This is really funny, as are many of the others in the series of epic history rap battles.
On April 16, a young Latin American singer/actress named Selena Gomez created some waves with her live performance at the MTV movie awards- a rendition of the song “Come and Get it” featuring a prominent bindi on her face. A number of Indians and particularly Hindus were upset by this 20-year old American girl wearing the traditional female forehead accessory during a suggestive pop song and dance number. As you may know, many believe the bindi or “red dot” is supposed to be worn by married Hindu women only as a “third eye of wisdom.”
People emerged to publicly chastise the pop star and defend the honor of Indian women. A Hindu leader named Rajan Zed whined to the media, “(The bindi) is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed. Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religion.”
We are going to dive into some sensitive and controversial waters here, so it is probably worth getting a few things out of the way up front. I know little to nothing about Miss Gomez, have never heard her music or watched her on film before, and I honestly never cared about her. I am certainly not a fan. But then I read about this silly controversy she caused, and decided that someone needed to forcefully and rationally defend her right to wear a bindi, even though I don’t think it looked particularly good or tasteful on her. Secondly, I am a practicing Hindu, though I have never worn it on my sleeve or proselytized about my beliefs as some do. I also don’t intend to do so here. However, my understanding of Hinduism is going to shape what I’m about to say. Finally, I have spent a great deal of time in both India and the United States, and this gives me a certain perspective on the situation as well.
Responses such as Zed’s are ABSOLUTE NONSENSE. Nobody religious or otherwise has the right to demand that one cannot wear a particular fashion accessory, demand an apology for it, or shame someone into learning about their religion, or any for that matter. I’m no stranger to bindis or what they are supposed to mean; my mother has worn one every day that I have ever known her while living in multiple countries- carrying its meaning wherever we went. So here’s why this so-called moral outrage outrages me so much:
Hinduism is meant for all. Some of the critics need to learn more about their own religion first. Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest existing organized religion, and by no accident it has some of the most liberal views on lifestyles and society. Anyone can be a Hindu. A person who knows nothing about Hinduism can be a Hindu. Even an atheist can be a Hindu- something that clearly separates it from other major religions at its core. It’s not a special, exclusive club with traditions that cannot be shared. Anyone can enter a Hindu temple anywhere. Anyone can wear a bindi, sari, dhoti, or OM symbol without needing to convert formally or getting the equivalent of a “baptism.” One could wear it for the simple reason that they think it looks cool. The only exception here is for particular advanced traditions of the swamis or brahmin priests, such as wearing the sacred thread, and this requires passing through some proverbial gates as I have done. These involve a status bestowed by others, and are not being questioned here.
Selena thinks she knows something about Hinduism, though her interview answer makes me think she might be confusing my Indians with the “other” Indians: “I think the song has that Hindu, tribal feel and I wanted to translate that,” Selena explained. “I’ve been learning about my chakra and bindis and the culture … It’s beautiful.” However much or little she knows is not the point though; she should be accepted by all Hindus without judgment or questioning of motives.
So what is the point? Unfortunately, I know all too well what all this is really about. Many Indians and Hindus are exceedingly insecure when it comes to their history and culture. They are deathly afraid of the onset of modern culture at home and abroad, especially because young people are choosing it over their own in droves. They are threatened by a Hispanic girl sporting it. How dare a non-Indian girl wear a bindi seductively to make money off of it!!! This controversy is really about Selena’s skin color.
Have you ever seen a Bollywood movie? Indian pop tarts make piles of money strutting around seductively every single day with various bindis on, and just as tastelessly as Miss Gomez if not more. So why single out this poor girl for it? Are we so sure all those good little brown girls know the religion? Why aren’t they being asked to apologize? This is about racism, pure and simple.
We’ve seen this movie before, folks. When Liz Hurley got married in India, a court case was opened against her by religious zealots for drinking alcohol and wearing shoes (heinous crimes, I know). The subcontinental moral majority also came out of the woodwork in full force when Gwen Stefani and Madonna decided to put on the bindi years before Selena even had her first menstrual cycle. What’s the common thread here? Yes, the prejudice extends beyond skin color; there is sexism going on too. Perhaps Hindus are a little afraid of bindi-wearing foreign women because they might be rakshasis- roughly translated as demons in female form? They are going to swoop in, steal away good Indian men and also ancient Hindu traditions!
You can’t speak for all of us. This is America. Like India, there is freedom of the press and speech in general. This also includes freedom of expression, such as wearing whatever the hell you want. By the same token, I respect the right of people to criticize Selena’s or Gwen’s little bindi experiments. But fortunately for us, there are no popes in Hinduism, no grand leader that everyone has to listen to and conform to. It’s a disparate sort of system, with millions of gods and over a billion adherents following various traditions. When I claim to speak for Hindus by saying it’s OK for Selena Gomez to wear her bindi, I can say it with just as much authority and probably more adherents than those who would denounce her for it. Keep doing it, Selena!
I look forward to a debate about this in the comments section; I’m quite certain some of you reading this would disagree. I’ll be here. If you want it, come and get it.
This is really funny, as are many of the others in the series of epic history rap battles.
There is a renaissance of sorts going on in American comedy for Indian and Indian-American actors. We have come a long way from the time when the only Indian characters found in American film and TV were deep-accented and exaggeratedly clownish minstrels whose entire purpose was to entertain audiences by mercilessly mocking Indian culture.
Even worse, the characters were sometimes played by white actors wearing heavy brown makeup, such as Peter Sellers in the (admittedly entertaining) 1968 film The Party. This was in form with Hollywood’s penchant in decades gone by for casting white actors into Chinese roles such as Charlie Chan or the Native American Tonto. Those days are now over, and the characters played by today’s Indian stars such as Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Russell Peters, and Jay Chadrasekhar sport American accents and mainstream western behavior completely in line with their white or black castmates. This transition says more about how America has changed than it does about the actors themselves. Read the rest of this entry
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.
