The Misrepresentation of Abused Goddesses

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Many of you may have seen an article circulating about a new campaign about stopping domestic violence and sex trafficking in India. The campaign shows two Hindu goddesses – Saraswathi and Lakshmi – with bruises and cuts on their faces and the words, “Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”

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The point being made in this campaign benefitting Save Our Sisters is that though the goddesses are revered in Hinduism, the most popular religion in India (approximately 80% of the Indian population considers themselves Hindu), young girls and women are facing increasing violence. By drawing on the sacred imagery of these goddesses, the pictures should pull at our heartstrings and draw the connection to every day women.

However, Vamsee Juluri, a professor at the University of South Florida and a contributor to the Huffington Post, has a different take on this new campaign. He writes that this campaign can easily be interpreted as anti-Hindu propaganda, particularly after the sexual and physical violence reported in the Western media so much in the past year. Why, Juluri asks, are the goddesses being portrayed as battered women instead of the strong Goddesses they are in Hinduism? By manipulating the images of the goddesses, this campaign has disregarded how “the aesthetics of sacred representation are an integral part of how we [Hindus] view the divine.”

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The Abused Goddesses campaign missed a great opportunity to educate Western media about Hinduism and the beauty and power of Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and all the gods and goddesses. For Americans, particularly non-Hindu Americans, this is a perfect time to go learn about Hinduism and see the Hindu goddesses in their element. With more than two million Hindus living in the United States, Hinduism is not simply an exotic religion far, far away. It is just as important for a Baptist from Dallas and a Jew from D.C. to know who Lakshmi and Ganesha are as it is for a Hindu teenager living in Calcutta. These goddesses are powerful, beautiful, and divine – the West needs to see them in this spirit, not covered in cuts and bruises.

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