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Hymn For The Weekend: India’s Got 99 Problems…But Beyoncé’s Not One

Hymn For The Weekend: India’s Got 99 Problems…But Beyoncé’s Not One

India's Got 99 Problems...But Beyoncé's Not One

India's Got 99 Problems...But Beyoncé's Not One

…and with Hindu fundamentalism at an all time high in India, caste discrimination remains rampant, from the deliberate burning of Dalit children last year to the recent death of Dalit PhD student Rohith Vemula, who took his own life after being discriminated against by the University of Hyderabad.

While the world focuses on the art direction of a Coldplay video, students across India are protesting caste apartheid as universities continue to discriminate against lower caste studentsPrachi Patankar, a writer and activist in New York City, sums up the irony this way:

“I don’t give a damn about appropriation in a music video; that is the least of the problems facing our people over there. None of the people who are raising a stink about this whole Coldplay and Beyoncé video have once pointed out what is actually going on in India – where people are being threatened and murdered for speaking out against Hindu fundamentalists, where Dalit kids continue to commit suicide and drop out of school because being a part of extremely caste-ist school systems makes life unbearable. Dalit women’s and men’s bodies are dehumanized and violated on a daily basis, sadhus and yoga gurus are sexually exploiting women in unspeakable ways. Why are they not angry about that?”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan continues to contextualize the Coldplay video’s exotic tropes in juxtaposition to the situation on the ground.

I think that when you are choosing to engage and make content in a country in a socially networked age, you can’t make content without being aware of what’s happening. I just felt like it was not respectful. It was not the time for that kind of a release. It’s both content and the timing.”

Even when it comes to the religious tropes evoked in Coldplay’s video – from the saffron-robed Sadhus in a forest, levitating holy men and a blue-skinned child Krishna smack in the middle of bustling Mumbai – the exoticism of this particular imagery replicates a dangerous monolithic picture of all of India as “Hindu.”

Soundararajan says, “I think there’s this idea of presenting these Hindu deities and spiritual practices of Hinduism as being primarily linked to what it means to be “Indian”–but in fact India is religiously diverse. The fight to keep its diversity and to keep its secularity is actually core to the resistance of many of the people’s movements who are actively fighting for a secular space in the country today. The homogenization of what happens in our regions simply to be able to be easily consumed as a tourist package is really disrespectful and is not what we need to be seeing in 2016.”

India's Got 99 Problems...But Beyoncé's Not One

Finally, there is the specific critique aimed at Beyoncé. Many online South Asian voices argued that Beyoncé is complicit in “cultural appropriation” because of her dress, her headpiece, and her mehendi-covered hands, stating that Sonam Kapoor, the actual Bollywood actress who has a cameo in the video, should have had a larger role. Others say these criticisms of Bey in particular are just another form of anti-black racism and that ultimately the outcry is because she is a black woman posing as a Bollywood star.

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