Journalist-Arthur-Pais

A First Line of Defense – American Hindus Against Defamation take on offending toilet seats and more. But critics say they have strange bedfellows.

Author:Arthur J. Pais
Publication: BeliefNet

Date Published: 12/2000

URL: http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/hinduism/2000/12/a-first-line-of-defense.aspx#TLbo4Y56VI1IRGjz.99

Dr. Ajay Shah perfectly understands the importance of the First Amendment.But he also knows the clout of dollars. And if gentle persuasion is not enough, and e-mails and protest letters do not work, he uses economic threat–all to guard the honor of Hinduism.

“If any company or organization invokes the First Amendment and free-speech rights and persists in denigrating Hinduism, I would say I understand theirrights,” says Shah, a 39-year-old San Diego-based scientist.

“But the First Amendment also covers our right to protest; we could then work in getting 1 billion Hindus worldwide to boycott their products.”

Shah is the convener of American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD), athree-year-old group active in North America and the United Kingdom.

Right now, Shah and fellow activists are savoring their victory over a tiny Seattle-based firm that had been selling toilet seats with the pictures ofHindu deities, such as Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali.

Following protests by AHAD and stories in Indian publications, Lamar VanDyke, one of the partners of Sittin’ Pretty Designs, decided to stopmarketing the toilet seats. She also apologized to Hindus, explaining tothem that she had come to understand from her Hindu friends that a bathroomhad to be maintained as a shrine. The decorative seats were meant to showthe respect she had for Hindu deities, Van Dyke said.

“We accept the apology, and we have had a very good discussion with her–and we are very glad that the dialogue and her explanation ended any ill feeling,” said Shah.

Parshad recently attacked AHAD for going after Van Dyke, owner of a tiny business, while the Indian government, led by the nationalist Hindu-dominated BJP, welcomes huge multinationals that harm millions ofHindus.

“It is a typical leftist argument and ploy to attack Hinduism,” says Shah.”Just because we are engaged in one type of activity doesn’t mean we cannot be active in other organizations that are attacking social injustice and poverty.”

But bringing about a change in those who insult or denigrate Hinduism in itself is important, many AHAD activists said.

“Today, someone attacks the symbols of Hinduism,” says Pallod. “Tomorrow, the attack could be on all Hindus.” And the attackers won’t differentiate between rich and poor Hindus, he says.

AHAD activists recalled how a group of young men and women resentful ofnewer immigrants had attacked scores of Indians in Hoboken and Jersey Cityin New Jersey two decades ago.

Calling themselves Dotbusters, they first attacked women with bindis; then they attacked both men and women. Also attacked were people from other religions and neighboring nations as long as they looked like Indians.

“In seeking the honor of Hindus and demanding they not be ridiculed,” Shahsays, “we are being good Americans.”

“In our fight for Hindu dignity, we are championing American pluralism,” he continues.

American history is full of instances of bigotry against other religions, henotes. And just as others have won respect for their own religion, Hindus in America want to be fully accepted and respected.

“America cannot be a great nation if any religion is hurt,” Shah adds.  AHAD has no office, no staff but a few volunteers, and no budget other than what the volunteers spend on telephone calls, and yet it has been able to prevail against Sony and Warner Brothers–and lesser entities, such as Sittin’ Pretty, Club Karma in Chicago, and a shoe manufacturer in Los Angeles who used the pictures of Hindu deities on his products.

Even while AHAD has not had a full victory, as in the case of the “Xena”television episode “The Way,” Hindu leaders say the organization has been able to create discussion and awareness about Hinduism.

AHAD protested last year against the portrayal of Lord Krishna as a fictionalized character in “The Way,” but Universal did not yank the episode.

However, the version that was finally aired carried an announcement aboutHindu deities and how they are real for Hindus worldwide.

AHAD had better success with Warner Brothers, who removed the Sanskrit shlokas used in an orgy scene in Stanley Kubrick’s critically acclaimed film “Eyes Wide Shut.” Though the WB action came six weeks after the film was in release in America, it ensured that more than 800 new prints meant for more than a dozen countries abroad would carry some other Indian music.

How is it that AHAD is effective without a formal structure or hierarchy?

“A few years ago, if we were to do what we do today, we would have needed several full-time workers and a big budget,” says Shah. Today, the internet has made AHAD’s task very easy. Many AHAD activists are students and high-tech professionals. “With such tech-savvy people, it takes a few minutes to spread the word,” he says.

When AHAD launched an agitation against the jacket for Aerosmith’s “NineLives” album in 1997, it received over 2,500 responses. Hindus were upset over the depiction of a disfigured illustration of Krishna. Sony reportedly received over 20,000 fax and e-mail messages. The offending jacket was withdrawn within a month of the protest, accompanied by a public apology by Aerosmith.

“It was our first victory,” says Vijay Pallod, an accountant and AHAD activist in Houston. “We were very new, and the success of the Aerosmith drive convinced us that we should look out for every instance, small or big, of a denigration of Hindu faith and its icons.”

“We do not believe in confrontation at all,” Pallod, 42, says. He maintains that AHAD never takes up a protest before exhausting other means of persuasion.

“Many times we have discovered that a particular person or organization has no intention of offending or hurting any religion,” he says. “By holding a dialogue with them, we have an opportunity to educate them about Hinduism.”

Like Shah, other AHAD activists, including Pallod and Beth Kulkarni, a 50-plus white American who took to Hinduism after her marriage, are connected with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The two organizations actively promote Hindu values and are closely aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which currently heads India’s ruling coalition.

But many AHAD protests–like the one against the Southern Baptists’ booklet denouncing Hinduism–have also drawn in liberal Hindus who usually keep a distance from VHPA and RSS.

The AHAD protests are not aimed at non-Hindus alone. Srinivas “Sarin” Reddy, co-owner of Club Karma in Chicago, was prevailed upon to withdraw the display of religious icons in the trendy bar last year.

As AHAD is getting more active and vocal, so do its critics.

Vijay Parshad, a history professor at Trinity College, in Connecticut, and author of the book “The Karma of Brown Folk,” criticizes what he sees as the cavalier attitude of the VHP and RSS toward other religions. In India, the groups have reportedly been associated with the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and recent attacks against Christian missionaries.

 

Pop Culture’s appropriation of Hindu deities sparks controversy.

Krishna Culture

KRON-TV(San Francisco): 1/22/01
KNBC-TV (Los Angeles): 11/29/00

Pop Culture’s appropriation of Hindu deities sparks controversy.

Take a walk down Haight Street in San Francisco and you’ll notice that colorful and exotic Hindu imagery is the height of fashion in many trendy clothing stores. T-shirts, shoes, purses are emblazoned with the images of Hindu deities such as the elephant god Ganesha and Lord Shiva. And it’s not just on clothing: music artists and advertisers are also using Hindu religious imagery to hawk their wares. It may seem that pop culture is embracing the Hindu religion. But some Hindus object to the appropriation of their icons, saying it is often sacrilegious. American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) is closely monitoring the use of Hindu icons. The group has been quick to protest what they see as inappropriate use of their religious idols. Through use of letters, faxes, email and the threat of mass consumer boycotts, they have been successful in curtailing production of various consumer items that they find offensive.

AHAD formed in 1997 to protest the release of the rock band Aerosmith’s “Nine Lives” album. The album cover featured a collaged image of the God Vishnu, with the head of a cat replacing Vishnu’s. AHAD found the disfigurement of Vishnu offensive, and objected to what they saw as a trivializing and demeaning portrayal of one of their most important gods for commercial gain. Sony Music was flooded with over 20,000 irate emails from Hindus, and agreed to redesign the album cover.

