many such issues that we have highlighted over the years was the intended film project “The Goddess” by Ismail Merchant which was to be based upon the Hindu goddess Kali/Shakti Ma and to be played by kali.
According to media reports Kali Ma, who is worshiped by a billion Hindus around the world was to be turned into a musical joke in the film, “dancing and singing atop of a tiger”. Thus fearing yet another offensive portrayal of the Hindu deity, who has been much maligned in the Western world and the denigration of Hinduism, we objected to the film and requested this project to be shelved. How did Merchant react? Something along the lines of Ali G “Is it cos she’s black”. Hello…Kali herself is black! You’d think that someone who grew up in India, the land of the famous Dakshineswar Kali temple would have more knowledge of and respect for Hinduism. The famous filmmaker had sought not to understand the protest to his motion picture and instead chose to sidestep the issue and deny that the existing opposition had any legitimacy whatsoever.
After a while reports of the intended project stopped coming until we learned (through media reports that is) that Ismail Merchant had passed away suddenly. Now I know what you crazy conspiracy theorists are thinking. No it wasn’t us and we were indeed much saddened by his death. It has always been our belief that most the incidences of denigration of Hinduism in the West are caused by ignorance and misunderstanding of Hinduism and Hindu culture. As such we aim to educate people about
Hinduism and Hindu concerns so they would be able to understand themselves why people should protest when Hindu religion and culture was denigrated and how these issues related to the persecution and ongoing genocide of Hindus around the world. So had been our objective with Ismail merchant…and so had been our objective when Italian designer Roberto Cavalli brought out women’s underwear/swimwear with Hindu deities emblazoned on them.
A friend, who had gone into Harrods (apparently to have the privilege of using the toilets) noticed a mannequin wearing the said undergarments and immediately sent us a photograph taken with the then latest innovation of camera phones. We immediately issued a press release and wrote letters asking both Roberto Cavalli and Mohammed Al- Fayed to immediately withdraw such items from sale and display from boutiques around the world and other outlets in London such as Harrods so as to minimize the sense of indignation and humiliation felt by the Hindu community……
This became world news overnight; we woke up to the frenzied phone calls and piles of emails from the both the media and concerned Hindus alike. Harrods immediately apologized for the distress removed the item from sale. Roberto Cavalli too followed suit, although stating that the undergarments/bikinis were produced to “celebrate Hindu culture” and that “Roberto Cavalli and his design team travel to India regularly and adore its culture, history and people”. Noting that in spite of their regular visits to India Roberto Cavalli and his design teams had failed to notice that Hindus did not have a habit of displaying their deities on underwear and then showing these off in public, we asked to meet Roberto Cavalli to inform him about Hindus and Hinduism.
After an initial dismissive response from Roberto Cavalli’s PR firm, Purple (who referred to the garments as “Hindu bikinis”(whatever that means), Roberto Cavalli’s daughter Kristina Cavalli eventually came down from Italy and met us in Bombay Brassiere in London and herself admitted that despite all their love for Hindu iconography and visits to India, they were ignorant of the ongoing persecution in Hindus and also of the profundity of Hindu philosophy and thought (the fault for this lies as much on side of the Indians who had failed to educate them of this).
After our conversation she assured us that she’d immediately oversee the withdrawal of the said undergarment as understood our concerns and even made a donation to help Hindu charities.
There have been many such similar incidences where those concerned respected and understood the issues involved such as a Belgian bus company using images of Lord Shiva Shiva for advertising, Monarch beverages again using image of Lord Shiva to sell their energy drink, a gift-shop in Windsor selling sniff tissues with Lord Rama printed on them etc, Lacey footwear printing OM on slippers.( all removed after HHR pressure)
However the resolution to one of our next campaigns was not to be so amicable. Some genius at the French shoes company Minelli came up with the idea of selling shoes with Lord Rama’s image on them. Just for your information, contrary to what has been suggested we are NOT anti-footwear, just against Hindu Divinities being emblazoned on them. We repeatedly tried to contact them, both via mail and telephone, to convey our concerns. Eventually failing to resolve the issue through any other method, we had to call a protest outside the French embassy.
Several thousand Hindus from around the country assembled on a Sunday morning of May 2005 to show their disgust at Lord Rama being abused this way.
Following our massive protest Minelli issued an apology and sent us their entire stock of the shoes to dispose of in however manner we deemed appropriate. So there we were. Stuck with that many boxes of shoes. So we put it forward to the Hindu community on how to dispose of the shoes in an appropriate manner after our friends laboured for hours peeling the images off the shoes. The issue was covered by a leading newspaper in France and later run on BBC 1 and BBC 2 programs on the issue.
Right after Hindu Human Rights highlighted the issue of yet another commercial organisation, this time Southern Comfort, using the image of Mother Durga to sell their alcohol, Asia House gallery in London and their sponsor Hitachi decided to “promote art” by exhibiting paintings by an Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain which included those of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in sexual poses, engaged in acts of BESTIALITY! Draupadi, the symbol of virtue and modesty stripped naked and Goddess Durga whom many Hindus regard as their Mother engaged in sexual act with her lion…and for some reason (deliberate or Freudian, we don’t know) this is the painting amongst all the other that Asia House gallery chose on their leaflet to advertise the exhibition.
