Memorandum by the Vivekananda Centre London
and the Hindu Council (UK)
1. HINDUISM AND
(a) Response to the first question:
Do different faiths figure sufficiently?
Response: Hinduism does not figure sufficiently
(b) Response to the second question:
How should faiths be presented in BBC programmes,
services and governance?
Detailed analyses of the aspects of Hinduism
that are absent and detailed evidence of aspects of Hinduism portrayed
that are seriously flawed are presented. Suggestions for a way
forward are presented in the conclusion.
2. THE BBC'S
The key themes of Hinduism that the BBC (to
our knowledge) has never explored in depth are:
(a) Religious Pluralism, which accepts and
celebrates many pathways for making spiritual progress incorporating
theistic as well as non-theistic approaches. It is religious pluralism
that allows many religions to co-exist on a rational format. It
is religious pluralism that allows religions to co-exist with
full dignity and without compromise. It is this feature of Hinduism
that holds the answer to how people of different faiths can co-exist
peacefully in a multi-faith society. Despite the serious need
to invoke this theme in its programming to diffuse the issue of
strife in the name of religion post 9/11, the BBC production teams
have failed to do so.
(b) The Divinity of mankind is the conclusion
of the Hindu religion. This teaching offers the highest dignity
to mankind. It transfers reverence reserved for an invisible being
in an invisible plane to reverence for all living things here
and now. It defines the worship of God as service to mankind.
The most potent aspect of this teaching is that it displaces materialistic
humanism with spiritual humanism. It gives the best reason for
being altruistic. It teaches that the reason why we should value
life is not because we are all made from the same sophisticated
lumps of carbon but because we are all expressions of the spirit.
The BBC has not explored the Hindu version of humanism, called
(c) Reconciling the truth claims of Science
and Religion is a theme Hindu teachings are well geared to explore,
but no such programme has ever been commissioned. Hindu teachings
are in broad agreement with the theory of evolution, the big bang,
quantum mechanics and the life sciences. Such exploration can
make religious teachings interesting and exciting and may even
lead the way for modern sciences to take conceptual leaps towards
unifying science with spirituality.
3. THE BBC'S
Our experience with the BBC Religion and Ethics
programme makers clearly suggests that these team members have
very poor knowledge or grasp of Hinduism. They are not familiar
with any of the key teachings of Hinduism outlined above. Most
of them think that Hinduism is not a religion in a real sense
but is just a way of life; a social phenomenon incorporating Hereditary
Caste, Polytheism, Holy Cow, Sati, Kali etc. This is why a very
idiosyncratic version of Hinduism gets portrayed. We offer two
prime examples of such poor and inaccurate portrayal of Hinduism,
one focused on caste and the other on Kali.
(a) Radio 4 "Sunday programme"
on 26 September 2004. One of the issues examined in this programme
was to see if caste discrimination is operating in the UK. The
programme makers were informed that just as the English Class
system operating in Christian England cannot be said to be Christianity;
the hereditary caste operating in India is not Hinduism. Hereditary
caste does not have sanction within the scriptures of authority
of Hinduism, so the programme should make this clear. The programme
did no such thing. When we were interviewed and asked where in
the UK the hereditary caste system is being practised, the BBC
was told: "The royal family is the best example of the hereditary
caste system being practised with full pomp and glory in the UK."
All such comments were edited out of the programme presumably
to continue to propagate the idea that hereditary caste system
is Hinduism. The BBC presenter Martin Stott had a wonderful opportunity
of correcting this serious misconception parading as Hinduism
but chose to perpetuate this biased image of Hinduism. Another
speaker on the programme, Dr Eleanor Nesbitt from Warwick University
was also shocked by the final version of the programme that ignored
her serious reservations that "the caste issue should not
be presented as a criticism specifically directed at Hindus.''
One week before the programme was broadcast we had written at
length to Jennifer Daniel, the BBC researcher, pointing out to
her that saying that the hereditary caste is Hinduism, is equal
to suggesting that the crusades are Christianity. The hereditary
caste system is an atrocity perpetuated in the name of Hinduism
but is certainly not Hinduism. Yet none of our comments were taken
into consideration. The programme also interviewed a lady complaining
about another elderly lady not prepared to touch her or that some
boys were wearing T-shirts with "Jat" written on it.
