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CNN presenter eats human brain live on camera, sparks backlash

CNN television presenter Reza Aslan. (AP)

CNN television presenter Reza Aslan has caused shock and consternation across the board by eating a human brain on camera while filming with an obscure Hindu sect. Members of the religion’s mainstream have widely condemned the act. The host of “Believer with Reza Aslan” was in India to meet with ascetic members of the Aghori sect. The six-episode “spiritual adventures series”, was premiered last week.

The show explores the facts and myths behind the Aghori, a mystical Hindu sect known for extreme rituals. Aslan also drank from a human skull and was pelted with faeces by a guru.

The footage prompted a backlash from critics who accused him of painting a false and extreme picture of Hinduism, with America’s only Hindu Member of Congress Tulsi Gabbard tweeting: “I am very disturbed that CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism.”

“Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism. Aslan and CNN didn’t just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals -as if touring a zoo -but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma and reincarnation that Hindus have been combating tirelessly,” she added.

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“CNN promotional materials and trailers that included a scene showing a group of Hindus under a caption “CANNIBALS”, perpetuated bizarre and ugly impressions of Hindus and their religion,” Gabbard said.

Aslan met the Aghori group in Varanasi after which they smeared the ashes from burnt bodies on his face.

The 44-year-old Iranian scholar was then asked to drink alcohol from a skull, before being presented with human meat to eat, the Independent reported on Friday.

After the shoot, Aslan shared a post on Facebook. “Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal. It was burnt to a crisp!” he wrote.

The Aghori were described as “cannibals” by CNN when promoting the documentary, though they only eat the flesh of people who have died of natural causes.

Eminent Indian-American Shalabh Kumar, a top supporter of the US President Donald Trump had earlier slammed the show and said, “this is a disgusting attack on Hinduism.”

In a tweet, Kumar said, “Hinduism has been attacked because a large number of Hindu Americans supported Trump during the election campaign.”

“I condemn @rezaaslan, CNN for airing Believer with fiction. Disgusting attack on Hindus for supporting @POTUS @stephenkbannon @newtgingrich,” Kumar, also the founder of Republican Hindu Coalition, said in a tweet.

CNN’s “Believer with Reza Aslan” show promotes xenophobia and Hinduphobia, alleged Ajay Shah of American Hindus Against Defamation.