US Hopes Desis in India Make Chai Not War in 2012

The U.S. is sending comedy showcase “Make Chai Not War” with performers Rajiv Satyal, Azhar Usman and Hari Kondabolu to India for a seven-city tour starting this week. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the tour is part of the State Department’s regular global exchange cultural programs. She offered more information on why the government is supporting the $100,000 tour.

“The reason we decided to support this tour is because, among the things that they are known for is their talk about religious tolerance, about the importance of breaking down prejudices and about the positive experiences they had growing up as Indian-Americans in the United States,” Nuland said.

“In addition to doing shows, they’ll also be holding audience discussions on these issues of religious tolerance, and doing workshops and having some interviews with the press,” Nuland said, adding that the seven city tour costs about US $100,000; of which the US Embassy in New Delhi is supporting them with a grant of US $88,000. (Economic Times)

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The Fierceness of Janaki

A Siren Theatre Project ProductionLast month protesters marched in front of the San Jose Museum of Arts, protesting the interpretation of Sita in the animated film Sita Sings the Blues and in a painting by M.F. Husain where Sita is depicted the nude. The words “shameful” and “denigration” were some those used by the conservative religious groups protesting the artwork – but the museum continued their support, stating “freedom of artistic expression.”

This weekend the Bay Area will see another form of “Sita art”, this time in the form of a theater production. Siren Theatre Project’s production of Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt will be hitting the stage at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco for it’s world premiere this Sept 16th -18th. This ground breaking stage production written by Virali Golkadas touches upon issues of power, sexism and classism from the perspective of Sita.

“I wrote Janaki – Daughter of Dirt to show that Hindu goddesses, just like the women in my family, are not self-sacrificing devotees,” said playwright Virali Gokaldas.  “They are complex, powerful, strong-willed examples, helping us hold compassion for others and ourselves, guiding us when making hard decisions, and above all, giving us the courage to live out our own destinies.” [sirentheatre]


As for the controversy in San Jose, here’s what Virali and Anirvan Chatterjee have to say:

Our ability to recontextualize the Ramayana is precisely what makes it a living story, instead of a dead one….The Ramayana is as rich and diverse as India.  If our Indian traditions allow even a 180 degree twist like Ravana being the hero, then what right do protestors have to censors new ways of expressing the story?


As Bay Area writers who have our own visions of the Ramayana to share, we take the attack on the tradition of diverse Ramayanas personally.  The Ramayana speaks to us, just as it did to those creators whose works were being protested in San Jose. [sirentheatre]


Art for arts sake or art to honor and personalize faith? Check out the play this weekend and form your own opinion. And just for our Sepia Mutiny readers, tickets are only $20, with the discount code “Sepia Mutiny” over at Brown Paper Ticket. For more information on Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt or Siren Theatre Project, visit their facebook page and their website.

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30 Mosques 2011

This year the 30 Mosques guys–Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq–continued their annual Ramadan journey that started out in NYC in 2009 and expanded across the USA in 2010. The duo is celebrating Eid after wrapping up their 2011 Ramadan travels that took them to mosques and Muslims around the nation. If you’re celebrating too, I wish you and your family a joyous holiday. Eid Mubarak!

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

In their PBS interview with Hari Sreenivasan, Tariq described the 30 Mosques trip as an opportunity to see how people are living the religion of Islam. Ali highlighted a Muslim community in San Francisco called Ta’leef Collective that impressed him with its inclusive attitudes and “come as you are” philosophy. Continue reading

She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

On Monday, the EEOC supported Hani Khan by filing a federal lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for violating her civil rights by discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. As a hijab-wearing teenager, Khan applied for a job with a Hollister Co. shop (owned by parent company A& F) in the San Mateo, California, Hillsdale Mall. The manager told her about the store’s “look policy”–which Khan describes as clothes that convey a fun, beachy vibe–and said at work she’d have to wear a head scarf in the company colors of white, navy or gray. Continue reading

What do Hindu Americans think?

In the comments on this weblog there are lots of debates about what person of religion X thinks. This has particularly been vexing to me when someone asserts “Christians believe Y,” based on interactions with a particular type of Christian. Though CUNY”s American Religious Identification Survey and the General Social Survey are excellent resources, probably the best clearing house on American religious data is Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. Unfortunately Pew’s specific data is hard to link to, so I’ve had to repeat the same information over and over and given instructions on how to find the specific data through a series of clicks.

To get around this I decided to replicate some of the data points of possible interest to readers of this weblog. I extracted Hindus, Buddhists, Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, and Roman Catholics. The majority of South Asian Americans are of Hindu background, and even more of Indian Americans. Buddhists are diverse, but since they are of the same broad religious family (Dharmic) as Hindus I thought they’d be a good check. The Evangelical Protestants here are traditional white denominations, not the historically Black Protestant denominations. Mainline Protestants refers to the major establishment Protestant denominations, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (note that a minority of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, are evangelical, but the majority are not. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not evangelical, but the Presbyterian Church in America is). Do remember that Hindus in particular are still predominantly an immigrant community in the United States (this makes sense of their peculiar age distribution). Continue reading

Brawl breaks out at Queens gurdwara

A brawl broke out at a Queens, NY gurdwara Sunday after a dispute about membership rolls turned violent.

The New York Daily News reports:

Seven people were arraigned on riot and assault charges Monday for their roles in a vicious turf battle at a Sikh temple in Queens.

Assailants wielding cricket bats and small swords disrupted prayer services Sunday morning at the Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Sikh Center in Richmond Hill, police and witnesses said.

“I’m going to kill you,” defendant Harinder Singh, 47, screamed before punching Joginder Singh in the face, says a criminal complaint filed in Queens Supreme Court.