Since then AHAD has organized other protests. The Karma Club, a strip club in Chicago, stopped using the masks of Hindu deities on its exotic dancers when it received mass protests. Vanity Fair magazine was with deluged with criticism for running a 1999 photo-spread of comedian Mike Myers painted with blue body paint and dressed as a Hindu God. The recitation of the Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Hindu text, during an orgy scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film, “Eyes Wide Shut” was deleted after AHAD called its inclusion “utterly tasteless and insensitive”. And most recently, in July 2000, a Los Angeles shoe company discontinued production of shoes decorated with the Hindu goddess Lakshmi after receiving thousands of protests via email.

AHAD says that a general lack of knowledge about Hinduism sometimes leads to insensitive usage of sacred images. It’s not that the use of the images themselves that they find sacrilegious; it’s when they are used in inappropriate ways.

Shoes for example are seen as an extremely inappropriate place for a deity. The shoe protest illuminates how a general ignorance of Hindu religion and culture can backfire. Hindus always remove their shoes before entering a home or temple, because the feet are considered unclean. Feet are always pointed away from other people as a gesture of respect. Wearing shoes that bear the image of the god means tracking the image through the dirt, as well as treading upon it. Also, printing the image of a deity on any kind of leather is definitely offensive to Hindus. The cow is a sacred animal in India, and most Hindus are vegetarian.

While a Hindu goddess on a T-shirt or purse is not offensive in and of itself, some Hindus say that the overuse of these images trivialize their religion, making it nothing more than a consumable commodity. They object to the wholesale acceptance of the fad as just another fashion statement, because the underlying symbolism is minimized. They say that many of the deities are associated with ancient moral parables and myths that provide life instruction; they do not just exist as colorful novelty items. They want Westerners to look more carefully at the underlying religious and cultural significance behind the imagery, rather than simply co-opting religious imagery to make a fashion statement.

CONTACTS

Ajay Shah: Director
American Hindus Against Defamation
San Diego, CA

Sittin Pretti

Toilet Seat Company Flushed Offline?

Published in: Rediff.com

Published: 11/18/2000

Author: NIRSHAN PERERA

The owner of Sittin’ Pretty won’t talk, but her Web site may be talking for her. Lamar Van Dyke’s mom-and-pop e-commerce operation, which sells designer toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods, has been flickering on and off the Internet since yesterday. On Thursday, American Hindus Against Defamation discovered the Seattle company’s Sacred Seat product line only zeros in on the Hindu religion. For $130, consumers can purchase designer toilet seats emblazoned with bright artwork depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali. AHAD convenor Ajay Shah immediately reached out to Van Dyke, who is the principal owner of
the company, to express the Hindu community’s hurt. But the prominent Seattle tattoo artist and lesbian activist has maintained a stiff silence in the face of repeated requests to initiate a dialogue.

Similar entreaties by Rediff.com and the NRI press to comment on the matter have also gone unanswered. Still, this morning some read meaning into Sittin’ Pretty’s on-again off-again accessibility. Some wondered if the Web site was Breaking down due to a traffic overload. Others pondered the possibility that Van Dyke is closing shop. Sittinprettydesign.com first went offline Friday evening. The company’s Web hosting service, Bellvue, Washington-based Oz.net Internet Services, said it had been taken down temporarily for “modifications.”

AHAD braced themselves for a possible product removal, or at the very least a press release. But the Web site went back up late Friday night with no discernable changes. On Saturday morning, however, it appeared to be pulled off the Internet again. Another phone call to Oz.net did not yield new information. Yesterday Van Dyke refused to answer a phone call placed to her primary place of employment, American Beauty Tattoo in downtown Seattle. A co-worker confirmed that Van Dyke was on shift and was in fact the owner of Sittin’ Pretty, but told Rediff.com that she would not speak to the press. In another breaking development, the Bharatiya Janata Party also blasted Van Dyke this morning from the other side the world. In New Delhi, party vice president Pyarelal Khandelwal strongly condemned the Sacred Seat product line and called for an immediate and unconditional apology. According to a PTI report, he said the ink of the United Nations resolution acknowledging the equality of all religions has not dried, yet “here we see a group of people deliberately denigrating Hindu gods, knowing that they are held sacred by Hindus all over the world.” Shiv Sena northern region chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal threatened to demonstrate in front of the American Embassy in New Delhi, while Vishwa Hindu Parishad senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore raised the specter of legal action. “We are insisting on an unconditional apology from them, failing which we will launch an agitation and sue the American firm,” Kishore said.

The owner of a company that sells toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods is a well-known tattoo artist and lesbian activist. A Rediff.com investigation revealed that Lamar Van Dyke, who is listed as the principal of Seattle-based Sittin’ Pretty, is an outspoken member of the city’s gay community who has contributed to sociology journals and is the subject of a documentary about artists exploring “unusual forms of body modification.” Van Dyke, who has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mails by Rediff.com and the American Hindus Against Defamation, is employed at American Beauty Tattoo in downtown
Seattle. But in her off time Van Dyke runs Sittin’ Pretty from her Seattle residence. The one-year-old company employs two people and uses its Web site (sittinprettydesign.com) as a primary sales channel.

Yesterday, members of the AHAD (formerly the American Hindu Anti- Defamation Coalition) discovered her company’s Sacred Seat product line displayed bold pictures of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali on the bottom of lids. The $130 toilet seats protect the artwork with a waterproof clear coat and come in three colors. “Great as unforgettable gifts, or as conversation pieces for your own home, these toilet seats are guaranteed to add a smile to your bathroom décor,” the Web site reads. Van Dyke was one of four artists featured in Leslie Asako Gladsjo’s 1991 documentary Stigmata—The Transfigured Body. The 28-minute video looks at body modification as an exploration of beauty, self-determination, and female sexuality. Her essay, “Contracts and Contract Negotiating” in The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson Publications, 1996), is a how-to manual for dominants and
submissives in sadomasochistic relationships. As a self-described “radical S&M lesbian,” the Seattle artist is a member of a
highly visible minority community that is often castigated by others. “As women, we need to celebrate the fact that we have survived 2,000 years of invisibility. 2,000 years of our contributions being stolen, overlooked and labeled as insignificant,” she observes in a bulletin board posting on the Lesbian Resource Center News Online. But today the Hindu community pondered the irony of a radical lesbian feminist activist slighting the ideas held precious by another minority group. Nevertheless, Ajay Shah, who coordinates the AHAD, was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “I don’t want to attach any labels to her right now,” he told Rediff.com. “For all we know, she might be Hindu. She may think it’s something really cool and it propagates Hindu dharma. We just want to give her a chance to explain herself and maybe withdraw this product. Unless we learn otherwise, we must assume that is being done out of ignorance and not malice.” “Most of these people don’t do things like this because they have something
inherently against Hindu dharma,” he continued. “I don’t think Lamar Van Dyke has some ax to grind against Hindus, or she is doing this on purpose. But right now Hindu icons and symbols have become part of the pop culture, from bindis to mehendi and all the other things. What people might be trying to do is cash in on that popularity without considering what kind of affect it will have on the Hindu community at large.” Shah sent Van Dyke a preliminary e-mail almost 24 hours ago and since then has left several phone messages. “I am not certain if you realize that this has already caused tremendous hurt in the community… ” the AHAD e-mail read. “We would like to give you the benefit of doubt … before we talk with press … and other members of the Hindu community. As a responsible business, we are certain that you will withdraw this product immediately from the market.” But Van Dyke has
remained silent. “I’ve been patiently waiting, but I haven’t heard anything from her yet. Everyone is waiting for her response,” Shah said this afternoon. As the next step, he said the AHAD will publish a protest Web site (hindunet.org/ahad/sittinpretty) today, where members of the Hindu community can learn about new developments and sign a protest book.

