Sunday 16th June 2024,
HHR News

HHR Letter to British Museum over racially offensive and culturally insensitive exhibition on Hinduism

HHR Letter to British Museum over racially offensive and culturally insensitive exhibition on Hinduism

To the British Museum,

The British Museum is treasure trove and educational centre of international repute. Daily, visitors stream into its environs to marvel at relics, some dating back millennia. Without a doubt the reputation which the institution has is justly deserved. After all, there are few such places where one could find such a diversity and variety of what the human mind has created and left for future generations to marvel at.

‘Diversity’. A much vaunted word which demonstrates inclusion of all, and exclusion of none. Though often decried as a place where the artifacts and sacred icons of indigenous people throughout the world were looted and stolen by their colonial masters, nevertheless it was the hard work of archaeologists and other scholars which in many ways gave these former colonial subjects a better understanding of their own history. One could therefore look at this more positively and say that at least this allows present and future generations the benefit of understanding other peoples and cultures with respect. The Museum’s very own diversity policy states here


The British Museum values and respects the diversity of its collections, its audiences and its staff and is committed to making its collections and services available to the full range of audiences, respecting their diversity.


acting in accordance with the legislation and codes of practice which relate to the diversity and equality of its audiences and staff.

As well as:

taking account of the views of its audiences and staff to develop and implement the diversity and equality schemes** and procedures which will help it achieve its objectives.

Your own website states:

The British Museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a three year funding agreement. Its aim is to hold for the benefit and education of humanity a collection representative of world cultures and to ensure that the collection is housed in safety, conserved, curated, researched and exhibited.

It is therefore of great concern that the Hindu Human Rights Group has found that this policy is being openly flouted at least in respect of one community. In the display of India art there is a section entitled “Hinduism and Indian Society”. Here emphasis is given to the Aryan invasion of India. Not only did no such invasion take place, but the use of such racial mythology goes against the very policy of diversity which the museum purports to be in harmony with. It recalls a dark period in human history when civilisation was said to be the preserve and creation of superior whites, the ‘Aryan’ race. For this reason they could not stomach that Indian civilisation and culture were unique and much older than the roots of what is now amorphously termed ‘western’ civilisation.

It was the same nineteenth century race pseudo-science which led to denials that the Mashona people of Africa had built the structures known as Great Zimbabwe. ‘Aryan’ was of course the term favoured by Hitler and it is no coincidence that he employed the same racial ideas which the museum now openly and brazenly broadcasts with its section on Indian history: that lighter skinned invaders conquered and lorded it over the native masses. The British Museum display leaves the reader with no ambiguity that this refers to the caste system. Not only is there no such evidence of this Aryan invasion but all premodern societies were (and remain) inegalitarian. The use of a racist invasion idea smacks of the same outdated and offensive race science which employed by the Third Reich condemned African art and jazz music as products of a racially inferior people

Yet if this was not enough Hindu culture is insulted even further with yet more inaccuracies which reflect Victorian racial science such as found in the eugenics of Francis Galton and Rudyard Kipling’s notorious ‘The White Man’s Burden’ which saw the ‘darkies’ as half child and half monkey. Your own display calls the Shivalinga the ‘male sexual organ’. The linga is the symbol of the universal power, the cosmic masculine force or the Shiva principle. As such It has many forms in nature. In the Sanskrit language, the word linga refers to a ‘chief mark’ or ‘characteristic’ of something. As a term, it is not per se a synonym for the male sexual organ, as some would believe. Linga indicates what is outstanding and determinative. In this regard, the male sexual organ can be said to be the distinguishing characteristic or linga of a man at a physical level, but linga in other contexts can have quite a different meaning.

For example, in Yoga philosophy, the term linga refers to the subtle body, which is the dominant principle in our nature over the physical body. The Shiva linga is also the subtle body and can indicate the upper region from the heart to the head. The linga is a place where energy is held, generated and sustained. The experience of the Shiva linga in Yogic meditation is an experience of a pillar of light, energy, peace and eternity, expanding the mind, opening the inner eye and bringing deep peace and steadiness to the heart. From it radiate waves, currents, circles and whirlpools of Shakti spreading this grace, love and wisdom to all. To concentrate our awareness in the linga is one of the best ways of meditation, calming the mind and putting us in touch with our inner Being and Witness beyond all the agitation and sorrow of the world. Therefore the British Museum’s cheap, nasty and culturally imperialist use of ‘sexual reductionism’ misses the deeper and broader sensitivities and inspirations that people have.

It is for this reason that HHR asks the British Museum to respectfully correct these inaccuracies and misconceptions which unfortunately portrays Hindu culture, beliefs and civilisation in manner which would be more befitting to the methods in which the Nazis portrayed jazz music. Perhaps this was not the intention. Nevertheless it demonstrates that even in what we would think of as a more enlightened age, old colonialist style racism, prejudice, and cultural misunderstanding not only exists, but thrives.

 Your Sincerely
 Hindu Human Rights

Photos of Exhibits at British Museum ( courtesy Karishma R )