Anti-Hindu hatred or Hinduphobia is the irrational fear of, hostility to, or discrimination against Hindus and Hinduism. Both have a tragically long history which continues to this day across the globe.
Both are fueled by a range of factors, including: religious intolerance, religious exclusivism, a lack of religious literacy, misrepresentation in the media, academic bias still rooted in colonial-era misportrayals, and, in the diaspora, generalized anti-immigrant xenophobia and hatred.
Hindu Americans are hardly exempt from such attacks on their religion and culture.
In the past several years anti-Hindu hate crimes, ranging from temple desecration to acts of physical violence have been on the rise in the United States.
The Hindu American Foundation requests help in tracking incidents of identity-based and bias-motivated intimidation, harassment, and violence in our communities by filling out the Anti-Hindu Hate and Hinduphobia Incident Form, if they or someone they know has experienced or witnessed an incident.
HAF also encourages all Americans to review our Know Your Rights guide, as well as our Temple Safety and Security Guide.
An Overview of Anti-Hindu Bias, Hate Crimes, and Hinduphobia in the United States
The US Census does not collect religious data so it is impossible to find precise figures on the Hindu population. But one estimate suggests there are more than 3 million Hindu Americans, constituting approximately 1% of the country’s population.
This population is concentrated in urban areas, with particularly large populations in New Jersey, Northern California, metro Houston, and New York City.
New Jersey is the state with the largest Hindu population by percentage, with Hindus constituting an estimated 3% of the population. Hindu Americans constitute the largest non-Christian faith in two states, Arizona and Delaware. Furthermore, there are more than 1,000 Hindu temples and religious centers across the country.
The Hindu American community is ethnically diverse. While the majority of American Hindus are of Indian origin, there are also vibrant communities of Caribbean, African, European, Hispanic, and East and Southeast Asian descent.
A significant portion of the Hindu American community is composed of refugee populations, including Hindus from Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.
Until 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not collect information on hate crimes targeting the Hindu community. As such, there is no unified source of information on Hindu hate in the United States.
This resource attempts the task of assessing the legal landscape for Hindu Americans, by analyzing the level of anti-Hindu hate-motivated violence targeting the community, and assessing legal jurisprudence protecting Hindu civil rights.
A Brief History of Hindus in the United States
More than 100 years before actual communities of Hindus established themselves in the United States, the philosophies of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scriptures) profoundly influenced the American Transcendentalist movement.
Leading figures of that movement such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson drew inspiration from sacred Hindu texts and the ideas of karma yoga (the path of work without attachment and selfless-service) and jnana yoga (the path of knowledge).
Despite the positive view of Hindu teachings by the Transcendentalists, there was little public understanding of the religion.
The first significant public exposure to the philosophies of Hinduism came with Swami Vivekananda’s 1893 address at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. Vivekananda, a Hindu monk from India, helped establish the Vedanta Society of New York in 1884, the first Hindu center of learning in the United States.
Backlash to Hindu Immigration
The late 19th century saw an increase in migration of Asian immigrants, including Hindus and Sikhs from the Indian subcontinent. Many of the immigrants worked as low-wage laborers in the Pacific Northwest.
In response to the increased use of Asian labor, a group of 67 labor unions organized the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League on May 14, 1905. The League began to actively lobby to ban all further Asian immigration to the United States. The League soon expanded its focus and renamed itself the Asiatic Exclusion League.
On September 5, 1907, led by the Asiatic Exclusion League, a mob in Bellingham, Washington drove more than one hundred Asian Indian immigrants from the city. None of the perpetrators of the mob attack were prosecuted. Newspapers of the day celebrated the removal of the “Hindus” from Washington. Similar attacks followed in other northwestern cities, including Everett and Vancouver.
As the result of these attacks, virtually all the Hindu and Sikh population of the Pacific Northwest were driven out.
Legal Restrictions on Immigration and Citizenship
Under pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League and other nativist organizations, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1906, which restricted naturalized citizenship only to “free white persons” and “persons of African nativity,” thus essentially excluding Asians from US citizenship and disenfranchising the entire Hindu and Sikh community in the United States.
