- The rise in anti-Hindu sentiments in America is a consequence of South Asian social justice mills that frequently target Hinduism, under the guise of criticizing Hindutva.
“Dirty…ugly Hindu,” the man spat while at the order counter in a Fremont, California Taco Bell. He continued to rant about beef, then pivoted to cow urine before loudly ordering a slew of beef tacos. The focus of his hatred wasn’t the bovine but the Hindu man behind him, who had the audacity to order a vegetarian meal.
The August 21st incident in Fremont was eclipsed by the equally atrocious August 24th attack on four Indian women in Plano, Texas that resulted in the arrest of a Mexican American woman. But the hate leveled against Krishnan Jayaraman in Fremont was unable to gain even a fraction of attention as the Plano incident within South Asian circles. This adds fuel to what many American Hindus have felt all along: the rise in anti-Hindu sentiments in America is an (un)desired consequence of South Asian social justice mills that frequently target Hinduism, under the guise of criticizing Hindutva.
Earlier this month, on August 16, six men vandalized and smashed a statue of India’s freedom fighter Mohandas Gandhi outside a New York City Hindu temple. Security footage from outside the mandir records the men pulling down the statue before hitting it with hammers and finally spray painting kutta, the Hindi word for dog. This was the second attack on the temple this month. The perpetrators of the first attack, resulting in minor damage to the statue on August 3, spoke Spanish. Chillingly, the six vandals of the second attack spoke in Hindi, indicating that the vandalism came from within the desi community.
Hindu Americans have been speaking about the blatant misrepresentation of our voices and beliefs by academics and journalists. Just last year, I wrote about Hinduphobic trends in mainstream media. American organizations like Equality Labs, Hindus for Human Rights and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) claim to represent voices from the Subcontinent, but ultimately give a platform and credibility to deeply anti-Hindu and colonial tropes.
In their statement on the January 6 insurrection, SAALT wrote about their own role “to raise awareness about the links between Hindu nationalism and white supremacy,” attempting to forge a link between two completely unrelated forces. Reinforcing a fictional tie between Hindus and white supremacy seeks to make our persecution unworthy of outrage and our lives unworthy of protection by a cultural ethos whose cornerstone is the demonization of white ethnonationalism.
Unsurprisingly, some of the organizations listed above have not issued statements on either the temple attacks or the assault in Fremont. Hiding behind a barrage of academic-sounding titles, these South Asian Americans weaponize their race and ethnic names to insist that Hinduphobia is not real, and at best, misdirected racism. A group of female South Asian academics, self-styled the Feminist Critical Hindu Studies Collective, insist that ‘Hinduphobia’ is simply the term Hindus use when feeling cornered. They suggest that “the term co-opts the language we use as social justice activists to challenge racism, white supremacy, casteism and Islamophobia.”
Yes, the term ‘Hinduphobia’ does indeed adopt the language of social justice, not out of self-victimization but from the lived experiences of Hindus in America and abroad. Hindu Americans have been working tirelessly to document anti-Hindu bigotry and make their experiences known to political and academic leadership.
A clearer review of the Fremont incident showed that Jayaraman’s tormenter was of Indian origin as well.* Aside from his desi pronunciation of Hindu and Jai Hind, he expressed hatred for former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi (ironically belonging to the Indian political party defeated by the “Hindutva” party currently in power). In 1984, Indira Gandhi’s murder at the hands of her Sikh extremist bodyguards unleashed a horrific bloodbath of anti-Sikh riots and murders across the capitol New Delhi. Many Hindu Americans speculate the abuser is Sikh for this reason. And as a Tamil Hindu, living a thousand miles away from the capitol at the time of the pogrom, Jayaraman apparently bears responsibility for those events, per the brilliant Taco Bell taunter.
The attacker’s obsession with Jayraman’s vegetarianism is the focus of much of the abuse. Part of this may stem from colonial tropes about vegetarian Hindus being a weak and docile race, unworthy of self-rule. This can also be credited to decades of careful programing in which erstwhile South Asian forums have tightly melded vegetarianism to caste supremacism and used our respect for animal life, particularly the milk-giving cow, as a tool against us. The history of degrading the cow to hurt Hindu sentiments stretches back centuries to temple desecration and forced conversions during the Islamic conquest of India and subsequently European colonialism.
Last month, Rutgers University’s Contagion Labs produced an extensive study on the rise of Hinduphobia in online spaces. As the first serious study of Hinduphobia, I was disappointed, but not surprised, when South Asian platforms largely remained silent on the findings. Chillingly, the report warned of an explosion of violence waiting to happen in real life; warnings that now seem very prophetic. With two Hinduphobic attacks perpetrated by South Asians in the span of just one week, the community must step back and look at its own role in fostering religious bigotry and the erasure of Hindu voices.
*The abuser was identified as 37-year-old Tejinder Singh of Union City.
Sandhya Devaraj is a second generation Indian Hindu American who grew up in the D.C. area. She is a family medicine physician, based in New Mexico, who is passionate about preventative care. She loves to try new plant-based recipes and sip on the delicious teas her husband collects.