BOSTON—A group of Hindu Americans belonging to World Hindu Council of America, known as VHPA, American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) and HinduPACT are questioning the Hindu heritage of US Senator and Democratic Party Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
“It seems to us that Sen. Harris, a self-acknowledged on-Hindu has now realized that in the battleground states, the Hindu votes matter. So, Senator Harris is now rapidly discovering her Hindu roots,” Ajay Shah, executive vice president of VHPA and convener of AHAD and HinduPACT, said in a statement. “Welcome home, Senator, you have now moved on from masala dosas and cleverly inserted reference to “chitti” to donning the dress of Goddess Durga. Do you want to know what those who practice Hindu dharma think about this cartoonish portrayal of you as Durga Mata?”
“Before assuming the form of Durga Mata, through your niece, did you bother picking up a book on Hindu Dharma 101 or at least talk to your “chitti?” said Mr. Shah. “Hindus are offended, and Hindus are outraged, because you have insulted Hindu Goddess and while you continue to claim to be a non-Hindu, you have the audacity to assume the form of a revered Hindu Goddess during one of the most auspicious Hindu festivals, Navaratri for scoring political points.”
Born in the US to immigrants, cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan from India and economics professor Donald Harris from Jamaica, Harris has leaped in a generation to running for a position that could put her a heartbeat away from the US presidency.
After her parents divorced when she was only seven, Harris was brought up by her mother, whom she has described as “tough and fierce and protective” yet “generous and loyal and funny,” and credits her for her success.
In her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris wrote that the lesson “it was service to others that gave life purpose and meaning” that she inherited from her mother came from her grandmother Rajam, who had not completed high school but was a fiery protector of victims of domestic abuse.
Moving from New Delhi to Berkeley for her PhD in the tumultuous era of the 1960s civil rights movements, Shyamala Gopalan joined the protests “with a sense of justice imprinted on her soul,” Harris wrote.
In this environment, she wrote, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya as Black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
Her sister Maya is also a lawyer.
While the African American identity became the dominant one – and, in fact, the one that boosted her chances to the get the vice presidential nomination – Harris wrote, “Our classical Indian names harked back to our heritage and we were raised with a strong awareness of and appreciation for Indian culture.”
She wrote, “My mother, grandparents, aunts and uncle instilled us with pride in our South Asian roots.”
“I was also very close to my mother’s brother, Balu, and her two sisters, Sarala and Chinni (whom I called Chittis, which means ‘younger mother’ [in Tamil]),” she recalled.
Utsav Chakrabarty, executive director of HinduPACT, said in a the statement that the caricature of Hindu deities wreaks is tokenism that has become a hallmark of Biden-Harris ticket.
“At best it is cheap and hurtful and at its worst, creates tank Hinduphobia in communities that already have very little knowledge about Hindu Dharma,” Chakrabarty said.
Rakhi Israni, executive director-legal of HinduPACT, said that it is quite telling that Joe Biden-Kamala Harris campaign that won’t even put out an agenda for the Hindu American community when they have done so for other religious communities is misappropriating the religious symbols and pictures of this same community for their own purposes.
“In other words, it seems that what the Biden/Harris Campaign is saying is don’t ask what we will do for you, but continue giving your all to us. It’s about time Hindu Americans wake up,” Israni said. “We can’t afford to be emotionally tied to one party or another lest we are taken for granted.”
Founded in 1970, World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) is a prominent organization of Hindus in the United States. An initiative of VHPA, AHAD is a Hindu organization against defamation in the USA. HinduPACT USA, or Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective, USA, is also an initiative of VHPA.