We called them to voice our concerns. They didn’t return our calls. We wrote to them. They didn’t reply. It said on their website that their objective is “promoting a greater understanding of the rich and varied Asian cultures and economies”. We wondered how they aimed to do this when they weren’t even willing to listen to those who belong to that culture.
As such we called for all Hindus and non-Hindus concerned about the growing culture of Hindu-bashing in the corporate and commercial world to join us outside the Asia House Gallery to register their protest after Asia House Gallery had refused to even address our concerns. However the protest outside Asia House was cancelled in response to a communication we had from Asia House (via email) that they had cancelled the exhibition of M. F. Husain’s paintings showing obscene images of Hindu Goddesses. But just so you know, they cancelled the exhibition for “security reasons”.
As yet they have offered no apology to the Hindu community nor shown that they have taken the wider issues surrounding our campaign into account, which is that Hinduism is pro-art and we had no problem with the exhibition in general; we only wanted them to reconsider displaying the two paintings.
But that wasn’t it. Some irresponsible individuals were to blow this incidence even more out of proportion. Ever heard of Professor Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai of St. Clement’s. The guy with the Don King haircut! He wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper making accusations against Hindu Human Rights and Hindus in general of exactly what we have emphatically denied all along.
This was followed by another letter in the Observer by writer Nick Cohen making similar accusation. Replies to both these letter were sent personally to both these individuals and also to the respective newspapers (the Guardian printed HHR’s reply to Meghnad Desai). In the British and Hindu traditions of open debate, a challenge was also issued to both Lord Desai and Nick Cohen to a publicly debate us on all the points they had raised and to prove that they were not a cowards hiding behind the media and their masks of respectability but actually had the intellectual arguments and proof to back up their dated and “imported” views and their unfounded and false accusations. Failing this (which surprise, surprise they did), we invited them to publicly apologise and withdraw their attack on our group which itself is an attack on our freedom of speech as well as being a completely uninformed rant of a supposedly respected academic. Our invitation stays open!
The Next Chapter
In the meantime horrific reports of human rights violations were pouring in from Pakistan. Unbelievable as it may seem, Hindus still exist in Pakistan, numbering over 2.5 million. The largest Hindu population is in the Sindh province, but there are Hindu communities dotted all over Pakistan.
They suffer constant threats against their security, property and lives. Hindus in Pakistan have to live a very low profile existence, and have to put up with many insults to their honor and dignity, with no legal safeguards. They authorities in the country rarely intervene to help Hindus, and often make matters worse.
There are regular reports of kidnapping of Hindu women and children, looting of Hindu property, and other forms of discrimination, persecution and dehumanization. We have campaigned and protested outside the Pakistani embassy first in 2005 to highlight these issues, most recently on Saturday 6 May 2012. HHR has also joined in protests by Christian, Jewish, Baluchi and reformist Muslim groups in protesting the dire situation faced by religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan.
Dealing with Christian Right Wing Extremists
During the first decade of the twenty-first century hardcore extreme right-wing fundamentalist outfit Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and allied so-called Dalit organisations decided that pandering to anti-Hindu prejudice would get them the same fame and exposure as haranguing African-Americans did for America’s southern politicians like George Wallace. This was the old canard of caste which was held to be a form of racism, apartheid and modern slavery.
Over several years HHR undertook covert operations to reveal the ugly truth behind these schemes had nothing to do with human rights of the most deprived in Hindu society. Instead they had everything to do with forcing outdated beliefs on millions of poverty stricken people in the Third World and even more to raise money from gullible useful idiots who could be relied upon to fill the coffers of a swaggering elite who were clearly incapable of getting a decent job and actually giving a useful input to the very British society they are so keen to leech off. No surprise that such organisations are not keen to engage with Hindus within the accepted democratic framework.
HHR has consistently been refused an open platform with groups such as CSW, Dalit Solidarity Network and Castewatch. These groups, so keen to discuss caste, suddenly made themselves scarce when HHR had its own event on the caste system in 2009.
HHR’s courageous, consistent and uncompromising campaign to expose the use of caste as just another anti-Hindu ploy has shown what can be achieved with resolve and determination. The hardcore right-wing Christian extremist CSW is now less keen to highlight the issue as this would expose the true nature of inherent anti-Hindu prejudice.
We have also voiced our protest against attacks by Christian extremists on those practicing indigenous Pagan religions of the British Isles. This is one area where despite the uphill struggle HHR is determined to liberate pagan beliefs from the shackles which monotheism has placed on them for the last two thousand years. As we enter a new era of spirituality it is
Hinduism as the almost sole surviving pagan belief system which can help others throughout the globe reconnect to Mother Earth and the cosmos in order to rediscover their ancient beliefs.
But for Now the Journey continues for Hindu Human Rights…