Hindu Human Rights have recently been flooded with verbal, written and electronic complaints about the portrayal of Hindus, and Hindu women in particular, in the British and Western media. While complaints are quite common, what makes the current sense of outrage peculiar is that the vast majority of complaints we have received are from Hindu women born and brought up the West. We asked our researchers to compile a top ten.
The BBC has made it to the top of the complaints charts with their new entry straight in at number one: Meera Syal’s much vaunted “Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee” once again shows their inability to provide a positive portrayal of Hindus in Britain. Containing a series of cheap and insulting digs at Hindus, this programme continues the tradition of the Western media’s denigration of Hinduism and Hindu culture.
In addition to the ridiculing of the Hindu religion, there is the worrying aspect of how this program reinforces deeply ingrained stereotypes about Hindus. Starting off with a stereotypically scene of “progressive Hindu woman” b
eing sexually fondled and who’s character later insults a much esteemed Hindu deity. We also wonder why was goddess Kali Mata, revered by millions, is represented as being equivalent to evil in this programme? What was the point of the remark about Sita if you cannot be bothered to actually give an accurate account of its Dharmic significance?
The message in these types of drama is that if a Hindu woman wants to get on and be accepted in this society then she has to jettison any overt or covert Hindu characteristics or traits. The woman shown as abiding by Hindu customs is depicted as idiotic, naïve, suppressed, stupid and easily fooled by her blonde-chasing husband and of course is given an Indian accent (even though her character is also born and brought up in the West). We do not deny that there are problems in British Hindu society but then every society has their fair share of problems and yet how is it that the only “Asian” community portrayed in the Western media with such problems is the Hindu community? It doesn’t take a huge leap to work out the implications of the message to Hindus: That your Hindu culture and heritage is not good enough for this society and the rest of the world. Strangely enough this resonates with the message given to the Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan where they face extreme persecution.
Previous number one and next on our charts is Channel 4’s “No Angels” featuring the nurse “Anji” played by Sunetra Sarker portraying the usual character of the sexually loose Hindu woman. We quote one of the emails sent to us: “are they are trying to say she’s ‘progressive’? The only thing progressive about her is the way she progresses into every man’s bed in the hospital”! Indeed Channel 4 are past masters in this particular “art”: Sunetra Sarker in one time hit soap “Brookside”, played nurse Nisha Batra. Again a Hindu woman is shown to be sexually easy going. Is it a coincidence that women from the same ethnic group are shown to be modern by being promiscuous, and the new face of Hindu womanhood?
Not only does this belittle the achievements of the many successful Hindu women in the UK, who have excelled in every field (and who are not only in touch with their culture but have found it to be a source of inspiration), but adds fuel to current wave of hate crimes against women across society that we are seeing in this country. Is it any coincidence that we receive reports of Hindu girls getting taunted and harassed in the street by men and told that they are expected to behave like and be as easy as “Anji”, “Tania” and “Nisha”? We ask, why are only Hindu women characters picked to portray “Asian” females as promiscuous?
Perhaps the underlying problem is with the Western entertainment industry’s current attempts at political correctness. In a desperate bid to win over minority communities, the BBC and others have whole departments dealing with entertainment output for minority groups including, for example, their own radio stations. However, promoting the first Indian person with a Hindu-sounding name as somehow representative of the Hindu community as a whole shows how far out of touch the media has become. For example, ITV’s first appearance on our chart is their hit soap “Coronation Street” where the character Sunita played by Shobna Gulati, is attacked by a jealous woman in rivalry over the same man. The dysfunctional “Asians” again happen to be Hindus and the weapon used just happened to be the statue of a Hindu deity. When the Hindu community expressed their outrage at this, ITV were dismissive in their response. This episode (excuse the pun) raises a number of questions. Why did the Indians with Hindu-sounding names who acted these roles themselves not raise questions about the script to the producers? Perhaps they are just happy for any work they can get and feared losing their careers if they attempted to raise an issue against the anti-Hindu media machine in which case we would hope they contact us at Hindu Human Rights to fight for their right to be treated equally. However, it is more likely that it simply did not occur to these actors that such a scene is offensive and objectionable to Hindus. This illustrates the point that having an Indian face does not make someone into an authentic role model for the rest of the community and nor does it promote healthy community relations. The fact is that the majority of these actors who have only ever played such roles are not much liked in the community anyway.
