An illustration of the Hindu goddess Kali holding amongst other things a packet of cigarettes published in the New Zealand Herald has caused shock and offence in the Indian community. The Hindu Council of New Zealand has formally brought this to the notice of the Race Relations Commissioner.
The illustration was pulled from the newspaper’s website, but a string of comments refer to it. “The Goddess Kali image you put up is very offensive to Hindus. This is a national newspaper and you should have given it a thought before you put up an image like that. Would appreciate if you can remove it,” said Sathu in a comment on Herald’s online version of the story, before the cartoon was removed.
Another comment by Jptan reads, “I was just going to say the same. I’m not Hindu but this image seems like it might cause offense and whoever drew and put it up was a bit ignorant of that fact.”
The illustration accompanies the story which talks about dairy owners expected to become moral police. Indian Associations are of the opinion that the illustration in addition to depicting what Hindus hold sacred in a derogatory fashion; has no connection to the article. “The illustration of Goddess Kali published in New Zealand Herald cannot be attributed to ignorance and has nothing to do with the article on dairy owners that it was accompanying. It seems to be a malicious desire to cause mischief by the cartoonist and the editor. They hurriedly removed the caricature from their internet version and this indicates they realized they had been caught, but instead of an apology and owning up, they just hoped no one will notice. ,” said Rajiv Chaturvedi, PRO, Hindu Council of NZ.
The New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles states that Editors should take care in photographic and image selection and treatment. Any technical manipulation that could mislead readers should be noted and explained. Photographs showing distressing or shocking situations should be handled with special consideration for those affected… Cartoons are understood to be opinions.
“The caricature of the Goddess Kali illustrating a recent NZ Herald column was inappropriate and offensive to many in the Indian community. It shows that mainstream media need to demonstrate a better understanding of New Zealand’s rapidly changing demographics, and balance the right of freedom of speech with their responsibilities to the many communities making up, and contributing to New Zealand society as a whole. There needs to be greater awareness around the sensitivities of what is sacred to people of different religions and cultures,  and editors need to make a real effort to represent all communities respectfully,” said Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy.
NZ Herald editor Shayne Currie does not think that publishing the cartoon was “poor judgment”. “I can reassure the Indian community  that the illustration was in no way intended to be unsympathetic or disrespectful. In hindsight, however, and with the benefit of the views expressed by the Hindu Council, we appreciate that another kind of image could have been used,” she told the Indian Weekender.