Religious polarization in India seeping into US diaspora

In Edison, New Jersey, a bulldozer, which has turn into an emblem of oppression of India’s Muslim minority, rolled down the road throughout a parade marking that nation’s Independence Day. At an occasion in Anaheim, California, a shouting match erupted between folks celebrating the vacation and those that confirmed as much as protest violence in opposition to Muslims in India.

Indian Individuals from various religion backgrounds have peacefully co-existed stateside for a number of many years. However these current occasions within the U.S. — and violent confrontations between some Hindus and Muslims final month in Leicester, England — have heightened considerations that stark political and non secular polarization in India is seeping into diaspora communities.

In India, Hindu nationalism has surged beneath Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Celebration, which rose to energy in 2014 and received a landslide election in 2019. The ruling get together has confronted fierce criticism over rising assaults in opposition to Muslims lately, from the Muslim group and different spiritual minorities in addition to some Hindus who say Modi’s silence emboldens right-wing teams and threatens nationwide unity.

Hindu nationalism has cut up the Indian expatriate group simply as Donald Trump’s presidency polarized the U.S., mentioned Varun Soni, dean of spiritual life on the College of Southern California. It has about 2,000 college students from India, among the many highest within the nation.

Soni has not seen these tensions floor but on campus. However he mentioned USC obtained blowback for being considered one of greater than 50 U.S. universities that co-sponsored a web-based convention referred to as “Dismantling World Hindutva.”

The 2021 occasion aimed to unfold consciousness of Hindutva, Sanskrit for the essence of being Hindu, a political ideology that claims India as a predominantly Hindu nation plus some minority faiths with roots within the nation reminiscent of Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. Critics say that excludes different minority spiritual teams reminiscent of Muslims and Christians. Hindutva is totally different from Hinduism, an historic faith practiced by about 1 billion folks worldwide that emphasizes the oneness and divine nature of all creation.

Soni mentioned it is necessary that universities stay locations the place “we’re in a position to speak about points which are grounded in information in a civil method,” However, as USC’s head chaplain, Soni worries how polarization over Hindu nationalism will have an effect on college students’ religious well being.

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“If somebody is being attacked for his or her id, ridiculed or scapegoated as a result of they’re Hindu or Muslim, I am most involved about their well-being — not about who is correct or flawed,” he mentioned.

Anantanand Rambachan, a retired school faith professor and a training Hindu who was born in Trinidad and Tobago to a household of Indian origin, mentioned his opposition to Hindu nationalism and affiliation with teams in opposition to the ideology sparked complaints from some at a Minnesota temple the place he has taught faith courses. He mentioned opposing Hindu nationalism typically leads to expenses of being “anti-Hindu,” or “anti-India,” labels that he rejects.

Alternatively, many Hindu Individuals really feel vilified and focused for his or her views, mentioned Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Basis in Washington, D.C.

“The house to freely categorical themselves is shrinking for Hindus,” he mentioned, including that even agreeing with the Indian authorities’s insurance policies unrelated to faith may end up in being branded a Hindu nationalist.

Pushpita Prasad, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Hindus of North America, mentioned her group has been counseling younger Hindu Individuals who’ve misplaced buddies as a result of they refuse “to take sides on these battles emanating from India.”

“In the event that they don’t take sides or don’t have an opinion, it’s mechanically assumed that they’re Hindu nationalist,” she mentioned. “Their nation of origin and their faith is held in opposition to them.”

Each organizations opposed the Dismantling World Hindutva convention criticizing it as “Hinduphobic” and failing to current various views. Convention supporters say they reject equating calling out Hindutva with being anti-Hindu.

Some Hindu Individuals like 25-year-old Sravya Tadepalli, imagine it is their obligation to talk up. Tadepalli, a Massachusetts resident who’s a board member of Hindus for Human Rights, mentioned her activism in opposition to Hindu nationalism is knowledgeable by her religion.

“If that’s the basic precept of Hinduism, that God is in everybody, that everybody is divine, then I feel we have now an ethical obligation as Hindus to talk out for the equality of all human beings,” she mentioned. “If any human is being handled lower than or as having their rights infringed upon, then it’s our obligation to work to right that.”

