News India Times

We are all Hindu Nationalists. Why New York Times is wrong on saris.

It has been a “Sorry Day” every day (or should I say a “Sari Day”) for a well-known media organization in the US ever since they published a piece on Sari and its purportedly new affiliation with Hindu Nationalism. Of all things in the world, the New York Times found it convenient to conduct a frontal assault on a product that is renowned globally for its charm and elegance – The Indian garment called Sari (Saree). The Sari should not be promoted by any one or worn by anyone, pontificated the wise men who sit inside the NYT’s Manhattan office. The recently published article implied that wearing or promoting the sari would tantamount to support for the Hindu Nationalist government of India. People around the world are reacting to this racist and bigoted piece and expressing their natural outrage. I wish to join the crowd that is protesting the NYT.

How did all this begin? Well, the phenomenon that caught the attention of the NYT was a recent effort by the Government of India to promote its textile industry. Due to recent tax reforms in India, especially the GST tax, many small businesses are going through a painful time, financially speaking. To help alleviate that pain, the Modi government is coming up with some innovative initiatives. One of them is the promotion of the cottage industry that makes world renowned Saris in the ancient city of Varanasi, the constituency that elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Indian Parliament. Hence the NYT concluded that apart from all the problems being caused by the Modi government, the latest one deserves special mention. They argue that Sari is Hindu and therefore its promotion is high on the agenda of Hindu Nationalists and of course that would be very dangerous to the world. The author who had penned the article or the editors who allowed it to be published was either totally intoxicated or have lost all their sanity.

For beginners, the vast majority of the weavers who make these Saris in Varanasi are Muslim families and they have done it for generations. In other words, Muslims (not Hindus) make the most popular Saris in the world. Not just Hindus or Indians wear the Sari. Millions of Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, non-believers and followers of other religions wear it. Indians, Americans, Europeans and people of all nationalities and races around the world have either worn this elegant garment or dreamt of wearing it one day.

It appears that the NYT did not see Sonia Gandhi (the Italian origin politician who heads the Congress Party), Brinda Karat (Prominent leader of the Communist Party) or so many others who oppose Hindu Nationalism wearing Saris. We are only expected to look at Smriti Irani, the Textile Minister of India, wearing a Sari and then make an appropriate observation on the rise of Hindu Nationalism in all facets of Indian life, including fashion. I used to think that the first class in Journalism was on logic. I have been proven wrong by the NYT. As one BJP Politician put it, from now on consuming Indian dishes like Dosas may also be construed as an act promoting Hindu Nationalism.

From talk show host Oprah Winfrey to actress Julia Roberts, from British Prime Minister Theresa May to singer Jessica Alba, millions of women around the world are admirers of the Sari. Theresa May, in fact, wore the Sari on her maiden speech as Home Secretary (the equivalent of US Secretary of State). Just the other day, a Hispanic colleague of mine (who is a Catholic from Mexico) asked me where she could get a Sari when I showed her the photo of my wife in a Sari. The truth from the street is that if you are a female and you want that “Princess Look”, then you better take a good shot at the Sari. But, then again, the New York Times lives in the middle ages, it seems.

I have two pieces of advice for the NYT. Few years ago, a bumper sticker on someone’s car caught my attention. It said, “ The mind is like a parachute. It is only useful when it is open”. Obviously, the statement is asking us to have an open mind. It appears that the NYT has forgotten the utility of an open mind. It would be a good thing to have, especially if you are in the journalistic profession. Secondly, the purpose of journalism is to distribute facts, truths as well as fair and balanced opinion or editorial on matters of interest to the public. It would be good if the NYT attempts to regain its credibility in the world by sticking to that purpose. Perhaps the words of Walter Cronkite might be helpful to those who work in NYT.

“I think being a liberal, in the true sense, is being non-doctrinaire, non-dogmatic, non- committed to a cause – but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing. It is a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal. If they’re not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they’re preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can’t be very good journalists; that is, if they carry it into their journalism.” Those were the words of Walter Cronkite, a legend in the field of journalism sharing his thoughts in an interview to the Chicago Sun. Most journalists look up to his vision of liberalism and journalism with respect.

Cronkite had a warm and pleasant personality. I know first hand because he was a frequent visitor to my family’s Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C. He was a big man with a great smile. That was enough for any one to admire him. But more importantly, it is because he was a decent human being who performed his job in a responsible and ethical manner. He was a gem of a journalist throughout his career. That is why he was admired by people of all ideological shades, both within the US and around the world. There are many like him who tries to set the bar very high.

Unfortunately, there are few others in the media that indulge in distributing trash, raw sewage to a global audience every single day. They relish the thought of being controversial for the sake of controversy and in the process becomes more like a tabloid that is sold at grocery store counters. These days, the NYT, CNN and few others belong to this category. They have reckless disregard for facts and truth. They damage the reputation of the entire media industry. They should be shunned. Withdrawing advertisements and canceling subscriptions to the NYT would be a good way to express our rightful indignation at their thoughtless and irrational content. Organizations responsible for setting the standards of the press should ostracize them. Otherwise, we the true seekers of facts, truth and fairness will be the losers. Do your bit for the sake of truth and fairness.

In the mean time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hundreds of millions of Hindu nationalists and an even greater number of their Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish supporters around the world would be delighted to know that Arianna Huffington, Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Jessica Alba and millions of celebrities and ordinary people who are neither Hindus nor Indians are now officially Hindu Nationalists. For this rare discovery, Hindu Nationalists should be ever grateful to the Editorial Board of New York Times.

The author is the President of the US Hindu Alliance (USHA). He can be reached via email at contactgokulkunnath@gmail.com, through Facebook or Twitter.