There are more than 4 million American Hindus in the United States. While most of them are of Indian origin, there are many who come from Bangladeshi, European, African-American and Nepalese heritage. This article examines the concerns and hopes of the American Hindu communities and the expectations they have from the Presidential candidates. It also examines the intra-community dynamics, based on my interaction with a cross-section of thought-leaders within the community
Hindus have made immeasurable contributions to American society for generations. These contributions began at an early stage of America’s advancement as a global superpower, from Henry David Thoreau’s commentary on civil disobedience at Walden Pond, Massachusetts, that were informed by the teachings of sacred Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita. Over the decades, the community has emerged as the most highly educated religious group in the U.S. 36% of American Hindus have income of $100,000*, 2nd highest of any religious community in the country. With more than 4 million voters, the community will go into the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections with the largest increase in registered voters among Asian Americans, since 2018.
But all is not honky dory with the community when it comes to those that represent its aspirations and concerns, across the political spectrum. Despite their rapidly growing influence and strength in numbers, the American Hindu leadership is increasingly being marginalized by Geo-political forces, that are operating within the American political mainstream. These forces seek to fragment the American Hindu into intersectionalities of sub-identities and seek to turn current & future generations of voters into ‘useful idiots’ for causes that, at best, do not address the issues and demands of the American Hindus, and in their worst form, can be a threat to the Hindus themselves.
Two such sub-identities are, the “South Asian” and the “Asian American Pacific Islander” identity. Both are geographical identities that will be of little consequence to future generations of Hindus born in the US. While the former is driven by pan-Islamism that seeks the erasure of Hindus themselves, and the latter is too focused on Sino-Asia Pacific geopolitics, to address many of the issues that are unique to Hindus in the US.
With these concerns in mind, I spoke to leaders of the community over the past two months. While many of them agreed with me, some suggested that it was not the opportune time to raise these issues. The best response some could come up with, was that they were working hard “to address the Indian American issues”. Of course, few could understand the part that the “Indian American identity” itself has strategically been digested inside the “South Asian” identity and it would be very hard to convince a politician to work with a slice, when he can have the entire cake and eat it too.
That brings me to the purpose of this article. At a time when the American Hindu who was traditionally a Democrat, but rapidly moving towards the Republican Party, what is it that they want from their Presidential candidates?
I decided to speak with a cross section of the community’s thought-leadership, in the most bipartisan manner I could. Ajay Shah, the convenor of HinduPACT, and myself, put together a questionnaire that the Presidential candidates can respond to.
A. Hindu Issues in America
- As a President, will you protect Hindu American constitutional and civil rights;
honor the contribution of Hindu American communities across America; and
create a safe environment for their growth and prosperity.
- Will you ensure that the Homeland Security, Justice Department, and the FBI will work closely with the Hindu Mandirs (Temples) and other organizations to
ensure that they are provided protection against hate crime and discrimination?
- Will you ensure that the Department of Education will consult practitioners of
Hindu faith to develop guidelines for state agencies? Will you ensure that the textbooks and instructional materials that promote Hinduphobia and reflect misrepresentation of Hindu dharma (faith) in school textbooks are removed?
- Will you de-fund Universities and colleges that continue to institutionalize
- Will you include Hindu American participation in national prayer meetings at the White House, and include at least 2 Hindu festivals in the list of festivals celebrated at the White House?
- Will you Include Hindu American organizations in faith-based service initiatives and, in the dialog on interfaith, diversity and inclusion?
Over 80% of high skilled immigrants who are eligible for Green Card are Hindus. What are your views on extended delays in Green Card processing times (often more than 20 years) for these legal immigrants?
B. Global Hindu Issues
- Will you promote equal rights and security for Dharmic communities (Hindu,
Sikh, Jain, Buddhist) in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh? The United States has a long tradition of offering hope and safe haven to refugees and to those seeking asylum. Will you give persecuted followers of Dharmic faiths who are minorities in these countries, asylum under the “emergency refugee protection” program?
- Will you work to restore Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Nepal living in the United States?
- How will you promote stronger relations with India and support India’s role in a new vision for the Indo-Pacific, to counter-terrorism and advance our shared security and economic interests in the region?
The American Hindu may decide who wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Florida, in the upcoming Presidential elections. The list above, is just an outline for the Hindu voter in the United States, so they can communicate with their party of choice, directly. It is as much a questionnaire for the Presidential candidates, as it is a guideline for the community leaders who do outreach to political surrogates and raise funds for them. More importantly, it is a wakeup call to those leaders that have been sacrificing the Hindu American identity under the more transient geographical and ethnic branding. While it may have served their objectives in the short run, it will harm the growth potential of Hindu leaders in American politics in the long run. The harm to our interest and wellbeing will follow soon.
*Pew Research survey
I discuss more about this on HinduLounge, episode 13 for World Hindu Council of America’s, HinduPACT initiative