Hindu Americans Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

First published by Daily News and Analysis, October 19, 2016


Hindu Americans are in a hard place in the American electoral land, and while the majority has voted Democrat consistently there are quite a few, especially in the small business world and the medical professional world, who have voted their pocketbooks, believing that the Republican Party will save them some taxes.

They are right in believing that Republican representatives will work to lower taxes, but then this limited, self-centered, and short-sighted approach to democracy as well as to their own overall well-being has its consequences: their children would face more and more pressure to think of the country as a Christian country; a woman in the family might have to walk through the gauntlet of shaming, screaming lines of anti-abortion protestors in front of an abortion clinic; at a town square, late in the evening, waiting for a friend, hear the "N…." word screamed at them from a bunch of young, white hoodlums in a red pick-up truck flying the Confederate flag; or have the local school board decide that yoga should not be taught in the school district because it is "devil worship".

The taxes they avoid paying or pay little go to eviscerate the already hollowed out poor school districts, and the poor who come to their clinic for care will have little or no insurance, or those who come to their store to buy a can of beer or a packet of peanuts will bristle at the scared, anxious and needling behavior of the store-owner.

Voting Democrat has not been much of a joy too since it is the left wing of that party colluding with the right wing of the Republican Party that has demonized Hindus and Hinduism in school textbooks; it is the hectoring of its senators and congressmen every year about the condition of the lower castes in India, the alleged discrimination against Christians, and the purported violence against women, Muslims, and various other groups; the dressing down of Indian diplomats and the lecturing to by the same representatives, and the "liberal" media about India's nuclear testing, relationship with Pakistan, the condition in Kashmir, etc; the equating of Pakistan with India; and the support to a variety of NGOs that meddle in India's affairs in the name of democracy and secularism, and seeking to keep "Hindu nationalists" at bay.

But, we do have to make choices in life, and Hindu Americans have mostly voted Democrat, because we Hindus are essentially a liberal people willing to listen to a variety of voices, supporting the underdog and the discriminated against, and self-reflexive to a large extent because that is the essence of our spiritual/religious training.

We know by instinct that supporting Republicans simply because of certain tax advantages will make us confront the dangerous world of social conservatism: a conservatism which has these days boiled down to a "guns, grits, and God" philosophy, White-Christian supremacy/fear, support for capital punishment, anti-gay activism, the banning of abortion, and the suppression of minority votes.

And this year, we are faced with a bigger dilemma: should we vote Hillary Clinton, the speaker whose every sentence has to end in a shrill crescendo, and whose foreign policy adventurism might make India weak, and whose four years in office is a series of confrontations with the stone-walling Republican, or should we hold our noses and vote Trump, the serial misogynist, tax fraud, bloviator whose rhetoric has fueled the fear of a large majority of the blue-collar White middle and lower-middle classes, and whose anti-immigrant statements can sweep us all into the dangerous badlands of the White (pure) Christian supremacist?

Some Hindus have lined up behind Mr. Trump, and in ways that is not just troubling but almost mindless. In an event, on October 15th, in New Jersey, the "Republican Hindu Coalition" (RHC) hosted a "mega Bollywood fund-raising event" for the dangerous demagogue who somehow beat all odds to become the Republican candidate for president. The group, led by Shalabh Kumar, a Punjabi who came to the US in 1969, and turned in Republican in 1979, has donated $1.5 million to the Trump campaign, and wants to raise $10 million for other Republican candidates.

Fine, because in a democracy, and in a country like the United States where every ethnic and national group works hard to get their voices heard in Washington, it is good to bet on all the horses running in the race, right? But if that is so, then what is it that we Hindu Americans represent and what is it that we want? According to the RHC website their goals are to "meet… with Republican policymakers and leaders and members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to educate them on how strengthening trade and political ties between United States with India, is in the national and economic security interests of the United States; (to focus on) expansion of trade between India and United States to promote "Made in America" opportunities and also encourage PM Modi's "make in India" program as an alternative to manufacturing in China; and to "…forge a strong defense and security alliance between United States and India to combat international terrorism".

Really? After all, if Mr. Shalabh Kumar and his group had looked carefully at the Republican Party platform over the years, trade with China was always an American priority in the past three decades, as with other countries; that combating terrorism has been a major Obama push that included the assassination of Osama bin Laden, and the continued aerial bombing using drones to target terrorists all over the world; and India's and Modi's relationship with the US have been good these past three years.

Beyond this boiler-plate platform, it seems the RHC is completely disinterested in other social and cultural matters that will affect not just them in the US but Hindus around the world, including in India: proselytism, fundamentalism, homophobia, women's rights, racial discrimination, guns and violence, poverty alleviation, global warming, etc., about which Mr. Trump has made the most troubling noises.Not all Indian Americans are Hindu.

In fact, just a bare majority of 51 percent of Indian Americans are Hindu. The Hindu American experience is different from that of the Indian Christian, Muslim, or Sikh American experience, as Khyati Joshi notes in her "New Roots in America's Sacred Ground", and Indian Christians especially "exhibit a qualitatively different set of experiences and responses in their relations with the dominant American culture".

Attending the quarterly meeting on religious freedom hosted by "Freedom House" in Washington, DC, I used to note that every other participant around the table represented a proselytizing faith, even the small group of Baha'is, whereas I was the only one complaining about the challenge of dealing with the cunning, the conspiracies, and the cultism of the proselytizers. Alas, it seems those Hindu Americans, led by Mr. Shalabh Kumar, seem clueless about these matters.

And by the way, what has vulgar Bollywood tamasha, including mock saber-gun battles got to do with Hinduism?

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