Despite the members of Indian-American community occupying high-profile political posts, the diaspora has failed to produce leadership that champions Indian-American and Hindu-American causes.
A carefully crafted elitist and toxic anti-India, Hinduphobic narrative gained momentum in the United States and much of the Western world after the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India in 2014. The concerted campaign of the leftwing media, academia, and activists has finally started showing signs of fruition. A spate of anti-Indian and anti-Hindu hate speech and hate crimes in the US has sent shockwaves among the members of the Indian diaspora, especially among the minority Hindu community.
First, miscreants vandalized a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in South Richmond Hills, New York. The statue was found face down on the ground with debris around it. The back of the figure was spray painted with the word “kutta,” Hindi for a dog. According to the police, six suspects, aged 25-30, smashed the statue with a sledgehammer at 1:30 am. The scene of the crime was Shri Tulsi Mandir, a Hindu temple. This was the second toppling of this statue in less than two weeks. According to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a US-based Hindu advocacy group, the perpetrators were making “repeated calls for Khalistan.”
Another incident captured on video occurred in Freemont, California. Krishnan Iyer had gone to pick up his online food order from a Mexican fast-food restaurant. There, Iyer was deluged in a barrage of anti-Hindu slurs by another man. The man repeatedly called Iyer “dirty Hindu” and “ugly Hindu” who “bathes in cow urine” and “eats cow shit.” Cow, cow urine, and “cow shit” are some of the most common anti-Hindu slurs. The police later arrested Tejinder Singh and charged him with multiple counts of crime.
The report of the third incident came from the southern state of Texas. A viral video on social media showed a woman shouting racist comments and physically assaulting a group of women. “We don’t want you here,” the woman, a self-described Mexican-American, can be heard saying, “I hate you f***ing Indians,” she said, along with other racist abuse. The police charged the woman with bodily assault and injury and terrorist threats. One of the women in the group was identified as Rani Banerjee.
In yet another incident, an Indian man was stalked and verbally abused across the Atlantic in Poland. The abuser identified himself as an American in the video and called the Indian man a “parasite” and a “genocider.” “You have your own country,” one could hear the abuser saying in this viral video. “You are an invader. Go home, invader. We don’t want you in Europe. Poland for Polish only. You are not Polish,” said the abuser.
Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator, accused Indians of taking up affirmative action jobs from “Black people.” Amy Wax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, called India a “shithole” country where “Brahmin women” are taught they are better than everybody. India’s stance on the Russo-Ukrainian war drew vile anti-Indian and Hinduphobic reactions from high-profile social media handles. Last year, academicians participated in the Hinduphobic “Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference.” Audrey Truschke of Rutgers University was one of the conference’s main organizers.
Needless to say, “these programmatic and systematic attacks on Hindus are coming not just from the monopolists and the supremacists but also ‘progressive’ Democrats,” noted Ramesh Rao, a professor of Communication Studies at Columbus State University.
Hate crimes have consistently risen in the US in the last few years. According to stats available through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) database (available through 2019), the reported hate crimes jumped from 7,175 in 2017 to 7,314 in 2019, an increase of about two percentage points.
The 2019 UCR data shows that 4,784 hate crimes were racially and ethnically motivated. Of those, 4.3% (3.1% in 2017) were against Asian-Americans, a broad category including Indian-Americans. One thousand six hundred five hate crimes had religious bases, and seven were against Hindus.
The FBI started tracking hate crimes against Hindus in 2013. “The actual hate crimes data on Hindus is still in its nascent stages,” said Suhag Shukla of the HAF. Many anti-Hindu incidents do not get recorded as such by law enforcement agencies due to mistaken identities. For example, some crimes motivated by anti-Arab or anti-Muslim sentiment may involve Hindu victims. On the other hand, some crimes against Hindus may also be based on their racial or ethnic identity.
A recent study titled “Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media” found an environment of widespread hate on social media against the world’s minority Hindu community. The study was conducted by the National Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University. The study noted that the Hinduphobic tropes are now “a critical asset for the media and platforms.”
Hindumisia.ai, an AI-based website that tracks Hindu hate on the microblogging platform Twitter, backs those claims. “Hindumisia.ai seeks to enable an analytical approach to counter anti-Hindu hate seen on Twitter,” said Ramsundar Lakshminarayanan, the site developer. “The anti-Hindu hate we see is just mind-boggling… The Twitter gravy train for anti-Hindu hate must be stopped,” Laxminarayanan added.
It’s no secret that the West’s perception of Indian culture, texts, and traditions is at odds with the ground reality. The overriding Orientalist and colonial discourse about India fosters a dubious and distorted “outsider” narrative at the cost of a native and authentic one. This perspective has permeated deep into the Western consciousness and manifests in academic and popular presentations. A deviation from such an outsider presentation or breaching the “academic consensus” is rejected as “Hindutva” terrorism.
The left-dominated academia and media have created a highly negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of “Hindu Nationalism,” “Hindutva,” caste, etc., has been raised—without much understanding and contextualization—to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths. “We see academics line up to worry about Indian democracy, fearing Hindus will cast their vote to elect leaders of their choice,” said Rao, “but who never express concerns about Muslims, Christians, Sikhs doing the same.”
Despite the members of Indian-American community occupying high-profile political posts, the diaspora has failed to produce leadership that champions Indian-American and Hindu-American causes. “Not one institution, group, or leader who claims the mantle of ‘secularism,’ or being ‘progressive,’ or ‘South Asian,’ or whose concern is ‘human rights,” said Rao, “has gone to bat for Hindus.”
A JNU, New Delhi, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus, Avatans Kumar holds graduate degrees in Linguistics. Avatans is a recipient of the 2021 San Francisco Press Club’s Bay Area Journalism award.)