6/07/2005

Crassphemy

A French shoe designer is producing a line of shoes decorated in "Hindu mythological style", including a depiction of the Hindu god Rama.

A number of Hindus are upset.

The news article says, in part:

"It has come to the notice of Hindu Human Rights Group that you are currently marketing shoes with the pictures of our sacred and highly revered Hindu god Lord Rama printed on them," said a letter sent to Minelli by Web-based activist group Hindu Human Rights Group (www.hinduhumanrights.org) .

"We wish to point out to you that Lord Rama thus illustrated is actually worshipped by millions of Hindus across the world. It stands to reason that such a display of contempt for the spiritual beliefs and practices of a billion Hindus worldwide is causing a sense of fury and outrage in the Hindu community and we have received numerous complaints from Hindus in France."

...

The group wants Minelli to withdraw the product. "Hindu Human Rights ask that you withdraw this line of shoes from circulation and sale immediately so as to prevent further unwarranted stress and distress to Hindus worldwide. Naturally, we also expect you to publish a fully apology to the Hindu community," the website adds.

Expatriate attorney Brij Mohan Dhir has supported the bid, and is himself mobilizing opinion to protest production and marketing of the shoe.

In a letter to Minelli, he wrote, "Your act and conduct showing Lord Rama on shoes is rather degrading, defaming, agitating, upsetting, intolerable, outraging our religious beliefs and emotions, spreading ill will and hate between the communities, and against the norms of democracy and fraternity or brotherhood and against law and order as it may cause breach of peace in the world."

The San Francisco-based activist has circulated a copy of the letter widely on the Internet. If Minelli doesn't back down, he is considering filing a complaint in the European Court of Human Rights, he warned.

I recognize the language used in the complaining website and by Mr. Dhir: It's lawyerese.

"contempt", "fury", "outrage", "stress", "distress", and that entire "degrading, defaming" et cetera paragraph from Dhir are all in a standard style for complaint letters: use strong language, predict dire consequences, and imply that any offense by the person addressed was deliberate and malicious. In short, start from the most extreme position.

Doing so means that when both sides compromise and reach a settlement, the odds are it'll be a fairly reasonable settlement. Standard legal negotiating tactic.

But... c'mon, is there an official Office of Hindu Symbolism Trademark & Copyright Protection somewhere? What Minelli has done is... crass. It's commercial. It's co-opting religious symbols to make money.

But what he's also done is... produced some really cool-looking shoes. I think those white pumps with the Hindu-style woman's face are lovely. I can appreciate them as art and design. I don't think I'd buy a pair (if I could wear shoes that narrow), because they are decorated in a style associated with a particular religion, one I don't follow, and it would feel disrepectful and hypocritical to wear them. (Buy a pair purely as an art object, to put in a display case? Mmmmm... maybe.)

But if I was Hindu, I'd consider buying a pair for my wife to wear for fancy occasions. In that context, wearing them would be respectful.

If the shoes had been designed and produced by a Hindu designer, rather than a French one, I don't think the likelihood of the complaints, particularly such strident complaints, would have been very high.

And one bit of irony to finish off with: On the India Times webpage where the article appears, at the bottom of the webpage, the very first Google Ad to appear is for...Ganesha-shaped chocolates.

(Last minute: Showing a draft of this to Hilde, she raised the question of whether Christians would be similarly upset by shoes with Jesus portrayed on them. Apparently not: I gotcher Jesus Shoes right here. [most of the way down the page, between the Jesus Visa and the Jesus hot air balloon])

(Last last minute addition: Alternately, a little more searching finds the news report that apparently "Jesus & Mary sandals" were sold by one European store, who withdrew the product after receiving 200 complaints in 48 hours; but they also sold 4,000 pairs. From the photo accompanying the BBC article, I suspect the problem wasn't that Jesus and Mary were portrayed on the sandals, but that wearing them involved walking on Jesus' face.)

3 comments:

talpianna said...

New motto: Jesus Is the Reason for the VISA

Anonymous said...

Bruce,

Just came across your site that has some mention of the shoes marketed by the French designer that has images of Lord Rama on them. I'm glad you raised your opinions on your blog but there are a few things I would like to clarify about Hinduism since you have accepted the fact that "you don't follow"

In Hinduism, we dont touch anything/anybody with our legs. We consider each person/thing associated with God and if we touch them with our legs it means we might be kicking God. In the same context Lord Rama is God for us Hindus, so when we don't even touch others with our legs, how can we be quiet when our God's picture is appearing on the footwear. You don't mind buying a pair to keep in for show - Wow I'm stumped by your blog entry that has mixed feelings - you say it is crass and it is for commerical and at the same time you say you dont ming getting a pair for show, or if you had a Hindu wife, you would have asked her to wear a pair. I think she would have slapped you for suggesting such a despicable suggestion. Don't get me wrong - I'm only telling you the reality.

Coming to your comment that if it were a Hindu who had designed this then there would not have been so much ruckus about it - I'm sorry to say that no Hindu would even think of doing such a stupid act of insensitivity. Our Indians or Hindus would not even have done anything like that for any other religion "even if they dont follow" Our motto is "Worship your own, Respect all"

Don't post blogs that are ambiguous in your feelings - you call this crassphemy and then you appreciate his creation - anyway you are entitled to your opinion. Just wanted to clarify some of the Hindu stuff "you don't follow". Name one Hindu who has done soemthing so stupid to Islam or Christianity.

Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Bruce,

Another comment on the chocolate deities: Look clearly and you will find that it is not an Indian/Hindu who has done it - Jeanne Fleming and Jessica Bard. We never do anything to insult our own religion. Why is it ironical - if you know how Google works then it is not the fault of the paper to make sure that ad is filtered. Google just found that AD more approriate to diaply hence it got displayed.