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Tadepalli mentioned her group additionally works to right misinformation on social media that travels throughout continents fueling hate and polarization.

Tensions in India hit a excessive in June after police within the metropolis of Udaipur arrested two Muslim males accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat and posting a video of it on social media. The slain man, 48-year-old Kanhaiya Lal, had reportedly shared a web-based publish supporting a governing get together official who was suspended for making offensive remarks in opposition to the Prophet Muhammad.

Hindu nationalist teams have attacked minority teams, significantly Muslims, over points associated to all the pieces from meals or carrying head scarves to interfaith marriage. Muslims’ properties have additionally been demolished utilizing heavy equipment in some states, in what critics name a rising sample of “bulldozer justice.”

Such reviews have Muslim Individuals afraid for the protection of relations in India. Shakeel Syed, govt director of the South Asian Community, a social justice group primarily based in Artesia, California, mentioned he recurrently hears from his sisters and senses a “pervasive worry, not understanding what tomorrow goes to be like.”

Syed grew up within the Indian metropolis of Hyderabad within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies in “a extra pluralistic, inclusive tradition.”

“My Hindu buddies would come to our Eid celebrations and we’d go to their Diwali celebrations,” he mentioned. “When my household went on summer time trip, we would go away our home keys with our Hindu neighbor, and they might do the identical once they needed to depart city.”

Syed believes violence in opposition to Muslims has now been mainstreamed in India. He has heard from ladies in his household who’re contemplating taking off their hijabs or headscarves out of worry.

Within the U.S., he sees his Hindu buddies reluctant to have interaction publicly in a dialogue as a result of they worry retaliation.

“A dialog remains to be taking place, nevertheless it’s taking place in pockets behind closed doorways with people who find themselves like-minded,” he mentioned. “It’s actually not taking place between individuals who have opposing views.”

Rajiv Varma, a Houston-based Hindu activist, holds a diametrically reverse view. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims within the West, he mentioned, aren’t a mirrored image of occasions in India however quite stem from a deliberate try by “spiritual and ideological teams which are waging a warfare in opposition to Hindus.”

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Varma believes India is “a Hindu nation” and the time period “Hindu nationalism” merely refers to like for one’s nation and faith. He views India as a rustic ravaged by conquerors and colonists, and Hindus as a non secular group that doesn’t search to transform or colonize.

“We’ve got a proper to get well our civilization,” he mentioned.

Rasheed Ahmed, co-founder and govt director of the Washington D.C.-based Indian American Muslim Council, mentioned he’s saddened “to see even educated Hindu Individuals not taking Hindu nationalism critically.” He believes Hindu Individuals should make “a basic resolution about how India and Hinduism needs to be seen within the U.S. and the world over.”

“The choice about whether or not to take Hinduism again from whoever hijacked it, is theirs.”

Zafar Siddiqui, a Minnesota resident, is hoping to “reverse a few of this distrust, polarization” and construct understanding by means of schooling, private connections and interfaith assemblies. Siddiqui, a Muslim, has helped convey collectively a gaggle of Minnesotans of Indian origin — together with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and atheists — who meet for month-to-month potlucks.

“When folks sit down, say, over lunch or dinner or over espresso, and have a direct dialogue, as an alternative of listening to all these leaders and spreading all this hate, it modifications plenty of issues,” Siddiqui mentioned.

However throughout one current gathering, some argued over a draft proposal to sooner or later search dialogue with individuals who maintain totally different views. Those that disagreed defined that they didn’t assist reaching out to Hindu nationalists and feared harassment.

Siddiqui mentioned that for now, future plans embrace specializing in schooling and interfaith occasions spotlighting India’s totally different traditions and religions.

“Simply to maintain silent isn’t an choice,” Siddiqui mentioned. “We wanted a platform to convey folks collectively who imagine in peaceable co-existence of all communities.”


Giovanna Dell’Orto in Minneapolis contributed to this report.


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