The AHAD has already carried out several successful cyber- protest campaigns. Recently, 15,000 protest petitions forced California-based Fortune Dynamic to stop importing shoes emblazoned with Hindu deities. And a 20,000-strong campaign caused the rock group Aerosmith to issue a public apology for their 1997 Nine Lives album. The cover art showed Lord Krishna with the head of a cat, breasts and wearing a woman’s blouse. “The thing that we will do, that we have always done, is to put a moral public pressure on someone who has been offensive,” Shah said, describing AHAD’s protest strategy. “We understand the First Amendment very well, we understand that people have the absolute right to say whatever they want. But on the other hand, protesting something is also covered under the First Amendment and that is our right.” Shah said that if Van Dyke continues to be unresponsive, the next step after an Internet protest campaign could be on-site picketing. “Our contention has always been that this causes tremendous harm to Hindus,” Shah explained. “I think the origin of much prejudice and discrimination against Indians in this country is the denigration of Hindu symbols. When people can ridicule your symbols, what stops them from ridiculing you?”

The owner of Sittin’ Pretty won’t talk, but her Web site may be talking for her. Lamar Van Dyke’s mom-and-pop e-commerce operation, which sells designer toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods, has been flickering on and off the Internet since yesterday. On Thursday, American Hindus Against Defamation discovered the Seattle company’s Sacred Seat product line only zeros in on the Hindu religion. For $130, consumers can purchase designer toilet seats emblazoned with bright artwork depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali. AHAD convenor Ajay Shah immediately reached out to Van Dyke, who is the principal owner of

the company, to express the Hindu community’s hurt. But the prominent Seattle tattoo artist and lesbian activist has maintained a stiff silence in the face of repeated requests to initiate a dialogue.

Similar entreaties by Rediff.com and the NRI press to comment on the matter have also gone unanswered. Still, this morning some read meaning into Sittin’ Pretty’s on-again off-again accessibility. Some wondered if the Web site was Breaking down due to a traffic overload. Others pondered the possibility that Van Dyke is closing shop. Sittinprettydesign.com first went offline Friday evening. The company’s Web hosting service, Bellvue, Washington-based Oz.net Internet Services, said it had been taken down temporarily for “modifications.”

AHAD braced themselves for a possible product removal, or at the very least a press release. But the Web site went back up late Friday night with no discernable changes. On Saturday morning, however, it appeared to be pulled off the Internet again. Another phone call to Oz.net did not yield new information. Yesterday Van Dyke refused to answer a phone call placed to her primary place of employment, American Beauty Tattoo in downtown Seattle. A co-worker confirmed that Van Dyke was on shift and was in fact the owner of Sittin’ Pretty, but told Rediff.com that she would not speak to the press. In another breaking development, the Bharatiya Janata Party also blasted Van Dyke this morning from the other side the world. In New Delhi, party vice president Pyarelal Khandelwal strongly condemned the Sacred Seat product line and called for an immediate and unconditional apology. According to a PTI report, he said the ink of the United Nations resolution acknowledging the equality of all religions has not dried, yet “here we see a group of people deliberately denigrating Hindu gods, knowing that they are held sacred by Hindus all over the world.” Shiv Sena northern region chief Jai Bhagwan Goyal threatened to demonstrate in front of the American Embassy in New Delhi, while Vishwa Hindu Parishad senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore raised the specter of legal action. “We are insisting on an unconditional apology from them, failing which we will launch an agitation and sue the American firm,” Kishore said.

The owner of a company that sells toilet seats decorated with images of Hindu gods is a well-known tattoo artist and lesbian activist. A Rediff.com investigation revealed that Lamar Van Dyke, who is listed as the principal of Seattle-based Sittin’ Pretty, is an outspoken member of the city’s gay community who has contributed to sociology journals and is the subject of a documentary about artists exploring “unusual forms of body modification.” Van Dyke, who has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mails by Rediff.com and the American Hindus Against Defamation, is employed at American Beauty Tattoo in downtown
Seattle. But in her off time Van Dyke runs Sittin’ Pretty from her Seattle residence. The one-year-old company employs two people and uses its Web site (sittinprettydesign.com) as a primary sales channel.

Yesterday, members of the AHAD (formerly the American Hindu Anti- Defamation Coalition) discovered her company’s Sacred Seat product line displayed bold pictures of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali on the bottom of lids. The $130 toilet seats protect the artwork with a waterproof clear coat and come in three colors. “Great as unforgettable gifts, or as conversation pieces for your own home, these toilet seats are guaranteed to add a smile to your bathroom décor,” the Web site reads. Van Dyke was one of four artists featured in Leslie Asako Gladsjo’s 1991 documentary Stigmata—The Transfigured Body. The 28-minute video looks at body modification as an exploration of beauty, self-determination, and female sexuality. Her essay, “Contracts and Contract Negotiating” in The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson Publications, 1996), is a how-to manual for dominants and
submissives in sadomasochistic relationships. As a self-described “radical S&M lesbian,” the Seattle artist is a member of a
highly visible minority community that is often castigated by others. “As women, we need to celebrate the fact that we have survived 2,000 years of invisibility. 2,000 years of our contributions being stolen, overlooked and labeled as insignificant,” she observes in a bulletin board posting on the Lesbian Resource Center News Online. But today the Hindu community pondered the irony of a radical lesbian feminist activist slighting the ideas held precious by another minority group. Nevertheless, Ajay Shah, who coordinates the AHAD, was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “I don’t want to attach any labels to her right now,” he told Rediff.com. “For all we know, she might be Hindu. She may think it’s something really cool and it propagates Hindu dharma. We just want to give her a chance to explain herself and maybe withdraw this product. Unless we learn otherwise, we must assume that is being done out of ignorance and not malice.” “Most of these people don’t do things like this because they have something
inherently against Hindu dharma,” he continued. “I don’t think Lamar Van Dyke has some ax to grind against Hindus, or she is doing this on purpose. But right now Hindu icons and symbols have become part of the pop culture, from bindis to mehendi and all the other things. What people might be trying to do is cash in on that popularity without considering what kind of affect it will have on the Hindu community at large.” Shah sent Van Dyke a preliminary e-mail almost 24 hours ago and since then has left several phone messages. “I am not certain if you realize that this has already caused tremendous hurt in the community… ” the AHAD e-mail read. “We would like to give you the benefit of doubt … before we talk with press … and other members of the Hindu community. As a responsible business, we are certain that you will withdraw this product immediately from the market.” But Van Dyke has
remained silent. “I’ve been patiently waiting, but I haven’t heard anything from her yet. Everyone is waiting for her response,” Shah said this afternoon. As the next step, he said the AHAD will publish a protest Web site (hindunet.org/ahad/sittinpretty) today, where members of the Hindu community can learn about new developments and sign a protest book.

The AHAD has already carried out several successful cyber- protest campaigns. Recently, 15,000 protest petitions forced California-based Fortune Dynamic to stop importing shoes emblazoned with Hindu deities. And a 20,000-strong campaign caused the rock group Aerosmith to issue a public apology for their 1997 Nine Lives album. The cover art showed Lord Krishna with the head of a cat, breasts and wearing a woman’s blouse. “The thing that we will do, that we have always done, is to put a moral public pressure on someone who has been offensive,” Shah said, describing AHAD’s protest strategy. “We understand the First Amendment very well, we understand that people have the absolute right to say whatever they want. But on the other hand, protesting something is also covered under the First Amendment and that is our right.” Shah said that if Van Dyke continues to be unresponsive, the next step after an Internet protest campaign could be on-site picketing. “Our contention has always been that this causes tremendous harm to Hindus,” Shah explained. “I think the origin of much prejudice and discrimination against Indians in this country is the denigration of Hindu symbols. When people can ridicule your symbols, what stops them from ridiculing you?”