Gurnam Singh, 47, rushed into the temple swinging a stick and lunging at others while religious ceremonies were underway, the complaint says.

The NY Post adds a bit more detail:

The attackers brought the long sword and at least one other blade, as well as a hammer, mallet and cricket bats to the temple at 101st Avenue and 114th Street at around 11 a.m., witnesses and police said.

As you can imagine, New York City’s tabloids (which include the Post and the Daily News) have had a field day with this story. Be sure to read the Langer Hall’s analysis of the coverage. Continue reading

A statistical snapshot of North American brown folk

I’m really excited by the releases of 2010 Census. We’ll finally get some really fine-grained data. For example, we know from the American Community Survey that the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Nepali, communities have grown a great deal over the past 10 years. But I’m curious about more than these sample based estimates, I want fine-grained stuff which the decennial Census provides. We’ll know for example whether the endogamy rate for marriages where individuals are Indian Americans who were born or raised in the USA remains ~55%. That means in a little over half of the marriages between an ABD and someone else, that someone else was also an Indian American (whether foreign born and raised, or American born or raised). One model might be that with the growth in the community you’ll see the outmarriage rate drop. Some social science has seen this tendency among Asian Americans in general. I’m probably leaning in that direction myself (as a descriptive matter of the population wide movement. I am not personally part of that trend).

But before we get to the point where we get lots of 2010 data releases, I thought I’d “dump” a statistical snapshot of sorts of South Asians in North America. I wanted to include the UK and other communities of the Diaspora, but labor hours are finite. Feel free to offer links/data in the comments. The data below are from the US Census, the 2001 Census of Canada, and Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. It is interesting that even across the two North American South Asian communities there are large differences. In particular it struck me how much more nationally diverse Canadian South Asians are, while the American South Asian community is numerically dominated by people whose national or family origin is in India. Continue reading

Kumaré. Believe.

As Razib pointed out in the post immediately preceding, Sathya Sai Baba is dead. Who will stand up now to replace him? May I offer a humble suggestion? Kumaré:

What? Ok yes, I did just go there.

Kumaré is an enlightened guru from the East who builds a following of disciples in the West. But Kumaré is not real. He is an American filmmaker named Vikram Gandhi, who has transformed himself into Kumaré as the centerpiece of a social experiment designed to explore and test one of the world’s most sacred taboos. Concealing his true identity from all he meets, Kumaré forges profound, spiritual connections with real people from all walks of life. At the same time, in the absurdity of living as an entirely different person, Vikram the filmmaker is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity he reveals his greatest teaching: his true self. A playful yet genuine and insightful look at belief and spirituality, the film crosses a line few have dared to cross, all to discover: from illusion comes truth. [Link]

Check a review from SXSW.

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Sai Baba, 1926-2011

Sathya Sai Baba, Hindu Holy Man, Dies at 86:

Indian television ran nonstop news coverage on Sunday of the guru’s death, while officials and celebrities expressed sadness over an “irreparable loss.”

“Sri Satya Sai Baba was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life, even as they followed the religion of their choice,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement. “The nation deeply mourns his passing away.”

Andhra Pradesh state, where Puttaparti is located, declared four days of mourning, with its top official calling Sai Baba “a symbol of love, affection and passion.”

“Sri Satya Sai Baba has given his great self to the service of humanity,” Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy said. “He will be remembered for ages to come by all sections of people all over the world.”

Prediction: as the Indian middle class waxes Sai Baba will be viewed as a trailblazing religious entrepreneur. There will be many more in his mold. Continue reading

Before He Was Osho

Rajneesh.jpg Last month, a group of us were sitting at Currylicious drinking chai and discussing the recent article that had come out about Bikram Choudhury of THE Bikram Yoga. Bikram, apparently, is prone to a “free-loving” nature with his yoga followers or as stated in the title of the article, it is an “Overheated, Over-sexed Cult.”

“Well, that’s not too surprising…” someone mentioned. “It sounds like the Osho Ashram in India where you need to get STD tests before entering.” That’s when our conversation took an interesting turn. The Osho Ashram they were talking about is located in Pune, India. Established in 1974, it was the place where Osho made his eventual return in the 1980s and his final resting spot when he passed away in 1990. But before Osho was known as Osho the “sex guru” of India, he was known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh the “Rolls-Royce guru” of Oregon.

That’s right, I said it. Oregon. In the early 1980s Rajneesh and his 2,000 followers set up camp in the ranch lands of Eastern Oregon at a place they named Rancho Rajneesh. The story that ensues has all the twists and turns of a Hollywood big screen hit. This past weekend, The Oregonian wrote up a fascinating five part expose of the Rajneeshees rise and fall, 25 years later. They have colorfully eerie photos from the days of the city’s hey days and have a great collection of documents archiving this bizarre story. I’ve always known that there has been a rich history of traveling gurus coming to America, but this was hardly what I had in mind.

Thousands dressed in red, worked without pay and idolized a wispy-haired man who sat silent before them. They had taken over a worn-out cattle ranch to build a religious utopia. They formed a city, and took over another. They bought one Rolls-Royce after another for the guru — 93 in all.

Along the way, they made plenty of enemies, often deliberately. Rajneeshee leaders were less than gracious in demanding government and community favors. Usually tolerant Oregonians pushed back, sometimes in threatening ways. Both sides stewed, often publicly, before matters escalated far beyond verbal taunts and nasty press releases. [theoregonian]

The story started when Osho/Rajneesh escaped India after a crackdown on his smuggling and tax fraud. His chief of staff was the 31 yr old Ma Ananda Sheela. Continue reading