My parents immigrated in 1980, and in a state that had never seen Indians before, it was not the easiest at times. I remember as a first grader in the early 1990s, when other kids foundout I was Indian, they would ask me what tribe, and start dancing around me in a tribal dance, placing their hands over their mouth and chanting the stereotypical Native American songs we had only seen in cartoons. However, if they did assume the right country, the next followup question would be “Do you eat monkey brains like they did in Indiana Jones [And the Temple of Doom]?”
As I became older and India and the Indians in the community became more recognized, I could see the difference. I did not get asked these silly questions anymore. They knew where India was and what I meant when I said I was Indian. These questions lead more into religion by this point when I got older. Thankfully my parents had shared a lot of Hinduism with me as I grew up, so I was no stranger to the topic. As a child we watched the Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which taught principles of Hinduism but also the right moral values we should have. I learned more about Hinduism from the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, a revered book of the Mahabharata where Lord Krishna speaks to Arjuna to encourage him to fight on the battlefield, which is just a larger metaphor for fighting in the battlefield of life.
Hinduism is a very tolerant religion. There is no way to convert to the religion, it is considered a way of life. The basic tenet is that God is everywhere, in every atom, which makes up all things, he is in you, in me, and we should treat that God with respect and gratitude for making what we have possible. Hinduism treats God with this magnitude and know that it can be difficult for humans to fathom this being so they teach that God is only one, but he takes different roles. Even though I am one person, I am also a student, an employee, a daughter, a friend. God is also in these different forms taking on
different roles but continues to remain a single God. In this viewpoint, since God is everywhere, different religions are not looked down upon, rather they are embraced as different pathways to the same single God. That is the Hinduism I grew up with and believe in, the one clarified by Lord Krishna, a form of God speaking to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
I have always respected the Christian and Jewish prayers I have been exposed to in my life. I even did a Hindu prayer and Christian prayer at my high school graduation as salutatorian. I have attended many openings of temples around our area, in IL, TN, and GA and local governmental officials have always come out to be a part of the ceremony and share their well wishes to the Indian community on the work that is being done by Indian Americans in their community. They would willingly wear a tilak on their forehead, even wearing a floral garland made for their necks, and watch the festivities from seats of
honor at the front of the ceremony.
Amidst all of this, the recent remarks by Senate President David Williams, and current gubernatorial candidate for the Commonwealth of Kentucky made me very displeased. I felt like we were going back to the time in the 1990s when the little kids would run around me asking what tribe I was a part of or if I ate monkey brains. I have seen so much progress in the last 15 years in my state which have made me so proud of being a Kentuckian, an Indian-American and a Hindu. His comments felt like a step backwards, a step into ignorance and lack of understanding. My religion teaches to respect other religions as another pathway to God and I have always respected the other religions I have been exposed. Why can a governmental official like Senator Williams not share that same respect? This points to a bigger concern, that Senator Williams lacks the tolerance to accept other beliefs whether they be religious, political, or moral. I hope on November 8th, Kentucky shows Senator Williams what they think of his comments and continue to make me proud to be a Kentuckian.
Be sure to read the RP’s hilarious satire on this issue by clicking here.