Hindus Threaten Violence Over Image Of Krishna With Coca-Cola
How would you feel if someone took an image that you hold as sacred, and then copied it, and altered it in a way that changed its meaning?
You might feel upset, but how upset would you feel?
Would you feel upset enough to write a message of protest?
Would you feel upset enough to demand the censorship of the image?
Would you feel upset enough to threaten violence against the person who altered the image?
Threats of violence are a growing part of the Hindu reaction to an image created for a small discussion group that meets to talk about mythology.
The group, which meets in a small city in the United States, created the picture in order to provide visual foundation for consideration of the different expectations people have for sacred imagery and mundane imagery. The “mashup” of sacred and mundane in the image was designed to elicit critical questions about the function of symbolism in both forms of art, and to provoke contemplation about possible common ground between the two categories.
The picture shows a scene from the Bagavad-Gita in the Mahabharata, in which Arjuna, an aristocratic archer, and Krishna, his charioteer and a divine being disguised in human form, decide, after hesitation and soul-searching, to blow on conch shells as a signal to begin a bloody battle against Arjuna’s own cousins, to decide who shall have the right to rule an ancient kingdom. The picture has been changed so that the conch shells are bottles of Coca-Cola. Instead of issuing a call to war and destruction, Krishna and Arjuna are pictured as enjoying a nice cold drink.
To many Hindus, it seems, this change is an outrage. This week, the web site of the mythological discussion group has been flooded by angry comments from Hindus.
Many of the messages call for the image to be censored.
“What foolish idea! Whose the stupid imagine this immediately remove it and don’t repeat”
“anyone check for the host provider and complaint. We can remove the entire site from public domain. And cancel his account as per international rules.”
“Please Dont hurt the feelings of hindu’s. Delete the picture immediately”
Other messages call for the creator of the image to be brought into court for legal punishment.
“I strongly condemn this. How dare this foolish coca use such advertisements and insult the feelings of Hindus.This web site and the coca co should be dragged to court for legal action.”
“Please remove this picture as quick as possiblr and say sorry for this. Try to respect the God’s of other religion. You can be booked for this. Hope u will understand this and do it quuckly.”
“Warning : Delete this photo in 48 hours, this make Shame of Hinduism, otherwise we will take legal action on you. (Hindu Nayay Petth)” (This warning was issued almost one year ago. Hindu Nayay Petth appears to have decided not to take any legal action.)
Other messages threaten violent punishment of the image’s creator.
“No respect to religion. these people should be hanged”
“you, motherfucker! remove this picture from your site. otherwise Hindu will teach you lession.”
“who do such things joking hindu gods must b punished”
“REMOVE THIS PHOTO QUICKLY OTHER WISE WE REPLY YOU IN OUR SHIVSENA STYLE.”
This last message, in all caps, makes a reference that most Americans will not be familiar with. Shiv Sena is a hardline Hindu nationalist organization. Shiv Sena has been repeatedly involved in instigating mob violence against non-Hindus in India. In 1984, Shiv Sena started riots in the towns of Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad, killing over 250 Muslims there. Not one single member of Shiv Sena was ever put on trial for participation in the violence. A government commission, investigating riots in Mumbai that killed about 275 Hindus and 575 Muslims in the early 1990s, found that “there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders”.
When the commenter promises to “reply you in our Shivsena style”, it’s a threat of mob violence in the United States.
These Hindus are expressing anger because the creator of the image has “No respect to religion.” When a religion advocates censorship of speech and the killing of dissidents, and seeks to make blasphemy a crime even for non-believers, however, what makes that religion merit respect?
This case illustrates the importance of blasphemy in a free society. Religious believers like to cast themselves as victims of blasphemy, but what are they really the victims of? Blasphemy causes no physical or financial harm. It merely hurts feelings and offends sensibilities.
When religious people tell nonbelievers that we are not allowed to engage in visual or verbal communications that offend their religious sensibilities or hurt their feelings, they are declaring that religious people have a special legal right to be protected from ideas that they don’t like. They’re stating that religions should have the special power to censor nonbelievers’ speech when it fails to obey religious rules.
Essentially, the Hindus who are seeking to legally prohibit or violently punish blasphemy against Arjuna and Krishna are asserting that everyone in the world, Hindu and non-Hindu alike, must obey the behavioral codes of Hinduism. They’re demanding that we all act as if the mythological events described by Hindu texts really happened. They’re insisting that we all accept the assumptions of Hinduism – that we place ourselves under the power of Hindu religious leaders to tell us what is real and what is not real.
I, for one, refuse to grant that power to the Hindu extremists. I refuse to accept that Hindus have the right to not have their feelings hurt, and have the special privilege of never having their religious beliefs contradicted in public.
That’s why I’ve uploaded to this article the image that the Hindus want censored. Because I see Hindus threatening to kill anyone who shows this picture, I am deciding to join in the blasphemy, and to amplify it. If a Hindu activist group succeeds in pressuring the web host of the mythological discussion group to remove the blasphemous image, I want the image to survive, in defiance of the censorship.
I am posting the image here, not because I believe in the importance of saying that the god Krishna drank Coca-Cola, but because I believe in the importance of the freedom to say that Krishna drank Coca-Cola, if that’s what a person wants to say.
If we allow Hindus to threaten us into silence, and the destruction of images that fail to meet their religious codes, then we will quickly become subject to the demands of other religious groups as well. We won’t be able to say anything that contradicts the beliefs of any religion, or produce art that satirizes even the most outlandish religious beliefs.
If we were all to live in a blasphemy-free world that the Hindus demand, by the way, Hindus would have to change their ways as well. Islam, after all, prohibits any use of any artistic depiction of the human form for the purpose of worship. It’s a blasphemy, to Muslims, the way that Hindus use human-shaped statues and paintings of divinities as part of their religious worship. So, if everybody in the world has to obey Hindu religious codes for religious imagery, wouldn’t the same standard apply to Hindus? Wouldn’t the Hindus have to destroy their own religious artwork, so as to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslims?
In a world where everyone is required to refrain from offending everyone else’s religious sensibilities, no religious art could be made, and speaking about religion would become impossible.
In a world where blasphemy is allowed, we are all free to practice religion as we see fit, or not to practice it at all.
True freedom of religion is worth living with the risk of an violent attack by religious zealots. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be afraid of the righteous brutality of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or members of any other religion.