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Indian Zoroastrians Are Suing Snoop Dogg for Insulting Their Religion

Members of the Zoroastrian Parsi community in India are furious with American rapper Snoop Dogg, and they’re taking their anger to court.

INDIO, CA - APRIL 15:  Rapper Snoop Dogg performs onstage during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)
INDIO, CA - APRIL 15: Rapper Snoop Dogg performs onstage during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

Members of the Zoroastrian Parsi community in India are furious with American rapper Snoop Dogg, and they’re taking their anger to court.

Little known Iranian-born pop singer Amitis in June released on YouTube a music video co-starring Snoop, also known as Snoop Lion. No word from either artist on how the unlikely collaboration came about. The low budget video depicts the two luxuriating amid gaudy props and set pieces vaguely reminiscent of an ancient Persian royal court, smoking weed, and watching some almost-naked pole dancers. That’s where the trouble starts.

In one scene, Snoop smokes one of the 81 daily blunts he claims to enjoy while sitting on a throne under a gold Faravahar, the most sacred symbol of the Zoroastrian religion and an image frequently associated with Persian history.

Among the world’s oldest monotheistic faiths, dating back some 3,500 years, Zoroastrianism began in what is now Iran, and some still practice the religion there today. By some estimates, fewer than 200,000 adherents remain worldwide. Among them are members of the Parsi ethnic group in South Asia. Darayas Jamshed Bapooji, president of the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Kolkata, a civic organization in the Indian state of West Bengal, watched the music video after receiving angry emails about it and decided to put his foot down. He retained attorney Phiroze Edulji and filed public interest litigation (a type of civic complaint) in a municipal high court in Kolkata alleging that the video infringed on Parsi’s “constitutional rights” and that the government should therefore ban its distribution.

“We want the video removed, and they will have to apologize for having put it up in the first place — that is the very least we can hope for from them,” Bapooji told Foreign Policy. “It’s not right, just because we’re a minority. If you did it to the Muslims and the Hindus, there would be riots here.”

He called on the court to protect the feelings of the Parsi community. In India, hate speech laws have been used in the past to prosecute cases of blasphemy or religious insult.

“We don’t mind people making fun of us jokingly; we are quite humorous,” he said. “But that doesn’t extend to our religion.”

The legal standing of the claims remains uncertain, but the Indian penal code does criminalize speech that promotes “enmity between different groups on ground of religion” or is otherwise “prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.”

A spokesperson for Snoop Dogg declined to comment.

Although this particular instance of crass cultural melding may have backfired, Snoop has a long history of going out on a limb to grow his audience far beyond the traditional hip-hop base. In 2008, he appeared in “Singh Is Kinng,” a Bollywood action comedy.

The court in Kolkata is slated to hear the case on July 17. Stay tuned.

Photo credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy@bsoloway

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