- Instead of supporting each other and uniting against the threat of discrimination, some in the Hindu community have chosen to intimidate and divide.
The recent string of attacks against Indians in the United States has been chilling, giving me the same numbing dread I felt when Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered and when a stranger screamed the N-word at my dad as we walked down my town’s riverfront last summer. Members of our community have always faced racism and religious bias. As one of a handful of Hindus in a small white, predominantly Christian town in Oregon, I certainly dealt with my share.
The most unsettling part of the attacks was that these atrocities were carried out by people of other marginalized identities. Even the common experience of being people of color, religious minorities, or immigrants doesn’t preclude one community from hating another. Instead of supporting each other and uniting against the threat of discrimination, some have chosen to use the tools of white Christian supremacy to intimidate and divide.
I know the difficulties of being a religious minority in America. From the time a group of white girls called my talent show Bharatanatyam a “monkey dance” to the time I saw missionaries interrupt India Day celebrations in Portland, screaming at the crowd that they would be hellbound without the Bible, it has been clear to me that Hindus would never be respected in America in the same way as Christians. But I also grew up seeing our local mosque hit by an arson attack, Muslim students being called terrorists, and hallway classrooms decorated for Christmas but not Rosh Hashanah or Eid. I certainly faced discrimination because of my religion, but so did everyone I knew who belonged to a non-Christian religion––we had far more commonalities than differences.
In the face of incidents like these recent attacks, the first reaction of some American Hindus is to hunch into a previously carved-out position. Either people believe that this violence is a reflection of growing Hinduphobia, posing an existential threat to Hindus in the diaspora, or that such violence can only be construed as racism, without any linked anti-Hindu sentiment. The reality is more complicated.
Anti-Hindu bias undoubtedly exists, as around 18 percent of Indian American Hindus report facing discrimination due to religion. But the discrimination against Hindus is not akin to persecution, as some have claimed. FBI data from 2020 shows that 11 hate crimes were committed that year against Hindus, far fewer than the number faced by Jews (683) and Muslims (110). Those 11 hate crimes matter, and there is almost certainly underreporting. We also shouldn’t define religious discrimination solely by federal hate crime statistics, which generally only highlight the most egregious incidents worth reporting. But it is clear that anti-Hindu sentiment does not threaten our existence in the United States.
While a recent study from the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University highlighted the proliferation of anti-Hindu tropes in white supremacist online circles, the second half falsely conflates Hinduphobia with social media content highlighting human rights abuses by India’s Hindu nationalist government. Right-wing Hindus have decried the lack of attention given to this report, but the report’s repeated characterization of indisputable facts regarding Indian violence toward Muslims as “disinformation” and the authors’ direct ties to the Hindu Students Council makes this report a shoddy impression of academia.
The Hindu right is doing disservice by framing any attack on Hindus as if it is a danger to bodily harm to us all, and it distracts us from the need to combat discrimination against all religious minorities here and in South Asia.
Some American Hindus have accused South Asians advocating against Hindu nationalism and caste of perpetuating Hindu hate and even driving the violence that led to these specific attacks. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, South Asians who stand up against Hindu nationalism are the ones with the morally consistent position, standing up for equality for all communities that face discrimination, including religious minorities and caste-oppressed people in the U.S. and South Asia. It is possible to face oppression in certain contexts and privilege in others, and inter-community solidarity––critical to dismantling the systems that cause discriminatory bias––requires us to speak up for others when we are in a privileged position.
There is no excuse for violence or hate, but there are reasons. Right-wing Hindus lambast Hindu hatred, but they rarely speak up for other South Asian communities facing prejudice. This perpetuates discrimination while furthering reason for other communities to resent us.
The fact that I faced discrimination as a Hindu is what pushes me to stand up for other religious minorities. I know what it’s like to be treated as less than, and I do not want anyone else to experience the same thing. One of the core teachings of Hinduism is that every human being is inherently divine, a belief that gives us a moral obligation to speak up when any person faces violence or persecution. This should happen regardless of someone’s religion, but too often, Hindus only speak up about hate when Hindus are affected. In response to attacks against Hindus and others, we have a choice between solidarity and selfishness. I hope we choose the former.
Sravya Tadepalli is a Master’s in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School and a board member of Hindus for Human Rights.