The Naturalization Act was aggressively challenged by minority citizens seeking naturalization. From 1913-1923 there were several legal challenges to the Act, going all the way to the Supreme Court.Though some challenges were initially successful, Congress ultimately passed the Immigration Act of 1924 (the “Johnson-Reed Act”), which significantly curtailed immigration to preserve the “ideals of American homogeneity.” The Act prohibited additional immigration from India, other parts of South Asia, and the Middle East.
These legal restrictions lasted for the next twenty two years until President Harry Truman signed the Luce-Celler Act of 1946. That Act permitted Hindus and others previously excluded from becoming citizens to be naturalized. It also set up a quota of 100 individuals per year to immigrate to the United States from India.
This quota system was in place for a further nineteen years, until Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act in 1965.This Act scrapped the quota based on national origin, replacing it with a preferences-based system. This set the stage for a significant population of Hindus to immigrate to the United States.
By the 1980s, many US states, including New York, New Jersey, and California had significant Hindu populations and multiple Hindu temples.
The Dot Busters and Hate Violence Until 2001
The rapidly growing populations of Hindus attracted anti-immigrant violence. Hindus wearing traditional clothes such as saris and bindis (traditional head markings) began to attract attention and harassment from other communities. “It’s white people against the Hindus” noted one individual in justifying his anti-Hindu harassment.
In July 1987, a group of anti-Hindu activists published a letter in the Jersey Journal, advocating violence to drive Hindus out of New Jersey. Shortly after the publishing of the letter, an Indian Parsi man, Navroze Mody was beaten to death in Hoboken. A few days later, an Indian Hindu Kaushal Saran, was beaten into a coma in Jersey City Heights.
Despite the letter and the Hindu community’s fear of more attacks, prosecutors declined to name a racial motivation in Mody’s attacks. Similarly, Saran’s attackers were acquitted of all charges.
In September of the same year, Syed Hassan and Vikas Aggarwal were brutally attacked by a “dot buster” group, and again law enforcement — this time the Hoboken Police Department — did not take any action.
Despite admitting that they could legally pursue the attackers without a complaint being lodged by the victims, the Hoboken police force told an attorney that the ”dot busting” groups were not high enough priority for the police department.
The Dot Buster attacks helped galvanize the Hindu and broader Indian-American community into action, and helped spur the passage of New Jersey’s bias intimidation statutes.
Unfortunately, it and similar laws in other states did not end the targeting of Hindus for hate crimes.
In 1999, two Hindu men, Kanu and Mukesh Patel, were shot execution-style at a Dunkin Donuts in Maryland.
While the pace of attacks slowed down shortly thereafter, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 changed the landscape.
Anti-Hindu Hate Violence post-September 11, 2001
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, while Americans of all faiths came together to pray for the victims and assist the survivors, some turned their anger against Americans perceived to be Arab or Muslim. The 9/11 backlash resulted in over 600 bias-motivated attacks, primarily targeting Muslim Americans, but also sweeping in Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs, South Asians, and Hispanics.
Individuals, Homes, Businesses
In the week immediately following the attack on the Twin Towers, a man praying for the victims of 9/11 at a Hindu temple in Queens was attacked with a BB gun as he left. In Richardson, Texas, a Hindu man was assaulted and beaten by several men. In Somerset, Massachusetts, three teens threw a molotov cocktail at a convenience store owned by Ashwin Patel. In Ronkonkoma, New York, a store clerk was assaulted with a handgun. In Salem, Oregon, vandals left a sign “Towell [sic] Heads Go-Home!” outside a convenience store owned by a Hindu American. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a gas station owned by an Indian family was vandalized.
