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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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Indian Independence day celebrated amidst Kashmir controversy

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Indian Independence Day celebrated amidst Kashmir controversy

NEW DELHI (Diya TV) — Indians around the world are marking the 72nd anniversary of India’s freedom from British rule with a series of ceremonies, the largest of which took place in New Delhi at a celebration featuring Indian Prime Minister Modi. Over the course of 90 minutes, Mr. Modi spoke about his government’s accomplishments during his term and the pressing matter that is of interest globally, Kashmir. Watch his full remarks in primetime tonight on Diya TV. Coverage begins at 6 pm.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services made their controversial public charge rule official. It will deny green cards to immigrants who have received federal aid and benefits, impacting one million immigrants annually who have received public aid. Aging parents are also likely to be disqualified.

And the Philadelphia community is in mourning over the loss of three members of the Khurana family, who died when their small aircraft crashed shortly after take-off on a flight heading for Columbus, Ohio. The victims, 60 year old Jasvir Khurana and his wife, 54 year old Divya, were respected physician-researchers teaching at Temple and Drexel respectively. Their 19 year old daughter, Kiran, graduated from high school last year. The Khuranas were on their way to visit their other daughter in California. The FAA and NTSB ruled the crash was an accident.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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EXCLUSIVE: Fremont PD and FOG confirm Independence Day Parade cancelled over security, permitting

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FREMONT, Calif. (Diya TV) — Fremont Police Department and FOG organizers confirm the annual Indian Independence Day parade, scheduled for this Sunday, is cancelled due to permitting and security concerns. FOG will still take place this weekend, minus the parade. Here’s our initial report on FOG security from earlier this week.

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Trump takes aim at India and China over tariffs

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Trump takes aim at India and China over Tariffs

MONACA, Penn. (Diya TV) — President Trump levied more criticism at India and China at a Pennsylvania rally, saying the two were no longer developing nations and were taking advantage of that status given by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Trump added India and China had grown and the US will not let that continue. Trump’s latest comments come as Indian trade minister Piyush Goyal is set to visit Washington next month.

Meanwhile, controlling the narrative on Kashmir has become job one for both India and Pakistan. Indian Ambassador Harsh Shringla said to FOX News that President Trump’s offer to mediate between India and Pakistan is not on the table, as the U.S. State Department and bilateral agreements between the rivals made clear. Shringla added integrating Indian-administered Kashmir with the rest of the nation was necessary to ensure the region will prosper and stay secure.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had a more stark assessment to his Parliament, saying he wants to internationalize the dispute and aim to be the regions voice, adding Pakistan will ‘teach India a lesson’ should they attack Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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