In today’s globalized society, you may be familiar or at least heard of cultural appropriation and its relation to oppression and cultural respect. Cultural appropriation can be defined as “The unacknowledged and inappropriate adoption of customs, practices, ideas of one people or society by members of another or typically more dominant society is called as cultural appropriation”.
Hinduism and Hindu community have been the silent victims of this phenomena on a humongous scale in the 20th century especially by the West. The most heinous act of cultural appropriation of Hinduism came forefront in when Nazis adopted Swastika symbol. They misused one of Hinduism’s most sacred symbols during that time. Year after year cultural appropriations at different levels have become rampant in the West in the name of freedom of expression. Businesses, non-governmental organizations, religious groups, political parties have never left any stone un turned when it comes to misusing and appropriating the sacred symbols and texts and philosophies of Hinduism. Latest in the list of such offenders are allegedly ALDI SÜD (the super market chain based at Germany and operates through out the world) and the offence has crossed all limits hurting the sentiments of Hindu community throughout the World. Aldi in the name of business had given the name “Saraswati” (Name of a Hindu Goddess who is giver of knowledge) to one of its alcohol brand (Gin) in its supermarket chain.
Significance of Goddess Saraswathi in Hinduism
Saraswati Namasthubhyam Varade Kamarupini
Vidhyarambam Karishyami Siddhir Bavathume Sadha
"Salutations to Goddess Saraswati, the one who gives boon and grants wishes. As I begin my education, shower me with the knowledge and intellect I need to attain wisdom"
This is the reverence and complete devotion with which a child picks up his pencil and prays for the blessings of Goddess Saraswati before beginning his or her school life.
Saraswati is the Goddess of wisdom, her four hands adorn Vedas, Japmala (necklace), Kumandalu (pot of water) and Veena (musical instrument). The Vedas signify universal knowledge, the Japmala signifies spirituality, introspection and meditation, the Kumandalu signifies creativity and power of purification, the Veena represents sciences of perfection in Arts and Music.
Nowhere in the closest proximity could the name of this Goddess be associated with anything that has got nothing to do with education or values or art, the last on the list would be alcohol.
Very recently there was an advertisement put up from ALDI SÜD, a German Supermarket, that they are selling a product with the name- Saraswati Premium Dry Gin.
Firstly, one could argue that it is just a name and it should not be taken as an offence to any belief. It would be equally hurtful to us if someone would name it Jesus Gin or Mohammad Gin, because Hinduism ethos thrive on the philosophy of "ekam sat bahuda vipraha vadanti", which translates into God or Truth is one and the wise call it with different names.
Second, people often brand cultural appropriation outcry as being “oversensitive”. Instead, people should make efforts to show mutual respect for the cultures they adopt, give credit where it is due and realize that there is a thin line between appreciation (and branding) and appropriation.
Often, it is the Hindu Gods who are pulled in for contrivance. The most convenient form of this was displayed by Amazon when they had advertised the carpets and toilet mats of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which was later taken down after the community took a stand against it. (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.americanbazaaronline.com/2019/05/16/petition-launched-against-amazon-for-selling-toilet-mats-depicting-hindu-gods-437557/%3famp )
Few other examples of the same sort were when-
● in a fashion show held in Australian Fashion Week where a swimsuit of Goddess Lakshmi was modelled, (https://www.matatraders.com/blogs/ethical-fashion/lakshmi-bathing-suit-makes-a-splash-in-india ),
● Amazon Canada dared to sell Indian Tricolor as a doormat (https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/amazon-canada-removes-doormats-with-indian-flag-after-protests/story-qyZpavoFlc7Z4udnVwykIO.html ),
● Urban Outfitters were running out of creative ideas and decided to have God Ganesha's image on their socks (https://www.racked.com/2013/12/17/7630619/urban-outfitters-apologizes-to-hindus-for-offensive-socks)
● Converse stores in the US became boring themselves instead of their shoes and printed image of Gods on their sneakers (https://m.rediff.com/news/report/converse-withdraws-shoes-with-image-of-hindu-gods/20100922.html )
Many of such examples can be quoted where the world ceases to see the difference between creativity in the name of cultural appropriation.
There is a strong emotional reaction from Hindu community and Indian community of condemning the above-mentioned product from ALDI SÜD and as an immediate action, a letter was sent to ALDI SÜD not to market this product by Germans and Indians based at Germany who follow Hinduism. There is no response from ALDI SÜD pertaining to this matter.
Just the way each human has the right to live and practice their faiths without being discriminated, this needs to be practically followed in real life as well.
Satyawahr strives for a peaceful society where everyone is respectful towards each other. As a part of it, Satyawahr decided to provide a platform for the Hindu community living in Germany and promote a campaign launched by them in its fight against injustice that manifested in the form of gross cultural appropriation by “ALDI SÜD” in Germany. It is the duty of every responsible citizen regardless of race, religion and identity living in Germany and India to stand up against such practices of cultural misappropriation. To support a campaign against such ill-practices in the name of Business, cultural misappropriation is contributing for the harmonious existence in German society and in the world. Cultural misappropriation must stop!
Below we provide you the link to the petition by Hindus of Germany foundation. If interested stand by and sign this petition to make a difference!
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