On September 15, 2001, an Indian man was assaulted in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. On the same night, a Hindu faculty member at New Mexico State University was attacked by a group of men in a parking lot. In Augusta, Georgia, a man called in bomb threats against a hotel on 15th Street owned by Indians, having assumed they were Muslim. Furthermore, in Fort Worth, Texas, three middle schoolers were charged with “terroristic threatening” after harassing an Indian classmate. In Kent, Washington, John Bethel assaulted a man of Indian descent. In Plainsboro, New Jersey, Madhusudhan Natarajan was nearly run over while returning from a grocery store. On September 28, 2001, the Sultan Sandwich Shop, owned by Raj Desai, was burned down in a suspected arson.
On October 4, 2001, Mark Stroman shot and killed Vasudev Patel in Dallas as part of a revenge shooting after the 9/11 attacks. The attacks also killed another person, and seriously injured Bangladeshi immigrant Saif Bhuyan, who later forgave Stroman. On
October 16, 2001, Andrew Savage of Racine, Wisconsin, was charged with a hate crime for verbally harassing an Indian store employee. On October 21, 2001, another Indian Hindu was mistaken for being of Middle Eastern descent and beaten by a group of Asian men in Anaheim, California.
In June 2002, Robert Rowland attacked three Indian Americans in Gainesville, Florida, spraying them with bug spray and harassing them.
On June 25, 2003, Boston deliveryman Saurabh Bhalerao was attacked by a group of four to five men while he was out delivering pizzas. The men beat Bhalerao, robbed him, tortured him by burning him with cigarettes, and left him in the trunk of his car, where Bhalerao prayed to Lord Rama to keep calm.
On June 1, 2006, the home of a Hindu family in Wayne, New Jersey was vandalized with threats to the family and anti-Hindu slurs. The vandals threatened to burn down the family’s home and kill their kids.
On May 22, 2007, Karishma Dhanak, a Hindu student at UC Irvine, was attacked and killed by her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Iftekhar Murteza. Murteza burned and killed Dhanak and her father, while seriously injuring her mother, who was left in a three-week coma. The attack was allegedly motivated by the family’s Hindu faith, which Dhanak’s parents saw as a barrier to Murteza’s relationship with their daughter.
On July 1, 2007, Indo-Fijian immigrant Satendar Singh was attacked and killed by Russian immigrants. Singh was allegedly targeted because of his perceived homosexuality and because he was dancing to Indian music.
In July 2007, Vishal Wadhwa was attacked in South Lake Tahoe, California by Joseph and Georgia Silva. The Silvas first followed Wadhwa, calling him an “Indian piece of garbage” and made reference to “Indian sluts and whores,” “terrorists,” and “relatives of Osama Bin Laden.” When Wadhwa asked them to stop calling him names, they attacked him, breaking his orbital socket, and causing him severe physical injury. To the outrage of the local community, the Silvas’ hate crime charges were dropped.
On November 8, 2008, Oregon native David Lee Katon assaulted a man from India in Longview, Washington believing the man to be a member of Al Qaeda.
In June 2009, a nine year old Hindu boy (name withheld at request of the boy’s father) was forced to eat beef at a Cincinnati charter school. A complaint was filed with the US Department of Justice complaining about the school’s serving of beef to the child, contrary to his religious beliefs.
In July 2010, Jason Wallace attacked his Indian roommate Latchman Ramnarine in New York city. Wallace gouged out Latchman’s eyes, while screaming “I hate Indian people.”
On October 9, 2010, two members of ISKCON, Damadora Roe and Patel Delgado, were attacked by James Gregory Faleris outside a football game in Gainesville, Florida. According to witnesses, Faleris spat in Delgado’s face, used homosexual slurs, and then attacked Roe, before being restrained by a police officer.
On November 21, 2011, Atul Lall, a 32 year old engineer, was attacked by three assailants in a grocery store parking lot in San Jose, California. Lall was beaten with a tequila bottle, spit on, and called a “terrorist.” The injuries left Lall with nightmares, a shattered jaw, and six missing teeth.
On December 27, 2012, Erika Menendez, of New York City pushed Hindu man Sunando Sen in front of a Subway train, killing him. Elaborating on her reasons for attacking Sen, Menendez noted that she “hate[s] Hindus and Muslims.” Menendez was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the assault.
