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Spacejinx: NASA’s Attempt to Showcase Diversity with Image of ‘Hindu’ Intern Raises Sky-high Controversy

Spacejinx: NASA’s Attempt to Showcase Diversity with Image of ‘Hindu’ Intern Raises Sky-high Controversy

  • Call it political correctness or the wokeness of the oversensitive, a well-intentioned effort ignites a social media war of words.

To invite applications for new interns, NASA recently shared some images of its former interns on Twitter and used the opportunity to showcase the diversity of people serving at the premier space agency. Little did they know the innocuous Tweet would create quite the flutter on social media.

Among the photos of the four interns was one of an Indian American girl, Pratima Roy, sitting at a desk wearing a sweatshirt sporting the well-recognized NASA logo, with a bindi on her forehead (remember Dr. Swati Mohan, the NASA engineer who lead the Mars 2020 mission, while sporting a bindi). The intern was shown in the photo sitting with a laptop and idols of Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati, and others in the background, while the wall behind her was plastered with photographs of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. A typical scene in many Indian households. A simple idea, an uncomplicated photo. What could go wrong?

But what followed was widespread social media trolling of her faith, with some asking how NASA, a scientific organization, could allow somebody who believes in God to be featured. Some comments even bordered on Hinduphobia, with some netizens criticizing the presence of the idols, while others questioned NASA for putting up a stereotypical image of an Indian girl. Few even resorted to questioning her ‘scientific temperament,’ which one would assume is more than adequate considering that she earned the opportunity to intern at NASA. 

As Arnab Basak Tweeted, “Great. But I don’t know whether the setup was a family obligation or political statement or their spiritual reckoning. To be honest it looks too much.”

However, the trolling has now backfired, with supporters saying they were completely okay with the fact that the Indian NASA intern had Hindu idols beside her. 

Former Indian cricketer Venkatesh Prasad slammed the official Twitter account of Mission Ambedkar, a forum to spread Ambedkarism internationally after it made a disapproving comment on the NASA tweet. Mission Ambedkar Tweeted, “After seeing this we said; Science ka Naash kar diya NASA ne.”

The comment did not sit well with Prasad, who criticized the Twitter account for its Hinduphobic remark and bringing disgrace to Dr. Ambedkar by using his name. Prasad quoted the Tweet posted by @MissionAmbedkar and shared a screenshot of a report published in TV9 Marathi, in which supporters of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr. Ambedkar, were seen offering milk on a Shivalinga and praying for his recovery. He said Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar would be ashamed of the Twitter handle that was using his name and mocking the girl for wearing her religiosity on her sleeves and being an unabashed devotee.

One user Tweeted saying: “All those mocking her: Hijab, polygamy, child marriages, Niqab, prayers on road, etc are supposed to be respected under the concept of ‘choice’ and ‘pluralism’ but a Hindu lady practicing her faith has to be ridiculed. Carry on! Your bigotry will make her faith stronger.”

Another netizen Dilip Mandal Tweeted, “Hindus have the ability to behave in a very instrumental way. So, when it suits them, they can act completely modern. And when it suits them, they can go back to their tradition, their caste etc. They can hold both the masks together seamlessly. Definition of modern Hindu.”

While CA Shweta, humorously using a meme from the popular Bollywood film of the ’80s “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” Tweeted, “Me, after seeing our Gods on desk…yeh hain humara culture.”

 Another netizen whose handle is Unapologetically Hindu tweeted, “Proud of the unapologetically Hindu Sanatani girl. Wear your Dharma proudly just the way you are doing it right now! Large number of talented Hindus have started becoming unapologetic about our glorious Hindu religion.”

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Others like Ankur Verma took up the question about a scientific institution promoting a belief in God by Tweeting, “Sanatan sanskriti (Hindu Dharma) is based on complete science itself, we as Hindus follow our culture very proudly. Many scientists also accept this and some of them are as; 1. Erwin Schrödinger 2. Werner Heisenberg 3. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) 4. Carl Sagan.”

Pratima Roy along with her sister Puja Roy interned at the NASA Glenn Research Center during #countdowntoMars. A senior at New York City College of Technology majoring in Computer Engineering Technology, sharing her NASA experience on the NASA blog, credits God with her sought-after internship opportunity. “I truly believe that God and the support of my family has given me the opportunity to intern at NASA. God observes everything we do and what we want in our lives and a dream can actually come true!”

And as netizen Moumanti Podder aptly summed up amidst all the social media uproar, haters will be haters, but one must persevere and have a belief in one’s convictions. “Hey, every one of you amazing, dedicated young people–congratulations! & to the Hindu girl–worship whom you wish to, how you wish to, & express your love & devotion however you like. Believe in yourself, love yourself, & IGNORE THE HATERS. Just spread your wings & fly where you will.”

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