Rapper Cardi B on the cover of Footwear News. Picture: Instagram
Rapper Cardi B on the cover of Footwear News. Picture: Instagram

OPINION: Why Cardi B is not the only person to blame for making a mockery of Hindu culture

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Nov 13, 2020

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There is a fine line between appropriating Hindu culture and making a mockery of it. Let’s just put that out there.

Right now, everyone is asking whether Cardi B learned her lesson after her sneaker campaign kicked up a ruckus - and rightly so - for insulting Hindus the world over with the misrepresentation of Durga, the Hindu goddess of war, strength and protection.

But is that really the question we should be asking?

Should we not be asking why it is that people don’t do their due diligence and research before embarking on ignorant campaigns like this? Why do people and celebrities think that our Hindu deities make for great Halloween costumes? Why do some clothing brands feel it is okay to have images of our deities printed onto clothing for commercial appeal?

Really, is nothing sacred any more? If it sounds like I am ranting that’s because I am.

I’m frustrated over the profound level of ignorance when it comes to Hindu culture. Why doesn’t a fascination with our culture inspire a curiosity that leads to an informed understanding, instead?

As a Hindu, I was outraged over the whole Cardi B saga as well, especially with many of us preparing to celebrate Diwali this weekend.

The timing couldn’t have been worst. Not because there is ever a good time to offend Hindus - or any religious sector - it’s just caused unnecessary upset during what should be a joyous time of the year.

Back to the issue, though. I felt strongly about weighing in for several reasons.

Firstly, Cardi B shouldn’t be the only one shouldering the blame of the unforgivable blunder because of her celebrity status. Every person involved in the campaign photoshoot for Footwear News’s cover story should be accountable.

Secondly, where a high-profile brand is involved, surely there’s lots of research that goes into the campaign roll-out, including the objectives and, ultimately, the message that the brand wants to send out?

I’m not going to get into the semantics of the process of marketing and brand affiliations but I do know this is a crucial step especially when building a campaign around a subject that your team and yourself are unenlightened about.

Following Thursday’s backlash, Cardi B and Footwear News issued apologetic statements with the magazine replaced the cover image, too.

In the photoshoot, which mimics this revered the deity and her 10 arms, Cardi B is seen wearing a red gown, the nails on eight of the arms around have long manicured nails and with her front two arms, she’s holding a pair of sneakers, which is a no-non for Hindus. We always remove shoes before entering a place of worship.

Heidi Klum dressed as Mother Kali (an epithet of Durga) for Halloween in 2008.

After taking a lot of flak, Cardi B took to social media to defend herself. She said: “When I did the shoot, the creatives told me I was going to represent a Goddess; that she represents strength, femininity and liberation, and that’s something I love, and I’m all about. And though it was dope, if people think I’m offending their culture or their religion I want to say that was not my intent. I do not like offending anyone’s religion; I wouldn’t like it if someone did it to my religion."

Footwear News stated: “Yesterday, we posted content from our exclusive Cardi B cover shoot. One of the images was intended to pay homage to the Hindu goddess Durga, and we intended to show a powerful woman. However, we realize we were not considerate of certain cultural and religious perspectives and how this could be perceived as deeply offensive. We take full accountability for this oversight, and we apologize., We must learn from this example and are sensitive to this sort of religious imagery when creative discussions are taking place in the future. Today, we’re releasing another cover from the shoot that was a subscriber-exclusive.”

Throwback to the time when Katy Perry shared this image on social media to describe her mood.

However, it was too late. The damage was done. No amount of apologies was going to douse the fiery anger of Hindus on social media.

While I appreciate that she didn’t deliberately set out to make a mockery of the Hindu culture, I am curious as to why, since she’s aligning herself with a brand and has agreed to the shoot, she didn’t do her own amount of research.

After all, celebs don’t get this far in the industry without being mindful of ensuring your brand isn’t tarnished by controversies such as this.

What also annoyed me was reading several articles where people described Durga as holding weapons in her arms.

To clarify, the Goddess Durga, often pictured seated on a tiger, carries several things, which include: a conch shell, a trident, a mace, a sword, a discus, a mace and a bow and arrow. She is the Goddess of War, which explains her fierce appearance. She’s also revered for her strength as a protector.

Again, this is why context and understanding are important.

I’m not sure where the buck will stop in the saga.

But, perhaps it should be a lesson to every celebrity, every brand and every person - the Hindu culture and our deities should not be used for commercial gratification of any kind.

So the next time a Heidi Klum decides on dressing up like Mother Kali (an epithet of Durga), a Katy Perry uses an image of the Goddess to describe her mood or some celebrity wants to appropriate something for their music video, fashion show or a campaign, I pray that they will think twice.

Rant over!

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