In July and August 2014, a number of homes, parks, and public spaces in Loudoun County, Virginia, were vandalized with anti-Hindu messages. Over 17 incidents of vandalism were reported, including messages that said “No Hindus” and “No Hindus Allowed.” Despite an aggressive response by the community, and organizations such as the Hindu American Foundation, no arrests were made connected to the vandalism.
In October 2014, burglars in Cedar Park, Texas targeted Hindu homes for attacks during the holy Hindu festival of Diwali. Cedar Park police confirmed four separate Hindu homes were targeted in a span of three days, and that similar attacks had occurred the previous year.
Between October 20 and November 29, 2014, five Hindu families were targeted for burglaries in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Authorities believed that the houses were targets because they celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali, during which they’d use gold ornaments and valuables. The brutality of the burglaries, and initial lack of response from law enforcement, created a backlash from the local community, leading to the eventual arrests of five individuals.
On Feb. 6, 2015, Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year old Hindu grandfather, who spoke little English, was attacked by police officer Eric Parker in Madison, Alabama. The attack left Patel partially paralyzed. After two mistrials, Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala acquitted Parker of federal civil rights violations in the assault.
On July 7, 2015, Rohit Patel of North Brunswick, New Jersey, was attacked by 24-year-old Nyle Kilgore. Kilgore saw Patel out on a walk, struck him on the head, and left him beaten and bleeding on a public sidewalk.
On November 29, 2015, an arsonist burned 40 Hindu flags in the courtyard of a family in Queens, New York. Despite television footage of the crime, the arsonist managed to escape police at the scene.
On December 5, 2015, an Indian Penn State student was assaulted by a fellow classmate, Nicholas Tavella. Tavella followed the student, asking if he was going to rape a girl and if he was from the Middle East. He then grabbed the Indian student by the throat, saying, “Don’t make me put a bullet in your chest.”
On May 27, 2016, an Indian taxi driver in Palo Alto, California asked a man parked in multiple spots to move his car. The man began to shout racist remarks at the driver, eventually punching him in the jaw and throwing the driver’s phone at his head. He then ran his car into the taxi and drove away.
On July 9, 2016, an Indian inn owner and his family were the victims of an attempted assault by a man who said he was “trained to kill people like them.” The man told the innkeeper, Preet Moudgil of Kettle Falls, Washington, that he was “going to cut [him] up because [he’s] a terrorist.” He brandished a knife and pushed Moudgil’s father, however, the family was able to escape unscathed. The family is both Sikh and Hindu.
On November 22, 2016, Jeffrey Burgess assaulted Ankur Mehta at a Bethel Park, Pennsylvania Red Robin due to his race. Allegedly, Burgess thought Mehta was an Arab, calling him racial slurs and repeatedly punching him in the head, neck, and throat. Mehta suffered a head injury, fractured jaw, and a lost tooth as a result of the assault.
On December 21, 2016, activist Aravinda Pillalamarri was stopped by a police officer in her Bel Air, Maryland neighborhood. The law official pressed her on whether she was in the United States legally, and antagonized her for not having ID on her in her own neighborhood.
In early February 2017, an Indian family’s house in Peyton, Colorado was vandalized with racist messages, feces, and eggs. The messages expressed that the family should not be in the United States and targeted their Indian heritage.
On February 22, 2017, Adam Purinton shot two Indian Hindu men at a bar in Olathe, Kansas,, killing Hindu immigrant Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring Alok Madasani. Prior to the shooting, Purinton repeatedly yelled racist remarks at the pair, yelling “Get out of my country” as he fired his weapon. At a different bar, Purinton admitted to killing two Iranians in Olathe. On May 22, 2018, Purinton who had already been found guilty in state court of the murder and attempted murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, pleaded guilty to Federal hate crime and firearms charges.
