Once again Hindus are angry and upset. The photographs of a one-piece swimsuit with a portrait of Goddess Lakshmi printed on its front and rear recently offended many in a country which is emotional about its Gods and Goddesses. Hindu-majority India is different from the West; here God is not a design element.
Australian fashion house Lisa Blue – which designed the swimsuits and bikinis with portraits of the goddess of light, prosperity and fertility – not only apologised for the incident, but also halted the production of the swimwear range.
This was not the first time when West’s practice of painting Hindu Gods on objects displeased and offended Hindus across the world. In 2009, American fast food chain Burger King ran a print ad in Spain, which depicted Lakshmi seated atop a meat sandwich with the catch phrase, "A snack that's sacred”.
The controversies do not end here. Supermodel Heidi Klum dressed up as Goddess Kali for a Halloween pa
rty; French shoemaker Minelli came up with shoes imprinted with Lord Rama’s image; NBC’s Saturday Night Live showed Lord Ganesha as a sex act; Seattle-based 'Sittin Pretty' came up with images of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali on toilet seats.
The Hindu organisations have time and again lodged protests against such imaginations of the West. The protests may be forcing the offenders to withdraw their products or sometimes apologise, but is that all? The habit of Western designers to bring religion into the realm of their creativity offends Indians and they seriously need to learn that.
And those who cite artistic freedom while denigrating God, they should learn the freedom of expression does not give them a license to hurt religious sentiments. The satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten a few years ago angered Muslims across the world so much that they set on fire European embassies. Well, I don’t support the assassination attempts on Danish artist Kurt Westergaard for his controversial caricature of the Prophet Mohammed. But his argument - "It was not a hate cartoon; it was a defence for freedom of speech" – does not seem to be bona fide.
Western designers need to understand that for Hindus, who are very sensitive about Gods and Goddesses, it is very difficult to bear the culture shock. Being liberal and creative is welcome, but not to the extent of hurting someone’s sensibilities. As with the freedom of expression comes the burden of responsibility.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)