This is the best the Sunday programme could come up with to show
that the hereditary caste system of the Hindus being practised
in the United Kingdom! Yet the programme had done its work of
undermining Hinduism by suggesting that Hinduism promotes a hereditary
caste system. Appendix (a) enclosed contains most of the email
exchanges relating to this programme.
(b) Radio 4 documentary broadcast on 15 September
2003 titled Sisters of Kali The BBC Radio 4 team examined
the life of an Irish lady called Margaret Noble who became a disciple
of Vivekananda and followed him to India to dedicate her life
for the welfare of the sick and needy in Kolkata. She chose to
work within the framework and integrity of Hinduism. The programme
did not focus on the spiritual force that took her to India but
chose instead to present her as an "Irish Terrorist"
and went so far as to link her with the recent Sri Lankan suicide
bombers, even though Margaret Nobel lived in India about 100 years
earlier! To demean Margaret Noble the programme was conveniently
titled "Sisters of Kali". Contrast this with the BBC's
presentation of Mother Teresa who also went to Kolkata to work
for the needy; she did not operate within the integrity of Hinduism
but was there as a Christian missionary. She is portrayed as a
saintly figure compared to this Irish lady who is presumed to
be a terrorist, even though not the slightest bit of evidence
was offered to prove any such activity. Today the whole Hindu
nation calls Margaret Noble "Sister Nivedita" or the
"dedicated one"; one who dedicated her life for the
Hindu cause. William James the famous Harvard academic said of
Margaret Noble that she was a person of extraordinarily fine character,
a very deliberate and balanced individual but the BBC presenter
Mike Thompson equated her to a suicide bomber!
4. THE BBC AND
The above examples 4(a) and 4(b) are used in
our textbook Hinduism for SchoolsAppendix (c) as
classic examples students can use to explore media bias against
religious teachings at GCSE level.
The BBC has not only failed to produce or promote
programmes focusing on any of the key teachings of Hinduism listed
earlier, it has produced some very biased programmes denigrating
Hinduism. Such programmes reflect a very limited and poor grasp
of Hinduism by many of it producers, presenters and researchers.
Such poor portrayals of Hinduism undermine the validity of this
religion and obstruct it from playing an important role in reviving
and refreshing the message of spirituality for a modern multi-faith
6. THE POOR
THE BBC CAN
The reasons for supporting this assumption are:
(a) For many years now we have been offering
suggestions to the BBC for making programmes that contain the
crucial and dynamic themes of Hinduism like Religious Pluralism
or Science and Spirituality, but we have received no encouragement.
Appendix (b) contains a series of emails sent to various BBC departments.
(b) Whenever we have complained or tried
to correct serious errors in the presentation of Hinduism we have
received a very cold and negative response from "all"
concerned. The very uniform negative attitude we detect from all
BBC departments makes us suspect institutional anti-Hindu bias
(c) We know of no Hindu who has told us that
the BBC does a good job of presenting Hinduism. In fact every
Hindu we have spoken to on this issue has told us that overall
the BBC does a very poor job of presenting Hinduism and most of
them think that it is strongly anti-Hindu. Even if this opinion
may be questionable, this is how the Hindus perceive the BBC.
(d) Anything that may show Hinduism in a
poor light is immediately picked up by the BBC programme makers,
while anything that may show Hinduism in a glorious light remains
ignored by the BBC. (Eg producing documentaries on controversial
figureheads of Hinduism rather than the more acceptable ones).
7. THE WAY
On 29 September 2005 we had a very fruitful
meeting with Mr Bookbinder, the head of Religion and Ethics at
the BBC, with some of his executives. The openness Mr Bookbinder
has shown to our concerns makes us feel that we have at long last
found someone within the BBC who is able to appreciate our frustration.
Our case is simple: we wish to displace the serious misconceptions
that are allowed to parade as Hinduism so that the real, dynamic
aspects of Hinduism that have the power to make religious programmes
interesting, exciting and relevant in a modern multi-faith society
are given an opportunity to be commissioned and broadcast.
(a) Promote commissioning programmes discussed
in 3(a) 3(b) and 3(c)
(b) Need to "educate" the BBC staff
on the correct version of Hinduism rather than what they perceive
(c) As a safety measure, there is a need
to involve a Hindu consultant to oversee commissioning, production
and editing process on programmes dealing with Hinduism
10 October 2005