By Richa Gautam
“Hindu! There are 700 Million of us!”
This was Apu Nahasapeemapetilon’s slightly indignant reply when a Reverend identifies all Homer’s neighbors by major religions but fails to remember Apu’s faith.
The Simpsons never shies from tackling major social issues and Apu’s quip above is also a telling social reality regarding the low level of awareness about Hinduism as a religion and as a culture.
Arguably, the height of cancel culture was when Apu was taken off air.
The producer Mr. Shankar who has an ear to the ground, related his understanding of the issue, ‘When a lot of people hear ‘The Problem with Apu’ (2017 documentary by Hari Kondabolu) they roll their eyes, ‘there is no problem with Apu, it’s these millennials, they’re out of control.’ No one asked the average Indian American what he thought of Apu, who was their sole voice on TV, for a very long time.
As many Hindu Americans settle in the US, they add to the growing cultural diversity of the country and have become the mainstay of the financial, technological and academic worlds. as quiet contributors to the social fabric of United States.
“Quiet” being the operative word.
As shown in “The Simpsons”, the Hindu Faith seems to have missed the mainstream consciousness and remains a subaltern and least understood religion. Hinduism has a highly scientific temper as highlighted by Carl Sagan, Voltaire and many other leading thinkers. Several “Shlokas” and “Sutras” from the Hindu Library reflect lofty ideals and humanism. One such Sutra “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” meaning “One World, One Family” is the Mantra and inspiration for the theme song by Vindhya Adapa’s written specially for October.
However, such values as shown above, and Hinduism’s holistic approach, deep veneration for the environment, its celebration of the feminine energy, are overpowered by school textbooks focus on tropes around caste and dated colonial narratives, despite protests by concerned parents.
Time for a Galileo Moment
An inspired “Galileo Moment” is much needed for a reality check. Equating Hinduism with “Caste” is akin to the Geocentric theory or saying the Earth is flat. A many layered rich heritage of a civilization has become a victim of reductionism and 18th-century colonial theories.
Amitabh Mittal, a longtime resident of Chicago, expressed his disappointment in the fact that his daughter had to discuss caste with him for the first time after studying it in her high school “World History” textbook. “We need to share unique values from our faith, like the ecofriendly practices, the colorful dances, and the divine feminine which has been lost to the rest of the world. It is time to cherish the world’s oldest indigenous culture.” He added.
“Caste” is a word from the Portuguese lexicon, and as a concept was imposed by the British during their census exercises. Hence “Caste” is found across all religions in the Indian Sub-continent as shown in the chart from a recent Pew Research Survey in 2020.
The time has come for the growing Hindu American population to build a proactive outreach with their neighbors, colleagues and friends. To create a broader understanding of what Hinduism stands for and what Dharma offers to the world, a broad array of Hindu organizations in North America have come together to raise awareness and celebrate the true ethos and culture of the Hindu civilization and the Hindu American Community.
One such step is to celebrate the month of October as the Hindu Heritage Month (HHM), highlighting one of the most culturally significant months in the Hindu Calendar.
Celebrations and Contests for Hindu Heritage Month
50 plus Indian American organizations have already joined hands with the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) to celebrate Hindu Heritage Month.
“I am excited to know that the time has come when people will know Diwali and Navaratri as well as they know Hannukah, Christmas and Kwaanza, said Shreya, one of the students associated with Hindu Students Councils(HSC) a participating organization.
Dr. Jai Bansal, VHPA’s Vice President of Education said, “How many times have you attended a multi-faith religious gathering, to find that the Hindu voice is conspicuous by its absence? Events such as HHM are vital to assimilate the growing Hindu American population into the American melting pot. HHM will follow an open architecture model, where people can plan their own events and tie them to Sanatan or Dharmik values. We are suggesting Yogathons, Walkathons, traditional festive Navaratri art, dance or even quiz competitions.”
28 Cities and 18 US States such as Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas and Ohio have already recognized October as Hindu Heritage Month and proclaimed that, “the communities of the faith have long served as beacons of hope, sharing their beliefs, and bettering their communities through service. Hinduism has contributed greatly to our state and nation through its rich culture, history and heritage.”
Many organizations are launching celebratory and educational events on this occasion to highlight the multitudinous arts, dances and music of India. Additionally, COHNA and Hindu Parent Network are launching creative writing contests for children that bring them closer to their ancient heritage. For more please visit https://hinduparentsnetwork.org/ and write to [email protected].
Never Have I Ever been called Princess Jasmine
In the Netflix series, “Never have I ever” a scene in Season 1 shows the lead protagonist Devi wearing her traditional half saree outfit and stopping at a Dunkin Donut, on her way to Ganesh Puja. A little girl in the store asks if she is Jasmine, the middle eastern princess. Yet another cultural faux pas occurs when the store clerk asks Devi, if she is dressed up for “Ramadan.”
Sounds familiar? How many of us have been stumped with that question? I have been there! It has happened to many of us during October when it is Diwali and Navaratri time.
After all Pop culture only reflects ground reality.
The canceling of Apu has not helped the Hindu American. He is still missed by many of us for whom Apu was the quintessential Indian American, highly educated (PhD no less) family man and a workaholic convenience store clerk at Kwik E Mart, slightly lacking a sense of fun. With his quirky, geeky and sardonic quips, Apu often showed his inability to see the world through another’s eyes and yet endeared himself to many with his thick Indian accent, penny pinching ways and sarcasm.
As he mingled with Simpsons and friends, Apu showed the world that despite his unique cultural identity, his prosaic existence transcends all religious and regional affiliations and yet his presence adds to the ethnic tapestry of his adoptive country.
In many ways, the Hindu Heritage month, aims to achieve the same this October.
Please visit https://hindumonth.org/ to support and follow our events and programs.
Richa Gautam is an Executive in the Steering Committee of COHNA, and a core committee member of Hindu Heritage Month. When not working as a data analyst, Richa writes for various publications, anchors and conducts shows and works on human rights causes that focus on amplifying minority voices.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.