India’s Aghori ascetics have been subject to frequent portrayals in Western interpretations of the “mystical East”. In a six-part series on CNN, religious scholar Reza Aslan decided to revisit the clan and their practises for an exploration of faith and religions across the world. As is apparent from their promotional material, the news organisation focussed less on the nuance and more on the sensational.

This, for instance, was one of CNN’s promo tweets for Aslan’s series, titled Believer:

The Hindu American Foundation and American Hindus Against Defamation and Shalabh Kumar’s Republican Hindu Coalition have all protested with the Orientalist series.

Documentaries like these were made often in the past and can be found in the archives of British Pathe or BBC. Aslan has made 2017 versions of those, and not much has changed, including a voiceover about the magical Hindu (below).


There has been a lot of chatter about Aslan’s series on twitter. Among the complainants was Shalabh Kumar, a supporter of Donald Trump who is believed to be lobbying for the post of US ambassador to India.

But there were also more nuanced takes.

Some even took to fact-checking Aslan’s statements.

Calls to action have also been made to the twitterati’s favourite MP on social media.