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Monday, December 5, 2022

New Jersey politics and the attack on Hindu Americans: A historical lesson

In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira is quoted as saying, “Forgiveness is dharma. Forgiveness is sacrifices. Forgiveness is the Vedas. Forgiveness is the sacred texts… Forgiveness is the Brahman. Forgiveness is the truth. Forgiveness is the past and the future. Forgiveness is austerities. Forgiveness is purity. Forgiveness holds up the entire world” (Agarwal, November 16, 2014, Swarajya Magazine). But when should we forgive, who should we forgive, why should we forgive, what should we forgive, and how much should we forgive? This is not just an abstract, philosophical, “how many angels can sit on a pinhead” exercise because Hindus have been attacked over and over again, in the West, they have been mischaracterized and caricatured, their actions are suspected, their lives and property threatened, their sacred texts and temples vandalized and destroyed, and their influence on society sought to be “canceled”.

However, the Hindu community is being cautioned by its “elders” to not come down harshly on these inimical, deadly, genocidal forces, both internal and external, who have wrought havoc on Hindus round the world over the past two millennia. The latest such attacks in Leicester in England have been eloquently commented upon herehereherehere, and here, and a new attack on Hindus and Hindu organizations has been manufactured in a town called Teaneck in New Jersey. It is about the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee’s (TDMC) resolution, passed on September 14, 2022, that brings the matter of forgiving the ignorant, the mischievous, and the diabolic to the fore.

Draupadi is not convinced of Yudhishthira’s “pacifist” leanings. She says that “a Kshatriya who does not display his energy when the time is right is always despised by all beings” (vide Agarwal). In the Mahabharata, Vali asks his grandfather Prahlada whether forgiveness is meritorious or fighting back and not forgiving is meritorious. Here, of course, the sage response to the trick question is that it all depends, and that neither forgiving nor forgiving always is wise. One who forgives all the time is seen as weak: “He that forgives always suffers many evils,” Vali is cautioned. “Servants and strangers and enemies always disregard him. No creature ever bends down to him… and the learned do not applaud a constant habit of forgiveness”. On the other hand, one who never forgives, one who is full of wrath, is “surrounded by darkness, always inflicts, by help of his own energy, various kinds of punishment on persons whether they deserve them or not…”.

The issue, this past week, has been how to respond to a resolution passed by the TDMC of New Jersey, and signed by Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, the chairwoman of the committee, and more dangerously a “preschool master teacher”. If this person is a preschool teacher, then how much of her politics is seeping into what the children are learning? The resolution, even before it was released officially by the TDMC, had reached the Indian American Muslim Council, which had a press release ready on September 15th itself, three days before any others took up the matter. Lo and behold, every Muslim-affiliated paper – from the Dawn in Pakistan to the Siasat Daily in Hyderabad, India — went to town tom-toming the hateful, bigoted, provocative screed from a bunch of reckless political activists in a town in New Jersey. Interestingly, five Muslim members sit on the TDMC committee. There is no Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain on the committee! As the report began circulating on social media, it was another week before Hindu Americans began to demand retraction of the resolution, and asking politicians to weigh in.

The Dawn gleefully reported that the TDMC resolution called US-based Hindu “outfits ‘domestic branches’ of ‘foreign hate groups’,” and that “the resolution urged US senators and congressmen from New Jersey, and Governor Phil Murphy, to ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to ‘step up’ research on these ‘foreign hate groups that enjoy tax-exempt status’ in the United States”. How does such news get reported in newspapers and columnists across the Muslim world so quickly? We do know that twenty years after 9/11 there is more talk of Islamophobia in the US and how to teach about it in American schools than how to teach about what happened on 9/11. Saudi money has lubricated and enabled this change in narratives about Islam, Muslims, Islamophobia, and the Saudi influence on both American foreign policy and American academic enterprises is well-known. Given the new identity-driven politics in the US, the strategic alignment of organizations like CAIR and IAMC with “progressive” and “Democratic Party” interest groups have led to an improbable gathering of left-extremists, Black, Latino, and Asian activists, Islamists, Khalistanis, feminists, transgender fetishists and others under the “progressive” umbrella. Left to fend for themselves and mischievously tagged along with White supremacists, Hindus have nowhere to go and no one to lean on. What can they look forward to in response to this multi-pronged  moves to corner them, defeat them, defang them, and drive them out of the American public spaces?

It took some time for the scattered Bharatiya/Hindu American groups to begin calling their representatives and demanding some action and response. Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, the Teaneck Democratic municipal chairman, is no stranger to controversy. If she could wriggle out of her anti-Semitic stance, like she did last year, how much easier it would be for her to say she meant no harm to Hindus? So, she did, by claiming that “We stand in solidarity against hate and strongly support a safe environment for all, in support of the core principles of the Democratic party.” She will call, if she has not already done so, upon fellow politicians to support her, and they will. Given that American politics is now identity-driven, and given that she is a local Black politician in a state where there has been much sharp-elbowed political gamesmanship and corruption, the circling of wagons will begin and they will protect her, to absolve her of any mischievous intent, and demanding from all safety for all, the promise of human rights in India, and God knows whatever else that comes in handy in deflecting criticism of a bigoted politician masquerading as a progressive and a liberal Democrat.

