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Monday, December 5, 2022

Hindu Americans were cruelly demonized after bulldozer float appeared in Edison parade

Hindus in America are reeling, a community now on edge. In the past several weeks, we’ve witnessed four hate crimes across the nation.

Two attacks occurred in August when vandals twice broke into the grounds of a Hindu temple in Richmond Hill, New York, and repeatedly took a sledgehammer to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi while repeating anti-Hindu slogans.

A week later, a Hindu man ordering a bean burrito at a Taco Bell in California was assaulted by a man who spat at him, mocked his vegetarian diet, and let loose a flurry of invectives. “You f*****g ugly ass Hindu… Cow urine, that’s what you shower in,” he screamed.

Nearly simultaneously, a viral video shows a woman in Texas approaching Hindu women of Indian origin, without provocation threatening to shoot them, yelling, “Go back to India, we don’t want you here, I hate you f******g Indians.”

In the midst of this, on Bharat’s Independence Day, a few business owners in Edison, New Jersey, included in a local parade a bulldozer with photos of Bharatiya political leaders. This was perceived by some as an endorsement of those leaders’ alleged anti-minority policies. The incident was used to target unrelated Hindu American temples, organizations, and even student groups, as somehow complicit. That those business leaders claimed no Hindu motivation for their actions and apologized didn’t matter.

Hate crimes deploying well-known anti-immigrant slurs and Hinduphobic rhetoric are not new to New Jersey, where dozens of “Dotbuster” attacks of the late 1980s shook our community. Despite this history of attacks on Hindus, we lack an accurate understanding of the prevalence of anti-Hindu attacks. The FBI only recently began tracking anti-Hindu crimes as a separate category.

At the root of these attacks and slurs are centuries-old racist, colonial stereotypes that paint Bharatiyas as bizarre, immoral, and cruel. Sometimes the attacks are captured on video, but often they’re more subtle.

On the right, Hindus are considered collaborators in the “great replacement” or seen as heathens. On the left, Hindu American institutions and individuals are demonized, as after the ill-conceived parade float, through fear-mongering about an imagined Hindu threat of global takeover. We’re labeled “Hindu supremacists,” alleged to have dual loyalty to the Bharatiya government, and even falsely accused of funding violence in Bharat.

Social media also fuels physical attacks and is increasingly unsafe for Hindus. A recent report by Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Research Institute found that “derogatory posts toward Hindus [are] present in subcultural social media platforms including 4chan, Telegram, and Gab” and that “anti-Hindu memes, hashtags and slogans [are] growing prolifically across these fringe online platforms as well as Twitter.”

Ironically, though this anti-Hindu disinformation report was released at Rutgers, Rutgers-Newark is often at the center of a spate of this disinformation.

Last year, Hindu students at Rutgers protested against a Rutgers-Newark professor, Audrey Truschke, who joined other scholar-activists in denying that Hinduphobia exists and released a “field manual” that fear-mongers about the dangers of Hindu students espousing “Hindu-centric ideas.”

When she posted on Twitter about an imagined conversation between two deities in which a revered Hindu deity is called a “misogynist pig,” her response to Hindu students feeling targeted was to gaslight them, saying they were doing the bidding of India’s ruling political party. Shocked, Rutgers University’s Student Assembly  passed a rare resolution acknowledging the reality of Hinduphobia, and the university administration reportedly made efforts to understand student concerns.

All of this has real-world consequences. Dehumanizing Hindus allows for prejudice and bias to manifest differently, including the hate crimes we witnessed.

But sometimes, acts of hate galvanize change. Political leaders have weighed incalling out Hinduphobia and the anti-Bharat attacks, as have Hispanic leaders and Armenian Americans. And Hindu Americans are increasingly defending themselves by speaking up for themselves or taking those who slander them to court.

Hate and fear are rooted in ignorance. But when social media and even those entrusted to educate are inclined to exacerbate divisions, we must call it out and demand better.

Professor Audrey Truschke, mentioned in this piece, is a co-defendant in a pending lawsuit for defamation and conspiracy to defame filed by the Foundation.

(This story was published on nj.com on September 13, 2022 and has been reproduced here with minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)

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