Banning Kolams

After an exchange of e-mails with the association, Balasubramanian organized an energetic appeal, polling 20 of his immediate neighbors to see whether they objected to the kolam. Nobody did.

He gathered signatures and appeared before the association’s board, made up of volunteer residents, in September. The board listened but ruled against him….

Full article: Painting Tests Religious Freedom

A simple kolam.

A home owners association in South Riding, Virginia sent a notice to an Indian resident to remove their kolam decorations off their driveway. For those who don’t know, a kolam is a form of sand drawing practiced by Hindus in South India, usually drawn with rice flour, outdoors, at the entrance of a home (and gets blown away with elements of nature). The design patterns are a reflection of harmonious patterns present in nature, and is believed to bring in auspicious energy.

It’s about religious expression and sensitivity to other’s religious expression. If people want to ban kolams, they might as well ban Christmas lights (which is far more ostentatious than a kolam). Now that could get pretty ugly, and we’d be pretty much left with a lifeless, plastic, intolerant mono-culture.

I’d doubt they’d have raised such a commotion if this was an African American celebrating with Kwanzaa decorations on their driveway or a Jew with big inflatable menorah in front of his house (as was the case with one Jewish resident in that same neighborhood – a friend living there tells me). So why is there this blind-sight in granting this same freedom of religious expression to Hindus?

There is really no telling if this is a case of sheer intolerance (to new cultures), insensitivity, prejudice, or a bit of each. These folks should be sent to India for sensitivity training — where they’ll see a door-to-door display of real diversity with strikingly varied religious expressions and customs: dazzling array of different languages, attires, traditions, and sub-cultures… ought to make any squabbles over a kolam seem really petty (and indeed backward). India is eons ahead in regard to pluralism. The USA, a country where even wearing turban or bindi solicits resentment (let alone try walking around in a lungi or dhoti)… has a long way to go.

I remember a comment once from an American colleague about why many Indians wear mustaches. Before I could rebut, another colleague emphatically replied: it’s part of their culture. But if I had replied, it would have been, “we don’t ask you why Americans don’t wear mustaches, do we?” His comment might seem innocent, but it tends to assume the standard for what is “normal” is set by Western civilization, and the rest are looked upon as aberrations. If Hindus take things like this very light-heartedly then they’ll be taken for granted, and will be facing bigger issues — like this ban on kolams. That is, while others are fine to exercise their freedom of expression (open display of Christmas lights, Kwanza decorations, Hanuka lights, Halloween decorations, etc) , we will remain second class citizens, regardless of how economically successful we are.

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