On March 2, 2017, Indian store owner Harnish Patel was found dead outside of his Lancaster, South Carolina home. The three people charged in the murder allegedly planned to “smash an Indian.”
On March 10, 2017, Richard Leslie LLoyd attempted to burn down an Indian-owned convenience store in Port St. Lucie, Florida in an effort to “run the Arabs out of our country.”
On August 23, 2017, GMM Nonstick Coatings CEO Ravin Gandhi posted an op-ed denouncing Donald Trump for his response to the Charlottesville Rally. Soon, he began receiving racist emails and voicemails, telling him to go back to India, amongst other hateful messages.
On February 23, 2017, Ekta Desai, an Indian origin New Yorker, was verbally abused by a man on the subway. The man repeatedly called her and another Asian woman on the train racial slurs, which included telling them to go back to their country.
On September 18, 2017, Hindu storeowners Rajesh and Vidhya Patnaik found their sign-printing shop in Indianapolis vandalized with anti-Hindu messages. The graffiti called Hindus “traitors” and “satanists”, amongst other messages.
On October 28, 2017, two men were shot at the Bharatiya Temple and Cultural Center in Lexington, Kentucky. The attack took place during a Diwali celebration, and the perpetrator fled the scene. The incident, however, was not investigated as a hate crime.
In November 2017, a racist mailer was sent out around Edison, New Jersey targeting Asian American candidates. The mailer said that Chinese and Indian populations were taking over their schools, and called to deport the candidates.
On February 10, 2018, three Seattle teens, including Aditya Sastry, an Indian American, were targets of racial slurs and remarks by a white woman. She repeatedly asked Sastry where he was from while using derogatory language. Sastry filmed this and posted the video online, although the woman later took his phone and attempted to smash it.
Houses of Worship and Religious Institutions
Because they are frequently located in rural locations with little security, and due to their visibility and unique architecture, Hindu houses of worship are frequently targets of vandalism, trespassing, and sometimes, of burglary.
While most communities are welcoming of Hindu temples and ashrams, other temples have faced hostility and harassment from their neighbors as well. The following is a catalogue of all the reported attacks on Hindu temples and houses of worship in the past fifteen years.
On September 12, 2001, a Hindu temple in Matawan, New Jersey was firebombed with a molotov cocktail. On the same day, a Hindu temple in Medinah, Illinois was also attacked.
In 2003, the Hindu Cultural Center in Chandler, Arizona was defaced with Nazi symbols, as a part of a rise in hate group attacks on houses of worship.
In March 2003, two teens, Paul Laird and Nathaniel Conner, firebombed a Hindu temple in St. Louis, Missouri. Despite the attack, police did not press hate crime charges, believing that the attack stemmed from “boredom”.
On November 27, 2003, Ashland, Massachusetts teen Anthony Picciolo spray painted hateful messages on the Sri Lakshmi temple. Picciolo was never convicted of the crime. Earlier that year, the Hindu Temple of St. Louis was firebombed twice in a week. The temple’s massive metal doors blocked the first firebomb.
In April 2006, two teens, Paul Spakousky and Tyler Toumie broke into the Maple Grove Hindu Mandir in Maple Grove, Minnesota. The teens destroyed many sacred statues, and caused over $200,000 in property damage.
In June 2006, a concrete statue was stolen from the construction site of the Sarvajana Mandir in Harvest, Alabama.
In July 2007, teens used molotov cocktails to set fire to two lamp posts at the Sri Lakshmi temple in Ashland, Massachusetts. On August 4, 2007, the same group of teens left a number of molotov cocktails on the premises of the temple to burn, where they were discovered by the police. The attacks were not prosecuted as hate crimes.
On June 4, 2010, thieves broke into the Sarvajana Mandir in Harvest, Alabama, and stole two hand-carved murtis of Lord Jaya and Vijaya, worth over $50,000. This theft was a second attack on the temple, after a previous theft in 2006.
In March 2011, a group of men attacked a security guard at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, one of the oldest Hindu temples in the country. They tied up the security guard at gunpoint, and stole three safes from the temple, containing over $15,000 in cash.
