Tulsi Gabbard, the first and only Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress, today accused CNN of “sensational and false” reporting about religions after it aired a show which allegedly portrayed Hinduism in a negative light.
“CNN on Sunday aired the first episode of a new series called ‘Believer’ hosted by Reza Aslan. For this episode, Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism,” Gabbard, the Democratic lawmaker from Hawaii, wrote on Facebook.
The show explores the facts and myths behind the Aghori, a mystical Hindu sect known for extreme rituals.
“Aslan and CNN did not just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals as if touring a zoo but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma and reincarnation that Hindus have been combating tirelessly,” she alleged.
“CNN promotional materials and trailers that included a scene showing a group of Hindus under a caption, ‘CANNIBALS’, perpetuated bizarre and ugly impressions of Hindus and their religion,” she charged.
The three-term Congresswoman, said while good people across the country are working hard to increase mutual understanding and respect between people of different religions, she is “very disturbed” that CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism.
“CNN knows well that sensational, and even false reporting about religions only fosters ignorance that can lead to terrible consequences,” she said.
“Indeed, Hindus are still reeling after witnessing terrible hate crimes in the last few weeks alone. Our nation celebrates religious pluralism and diversity, and CNN must do more to foster greater respect for people of different religions,” she said.
Gabbard hoped that CNN and Aslan will engage with the Hindu community moving forward to resolve the pain and outrage that the ‘Believer’ episode has engendered in the community.
In a statement, Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) – USA strongly condemned the airing of the show.
“Documentaries like these are a threat to religious harmony in this country. CNN chose to air this blasphemous story despite nationwide request from the community to stop airing,” it said.
“The show by Reza Alsan is an affront on the ethos of Hinduism and without understanding the foundational aspect of the religion, the anchor only sought to denigrate the religion by showing Cannibalism and talks about a fringe sect called Aghoris in India,”OFBJP said.
“The story ‘Believer’ reflects poor understanding of Hinduism on host and sends wrong message to the viewers about Hinduism and its philosophy,” it said.
However, an eminent Indian American Muslim alleged that certain Hindu groups are “distorting the contents” of the documentary.
The Hindu Student Council (HSC) said the documentary focused on the rare Aghora sect, which uses ritual practices with physical objects to invoke Divine grace.