Hinduism Today: Scandalous Sandals

Original URL: http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/makepdf.php?itemid=4133

 

STYLE
Scandalous Sandals
A merican Hindus against defamation has just launched a

new campaign ( www.hindunet.org/ahad/shoes/) expressing their outrage and disgust over shoes with Hindu Deities printed on them. The reporter who broke the story, Ravi Adhikari, is a senior editor with New York City-based News India-Times. He found the shoes at a local Manhattan store called “$10 Express” and traced them to the Fortune Dynamic company in California. Worldwide objections began to flood the company, which elicited a terse response from their law firm: “We regret that you are offended by this style; others found it attractive. Since Fortune Dynamic has not engaged in any wrongful conduct, they will not issue a public apology.” Even the New York Times picked up on the issue. Their report begins, “Forget Miami’s Cubans. The New York City Hindu lobby is a force to be reckoned with.” “All kinds of people bought [the shoes],” said the store owner, “but not Indians.”

NYT: NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT – JACKSON HEIGHTS; Of Gods and Soles: Hindu Images on Shoes Lead to Protest

Forget Miami’s Cubans. The New York City Hindu lobby is a force to be reckoned with.

Last month, after a discount store in Jackson Heights started selling sandals adorned with colorful images of Hindu gods, Hindu residents began an e-mail blitzkrieg that elicited hundreds of outraged responses from around the world. In letters addressed to a Hindu anti-defamation Web site and to the manufacturers, the protesters described the placement of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri on the top and sides of platform shoes as an insult, and they demanded that the manufacturer cease production and apologize.

”It was really a shock to us, being Hindus,” said Usha Gandhi, a public school teacher who lives near $10 Express, the store on 82nd Street where the shoes were being sold. ”My daughter Sabrina saw it and said, ‘Oh, Mom, you should do something about it.’ ” Ms. Gandhi alerted The News India Times, a weekly newspaper based in Manhattan, but with readers throughout North America and in India.

After the paper published an article about the shoes, Indian news services reported that Fortune Dynamic, the California manufacturer, had stopped producing them, in response to a flood of angry e-mail messages. But according to Patrick Huang, a lawyer for the company, the shoes were discontinued because they were not profitable and the product was dropped before the complaints came in.

While images of Hindu gods may appear on T-shirts, shoes are a different matter, said Ravi Adhikari, the reporter who wrote the article in The News India Times.

”Shoes carry all the filth from the street,” Mr. Adhikari said. ”You are not supposed to take your shoes inside the house even, and there’s no way you could go into a temple with them.”

Danny Mizrahi, who owns $10 Express, said the 54 pairs of Shiva sandals, as they are described on the box, sold out quickly at $5 a pair.

”All kinds of people bought them — young, old,” Mr. Mizrahi said. ”But not Indian people,” he added.

Mr. Mizrahi said he did not know the shoes were a problem until Mr. Adhikari approached him. ”He told me: ‘Did you know this is a god? You’re stepping on god,’ ” he said. ”I told him I had no idea.”

While protesters continue to demand an apology from the manufacturer and some have discussed legal action, Mr. Huang said the company acted within its First Amendment rights.

”We did send out letters expressing regrets, but we do fall short of apologizing,” he said. ”We’re not violating any law; we’re not violating anyone’s trademark. We thought it was like putting the image of the Virgin Mary on a T-shirt. Now we know.”

TARA BAHRAMPOUR

Protests Over Sandals With Deities

NEWS INDIA-TIMES  PAGE ONE STORY

28 JULY 2000 ISSUE

Protests Over Sandals With Deities

By RAVI ADHIKARI

Hindus, who passed by the display window of a shoestore in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, July 17, exclaimed He Bhagwan! (Oh My God), in shock mixed with anguish and anger. The store was selling footwear imprinted with the images of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri.

For almost three hours on that day, sitting outside the display window of “$10 Express” on 82d Street, Jackson Heights, this reporter observed that some passers-by and shoppers were appalled by what they saw.

“Even to see this kind of work is a sin. I wish I had not come this way today. God! Please forgive me,” Radha Devi, a housewife from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, who was about to enter the shop but stopped after seeing the such footwear, said. “I don’t know why they indulge in offending the religious feelings of others.”

The store, however, was doing brisk business. Many young girls were scrambling for the shoes.

“It’s dirt cheap and the print is very good,” Sylvia, a 10th-grader from Junction Boulevard, Queens, said. Asked whether she knew anything about the images printed on the sandals, she replied no.

“They are holy gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. Do you still want to insult them by wearing them under your feet?” this writer asked.

“No. Sangeeta will feel very bad. She’s a very nice girl. I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” Sylvia said of her classmate from India. Without buying the pair of sandals, she walked out in disgust.

But the store manager, who introduced himself only as Danny, said: “The shoes arrived just last week, teen-agers like them very much.” Upon telling him what this reporter told Sylvia, Danny argued: “For them (teen-age shoppers) it’s simply a piece of art. They like the color and design, and it’s only $5.”

“What is your religion?” he was asked. Danny said he is a Jew.

“If someone prints the sacred images of Judaism on footwear, how would you feel?” Danny, bewildered by the question but keeping calm, replied, “I’ll feel insulted and I’ll be very angry, of course.”

“Most Hindus now feel the same way. Do you still want to sell those sandals?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t know it was that serious. I feel sorry but I’m not the producer or importer. Had I known beforehand, I would not have carried them in my store,” Danny answered with a tinge of regret.

“Of course! This is something offensive,” Paula Gonzalez, a Catholic salesgirl, earlier busy selling the same shoes, overhearing the conversation with the manager commented. “We should respect every religion.”

The high-heeled platform sandals for women, produced under the brand name Classified, are available in sizes 6 to 9. On the box the description runs — Color: `Multi.’ `Made in China using synthetic material.’ The label on the bottom of the sandals reads, `Fabric Upper, Balance Man Made.’

Howsoever the manufacturer or distributor may rationalize, it seems that the shoes were produced with the knowledge that the images are sacred to Hindus. It is to be noted here that the style of the product is named, `Shiva.’

“Whoever be the producer, he has insulted Hinduism,” Pandit Jagdish Tripathi of Satya Narayan Temple in Queens, said after examining the pair.

“Will they spare us, Hindus, if we do the same to other religions’ sacred symbols?” Tripathi asked. “But we’ll never stoop to do anything offensive to others. We respect all religions … This issue should go to the court. The manufacturer should be severely punished so that he (or anyone else) will no more dare to offend in this manner.”

PRODUCT WITHDRAWN?

In a bid to identify the manufacturer, this reporter found out that the company, Fortune Dynamic, was based in the City of Industry in California, near Los Angeles. Some reports say, the company was based in La Puente, Calif.

On July 18, a person who introduced himself as a salesman — over the telephone — confirmed that the company was making the sandals with images of gods came from China. He asked if this writer was a regular customer. And got the reply in the negative.

“Oh. Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?” the man reacted casually.

When pointed out that Hindus are hurt and are protesting, he hung up, saying: “I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. … I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.”

According to some news reports, the company, however, had already withdrawn the questionable product from the market. This was after this reporter sent the newstips and photos to some people and organizations seeking their reaction. Subash Razdan, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Federation of Indian American Associations; Consulate General of India and New York; and the Overseas Friends of BJP were among the first to be sent the e-mail. A report from Washington quoted the NFIA as saying, “Following the angry reaction of Indian-Americans of all religious denominations, the sandals were withdrawn from the market, within a few hours, a New York ethnic paper, News India, spread the news about religious slur by e-mail.”

