By hiding a big part of your ethnicity, heritage, religion – you are practicing bigotry and bias, in a new form
On October 17, Meena Harris, the US Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s niece posted an offensive tweet and imagery on Twitter. This tweet coincided with an auspicious Hindu festival called Navratri, celebrated all over the world by Hindus. Navratri is the beginning of the festive season that leads up to the most important Hindu festival of Diwali.
The actual image, story revolves around around the depiction of a battle between a feminine divine Goddess, Maa Durga and an evil demon Mahishasura, which is narrated during Durga Puja (festival event). In the imagery, the depiction shows the Goddess killing the demon with her weapon, a trident. The Goddess Maa Durga sits on her “vahana” or vehicle, a lion. It talks about how the daemon Mahishasura used his power for evil and attempt to attack and conquer the kingdom of Gods, his demand for immortality and not believing he could be killed by anyone in battle, let alone a woman.
The demon Mahishasura is described as an evil being who can change his outer form, but never his demonic goals. Maa Durga was incarnated from Goddess Parvati, created by the trinity Gods – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, to defeat the demon Mahishasura and bring his evil reign to an end. Maa Durga is also referred to as “Shakti” or the essence that runs through all of the universe. Upon killing the evil demon Mahishasura, Maa Durga, tore his chest and fed him to her pet lion.
Hurting Hindu Sentiments
Hindus in the US and around the world have sought an apology from Meena Harris for tweeting this disgusting, disrespectful and offensive image in which Kamala is depicted as Goddess Durga and President Donald Trump as the evil demon Mahishasura. With Joe Biden as the pet lion and vehicle for Kamala, many find this distasteful.
The depiction also shows Kamala’s character trying to kill the demon, morphed with the face of President Donald Trump, using the trident with her pet lion (Joe Biden) mauling the character of President Trump. This has deeply hurt the sentiments of Hindus in US and around the world at many levels. The Hindu festival of Navratri and many other festivals are themed around the victory of good over evil and the triumph of truth and divine energies. So the use of Hindu divine imagery to further political agenda or to spread hate against the countries President, is blasphemous, extremely offensive and insensitive.
Not to mention how serious this matter is for Meena Harris, who depicts a sitting President as being attacked (and symbolically being killed by a VP candidate, as in the story where Mahishasura is killed and eaten by the lion). It will not be a surprise if the FBI and Secret Service have had a good chat with Meena Harris and others involved in creating this image and tweet. Possibly letting them off without consequences, with just a warning. If this was a tweet by a common citizen, they would be locked up forever for depicting harm and violence on a US President.
Hindu Americans are still not clear on what religion Kamala Harris or Meena Harris follow. They believe Kamala Harris and Meena Harris are of the Hindu faith and are thus surprised by the lack of judgement. Little do they know that neither Kamala Harris nor Meena Harris follow the Hindu faith, Kamala Harris considers herself a Baptist Christian. Harris is the first Indian/Jamaican American woman to get a major party’s vice presidential nomination. However Kamala Harris has often struggled with color and race politics, she has often been seen to shift her identity – juggling between Indian, Brown, Black, Hindu, Baptist Christian identities.
While Harris was raised and grew up in a Tamilian(Hindu ethnic group) household by a Hindu single mother, and named after the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, and with majority of her early life influence from her maternal side, she considers herself a Black Baptist Christian. So why did Kamala completely distance herself from her Hindu faith, upbringing and influence? You will never see her in recent years talk about her Hindu faith or traditions, customs, it’s influence on her value system, as she often does proudly talk about her Christian faith, no harm in doing that, but is there a bias towards one over the other when it comes to presenting in front of the US voters.
In an ideal world, a politician would not be playing race or color politics and treat themselves and all others the same, but if you are calling out the obvious and you are ignoring the other big part of your ethnicity, heritage, color, religion and upbringing – you are practicing bigotry and bias, in a new form.
Can America vote for a Hindu Vice President?
The most opportunistic politician is one who can change it all for their benefit – color of their skin, ethnicity, values and religion for political gains to blend in with their vote bank. The question that this has raised for the larger Hindu American community as they get more politically engaged and involved is – do they retain their color, ethnicity and religion as they continue to serve, as they aspire to run for political positions or do they transform themselves into a new brand with a different color, race or religion to appeal to the voters? Secondly, can America accept a candidate that is brown, Hindu, Tamilian and then elect them to a post of Vice President? Do we educate and train our current and future generations that the only way they can aspire to be the President of US is by shedding away their Hindu beliefs, tradition, culture and identity.
At the moment, it looks like we are not there yet or not yet ready to accept this fact. Kamala has not done much to change this either, in fact she has doubled down and done everything possible to shed away her true Hindu identity, at least that is how many Hindu Americans see it. Not all blame is on Kamala either, there have been other Hindu American candidates that have transformed themselves prior to getting into politics. To be fair, we also have many other Hindu American politicians who run with their original identity – color, ethnicity, values and religion, but in predominantly Indian American or Hindu American dense constituencies. What will these candidates have to change as they aspire and get ready to run for higher office? Looks like they will have to change a lot.
This is a fundamental question and one that is being discussed in the Hindu American community, will we continue to see Hindu American candidates denouncing or shy away from their color, race, values and religion? Some of that struggle can be seen by the response, the uproar, around the disrespectful Hinduphobic tweet by Kamala’s niece Meena Harris.
On Saturday both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris extend Navratri greetings via Twitter, to the Hindu American community. This may not be enough for Hindu Americans. While Meena Harris has since deleted her own offensive Navratri “greetings” tweet, she has not apologized despite the many calls to do so by Hindus Americans, including Democrats.
It is time that Hindu Americans aspiring for higher office or in any sphere, assimilate and stand by their color, ethnicity, values, and religion and not shy away as these characteristics make up a big part of who they are and the good they bring to their communities, country and the world.
Article by – Nitin Anand