Barack Obama is only the 17th human being in history to be re-elected President of the United States. In most second terms, some cabinet members resign and new ones are hired or shuffled around in a predictable beltway equivalent of musical chairs. 2013 is no exception. Prominent administration officials such as Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner are out. Obama has recently announced four new replacement appointments that will have a major impact on US foreign policy in general, and on India in particular: John Kerry for Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, Jack Lew for Secretary of the Treasury, and John Brennan for CIA Director. Read the rest of this entry
There is a question that has taken on more and more meaning as India increases in importance on the world stage, while Indian-Americans are involved in American politics as never before. Which candidate, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would be a better president on issues that are important to India and Indians?
Predictably, both candidates have kissed up to Indian-American donors and speak highly of India when given the opportunity. Both claim that India is an important ally and friend to the United States. Strikingly, neither candidate discussed India in the foreign policy debate this week. In truth, it is difficult to accurately forecast the answer to this question based on past records and statements. It’s also unclear how much influence a president can bring to bear on these issues. But it’s worth speculating on. Read the rest of this entry
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.com
When did Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi transform from being just a regular guy to becoming the Mahatma (“Great Soul”), a transcendental figure of the 20th century? The accumulated experiences of any man’s life are often credited with forming his character, some mysterious combination of nature and nurture. However, I would pinpoint a particular moment in time: the day he was forcibly kicked off the first-class train compartment by police at the Pietermaritzburg train station in South Africa, where Gandhi was traveling for work. The date was June 7, 1893, and Gandhi was violently pushed out when he refused to disembark willingly because he wasn’t white, though he had a duly purchased first-class fare. This incident burned within Gandhi and helped turn him on to the community organizing and rabble-rousing that would initialize the path toward becoming the founding father of the modern Indian nation. Until then, he was a mediocre young lawyer at best and had led an unremarkable life by all accounts, including his own.
Much less discussed is the American connection at that fateful time, which Gandhi has recounted in his seminal autobiography, An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi was in serious need of help after a restless night at the cold station once the train had left. He finally caught a different train to Pretoria the next day but was beaten en route by yet another railway guard who did not appreciate an Indian sitting in his compartment. There was nobody there to receive a fatigued Gandhi at the destination. Gandhi was concerned about how to find lodging in a strange new place in a foreign country, a highly prejudiced town that would not admit Indian guests at its inns. And then came a semblance of humanity from an unexpected source. To wit: Read the rest of this entry
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.com
The fatal shooting of innocent people at the Sikh temple (Gurdwara) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin brought to the surface deep underlying tensions in American society. They may normally simmer below the surface, but last week we saw the worst of what can happen in modern America when latent hatred comes to a boil. The incident also brought out the best in people, as evidenced by the heroism displayed by some of the victims and the local police.
The shootout resulted in the death of gunman Wade Michael Page. With him perish hopes of ascertaining exactly what motivated his murderous mind, and whether he was sane or not. We are left to debate and conjecture, but his life does offer up some clues. We can be sure of the following: (1) It was a simple, lone act of terrorism (political killing of innocent people). (2) It was motivated by some combination of racism and religious bigotry. (3) Holmes had military training, and (4) known Ne0-Nazi leanings, including his role in a skinhead rock band.
It is early yet, and much evidence is to emerge, but below are the critical issues that will be in the news and part of political discourse in the weeks to come. Read the rest of this entry
Watch author Compton discuss the differences in education in the American system vs. system in India. A very interesting discussion courtesy of CNBC and the NRIConnect YouTube channel:
And another video about Americans job-seeking in India. The points brought up here highlight the entrepreneurial energy I found in India:
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and friends, please go somewhere to play so the adults can do their jobs. We have enough real and difficult problems in America that our government, which unfortunately includes you, should be working on. Your letter/attempt at character assassination of State Department Deputy Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin shows thinking that is completely decoupled from reality and astounding for its level of ignorance and xenophobia. This letter should have been express-mailed to your therapists, not printed on U.S. Congress stationery.
Let’s call a spade a spade. We all know what this slander against Huma Abedin is really about: racism and anti-Muslim sentiment against a brown female with a South Asian background for being successful in the US foreign policy establishment. Shame on you. I would take the background check conducted by the State Department over your ranting any day. No, Abedin is not a national security threat or part of any conspiracy. Quite the opposite, she is serving our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with distinction. We somehow need you to “get right” with this fact. Wrap your head around it.
Usindiamonitor.com is pleased to bring you an interview with young Indian-American entrepreneur Nikhil Arora, who co-founded the company Back to the Roots with partner Alejandro Velez while they were still undergrads at UC Berkeley in 2009. Back to the Roots is all about mushrooms: growing them, selling them to major grocery chains including Whole Foods, and even selling boxed starter kits so that individual customers can grow their own delicious mushrooms at home for personal consumption. More uniquely, the business grows all of the mushrooms in used coffee grounds, resulting in a major diversion and re-use of spent organic waste that has saved nearly 4 million pounds of grounds from the waste stream. In effect, the company functions simultaneously as a grower, distributor, and recycler.
We thought it was very cool to find UC Berkeley students starting a new green agricultural business in Oakland instead of joining the ranks of drones at software companies, financial engineering firms, or consultancies which are more ubiquitous throughout the Bay. Like their mushroom starter kits, Back to the Roots is growing and is now hiring for multiple positions. We also wanted to get a sense of how this startup took a simple idea from a Berkeley science lecture and turned it into a national- and perhaps one day multinational- company. Fortunately Nikhil was able to share his thoughts with us this week. (And Nik, I got something for you on the green roof idea.)