India’s premier news agency, the Press Trust of India also confirmed that the News India’s efforts made the company withdraw the inflammatory product.

Talking over the telephone July 20 afternoon, Lisa Tshering, a reporter with India West, a California-based weekly also admitted that she used newstips and the photos for her publication without knowing that they belonged to this reporter.

“I didn’t know, it was your news idea and photos. I got them through Subash Razdan,” Tshering said.

On July 22, this reporter once again visited the Jackson Heights shop to check whether the controversial merchandise was still on the shelf, as some news report and community activists claimed.

Surprisingly enough, a Spanish-speaking salesman who was occupying Danny’s place, said the stock went out because of the heavy demand. “One person was grabbing two-three pairs, it went out instantly,” the man apparently in his early 40s said without disclosing his name or position, but he said Danny was off on Saturdays.

To another question whether he received any letter or call form Fortune Dynamic, the producer of the bad product, regarding withdrawal, the man simply said: “No. We didn’t receive anything from the company. It was just sold out. Maybe we’ll receive another shipment sometime next week.”

CONDEMNED WORLDWIDE

This reporter also e-mailed the newstips and photos to some other people, seeking their views. This had a ripple effect.

The people who reacted ranged from a 7-year-old Ankita Sharma of Pleasenton, Calif., to community activists, religious scholars, computer professionals, university professors, and housewives. They have all expressed their resentment and shock. Believe it or not, even a 4-year-old boy has resented the affront.

Usha Gandhi, however, was the first to call the offices of News India Group, to condemn the product. Talking to this writer in Satya Narayan Temple, July 18, Gandhi, a New York City school teacher, said: “First, my daughter saw the shoes in the store. I felt really bad. We Hindus worship our gods but never abuse the spiritual symbols of other faiths.”

Sabrina, Usha’s `first witness’ daughter, added: “I’ve seen many people wearing T-shirts with Om and gods stamped, but it’s outrageous to wear godly symbols under one’s feet. I can’t even think of doing the same with the holy cross or any other similar symbols.”

“Merchandizing sacred symbols is not new in this country. Here, everything boils down to money. And the problem with we Hindus is that we’re tolerant beyond tolerance. Until you make a big noise no one is going to listen to you, especially in this country,” Premnath Sharma, a Rego Park, Queens, resident said.

Sharma’s reference was to the cover of Virgin Records with God’s image, Lord Krishna’s photo in Genre (Gay) magazine, mystifying the story of Krishna in TV series Xena, T-shirts with Om in Macy, dancing gods/goddesses in Karma Nightclub, and a variety of religo-cultural tatoos, not all in good taste.

American Hindus Against Defamation, an organization which has always been in the forefront on such issues has put up a separate Web site to lodge the protest (http.www.hindunet.org/ahad/shoes). AHAD, in the past, had protested against Xena, Hindu-bashing by the Southern Baptists, and Sony-Areosmith’s Ninelive’s album cover. Till the press time for News India-Times, July 23 evening, more than 500 people have already signed the Web site protest letter to the company.

“Never before we’ve received the fastest and widespread response, like this time. Hindus all over the world will not let this issue die just like that,” Ajay Shah, an AHAD convener, who is also the administrator of the Global Hindu Electronic Network, said.

“Forget about America and India, people are protesting from all over the world, from Qatar to Australia and from South Africa to United Kingdom. We would like to thank News India and the reporter for bringing up the issue, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.” Aside from Web-protest and hundreds of telephone calls, about 150 e-mail messages were received in newsindia1@aol.com and a similar number of e-mail letters were sent to this journalist’s personal address.

Excerpts … The Conversation With Fortune Dynamic

Is that Classified shoe manufacturing company?

Yes. Yes.

I would like to ask you about one of your products. Its style is named `Shiva.’

Oh! Would you like to speak to salesman?

Yes please, or the manager there.

Oh! Actually they are busy right now. Do you have a sales … ?

No. I’m not your regular buyer. Someone is interested in style Shiva.

Oh! OK. Actually I’m going to transfer you to one of our salesmen and he will answer your question.

(The line was transferred but went to the voice mail of a man. I tried again to speak to the same woman. When I explained the matter, she transferred me to another line. I heard a man’s voice Hi sir! I’m calling from New York.

New York? How can I help you?

I would like to know something about the sandals you make — styled ‘Shiva’.

What do you like to know?

Where did you get the designs from? You’ve printed Hindu gods and goddesses on the sandals. Who designed them for you?

I don’t know.

You are the producer?

No. I’m a salesman.

OK. Where did you get those shoes? Who supplied you?

China.

China?

Yeh.

Is there someone else who can give me more details?

What do you want to know?

Many people here in New York are objecting to the shoes, saying the sandals have gods and goddesses’ images on them and you can’t simply print them on shoes.

You are our customer?

No. I’m a reporter.

Oh! Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?

Ok. Tell me one thing … The person who gave me this telephone number told me that you were the producer or main importer of shoes from China and you have supplied them to hundreds of stores all over America.

I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. Ok?

But you know that the shoes carry Hindu gods and goddesses on them.

I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.

Whom should I address to? Hello … Hello …

Only the heavy sound of hanging up came in reply.

PHOTO CAPTIONS ======

1. RAVI ADHIKARI: The reporter who brought the issue to the fore (Ravi_PP.jpg)

2. The New York shoestore which sold the sandals (All photos: Ravi Adhikari) (Store.jpg)

Ravi Adhikari is a senior editor with Manhattan, New York City-based News India-Times (www.newsindia-times.com). He joined the popular weekly after receiving an MS degree from the City University of New York in 1997.

Entered into the profession of journalism nearly 2 decades ago, the veteran journalist from Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, is credited for several breaking stories, back home and in the US.

Apart from the recent work of bringing the abusive sandal’s story to the fore, Mr. Adhikari is also credited for bringing several other major stories to the attention of the South Asian community in the United States.

Some of them are:

1. Hindu-bashing by Southern Baptists during 1999 Deepawali

2. Muslim religious leader’s involvement in sexual abuse to children in a NYC mosque

3. Plight of holy cows in Indian slaughterhouses, and illegal cattle trade
28 JULY 2000 ISSUE

Protests Over Sandals With Deities

By RAVI ADHIKARI

Hindus, who passed by the display window of a shoestore in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, July 17, exclaimed He Bhagwan! (Oh My God), in shock mixed with anguish and anger. The store was selling footwear imprinted with the images of Shiva, Ganesha and Gayatri.

For almost three hours on that day, sitting outside the display window of “$10 Express” on 82d Street, Jackson Heights, this reporter observed that some passers-by and shoppers were appalled by what they saw.

“Even to see this kind of work is a sin. I wish I had not come this way today. God! Please forgive me,” Radha Devi, a housewife from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, who was about to enter the shop but stopped after seeing the such footwear, said. “I don’t know why they indulge in offending the religious feelings of others.”

The store, however, was doing brisk business. Many young girls were scrambling for the shoes.

“It’s dirt cheap and the print is very good,” Sylvia, a 10th-grader from Junction Boulevard, Queens, said. Asked whether she knew anything about the images printed on the sandals, she replied no.

“They are holy gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion. Do you still want to insult them by wearing them under your feet?” this writer asked.

“No. Sangeeta will feel very bad. She’s a very nice girl. I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” Sylvia said of her classmate from India. Without buying the pair of sandals, she walked out in disgust.

