2016-06-30
NEW YORK (RNS) The American Museum of Natural History in New York has indefinitely postponed the screening of two controversial films after protests by Hindu activists.

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

"The first concern was capacity," said Anne Conty, a spokesperson for 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 threats from protesters.

However, the museum also met with a very public campaign to block the screening of the films, led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, a cultural organization that promotes Hindu values. The VHPA labeled the two 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 can show what they want to. But the theme of the exhibit was Hindu devotion and they were showing something that was anti-Hindu."

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

According to the museum, "In the Name of God" and "We Are Not Your Monkeys," a music video of Dalit, or lower-caste Hindus, were never meant to duplicate the theme of the main exhibit but were to provoke discussion.

"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 San Francisco-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 threats from cowards who want to block and trash the very principles that made museums such as yours possible?" wrote Himanshu Thakkar, an Indian environmentalist. "Such excuses are pathetic, especially for a museum located in New York City (not Kandahar)."

more from beliefnet and our partners