Hindus condemn CNN presenter who ate human brain during documentary on sect

'I am very disturbed that CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism'

CNN presenter eats human brain in documentary about cannibalistic Hindu sect

CNN television presenter Reza Aslan has eaten a human brain on camera while filming with an obscure Hindu sect, prompting condemnation from members of the religion's mainstream.

The eponymous host of Believer with Reza Aslan was in India to meet with ascetic members of the Aghori sect, which has fewer than 100 members.

He also drank from a human skull and was pelted with faeces by a guru.

The footage prompted a backlash from critics who accused him of painting a false and extreme picture of Hinduism, with America's only Hindu Member of Congress tweeting: "I am very disturbed that CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism."

Statue of Hindu goddess Durga paraded in Kolkata

The Iranian-born religious studies scholar was in India's spiritual capital, Varanasi, which is located on the banks of the sacred Ganges river.

Filming with the Aghori gurus, he also smeared the ash of a cremated body on his face and drank from a human skull.

After Mr Aslan fell out with one of the hermits, the devotee of Shiva began eating his own faeces and hurling it at the presenter, yelling: "I will cut your head off if you keep talking so much".

The Aghori were described as "cannibals" by CNN when promoting the documentary, though they only eat the flesh of people who have died of natural causes.

They believe they can remove the bonds of shame and fear by recognising that all oppositions are ultimately illusory, and their rituals aim to break taboos around body fluids, sexual practices and the dead.

Many live in burial grounds, and they may consume marijuana to aid them in their meditation.

Their extreme devotion to the deity Shiva is said to earn them the respect of rural Hindu populations around Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

However, such practices have no place in mainstream Hinduism as practised by around a billion members of the world's third-largest religion, including Member of Congress for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard.

As well as the first Hindu, Ms Gabbard is the first American Samoan elected to Congress, and was at one time the youngest woman in the legislative body.

Continuing her condemnation of the programme on Twitter, she wrote: "Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism.

"Aslan and CNN didn't just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals—as if touring a zoo—but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma and reincarnation that Hindus have been combating tirelessly.

"CNN promotional materials and trailers that included a scene showing a group of Hindus under a caption “CANNIBALS,” perpetuated bizarre and ugly impressions of Hindus and their religion."

She also noted that Hindus are "still reeling after witnessing terrible hate crimes in the last few weeks."

Most recently, Indian-born Harnish Patel was shot dead in South Carolina.

His death follows that of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, allegedly murdered last month by a white man who shouted "get out of my country".

These incidents were also cited in a statement from the Hindu American foundation.

They wrote: "When the knowledge deficit is so stark, and minority communities are facing a rise in hate incidents across the US... 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 Aghor?"

But Mr Aslan rejected the suggestion his programme could contribute to a climate of anti-Hindu sentiment, writing on Facebook: "as I repeatedly state on camera and in voice-over, [the Aghori] are not representative of Hinduism but are instead an extreme Hindu sect who reject the fundamental Hindu distinction between purity and pollution.

"In almost every interview I did about the show I talked at length about the issue underlying the episode, including the fluidity of the caste system, the problems inherent amongst the untouchable class, and how devout Hindus of all stripes are working tirelessly to overcome both."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in