But the store manager, who introduced himself only as Danny, said: “The shoes arrived just last week, teen-agers like them very much.” Upon telling him what this reporter told Sylvia, Danny argued: “For them (teen-age shoppers) it’s simply a piece of art. They like the color and design, and it’s only $5.”

“What is your religion?” he was asked. Danny said he is a Jew.

“If someone prints the sacred images of Judaism on footwear, how would you feel?” Danny, bewildered by the question but keeping calm, replied, “I’ll feel insulted and I’ll be very angry, of course.”

“Most Hindus now feel the same way. Do you still want to sell those sandals?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t know it was that serious. I feel sorry but I’m not the producer or importer. Had I known beforehand, I would not have carried them in my store,” Danny answered with a tinge of regret.

“Of course! This is something offensive,” Paula Gonzalez, a Catholic salesgirl, earlier busy selling the same shoes, overhearing the conversation with the manager commented. “We should respect every religion.”

The high-heeled platform sandals for women, produced under the brand name Classified, are available in sizes 6 to 9. On the box the description runs — Color: `Multi.’ `Made in China using synthetic material.’ The label on the bottom of the sandals reads, `Fabric Upper, Balance Man Made.’

Howsoever the manufacturer or distributor may rationalize, it seems that the shoes were produced with the knowledge that the images are sacred to Hindus. It is to be noted here that the style of the product is named, `Shiva.’

“Whoever be the producer, he has insulted Hinduism,” Pandit Jagdish Tripathi of Satya Narayan Temple in Queens, said after examining the pair.

“Will they spare us, Hindus, if we do the same to other religions’ sacred symbols?” Tripathi asked. “But we’ll never stoop to do anything offensive to others. We respect all religions … This issue should go to the court. The manufacturer should be severely punished so that he (or anyone else) will no more dare to offend in this manner.”

PRODUCT WITHDRAWN?

In a bid to identify the manufacturer, this reporter found out that the company, Fortune Dynamic, was based in the City of Industry in California, near Los Angeles. Some reports say, the company was based in La Puente, Calif.

On July 18, a person who introduced himself as a salesman — over the telephone — confirmed that the company was making the sandals with images of gods came from China. He asked if this writer was a regular customer. And got the reply in the negative.

“Oh. Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?” the man reacted casually.

When pointed out that Hindus are hurt and are protesting, he hung up, saying: “I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. … I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.”

According to some news reports, the company, however, had already withdrawn the questionable product from the market. This was after this reporter sent the newstips and photos to some people and organizations seeking their reaction. Subash Razdan, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Federation of Indian American Associations; Consulate General of India and New York; and the Overseas Friends of BJP were among the first to be sent the e-mail. A report from Washington quoted the NFIA as saying, “Following the angry reaction of Indian-Americans of all religious denominations, the sandals were withdrawn from the market, within a few hours, a New York ethnic paper, News India, spread the news about religious slur by e-mail.”

India’s premier news agency, the Press Trust of India also confirmed that the News India’s efforts made the company withdraw the inflammatory product.

Talking over the telephone July 20 afternoon, Lisa Tshering, a reporter with India West, a California-based weekly also admitted that she used newstips and the photos for her publication without knowing that they belonged to this reporter.

“I didn’t know, it was your news idea and photos. I got them through Subash Razdan,” Tshering said.

On July 22, this reporter once again visited the Jackson Heights shop to check whether the controversial merchandise was still on the shelf, as some news report and community activists claimed.

Surprisingly enough, a Spanish-speaking salesman who was occupying Danny’s place, said the stock went out because of the heavy demand. “One person was grabbing two-three pairs, it went out instantly,” the man apparently in his early 40s said without disclosing his name or position, but he said Danny was off on Saturdays.

To another question whether he received any letter or call form Fortune Dynamic, the producer of the bad product, regarding withdrawal, the man simply said: “No. We didn’t receive anything from the company. It was just sold out. Maybe we’ll receive another shipment sometime next week.”

CONDEMNED WORLDWIDE

This reporter also e-mailed the newstips and photos to some other people, seeking their views. This had a ripple effect.

The people who reacted ranged from a 7-year-old Ankita Sharma of Pleasenton, Calif., to community activists, religious scholars, computer professionals, university professors, and housewives. They have all expressed their resentment and shock. Believe it or not, even a 4-year-old boy has resented the affront.

Usha Gandhi, however, was the first to call the offices of News India Group, to condemn the product. Talking to this writer in Satya Narayan Temple, July 18, Gandhi, a New York City school teacher, said: “First, my daughter saw the shoes in the store. I felt really bad. We Hindus worship our gods but never abuse the spiritual symbols of other faiths.”

Sabrina, Usha’s `first witness’ daughter, added: “I’ve seen many people wearing T-shirts with Om and gods stamped, but it’s outrageous to wear godly symbols under one’s feet. I can’t even think of doing the same with the holy cross or any other similar symbols.”

“Merchandizing sacred symbols is not new in this country. Here, everything boils down to money. And the problem with we Hindus is that we’re tolerant beyond tolerance. Until you make a big noise no one is going to listen to you, especially in this country,” Premnath Sharma, a Rego Park, Queens, resident said.

Sharma’s reference was to the cover of Virgin Records with God’s image, Lord Krishna’s photo in Genre (Gay) magazine, mystifying the story of Krishna in TV series Xena, T-shirts with Om in Macy, dancing gods/goddesses in Karma Nightclub, and a variety of religo-cultural tatoos, not all in good taste.

American Hindus Against Defamation, an organization which has always been in the forefront on such issues has put up a separate Web site to lodge the protest (http.www.hindunet.org/ahad/shoes). AHAD, in the past, had protested against Xena, Hindu-bashing by the Southern Baptists, and Sony-Areosmith’s Ninelive’s album cover. Till the press time for News India-Times, July 23 evening, more than 500 people have already signed the Web site protest letter to the company.

“Never before we’ve received the fastest and widespread response, like this time. Hindus all over the world will not let this issue die just like that,” Ajay Shah, an AHAD convener, who is also the administrator of the Global Hindu Electronic Network, said.

“Forget about America and India, people are protesting from all over the world, from Qatar to Australia and from South Africa to United Kingdom. We would like to thank News India and the reporter for bringing up the issue, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.” Aside from Web-protest and hundreds of telephone calls, about 150 e-mail messages were received in newsindia1@aol.com and a similar number of e-mail letters were sent to this journalist’s personal address.

Excerpts … The Conversation With Fortune Dynamic

Is that Classified shoe manufacturing company?

Yes. Yes.

I would like to ask you about one of your products. Its style is named `Shiva.’

Oh! Would you like to speak to salesman?

Yes please, or the manager there.

Oh! Actually they are busy right now. Do you have a sales … ?

No. I’m not your regular buyer. Someone is interested in style Shiva.

Oh! OK. Actually I’m going to transfer you to one of our salesmen and he will answer your question.

(The line was transferred but went to the voice mail of a man. I tried again to speak to the same woman. When I explained the matter, she transferred me to another line. I heard a man’s voice Hi sir! I’m calling from New York.

New York? How can I help you?

I would like to know something about the sandals you make — styled ‘Shiva’.

What do you like to know?

Where did you get the designs from? You’ve printed Hindu gods and goddesses on the sandals. Who designed them for you?

I don’t know.

You are the producer?

No. I’m a salesman.

OK. Where did you get those shoes? Who supplied you?

China.

China?

Yeh.

Is there someone else who can give me more details?

What do you want to know?

Many people here in New York are objecting to the shoes, saying the sandals have gods and goddesses’ images on them and you can’t simply print them on shoes.

You are our customer?

No. I’m a reporter.

Oh! Reporter. I don’t know .. you … better send a fax or something to our company. OK?