On January 1, 2012, Ray Lazier Lengend, a 40-year old New York man firebombed a Hindu temple in Queens, New York, as part of a series of firebombing targeting Hindus, Muslims, and Arabs.
On November 13, 2012, a giant Shiva statue displayed in front of the Indian Cultural Society Hindu Temple in Wayne, New Jersey, was stolen.
In January 2013, a group of men broke into and robbed the Hindu Mandir in Irvine, California. The attacks were a part of a series of attacks of houses of worship including nearly a dozen churches and an Islamic center.
On May 3, 2013, two men, Melshidezek Reyes and Peter Bergman, entered the Hare Krishna Temple in Alachua, Florida. They proceeded to douse the temple floor in bleach, break vases, and destroy books. They also defecated on the floor and clogged the toilets.
On August 2, 2014, vandals attacked the Vishwa Bhavan Hindu Mandir in Monroe, Georgia. The vandals entered the temple, which is supported mostly by the Caribbean Hindu community, desecrated a sacred murthi of Lord Shiva, cut the telephone lines, and spray painted profanity on the walls. The police made arrests a month later but did not charge the arrestees with hate crimes.
On February 15, 2015, vandals attacked the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Bothell, Washington. The vandals painted anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim messages on the side of the temple and spray painted two large swastikas in an apparent attempt at intimidation.
11 days later after the incident in Bothell, on February 26, 2015, the Kent Hindu temple in neighboring Kent, Washington, was attacked. The vandals broke eight windows, destroyed the metal frames with rocks, and scrawled the word “fear” on the walls.
On April 13, 2015, the North Texas Hindu Mandir was vandalized with symbols of devil worship. The attack shocked both the Hindu worshippers, and the non-Hindus in the area, who worked to help clean up the graffiti.
On July 11, 2015, vandals fired multiple shotgun blasts at a sign marking a planned Hindu temple in Clemmons, North Carolina. The temple’s leadership announced their intention to continue building the temple despite the vandalism.
On March 20, 2016, Sankar Sastri found a severed cow head at his Upper Mount Bethel Township, Pennsylvania cow sanctuary. Lakshmi Cow and Animal Sanctuary was founded by Sastri as a home for cows, driven by his Hindu beliefs. Police called the incident ethnic intimidation.
On September 25, 2017 a window was smashed at a Wilton, Connecticut Hindu temple, resulting in $1,500 worth of damage.
On October 14, 2017, vandals were caught on camera in a Hindu temple under construction in West Palm Beach, Florida. The temple had been subject to four cases of vandalism in five months, which included anti-Semitic graffiti, broken windows, and trashing of the interior.
In late January 2019, a Kentucky Hindu temple was vandalized with Christian supremacist graffiti. The vandal, a local teen, was quickly apprehended.
Trends and Analysis
Looking at the overall number of suspected hate crimes reported in the media, there are two important trends to note.
First, two important spikes in the incidents must be noted: the first occurring right after the 9/11 attacks; the second occurring in 2014-15.
The first spike is more easily explainable, coming as a part of a backlash from the attacks targeting Arab and Muslim Americans, and those who could be mistaken for such, including Sikh, Hindu, and other South Asian Americans. However, the 2014 spike is not tied to any such major terrorist attack.
The second trend is a shift in the types of incidents occurring.
Out of 18 reported incidents in the last three months of 2001, two were attacks on houses of worship, four were attacks on private or commercial property, while the remaining twelve were physical attacks or harassment of individuals. In contrast, out of the 33 incidents in 2014 and 2015, there were only two attacks on individuals, with the rest of the incidents comprising of vandalism, attacks on houses of worship, and home invasions. Subsequent to 2015, there were 18 incidents, 14 of which were directed towards individuals and four against houses of worship.
Anti-Hindu Prejudice in the Media and the Public Sphere
Even as the Hindu American community grows its numbers, Hinduism remains poorly understood in the American public sphere. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, only 22% of Americans knew a practitioner of the Hindu faith, compared to 38% for Muslims and 61% for Jews. Americans in general also held a neutral or negative view of Hindus compared to other religions in the United States.
