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Hindu Americans outraged by CNN’s ‘Believer’ hosted by Reza Aslan

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Religious scholar Reza Aslan has come under scrutiny after the first episode of his new show, “Believer,” aired Sunday night.

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — The host of CNN’s new show ‘Believer’ and religion scholar Reza Aslan has many members of the Hindu American community outraged over what they say is an attack on Hinduism. The premiere episode aired Sunday and critics question the motivation, timing and focus of their first effort looking at religions from around the world.

 “With multiple reports of hate-fueled attacks against people of Indian origin from across the U.S., the show characterizes Hinduism as cannibalistic, which is a bizarre way of looking at the third largest religion in the world,” the group U.S. India Political Action Committees (also known as USINPAC), said in a statement.

During the first episode, Aslan meets with Aghori babas outside Varanasi in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The Aghoris are what many Hindus describe as a small fringe sect of Hinduism.

Aslan bathes with the Aghoris in the Ganges, a river Hindus consider sacred. An Aghori baba smears the ashes of cremated humans on his face. At the Aghori’s invitation, Aslan drinks alcohol from a human skull and eats what was purported to be a bit of human brain.

“Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal,” Aslan wrote on Facebook. “It was burnt to a crisp!”

According to Samir Kalra, Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow at the Hindu American Foundation, the show sensationalized Hinduism. He believes by focusing on the Aghoris, Aslan is misrepresenting the majority and the norm of a vastly followed religion.

“Believer devoted copious footage to highlighting stereotypical and sensationalized presentations of Hinduism: simplistic description of karma; conflations of caste/varna/jati; and the pollution in Varanasi and of the Ganga. The show unnecessarily focuses on Aghori ascetics, who are alien to almost all Hindus precisely because they practice austere, even repulsive rituals and prefer to remain shunned. What follows are the titillating scenes of drinking from a skull, wearing a crown of cadaveric tissue and a rather animated ascetic drinking his own urine.” – Samir Kalra, HAF

Aslan also interviewed several non-cannibal Aghori members, some of whom ran an orphanage and a group of volunteers of people who care for those suffering from leprosy.

Critics of the first episode come from divergent points of view and include Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna and the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Shalabh Kumar.

The Hindu American Foundation tells Diya TV the CNN episode was highly insensitive given the time we live in. Kalra explains:

“Religious literacy in the United States about Hinduism, as every Hindu American knows, is woefully inadequate. The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey of 2013 found that only 36% of Americans could answer a single question about Hinduism: Whether Shiva and Vishnu were deities associated with Hinduism. When the knowledge deficit is so stark, and minority communities are facing a rise in hate incidents across the US— a Hindu American was killed and Sikh American was shot in likely hate crimes in the past week — why would Aslan and CNN sensationalize the Aghoris as a primetime introduction to the faith of a billion Hindus, most of whom have never seen or met an Aghori?” – Samir Kalra, HAF 

Aslan holds a BA in religious studies from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from Harvard Divinity School, an Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in sociology of religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He’s previously appeared on many cable news network shows as an expert on religion. Born in Iran, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, author and entrepreneur, Jessica Jackley and their three sons.

We reached out to Aslan and have not heard back from him or his team and look forward to sharing their perspective on this highly sensitive issue. 

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Exclusive: Sanders, Bloomberg camps on Indian American outreach

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Sanders

AHMEDABAD, India (Diya TV)  — We have more from Las Vegas in the aftermath of the latest Democratic debate. We spoke with both the Sanders and the Bloomberg campaigns about what they plan to do to reach the Indian American community and have more analysis on whether any of the candidates moved the needle to win new support.

A number of prominent Indian Americans in government will accompany President Trump and the first lady to India next week. The delegation will visit Delhi, Agra, and Ahmedabad and likely include Rita Barnwal of the U.S. Department of Energy, Bimal Patel of the U.S. Treasury Department, Manisha Singh of the State Department, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Seema Verma of Health and Human Services and Kash Patel in the National Security Council.

There is tragic news to report out of India, where we’ve learned Ayurvedic Master Healer Dr. Pankaj Naram has died. Dr. Naram has been a mainstay on Diya TV in the daytime for many years, sharing his wisdom on how to use everyday ingredients to heal challenging ailments. Dr. Naram literally touched the lives of millions of people and we will effort to pay homage to this man whose impact will live on forever.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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India becomes 5th largest economy, overtakes UK, France

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Economy

AHMEDABAD, India (Diya TV)  — India is now the world’s fifth largest economy, overtaking the UK and France in 2019, according to a report by American non-partisan think tank World Population Review. The report says India’s economic liberalization starting in the early 1990s was key to this growth. Though the report also indicates India’s real GDP growth is expected to weaken for the third straight year from 7.5 percent to 5 percent.

Billionaire entrepreneur and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be on stage at the ninth Democratic Debate in Las Vegas, qualifying for the first time after polls indicate his star is rising amongst potential Democratic primary voters after spending more than $300 million in political advertising. Diya TV will be in Las Vegas with full coverage from what will certainly be an eventful night.

Lakshmi Sridaran, who has been the interim executive director for non-profit civil rights group, SAALT, South Asian Americans Leading Together, will take on that role moving forward. SAALT also announced Simran Noor will serve as their new Board Chair.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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150,000 people expected for ‘Namaste Trump’ in Gujarat

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Namaste Trump

AHMEDABAD, India (Diya TV)  — President Trump & the first lady will get a massive welcome on his visit to Gujarat next week, where 150,000 people are expected to attend ‘Namaste Trump.’ It’s expected to be an even grander event than ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston, where 50,000 people greeted Prime Minister Modi. A delegation of business leaders from the U.S. are also headed to India for a series of events in New Delhi.

The 17th annual India Conference at Harvard brought more than 1000 people to the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard’s Business School including a long list of luminaries in business, politics and entertainment. And only on Diya TV, we have exclusive conversations with Indian unicorn CEOs Ankiti Bose of Zilingo and Ritesh Agarwal of OYO.

Roseville Police in California say a taxi driver, Rajbir Singh, saved an elderly passenger in his cab from giving a scammer $25,000. The 92 year old told Singh she was about to withdraw the money to settle a debt with the IRS. It sounded like a scam to Singh, who asked the woman to reconsider, even detouring to a police station to help convince her not to withdraw her money. Eventually, she decided not to proceed. Roseville Police say Singh should be honored with a “great citizen award.”

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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