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Hinduism Film Screening to Foster Ethnic Unity Stirs Trouble Instead

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by spnadmin, Jul 22, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    1947-2014 (Archived)
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Rohan A. Narine is an earnest 26-year-old Guyanese-American and fledgling community organizer in Ozone Park, Queens, with ambitions to hold elected office one day — “if they need me to do something politically.”

    Some months ago, he identified his first big cause: to help unify the young members of the Indian and Indo-Caribbean diaspora in southern Queens and develop a political voice for the population. He created a plan to hold a series of events at which young Sikhs and Hindus, the two dominant religions, could “get to know each other, network.”

    For the inaugural event, he decided to screen “Sita Sings the Blues,” a 2008 animated feature film that tells a story derived from Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. The film has provoked outrage among some Hindus who believe its portrayal of the Ramayana and Hinduism is offensive. But Mr. Narine, who considers himself a devout Hindu, did not think much of this. He just liked the film.

    “It raised some questions and forced me to go back into the scriptures and read them for myself,” he said this week. “I had a mild catharsis.”

    In May, he set the screening date: June 26; booked the site, a Hindu temple in Ozone Park run by his uncle; pulled together a panel, including the director, Nina Paley, to discuss the film after the screening; and sent out invitations.

    But then things started to fall apart. And Mr. Narine, who was born in London to Guyanese immigrants and moved to New York when he was 4, quickly learned a thing or two, not just about community organizing but also about the quicksand of cultural conflict.

    The trailer for “Sita Sings the Blues.” The entire film can be viewed on Youtube.
    First, his uncle got cold feet. “He said, ‘Good idea, wrong film,’ ” recalled Mr. Narine, who works as a real estate agent. The young organizer found another place, the Starlight Pavilion banquet hall in Ozone Park, rebooked the event for July 20 and sent out a new round of invitations — glossy, laminated cards that he mailed to hundreds of people.

    Then on Sunday, Mr. Narine began receiving e-mails and phone calls from angry Hindus criticizing his choice of film. Dozens became scores; scores became hundreds. They were coming from across the country and around the world. By Wednesday, Mr. Narine had heard from more than a thousand opponents. Most were unkind, some were even threatening. Words unprintable on this Web site were abundant.

    Mr. Narine was stunned. “I had no clue the backlash was this bad,” he said. “They thought I was working to bring down Hinduism.”

    “Stop abusing Hindu gods,” one protester wrote. The e-mail carried the subject line “u dog.” Another e-mail said the film was “insulting the Divine Holy scriptures revered to us Hindus and hurting our feelings” and accused Ms. Paley of having a “pervert, sick, disgusting and barbaric imagination.”

    The owner of the banquet hall, who had also been inundated with calls and e-mails, withdrew his support and permission to use the site. Mr. Narine’s sponsors stop returning his calls.

    On Wednesday, Mr. Narine sent out an apologetic e-mail to his invitees. The film, he announced, would be shown in a private home in Ozone Park. He had also decided to waive the admission fee, though the panel discussion would still take place and food would still be served.

    “My apologies for the third change of venue,” Mr. Narine said. “I look forward to seeing you.”

    According to Mr. Narine, the lobbying effort was organized by a few Hindu groups, including the Forum for Hindu Awakening, a nonprofit organization based in Mount Laurel, N.J., which called for the protest on its Web site. “Let us inundate the organizers and Starlight Pavilion with letters or phone calls, registering our peaceful, but prompt protests,” the site said.

    Mr. Narine has accepted the blame for inadvertently inviting the protest: He sent the invitations to people he had thought were community leaders and allies. They had forwarded the e-mails to the Hindu groups that waged the campaign against him.

    He acknowledged that it has been a learning experience. “My uncle turning it down?” he said. “I can live with that. But the thousand e-mails I got?” His voice trailed off.

    “I will make sure I don’t send any e-mails to — quote, unquote — community leaders anymore,” he concluded.


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