I woke up today to an email by my mother-in-law, who loves stirring me up. It was a Fairfax article by a Melbourne-based lawyer of Indian origin, Kamna Muddagouni, lamenting the cultural appropriation of yoga by the West. Provocatively titled “Why white people need to stop saying namaste”, it railed against the commodification of yoga, which she saw as just another example of the West’s wider ignorance about Hinduism and South Asian culture. She felt much “othered” by it.
Her argument neatly fell into the tried-and-tested post-colonial framework, which goes something like this. We, the Indians, were colonised by the West. Cultural domination was a big part of it. The selective cultural appropriation that we continue to see with “white people” wearing bindis, practicing yoga and eating Indian is a continuation of that domination and oppression.
Now, our culture will be converted into something that it is not, and peddled back to us. We must control how our culture is practiced, and anyone modifying it to make it more relatable and suitable to himself/herself, is not just being inauthentic, he/she is being offensive.
I find such arguments difficult to swallow because of a particular French lady who once came to Mumbai and gave my younger sister a hard time.
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