What kind of lump of ice?


The Economist ran a bizarrely derogatory article on India and the Kashmir conflict on July 21st. Among the things that jumped out were

1. The subtitle of the article: ‘A Brighter Mood Brings an Opportunity. Expect India to Squander it.’

2. A photo caption below pilgrims that facetiously read: ‘Oh look, a five star military checkpoint’.

And then, this:

“THESE are unexpectedly happy days in conflict-torn Kashmir. Tourists flock from India’s sweaty plains to gasp the mountain air. Srinagar’s hotels, houseboats and cafés are crammed. Jetskis roar over the once-tranquil Dal lake. Hordes of Hindu pilgrims trek, unmolested, to a sacred penis-shaped lump of ice at Amarnath, a cave temple.”

A penis-shaped lump of ice? Forgive me for being crude, but check out the photo above. Whose penis exactly are they referring to? [rhetorical].

Surprisingly, the outburst of protest from the Hindu community has yielded neither retraction nor apology. Sheetal Shah, Senior Director of the Hindu American Foundation, writes on her beliefnet blog:

“Why would a such a well-respected magazine allow such a disparaging description to be published and then refuse to retract it?

In an effort to get an answer to this question, and also to request a retraction, the Hindu American Foundation reached out to the South Asia editor and suggested an alternate (and more respectful) description of “naturally formed ice stalagmite worshipped as a form of the Hindu God Shiva.”  To his credit, the editor did reply promptly to the inquiry.  Unfortunately, he pointed to his reference of wikipedia which defines the Shiva Lingam as “male creative energy or of the phallus.”  While there is no denying the existence of this definition jennifer aniston pokies, couldn’t he have continued reading to the next sentence which provides “[a] complementary theory [that] suggests that the Lingam represents the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva?”

When given the choice between two theories, why was the former found more worthy of publication in such a well-established magazine?  And even after making the decision to use the phallic interpretation of the Lingam, why choose the needlessly provocative, crude, and anatomical description of “penis-shaped,” and that too with the qualification of “lump of ice?”

HAF made both of these arguments, among others, to The Economist, to no avail.  To that end, the Foundation launched a campaign on change.org yesterday.  For every person who signs the petition, a pre-written letter is sent to The Economist with a request to replace the offensive description of Amarnath with respectful language.   As of the writing of this blog, almost 400 people have signed on.  Click here to see the campaign and sign on.

I sincerely hope that The Economist reconsiders its poor choice of words and replaces them with respectful terminology.  These types of descriptions, however small they may appear, are read by countless individuals, many of whom do not have much knowledge about Hinduism.  It presents a distorted image of a truly beautiful faith replete with thousands of years of philosophical thought.  For a magazine of such a high caliber, The Economist could do so much better.”

On a final note, I would venture that the Economist’s reliance on Wikipedia for accurate, valid and verifiable information is, well, lame. My 11 year old daughter’s school won’t even let the children use Wikipedia as a reference for their research reports.

Om Namah Shivaya!