Ok. Tell me one thing … The person who gave me this telephone number told me that you were the producer or main importer of shoes from China and you have supplied them to hundreds of stores all over America.

I don’t know. I couldn’t answer any of your questions. Ok?

But you know that the shoes carry Hindu gods and goddesses on them.

I’m only working for this company. I’ve a customer here I’ve to go. Take it up with our company. OK.

Whom should I address to? Hello … Hello …

Only the heavy sound of hanging up came in reply.

PHOTO CAPTIONS ======

1. RAVI ADHIKARI: The reporter who brought the issue to the fore (Ravi_PP.jpg)

2. The New York shoestore which sold the sandals (All photos: Ravi Adhikari) (Store.jpg)

Ravi Adhikari is a senior editor with Manhattan, New York City-based News India-Times (www.newsindia-times.com). He joined the popular weekly after receiving an MS degree from the City University of New York in 1997.

Entered into the profession of journalism nearly 2 decades ago, the veteran journalist from Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, is credited for several breaking stories, back home and in the US.

Apart from the recent work of bringing the abusive sandal’s story to the fore, Mr. Adhikari is also credited for bringing several other major stories to the attention of the South Asian community in the United States.

Some of them are:

1. Hindu-bashing by Southern Baptists during 1999 Deepawali

2. Muslim religious leader’s involvement in sexual abuse to children in a NYC mosque

3. Plight of holy cows in Indian slaughterhouses, and illegal cattle trade

pray

High court’s decision won’t end debate over student-led prayers

AHAD on Supreme Court Ruling about School Sports Prayers:

Originally Published in: Dallas Morning News
By: Jeff Weiss
Published On: 06/19/2000

High court’s decision won’t end debate over student-led prayers

DALLAS, Texas _ The girl who took the microphone at a small-town Texas football field for a pre-game prayer set off a broad national debate. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruling that declared her prayer unconstitutional was very specific.

The court rejected the invocation delivered in Santa Fe _ sanctioned by a public school administration, selected by a majority of students and delivered in front of a crowd that included students who have to be there. But the relative narrowness of the ruling leaves plenty of room for many other kinds of student-initiated, student-led religious expression on public school campuses, said those on both sides of the issue.

Even in Santa Fe, Monday’s decision doesn’t necessarily end the debate.

“All I can tell you is they won’t have a prayer before the football game in Santa Fe set up with a student vote,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center of Law and Justice and one of the lawyers who represented the school district. “Other than that, we’re still analyzing all of it.”

Other districts with a history of prayer before games, such as Celina in the Dallas area, agreed to abide by the ruling.

But other religious activities developed in accord with previous high court rulings should be unaffected, said David Overstreet, assistant director of field ministries for the National Network of Youth Ministries.

His group promotes See You at the Pole, an annual morning prayer held at many public schools. Since the prayer happens before school starts and each observance is student-led, Monday’s ruling will have no effect, he said.

Mark Briskman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, applauded the ruling but said some religious groups are confused about the impact.

“Some people think prayer and God have been removed from the public schools, and that’s simply not true,” he said. “Any student has the absolute right to pray privately. The problem arises when it becomes organized and school-sanctioned.”

The 1,100-student Celina school district in northern Collin County had continued a long tradition of public prayer at football games through last fall. That won’t be repeated this year, said Superintendent Ken Burks.

“The board wanted to wait and see what the Supreme Court had decided and indicated they would abide by it no matter what the decision was,” he said.

Most other local school districts already had discontinued student-led prayers at football games. But some said Monday’s ruling answered lingering questions about this issue.

“We were already in compliance with this ruling,” said Karla Oliver, director of community relations for the Duncanville, Texas, school district. “But this seems very final.”

Last year, Duncanville, like many districts, observed a moment of silence before football games.

The Aledo district, west of Fort Worth, is in a legal battle centered on the district’s decision to edit a student’s graduation prayer. But the Supreme Court decision appears narrow and is not likely to affect this court case or the district’s practices, said Superintendent Don Daniel.

The district allows only a welcome message before football games and has adhered to earlier court decisions regarding school prayer, Daniel said.

Pre-game prayers aren’t an issue for many other districts, including Dallas and Richardson.

Organizations lined up in support or opposition to the ruling. The Texas Association of School Boards, the National Clergy Council, the Council on American-Islamic Affairs and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were among the groups that opposed the ruling. The National School Boards Association and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism were among the groups applauding the court’s decision.

Texas Attorney General John Cornyn issued a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling.

The reaction of non-Christians was mixed. Local Muslims feared that ruling would cause schools to do away with religious activities altogether.

“Our concern is for Muslim students who would like to gather and pray privately in a room at school,” said Mohamed Elmougy, regional president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“That’s a lot different than prayer at a football game,” he said. “But we don’t know what impact the ruling will have on this.”

A spokesman for the Baha’i Center of Dallas said Baha’is aren’t easily offended by prayers outside their tradition.

“Baha’is believe that in reality all the religions are one,” Kambiz Rafraf said. “So a Baha’i would not be offended by a prayer to Jesus. We believe prayer is indispensable.”

Hindu groups praised the ruling.

“When prayer is imposed on people, like at a football game, it can lose its spiritual significance,” said Ajay Shah of San Diego, Calif., spokesman for American Hindus Against Defamation. “It’s a broader issue than just who you are praying to. We don’t think you should force prayer on anybody.”

 

US Baptists pray for ‘Satan’s Hindu slaves’

AHAD Condemns Southern Baptist Diwali Booklet

Publication: The Guardian
Author: , Religious Affairs Editor
Publication Date: Nov. 2, 1999

US Baptists pray for ‘Satan’s Hindu slaves’

Just weeks after outraging US Jewish leaders with a booklet aimed at converting Jews to Christianity, the country’s biggest Protestant denomination has done it again with a campaign to convert “900 million people lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism”.

The latest campaign by the Southern Baptist Congregation’s international mission board is timed to coincide with the Hindu festival of Diwali, which begins today.

There are concerns that it may further poison relations between Christians and Hindus in India during the Pope’s visit this week. Violence against Christians by Hindu extremists has increased this year, with the attackers justifying themselves by accusing missionaries of aggressive conversion tactics.

The Southern Baptists’ new booklet can be downloaded from the internet, making it instantly available worldwide. Much of it is taken up with suggested prayers for worshippers at the Baptists’ 40,000 churches. One suggestion, referring to the Bhojpuri, a Hindu people in India: “Pray that Christians will risk persecution and even death in order to share the Gospel message with the Bhojpuri.”

It describes Bombay as “a city of spiritual darkness. Eight out of every 10 people are Hindu, slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods and goddesses.”

Of Calcutta, the booklet says: “Satan has retained his hold on Calcutta through Kali and other gods and goddesses of Hinduism.”

The international mission board is the largest US missionary organisation outside the Roman Catholic church, with more than 4,800 missionaries around the world.

Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the board, said: “Nobody at this end was aware of the Pope’s visit months and months ago when this was planned. There’s no such thing as a good time to publish something like this because there are always tensions in India.”

He denied that the Diwali booklet was hostile to Hindus. “To be held in Satan’s power is a different thing from being Satan’s ally,” he said. “There’s nothing in there which says that Hindus are in league with Satan. While we regret people taking offence at the way it’s worded, it does accurately describe what we see as the spiritual condition of people lost without Jesus.”

The booklet has already provoked condemnation from the organisation American Hindus Against Defamation, which earlier this year successfully campaigned against what it saw as a blasphemous treatment of a Hindu theme in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut.

