Beliefnet
NEW YORK (RNS) The American Museum of Natural History in New Yorkhas indefinitely postponed the screening of two controversial filmsafter protests by Hindu activists.

The documentaries, titled "We Are Not Your Monkeys" and "In the Nameof God," were originally scheduled to run in conjunction with an ongoingexhibit, "Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion."

"The first concern was capacity," said Anne Conty, a spokespersonfor the museum. "Our large auditorium is being renovated."

But she admitted there were also "some security issues" involved.

The museum is said to have received a number of anonymous threatsfrom protesters.

However, the museum also met with a very public campaign to blockthe screening of the films, led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America,a cultural organization that promotes Hindu values. The VHPA labeled thetwo films "irrelevant" to the main exhibit and "anti-Hindu."

"We're not against freedom of expression here," said Shyam Tiwari,an Atlanta-based member of the VHPA's executive committee. "People canshow what they want to. But the theme of the exhibit was Hindu devotionand they were showing something that was anti-Hindu."

He referred to "In the Name of God," a 90-minute documentary made byAnand Patwardhan, one of India's most provocative filmmakers. Thedocumentary, made in 1992, deals with the campaign by the VHP in Indiaand other Hindu groups to demolish the Babri mosque in the Indian cityof Ayodhya. The mosque was destroyed soon after the film was made.

According to the museum, "In the Name of God" and "We Are Not YourMonkeys," a music video of Dalit, or lower-caste Hindus, were nevermeant to duplicate the theme of the main exhibit but were to provokediscussion.

"These films were part of a public education program," said Conty."The exhibit was freestanding."

Upon hearing that the screenings were being postponed, Ekta, a SanFrancisco-based group, led a petition drive and counter-campaign,enlisting the help of various academics, artists and diplomats.

"Since when do museums decide their programming based on threatsfrom cowards who want to block and trash the very principles that mademuseums such as yours possible?" wrote Himanshu Thakkar, an Indianenvironmentalist. "Such excuses are pathetic, especially for a museumlocated in New York City (not Kandahar)."

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