Given a lack of familiarity with Hindu practitioners, many Americans are influenced by the portrayal of Hinduism offered in the mainstream media, by public officials, and by their own community and religious leaders.
Unfortunately, much of the coverage of Hindus, Hindu Americans, and Hinduism in these outlets is flawed, relying on stereotypes and inaccurate information.
Anti-Hindu Prejudice In the Public Square
Given the level of misconceptions and ignorance about the Hindu community and it’s beliefs, Hindu Americans frequently face harassment and religious prejudice when they attempt to participate in public life, whether they choose to lobby their representatives or run for public office.
On September 14, 2000, the first Hindu invocation in the history of the United States Congress was offered by Venkatachalapathi Samudrala before the U.S. House of Representatives.
This prayer attracted criticism from the Family Research Council, who argued that it was a sign that the country was “drifting from its Judeo-Christian roots.”
On July 12, 2007, the first Hindu invocation was offered before the US Senate by Nevada Hindu leader Rajan Zed. As Zed stood up to speak, three protesters started screaming at him, “This is an abomination!” Zed’s invocation was the first invocation in the history of the United States Senate to have been protested.
Shortly after the incident, former Navy Chaplain, Gordon Klingenschmitt wrote in the protester’s defense, arguing that Hinduism constituted idolatry and should not be respected in America.
Similarly, Rev. Flip Denham condemned the prayer, decrying the equal treatment accorded to Christianity and Hinduism, and accusing Hinduism of worship a “false god.”
A number of public figures joined the chorus of support for the protesters including US Representative Bill Sali (R-ID), Tim Waldmon of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and currently a commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Bonnie Alba of Renew America, evangelical activist David Barton, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court, and Rev. Wiley Drake of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In March 2015, Zed was invited to give the invocation before the Idaho State Senate. Unlike the 2000 and 2007 invocations, which were largely protested by outside groups, the 2015 invocation was protested by members of the Idaho State Senate. Senator Steve Vick, who led the protests, argued that Hinduism should not be welcome in Idaho because Hindus “worship cows” and “have a caste system.” Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll added that “Hindu [sic] is a false faith with false gods.”
Similarly, Hindu attempts to represent their heritage alongside Christian monuments have repeatedly been rejected. Applications to include Hindu monuments alongside the Ten Commandments have been rejected in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Hindu candidates running for office have frequently been the target of religious prejudice and attacks.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first Hindu American elected to Congress, was criticized by her opponent for her Hindu faith.
Similarly, former Minnesota State Senator Satveer Chaudhary was asked to convert to Christianity by his Republican opponent in her concession speech. She said, “The race of your life is more important than this one…It is my sincere wish that you’ll get to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus is the way.”
Even non-Hindu candidates open themselves up to the risk of attacks if they appear tolerant or respectful of Hinduism.
In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear was attacked by State Senate President David Williams for attending the groundbreaking ceremony for a Hindu temple. In his remarks, Williams announced that he would never participate in a religious ceremony that was non-Christian and demanded that all Hindus in Kentucky convert to Christianity.
President Barack Obama was attacked for speaking positively about the Hindu God Hanuman.
Ordinary Hindu Americans have also not been spared. In early 2019, after the Tulsi Gabbard became the first ever Hindu American to run for president, several media outlets began targeting political contributions made by individuals with “Hindu origin names.” These articles accused Hindu Americans of having dual loyalties to India. They also alleged, without any evidence, that these same donors financially support Indian political parties and politicians, which incidentally, would be in contravention of Indian law.
These articles have yet to be redacted and editors have failed to respond to questions about the racist and bigoted nature of these “investigations,” including whether they would approve of similar investigations of Jewish donors to Jewish candidates, Muslim donors to Muslim candidates, or Hindu Americans contributions to other candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and numerous others.
