A Question for Those Offended by the Amazon Toilet Covers: Do You Need to Defend the Divine?


A Question for Those Offended by the Amazon Toilet Covers: Do You Need to Defend the Divine?

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Of course you do, this is Planet Earth, circa 2019. Imagine if there was a battle, and Daenerys Targareyen stood up to fight in place of Drogon. Or to take an example closer to home, imagine if ACP Pradyuman on CID tried to “todo” the darwaza instead of Daya. We’d scream at our screens, “What are you doing? Your friend can do the same thing so much better!”

Groupthink tends to stoke the flames of insanity though, as this is exactly what happened when Twitter user Anshul Saxena posted pictures of toilet covers and bathroom mats being sold on Amazon, emblazoned with Hindu gods and goddesses. Although these products aren’t available in India, and are sold by a third-party retailer on the e-commerce platform, social media has exploded with the trending #BoycottAmazon.

Nor is this the first time Amazon has incurred the wrath of Brown Twitter. Last year, a US-based Sikh body, the Sikh Coalition, took offence with items such as doormats and rugs featuring the Golden Temple being sold online, and demanded that Amazon prevent their sale. The whole incident was a beat-for-beat replay of an episode that took place three years ago, when people tore into who else but Amazon, for selling doormats with images of Hindu Gods printed on them. #BoycottAmazon trended on Twitter when people expressed their outrage. I guess history does tend to repeat itself.

But going by everything we are taught about an All-Powerful Being that determines the course of the Universe, shouldn’t doormats be an irrelevant concern for Them? It’s not like our Gods are exactly in hiding. They’re everywhere, squatting on secular spaces – the backs of buses, the dashboards of cabs, in sidewalk shrines, and on pendants around our necks. If the image of God can weather the indignity of being plastered on a paan-stained wall, it can survive a pair of slippers. You know what? Place the doormats inside the temples; no one wears footwear there and they’ll fit right in with the decor. Problem solved!

Of course, it’s never that simple. Just as he Amazon affair over the Golden Temple merchandise was not the first time, this latest scuffle over bathroom soft furnishings definitely won’t be the last where expression of ideas is curtailed in the name of religion. Throughout history, views that are contrarian to those held by the religious establishment have been suppressed. For example, I never managed to get my hands on a copy of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, though I really wanted to read it. Doniger’s research and qualifications meant nothing as The Hindus was banned in 2014 after being available since 2009.

Distressingly enough, Immortals of Meluha still glares down at me from shelves every time I visit a bookstore. The Meluha series committed many crimes against literature and turned Lord Shiva, The Destroyer, into a generic fantasy tough guy, but nobody raised a stink. The series is actually one of Indian publishing’s biggest successes (but that’s all your fault, not mine!) so clearly, deviating from the standard portrayal of Gods is not what gets the outrage party started.

It should be a safe assumption that a Divine Being wouldn’t be too bothered by misrepresentation. After all, each culture has its own interpretation of God, so I’m guessing if He/She is okay with being depicted as an old man in the sky, a laughing Asian monk, or not at all, then we’re all at liberty to come up with our own concept of divinity.

When we take up virtual arms and try to silence a retailer selling offensive home accessories, we also indirectly endorse a similar action on a larger scale.

We’re also told that this Divine Being is omnipresent and all-powerful. After all, at different times and in different places in human history, we’ve credited Them with levelling entire cities, destroying demons and monsters, and flooding the entire planet. So why weren’t those who challenged dogma, served some piping-hot godly retribution? Could it be that God either didn’t care – or was in agreement? I mean, it’s hard to be all-knowing and refute that the Earth revolves around the sun, or that man descended from the apes.

But take heart Amazon, you’re in rarefied company. Even Copernicus and Darwin’s theories were challenged by the clergy. However, if there is a heaven, I’m sure they’re in that club because of that sweet, irrefutable, research-backed scientific knowledge they gifted us. To adapt a line from Jurassic Park, “Knowledge finds a way.” Take Doniger’s book; it’s available at bookstores and online once again (at Amazon! Naughty Amazon…) Now that the outrage has died down, people have forgotten about the whole mess and gone on with their lives.

Let’s look at MF Husain. The Picasso of India, who lived out his final years in exile from his country, shuttling between London and Doha. It’s hard to pick one singular incident in his career to illustrate how his artistic expression suffered because of hurt religious sentiments. He offended Hindus and Muslims both, the first with his paintings and the second with his film Meenaxi. Waves of protest were launched against him, his exhibitions were attacked, even his house was vandalised at one point.

Husain died in 2011. Since then, with no new paintings to offend them and no target for their wrath, the guardians of sanctimony have forgotten him. And the joke is on them, as his paintings have fetched some of the highest prices of any Indian painter to date, and his family will probably live comfortably from his estate. Surely, having upset the sentiments of two of India’s most dominant faiths, Husain and all his descendants should have suffered damnation and not prosperity?

All of this points suspiciously to the real culprits behind religious censorship. Not the Gods, but their most misled followers. These are the ones that see religion not as a path to salvation or betterment, but as the bedrock of their identity. These are the people that forced Galileo to recant his theory of heliocentrism (Earth moving around the sun), allowing him to drop one of history’s sickest burns after he was imprisoned for his views: “And yet, it moves.”

God does not need defending. If He/She exists, He/She is the master of all creation and can take care of Himself/Herself.

For these individuals, a doormat with a God or temple on it available on Amazon, is a frightening idea. It opens up an uncomfortable realm of thought, where the idea that not everyone can share the same beliefs gets a physical manifestation. The doormat debacle is just an amusing footnote in this tussle between easily bruised religious egos and freedom of expression. Even in today’s supposedly modern world, the conflict takes on much darker tones, in India and across the world. Buckle up folks, the pain train is rolling out.

Look no further than the beaten bodies of victims of cow vigilantism, or the murder of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar in the streets, or the rubble of bombed abortion clinics in the USA to see how the road to Hell is actually paved with personal insecurities and religious dogma. When we take up virtual arms and try to silence a retailer selling offensive home accessories, we also indirectly endorse a similar action on a larger scale, such as storming the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris to avenge the name of God. Their motivation and ours is eerily similar: You insult MY God, you must pay.

God does not need defending. If He/She exists, He/She is the master of all creation and can take care of Himself/Herself. Humans need not waste their breath over hurt religious sentiments. There’s plenty of opportunities to get outraged in our country anyway. Didn’t like a movie? Found a Snapchat video offensive? Did a Bollywood celebrity say something stupid? Did the wrong politician inaugurate your neighbourhood bus stop? Take your pick – just leave God out of it.