Read More Atheist Republic The polarization of religious groups in India has now made its way into the U.S. diaspora.
Religious Polarization in India Seeping Into US Diaspora as Hindu nationalist tensions rise https://t.co/hnISZqDzv8 #Hindutva
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) October 16, 2022
A bulldozer, a symbol of Muslim oppression in India, was seen rolling down Edison, New Jersey’s streets, during an August march commemorating India’s independence day. Meanwhile, a verbal clash occurred between people celebrating the holiday and people who showed up to protest against the violence Muslims face in India.
Indian Americans from various religious backgrounds have an amicable relationship and have peacefully co-existed for many decades. However, violent confrontations between some Hindus and Muslims in the last few months in the US and the UK raise the concern that India’s religious and political fight is slowly making its way into the diaspora communities.
Hindu right wing diaspora march while Muslims were praying has led to a clash in Leicester, UK. The Indian disease has spread to the UK. pic.twitter.com/Odk5jfhGOk
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) September 17, 2022
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power in 2014 and won the election again in 2019, India has seen a surge of Hindu nationalism. The Muslim community and other religious minorities have criticized the ruling party over the attacks on Muslims. Some Hindu critics say Modi’s unresponsiveness only gives power to the right-wing extremist groups which disrupt the national peace.
Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California (USC), which has over 2000 Indian students, has said that just as the presidency of Donald Trump has polarized the U.S., Hindu nationalism has divided the Indian diaspora community.
For co-sponsoring an online conference named “Dismantling Global Hindutva,” USC and 50 other U.S. universities received backlash. Soni says that universities should remain places where students can discuss issues using facts in an amicable form. He worries about how the polarization over Hindu nationalism will affect the spiritual health of students.
“If someone is being attacked for their identity, ridiculed or scapegoated because they are Hindu or Muslim, I’m most concerned about their well-being — not about who is right or wrong,” said Soni.
Hindutva combines two words, ‘Hindu’ and the Sanskrit word ‘tattva’ (‘thatness’ or ‘essence’), meaning the essence of being Hindu. The “Dismantling Global Hindutva” event in 2021 spread awareness about the group, which believes that India should be a Hindu nation for the most part, with some minor faith groups connected with the country, such as Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism. According to the critics, this ideology does not include other minority religious circles like Muslims and Christians.
As the South Asian diaspora in the U.S. has become more polarized about the advancement of Hindu nationalism in India, they are in turn looking to these politicians to claim them for their own causes – whether it’s to reject Hindutva or embrace it
— Sonia Paul (@sonipaul) October 30, 2020
Anantanand Rambachan, born in Trinidad and Tobago, belongs to a family of Indian origins and is a retired college professor who taught Hindu religion classes. He said he received complaints from a Minnesota temple for being in opposition to Hindu nationalism. He said that opposing Hindu nationalism branded himself as an “anti-India” or “anti-Hindu,” which he is not.
The managing director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington, D.C., Samir Kalra, said that many Hindu Americans are being targeted for their views and feel insulted. “The space to freely express themselves is shrinking for Hindus,” he added, saying that agreeing with the Indian government, even when it is not related to religion, is enough to be labeled as a Hindu nationalist.
A spokesperson for the Coalition of Hindus of North America, Pushpita Prasad, said that her group has been counseling youthful Hindu Americans who lost their friends as they refused “to take sides on these battles emanating from India.”. “If they don’t take sides or don’t have an opinion, it’s automatically assumed that they are Hindu nationalists,” said Prasad. “Their country of origin and their religion is held against them.”
The Dismantling Global Hindutva conference was criticized as “Hinduphobic” and has been opposed by both organizations as it failed to deliver diverse perspectives. Conference supporters said that criticizing Hindutva and being anti-Hindu are entirely different things.
A board member of Hindus for Human Rights, Sravya Tadepalli, a 25 years old Hindu American who resides in Massachusetts, believes she has to speak up. She said her faith drives her activism against Hindu nationalism. The organization she works for also corrects false information on social media, which supports polarization and fuels hatred in people’s hearts worldwide. “If that is the fundamental principle of Hinduism, that God is in everyone, that everyone is divine, then I think we have a moral obligation as Hindus to speak out for the equality of all human beings,” she said. “If any human is being treated less than or as having their rights infringed upon, then it is our duty to work to correct that.”
Minority groups, mostly Muslims, are attacked by Hindu nationalist groups for many issues, including food, wearing headscarves, and having interfaith marriages. Homes of Muslims were destroyed by bulldozers in some Indian states, which critics refer to as “bulldozer justice” and has become a growing concern.
Reports say some Muslim Americans are apprehensive about their family’s safety in India. Shakeel Syed, executive director of a social justice organization in Artesia called South Asian Network, said that he hears from his sisters daily and is afraid of not knowing what tomorrow holds for them. Syed believes that violence against Muslims is not uncommon nowadays in India. The women in his family are considering removing their hijab or head scarves out of fear he has heard.
Zafar Siddiqui, a Muslim from Minnesota, is trying to build understanding using education, personal connections, and interfaith assemblies. He has put together a group of Minnesotans of Indian origins, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and atheists, who meet for monthly potlucks. He says things change for the better when people have a direct conversation over lunch, dinner, or even coffee instead of listening to political leaders who spread hate.
Siddiqui said he has plans for the future, such as focusing on education and interfaith events highlighting India’s different traditions and religions. “Just to keep silent is not an option,” Siddiqui said. “We needed a platform to bring people together who believe in peaceful co-existence of all communities,” he said.