In this context, it is important to recall that New Jersey was the epicenter of the “dot buster” gang activities that targeted Hindu men and women starting in the mid 1970s and ending in the early 1990s but not before claiming the life of Navroze Mody, and after a Bharatiya man was beaten so badly that he ended up in a coma for more than a week with skull and brain damage. The New Jersey police were accused of indifference but given the corrupt nature of the state of affairs in that “Garden State” the judge ruled that the attack on Navroze Modi was not a hate crime! Yes, this is the state in which there is this new initiative by a set of hardnosed, sharp-elbowed set of local politicians egged on and potentially financed by the usual anti-India, anti-Hindu, anti-BJP cabals to target Hindus and Hindu organizations.

So, the question is this: what Hindu Americans should do about this ugly, vicious, provocative resolution by the TDMC? What should Hindus forgive? Who should they forgive? Yudhishthira is scolded by Draupadi and hauled over the coals by Bhima. As Agarwal tells it, “Draupadi… saw Yudhishthira’s words as evidence of his ‘confusion’. She believed that the time to act was now. Only the ‘immobile’ could ‘live without acting’.” Bhima, tired of his older brother’s namby-pamby prevarication tells him, “…because of our obedience to you, (our kingdom) was stolen in front of our eyes… It is because we sought to do what is pleasing to you that we now face this great calamity”. There are people in the Hindu American community cautioning people that they should work with both political parties, that they should not ask for the rescinding of the TDMC resolution but taking out just the names of the organizations listed, that because of the elections in early November Hindus should not push the Democratic Party and its leaders away by demanding much, and to drop this or that word from a press release or a community resolution, just so that Hindus are considered forgiving and believe in the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. “We are not strong enough now, and we should not say anything that might weaken our influence in the community and among politicians,” they caution. Meanwhile, the IAMC, the secular/progressive academics go to town demonizing Hindus and characterizing the present government in India as having genocidal intent! The New York Times and The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and top Democratic Party politicians have not said one word in condemnation of this spiteful TDMC resolution. If a Hindu is killed, mocked, injured they don’t really care because Hindus do not bring the number of votes that other larger groups do. On the other side of the political fence, Republican Party honchos are biding their time too to see which way the wind blows.

Therefore, this is the time for Hindu Americans to strike boldly. As Anang Mittal says, “If Indian-Americans wish to stop being the punching bags for the political divide in America, they need to stand up for their community, have pride in their heritage, their culture, and for themselves….” It is not Bharatiya Muslims or Bharatiya Christians or Sikhs who are at the receiving end of American ire. It is just Hindu Americans. This hatred of Hindus is both a product of Bharatiya political and social churning and originating in Bharat, as well as the result of the jealousy the Hindus have attracted because of their success in America. Add to that the millennia old attempts by supremacist, violent, monopolist faith groups and political ideologues who want to make the world “peaceful, loving, and equal”. As Salvatore Babones remarks in a rare, Western take on Indian politics and democracy, “If… academics, intellectuals, and think-tankers who staff the major rankings providers are themselves the barbarians at the gate, maligning a poor but proud country in a bid to impose their own parochial political positions, then a moral reckoning is in order”. He goes on to chastise three ranking agencies in the US and Europe who have published biased, prejudiced, unverifiable, poorly sourced reports on India: “The lack of any compelling case against Indian democracy reflects very poorly on the three major international democracy rating organisations. The least they could do in commemoration of independent India’s 75th anniversary is offer an apology to the country — and to its proper rulers, the Indian people.”

What should Hindus therefore demand from the TDMC and of the TDMC? Mere rescinding of their hate-filled resolution will not accomplish much. Hindus will continue to play “whack a mole” with the unending stream of hateful and provocative editorials, essays, resolutions, reports, and speeches from every kind of anti-Hindu activist group, organization, and individual. It would be appropriate for Hindus to demand from the New Jersey Democratic Party leadership to dissolve the present TDMC, bar all the present members from rejoining TDMC, seek at least ten percent Hindu membership in the committee, and a clear, open apology from the Democratic Party about vested interests in the party skewing American politics and targeting Hindus.

We can therefore conclude with Mittal that “If the pathological discussions around Indians and Hindus are to end, they will end when the diaspora unites with confidence and says enough. We are not here to justify our existence. We are here to live lives of freedom and we don’t owe an explanation to anyone”.

We shall see…

(This article was first published on India Facts on September 27, 2022, and has been republished with permission with minor edits to conform to the HinduPost styleguide)

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