A healthy pluralistic society is based on an exchange of ideas between its constituent communities. This cannot take the form of degrading one community by abusing its sacred symbols, caricaturing its beliefs and rituals, degrading its men and portraying its women as sexual objects. Obviously this is not going to bring communities together – if it could then perhaps the UN should be employing the services of the porn industry in order to achieve World Peace!
Before we are accused of being anti-Art, it is worth noting at this point that Hinduism is and always has been pro-Art. Where else can we find the expression and devotion to the spiritual and temporal that we find expressed in Hindu literature, poetry, paintings, dance, music, sculpture, drama, symbols, spiritual epics, architecture, costumes, jewellery … the list goes on. However, when we see that same Hindu imagery and symbolism ordaining toilet seats, bikinis, shoes, etc., then it is no surprise that our next chart topper, ITV’s “Footballer’s Wives”, they have cast an Indian character owning a pet dog called “Krishna”. Lord Krishna is of course revered by millions of Hindus for having revealed one of Hinduism’s most famous scriptures, the Bhagvad Gita. It’s strange how “Artistic Licence” seems to stop with Hinduism.
Just like Top of the Pops, the Western entertainment industry is churning out the same old manufactured rubbish over and over again when it comes to Hindus. So it should come as no surprise to see old chart-toppers like BBC1’s “Eastenders” (featuring a dysfunctional “Asian” family with what sounds like a Portuguese Catholic surname of “Ferreira” but have Hindu gods prominently displayed in the family home and of course the characters are mostly played by Indian actors with Hindu sounding names) and golden classics like Channel 4’s “Second Generation” (the dysfunctional “Asian” family was Hindu, and Hindu girls were shown to be easy sexual prey), the supposedly groundbreaking film “Bhaji on the Beach” (where a Hindu girl is shown to get pregnant by her boyfriend, and in one scene lights her cigarette on the diva (sacred lamp) in a Hindu temple – again the dysfunctional “Asian” family being Hindus), the BBC’s “This Life” (once again, a successful Hindu woman who is completely alienated from her Hindu culture and has an affair with her manager while living with her boyfriend) and BBC1’s adaptation of the “Canterbury Tales” (which showed a dysfunctional “Asian family” with what looked like a young man from India having an affair with his aunt – again all the characters were Hindus) still hanging around in the charts.
Even though Eastenders is sliding down the charts these days it did manage to beat the BBC’s “Holby City” and “Casualty” and ITV’s “The Bill” which all feature guest appearances from the token dysfunctional Hindu character or family from time to time and finished just outside our top ten. Not in our charts but also showing right now in London is the play “Far Pavillions” which features the stereotypical story of a colonial British officer coming to the rescue like a knight in shining amour of a Hindu woman about to be burnt alive on the funeral pyre of her late husband. These few examples that we have raised are just the tip of the iceberg. It is clear that anyone who is exposed to even this small dose of anti-Hindu programming will lose any respect they ever had of Hindus and Hindu culture. We welcome and invite any response that can prove or argue otherwise.
The real shame of course is that when it comes to Hinduism, there is virtually a whole treasure of works of art, thought and expression that the media could chose from or work with Hindus to access. Not only would this create a real exchange of ideas with the Hindu community but it would also open many doors for non-Hindus to learn about and appreciate the only surviving ancient civilisation in the world – that is, Hinduism. That’s the shame but the tragedy is that these continuous reinforced negative perceptions of Hindus and Hinduism have created the environment and climate for the Human Rights abuses against Hindus to be ignored all over the world. As we know the media has immense power over people’s minds and a lie repeated often enough can become someone’s truth. It is clear that defamation leads to persecution as illustrated by the pre-Holocaust anti-Jewish propaganda campaign of the Nazis.
In summary, as well as having to deal with physical and cultural annihilation in parts of the world, a situation which the BBC and other media powers seem rather over-keen to avoid recognising, Hindus now have to put up with petty street level teasing, name calling and other actions which barely fall short of sexual harassment. Broadcasters of programmes which show Hindu women in such a light should take their responsibilities seriously and realise the offence and defamation they cause. Women and children continue to be raped and abducted in places like Bangladesh because they are Hindus. And Hindu women who try and keep their culture in Britain are mocked and humiliated as backward and regressive, with broadcasts taken from the pens of Indians with Hindu-sounding names such as Meera Syal. The time has come for this to stop and the media to reassess whether it wants to continue down this path of alienating yet another ethno-religious community.
In addition to raising this issue with the media and government, Hindu Human Rights is also planning to arrange a day conference to discuss and address the negative portrayal of Hindu women and Hinduism in the media. Please check our website for further details for the upcoming event.
We thank you for your support.