July is Hindu Persecution Awareness Month — a month recognized in many countries worldwide to call attention to both historical and ongoing religious persecution within the Hindu community — so when NASA intern Pratima Roy was targeted through ignorance and hate for her religious affiliation, the shockwaves were felt far and wide. On July 9th, 2021 NASA posted four photos of interns of myriad origins on Twitter with the caption, “Today’s the day: applications for fall NASA internships are due!” Roy, a CUNY City Tech alumni, was featured in the post, photographed by her desk with Hindu gods and goddesses next to her laptop.
The photo caught the attention of many social media users. Some bluntly insulted Hinduism and the gods like Twitter user @NastikMan, who commented “The 4th intern will send an email saying “rama built a bridge” and sanghis will use that email to say “nasa accepted rama as real and the blue guy built that bridge.” In the Hindu religion, Lord Rama is known as the god of protection, yet this information did not stop the ignorance and dislike for Roy’s faith. Even intellectuals such as Ashok Swain (@ashoswai), a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in India left a derogatory comment: “Why does a Hindu kid need to be surrounded by Gods and Goddesses? Can’t we do anything without them?” This comment has since been deleted due to the outpouring of responses against the Hinduphobia presented in the comment section. However,screenshots of the tweet are still in circulation on various media outlets.
While comments like Swain’s were rampant in the comment section, there was also an overwhelming amount of support for Roy. Many were amazed to see the young woman display the Hindu deities, Lord Laxmi and Lord Saraswati. Lord Lakshmi is known as the goddess of purity and wealth while Lord Saraswati is known as the goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom, and learning. Many commenters appreciated this, such as Twitter user @BamaWatchtower who wrote, “Brains, beauty, and confident in her beliefs! I am proud for you and can’t wait to see her accomplishments!” Many members of the Hindu community came forward and educated others on the Hindu deities and what they represented, celebrating Roy for including these goddesses and gods around her for the photo. Together, different communities came forward and requested that Hinduphobia be recognized and spoken about.
In response to the hate, Roy issued a statement on her LinkedIn profile. In a small excerpt extracted from her page she stated, “As an American-born Bengali who practices Hindu, I always strive to preserve my background and culture. This love for my culture is evident in the photo of me that was first shared on a NASA blog in March and recently sparked a lot of conversation about my faith after NASA published a Tweet about the fall internship deadline.” In the remainder of her heartfelt post, she thanks those who stood up for her and her support team at NASA.
Pratima Roy’s case of Hinduphobia is just one of the many people of the Hindu faith experience, despite Hindu Persecution Awareness Month being in full effect. The ignorance and hate displayed in the NASA post showcases that awareness must be widespread.