Eyes Wide Shut

Shloka In Orgy Scene To Go, But Hundreds of Prints of Eyes Wide Shut Will Still Retain It

 

Publication: Rediff

URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/sep/01us1.htm

Date of Publication: 09/1999

Author: R S Shankar

Bowing to pressure by the American Hindus Against Defamation and its allies, Warner Bros agreed on Monday to delete from the soundtrack the Bhagvad Gita used in an orgy scene in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film, Eyes Wide Shut. The movie, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, explores the darker side of a marriage, and ends up supporting monogamy.

Hailed by many leading critics as one of the finest films in recent years, it was slammed by other critics including the influential Pauline Kael who came out of retirement to drub it as ‘a piece of crap.’

It ends its American run with a disappointing $ 56 million at the box-office. It is showing on about 400 screens, and in a week, it would lose about 300. The movie will briefly play in second-run movie houses.

A spokesperson for Warner said the agreement reached with the Hindu groups does not affect the prints which are being used in cinemas in the countries where the film is in release.

Over 1,500 prints used in America would not be touched, Warner said, adding that where ever the film is in release, the shloka will remain. For instance, the print unveiling at the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s opening night today will have the shloka. But the television and video versions of the film in all countries will not have the shloka, the spokesperson added. The movie will be aired on American television after about six months. It will be available on video a few weeks thereafter.

Eyes Wide Shut is currently running in Japan, where it is a big hit, and has grossed over $ 10 million. It is expected to end up with an impressive $ 25 million gross. In Australia, where many moviegoers walked out during several screenings, it has earned a modest $ 4.5 million. A Warner spokesperson said the prints there will not be altered.

In England, Germany, Italy and a dozen countries, however, the print will be shown without the shloka. The movie will be shown on more than 350 screens in England shortly. American-born Kubrick made England his home for more than two decades.

“It is significant the decision to delete the shloka came on the eve of the British release and at the end of the American engagement,” said one Hindu activist. “Someone in England must have thought of the huge protests there when Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was released. Surely, we were not going to do anything as foolish as that, but what the heck, we are glad that some sense has dawned on the producers at last.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick, senior vice-president for publicity at Warner Bros, said Jan Harlan, the London-based executive producer of Eyes Wide Shut, was shocked to learn about the hurt experienced by Hindu groups. Harlan has repeatedly said there was any intention to slight or hurt anybody, she said.

“Kubrick too never intended to offend Hindus,” Kirkpatrick said, after discussing the issue with Harlan and others associated with the movie which was shot completely in England. “He was offered a number of chants and he chose one without realizing its meaning.”

Kubrick had the final cut say in the movie, but the director died soon after the film was completed and edited for release. A few days before the movie’s release, Warner digitally masked part of the orgy scene in America to avoid a rating problem. Some critics and Kubrick fans protested, but since the movie, which took a strong $ 30 million in the opening week, began slipping at the box-office with a 50 per cent decline each week, the protests went unheeded.

Hindu groups had argued that if Warner could soften the impact of the orgy scenes, they could delete the shloka from the movie.

“We gave them 13 days notice,” said Ajay Shah, convener of the AHAD. “We said there would be protests wherever the movie is going to be released and Warner Bros – or anyone for that matter — should not think they could get away offending Hindus across the world.”

Harvard Crimson Article about AHAD Movement

The Material Girl Goes Spiritual

Those of you who missed the MTV Music Awards last week missed one of Madonna’s greatest moments. In winning five of the headline prizes, the Material Girl taught us two lessons: first, that some divas never die–they don’t even fade away. Second–and more importantly–she attempted to introduce many of us to a new cultural and religious tradition by blending into her live performance elements from the sacred (and profane) life of the Indian subcontinent.

Madonna began her rendering of “Ray of Light” by chanting sacred mantras from the Vedas (the ancient Hindu scriptures) and incorporated into the performance steps derived from the traditional dance form native to the Indian region of Orissa. As American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) write on their website, the Hindu theme and use of Hindu symbols continued throughout the performance.

It impresses me that one of the world’s most marketable celebrities would take the time to investigate the artistic traditions of another culture, develop an act around them and present them on the world’s stage.

The problem is, what Madonna gave us isn’t Hindu (or Indian or even South Asian) culture. Instead she gave us ritualistic verses and dance steps ripped completely out of context. I admire Madonna and respect her efforts to expand our collective cultural experience. Unfortunately, by using her artistic license to syncretize Hindu and South Asian cultural elements with the Western performance culture, Madonna ran the risk of trivializing the faith of others. What began as a well-intentioned impulse to enrich our multicultural milieu backfired by alienating the very people whose traditions she was attempting to introduce to the general population.

I should distinguish here between religious and cultural traditions. The latter are much more easily syncretized, with much less chance of causing insult or offense. South Asian culture is, in fact, an amalgam of all sorts of different constituent traditions. And Anglo-American culture has successfully managed to incorporate elements of South Asian culture in the past. The Beatles, for example, were influenced heavily by the music of the great sitar player, Ravi Shankar. We all know about the therapeutic powers of yoga–and, for better or worse, the teachings of Deepak Chopra. No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani is oft-seen wearing a bindi on her forehead; mehndi, the decorative paint worn by many Indian brides, has become quite popular among Western women. Even Nehru jackets may someday make a comeback.

Religious traditions, however, require a bit more maturity and understanding to deal with. Pluralism and multiculturalism become trouble-some issues when we try simply to co-opt another religious tradition into our general popular culture without stopping to examine what that tradition actually means to its believers. That is why many Hindus found Madonna’s performance disturbing.

It is the same reason why many Hindus took offense to the cover of Aerosmith’s Nine Lives, released in 1997. According to the on-line magazine India Pulse, “in place of Lord Krishna’s face Sony and Columbia artists inserted the head of a cat. They also altered the male chest of Lord Krishna to that of a female with breasts, wearing a woman’s blouse.” Media executives did not incorporate Hindu symbols out of love for the culture, or with a desire to educate; they simply were looking for something quaint and exotic to market better their product, with little regard for the sentiments of the people whose icons they were perverting. After receiving thousands of protest messages, the Sony higher-ups wisely decided to change the cover art in subsequent releases of the record.

The Karma Club in Chicago (the sister nightclub of the one in Boston) also came under fire recently, for its interior decor. According to AHAD, this club features extravagant displays of religious icons in “compromising environments.” For example, pictures of the Hindu gods Shiva and Krishna occupy the wall of a bar, behind a number of bottles of liquor. A large statue of a dancing Shiva stands in the midst of the dance floor; a scantily clad man wearing a mask with three heads (apparently representing Lord Brahma) dances erotically on a pedestal. Finally, a statue of Lord Ganesha–the same deity that Hindus install at the entrance of their holy places–beckons people into the club.

Clearly the images of the Hindu gods in the club are divorced completely from any religious connotation–they are mere commodities meant to add to its exotic flavor. Nothing could more trivialize the faith of Hindus. It is significant to note, perhaps, that the majority owner of the Karma Club is himself a Hindu of Asian Indian origin. My comments are thus directed not only to popular performers like Madonna and Aerosmith, but also to anyone heedlessly seeking to profit off the sentiments of others.

The issue is not that Hindu religious symbols have been used inappropriately: Hinduism is one of the world’s most inclusive faiths, and its adherents certainly have no monopoly over the use of its symbols. But when these symbols are abused, and Hindu religious beliefs are trivialized, the trust and respect with which we must all treat one another in a liberal, multicultural democracy is violated.

True religious understanding requires intense struggling with and rigorous study of the faith, something Madonna (and others) through their actions clearly have not bothered to undertake. Our multicultural society is weakened as a result, our sense of community diminished.

Sujit Raman ’99-’00 is a history concentrator in Mather House. His column will appear on alternate Tuesdays.