Such attacks show the progress that needs to be made before religious prejudice is erased.
Portrayal of Hinduism in Christian Media
Hindus have often faced xenophobic prejudice from their fellow Americans. Much of this prejudice has been spread through the efforts of hardline, evangelical organizations espousing Christian supremacist views.
While the ostensible goal of these organizations is to convert Hindus to Christianity, the heightened rhetoric used often demeans Hindus and denies their humanity.
For example, one website describes Hinduism as the “pig pen of the East” and “one of the world’s most dirty and dignity destroying religions.” The website goes on to note that Hindus have no morals, take pleasure in the pain of others, and engage in domestic violence. Another one noted that Hinduism does not believe in the concept of forgiveness.
Similarly, a common theme among many of the sites is that Hinduism is evil and involves the worship of demons. One site even ascribes supernatural powers to Hindus, drawn from a relationship between Hindus and Satan.
Many of these organizations attack Hindu deities and worship as demonic. Other sources attack the Hindu practice of yoga, arguing that engaging in the practice will corrupt Christians.
While such writing is protected by the First Amendment, it can nonetheless promote hatred and fear of Hindu Americans, increasing their isolation and vulnerability to harassment and violence.
Problematic Representations in Mainstream Media
As Hinduism and the Hindu American population grow in the United States, so has coverage of the faith in mainstream media outlets.
While much of this coverage is neutral or positive, there are many examples of media reporting that ignores the concerns of the Hindu American community, and instead perpetuates long-held stereotypes and misrepresentations of the faith.
Based on a detailed analysis of the coverage of Hinduism, the Hindu American Foundation published the media toolkit Small Errors, Big Impact: Correcting Media Portrayals of Hinduism, now in its second edition.
Since the publication of the Media Toolkit, not only have the misrepresentations noted in the Toolkit persisted, but many media articles have spread additional stereotypes including: Hindus are unclean, Hindus are violent, Hindus support caste discrimination, Hindus support rape and the oppression of women.
Anti-Hindu Bullying in Schools
Due to misinformation about Hindu beliefs and practices, Hindu American students can face bullying and harassment from other students in schools.
Unfortunately, surveys and studies conducted by the Department of Education and state agencies did not evaluate the level of bullying directed at Hindu American students.
In 2015, seeking to rectify this issue, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) conducted a six-year survey of 335 middle and high school students.
The preliminary survey and subsequent report outlined six findings:
One out of three respondents said they had been bullied for their religious beliefs, while about half of the total sample size indicated feelings of awkwardness or social isolation because of their religious identity.
More than three out of five respondents said that their schools focused on caste and Hinduism, including claims about the religion and Indian social practice that have been long debunked.
About one in eight respondents said their teachers made sarcastic remarks about Hinduism in front of class.
About one out of every four respondents surveyed said she/he was put on the spot or singled out by a teacher when the section on Hinduism was discussed.
About one in four respondents said they had been bullied within the past year, with about a third saying those who bullied them were “making fun of Hindu traditions.”
Of those who had shared anecdotes in the short answer, most highlighted a sense of alienation for being a different religion, particularly one not understood well in most US classrooms or textbooks. As a result, some respondents said they hid their religious identity in order to prevent or stop bullying.
Based on the findings of the survey, the report gave a series of recommendations for educational institutions.
These recommendations include:
Schools proactively working to make sure their content about Hinduism is accurate, up-to-date, and culturally competent to minimize instances of Hindu students feeling singled out, isolated, and targeted for their religious identity.
Educators engaging Hindu parents to find out how their children respond to content about the religion.
Creating opportunities in which Hindu students feel empowered to share aspects of their identity while respecting the First Amendment’s boundaries within the classroom.
Parents becoming more active in their children’s education, including creating more opportunities for students to discuss issues of acclimation in majority non-Hindu settings.
Hindu parents taking advantage of opportunities to meet their school district officials such as school board members, teachers, and guidance counselors in order to keep an open dialogue when it comes to their children’s emotional safety in schools.