Is Hinduism an ‘unforgiving religion’? A college newspaper in New Jersey did think so

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A worker at a jewellery showroom displays gold idols of Hindu elephant god Ganesh (L) and Hindu goddess Lakshmi in Kolkata August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

NEW YORK – Forget for a minute the Citizenship Amendment Act debate that’s riled up India. Ponder this question: Is Hinduism an ‘unforgiving religion’? A college newspaper in New Jersey did think that indeed it’s so, before it did a double take on that controversial line of thought after criticism by an Indian American activist. Some equipoise revision followed, and the opening line of a story was changed to, ‘Hinduism can be viewed as a strict religion’.

The story in the student newspaper ‘The Signal’ at The College of New Jersey, headlined, ‘More young Americans don’t really care about religion’, originally began like this, before it was changed two days later: ‘Hinduism is an unforgiving religion. For some, menstruation is seen as unclean, gender roles are strictly adhered to and arranged marriages are still common.’

The story then quoted an Indian American freshman at the college studying biology, Neel Patel, who shattered the perception of Hinduism as being either universally ‘unforgiving’ or rigidly strict in its practice.

“Unlike other people, my parents never forced Hinduism on me,” Patel, a Hindu who was born in America, said. “Aside from taking me to the Mandir, it wasn’t a part of my life. And, I was also a big science guy, so you know, it was a mix of not being raised with it, not being around it, and my mind just being science-oriented, that I personally don’t think that it’s smart to believe in a higher power. But at the same time, I’m not atheist because it doesn’t make sense to say flat out that it can’t exist,” he said.

He added: “In India, this is almost definitely abnormal. But if you grew up [in America], everyone is, to varying degrees, less religious.”

The story then delved into the fact that Patel, just like a lot of other Indian American children growing up in America, never got too much focused with the rigors of religion as ‘it was just something that gradually lost its relevance as Patel grew older and more involved with science.’

The story’s premise and the notion discussed with a college professor – spinning from a study done by the Pew Research Center last year – was that America, and the world at large, is facing a dissociation from religion, as science continues to evolve and progress.

The Signal story opined: ‘Those included beneath that umbrella of the religiously unaffiliated are not just atheists and agnostics. Instead, there is a wide variety of people who believe in some form of God, but don’t identify with a specific religion, for a variety of different reasons. This population is known as the unaffiliated.’

The Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Emmy Liederman told The College Fix that the decision to change the opening line came after a complaint by Rajan Zed, an Indian American Hindu activist based in Nevada.

She explained further: “…When we initially used the word “unforgiving,” we meant only that some orthodox Hindu customs can be viewed as very strict. We hope that we have addressed the concerns that have been raised, and that readers will recognize that our only goal here was to publish an insightful article about an important issue affecting all religions.”

Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in an email sent to News India Times, condemned the college and the student newspaper for spreading an incorrect perception of Hinduism.

“It was highly inappropriate and insensitive for the newspaper of a “Top Public College” funded by tax dollars and student fees (many of whom were Hindu) to belittle Hinduism, world’s oldest and third largest religion with about 1.1 billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought,” he said.

Zed has urged New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis to launch an investigation into the publication and its story; demanded the college Trustees Chair Susanne Svizeny and President Dr. Kathryn A. Foster to offer a formal apology to the Hindu community; and the college to withdraw the print edition of the publication carrying the piece on Hinduism, from various campus locations, and remove the objectionable feature article from its online edition.

“Such an unwarranted and derogatory statement against a religion coming out of a public educational institution was really shocking for the hard-working, harmonious and peaceful Hindu community; which had made lot of contributions to New Jersey, USA and society in general; and continued to do so,” Zed bemoaned, pointing out that there are about three million Hindus in US, with New Jersey reportedly having the highest percentage of that community.

When the findings of the Pew study came out last year, I had pointed out that more Americans are aware that yoga emanated from Hinduism, than the fact that the Vedas text is associated with the Hindu tradition.

The fact of the matter is that despite India’s importance on the global stage, and intrigue with its culture and history, there is huge confusion and misunderstanding in America about what Hinduism is really all about.

What the Signal does bring out through the interview with Patel, contrary to its opening line, is that Hinduism is tolerant of change; magnanimously accepting of those who as he says, are ‘less religious’. It’s in fact, a religion that one can fall back upon for succor and redemption, any time one wants to in life, not be ostracized if one doesn’t pray daily.

That being said, it’s perhaps true of all religions.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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