How the powerful group’s silence to events back home speaks volumes
There are groups who stand against injustice and those who sit idly by. When I look at the response to recent events in India, it’s unfortunate we Indian Americans are in the latter group.
For the geo-politically unaware, the Modi government in India has enacted a string of authoritarian measures: reforms to allow secret donations to political parties, a citizen registry in the state of Assam (that will likely be extended nationwide), revocation of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. And on December 11th, the Indian Parliament backed his administration’s Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The Act makes religion the basis for deciding who will be extended Indian citizenship and which immigrants entering India without proper documentation will be criminalized. The bill ensures Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Zoroastrian immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan can obtain Indian citizenship, but Muslims cannot.
The cruelty of the bill is underscored in its extent of discrimination. The persecuted Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan or Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan — which include significant instances of females suffering from genital mutilation, torture, or rape before 16 — are denied a reasonable pathway to Indian citizenship. The Rohingya, who have been persecuted ruthlessly, are also excluded. Additionally, the bill ignores the fact that citizenship dependent on religious verification violates core principles of equality under the Indian Constitution.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom deemed the law, “a dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and urged the U.S. to consider sanctions (unlikely given Trump and Modi’s ethno-nationalism bromance).
As journalist Anjali Mody explains, “The exclusion of Muslims leaves no room for doubt that the bill advances the blatantly sectarian agenda of Mr. Modi and his government, which is to transform secular India into a majoritarian Hindu nation.”
Aside from a smattering of small metropolitan protests and tepid political outcry (along with Priyanka Chopra’s feeble response), Indian Americans have done what they do best, sit this one out.
Yet, this is a group with clout. The nearly four million individuals who fall into this category compose a group with significant influence in politics and global business given their deep pockets and substantial investments into Indian real estate.
Not surprisingly, the connections between Indians in the U.S. and back home are deep. Among U.S. immigrants, Indians send the most bucks back to the homeland. Candidate Narendra Modi launched his initial bid for Prime Minister by first workshopping and fundraising with Indian Americans in New York. His first paid consultants were Bain Consulting, the group formed by Mitt Romney. The highly publicized holograms of him in his campaigns were built by Infosys, Cisco, and Google — all American based companies.
There are a number of possible explanations for a glaring indifference to a systematic assault on religious pluralism. First, empathy and outrage is often confined to what can be seen and heard. Second, there is a possibility that many are still gathering the facts before stating an opinion. Third, most Indian Americans are disturbed by the recent string of events, but aren’t publicly expressing their disappointment. Fourth, many are already focused on helping Muslims in other parts of the world. Fifth, many Indian American simply feel they are Americans, no longer emotionally invested in their birth place or their ethnic roots, but are genuinely politically conscious human beings.
All of those points skip around the truth.
For a good amount of Indian Americans, they simply give zero fucks. While other ethnic groups have collectively searched, designed, refined their moral compass, Indian Americans have by-and-large been a lethargic cohort; many forgo participating in mass scale mobilization against injustice. Indian supported activist groups are a minority compared to the impassive aunties, uncles, and Indo-bros who reside in the States. The desire for image and influence carries more weight than social justice for most of this cohort.
For others, the truth is this targeted oppression is welcome. There is a healthy level of Islamophobia in our community. Further, there is a high degree of alphaness in the typical Indian American male who wants to find power in any form. At dinner parties I’ve attended across the nation, Indian Americans will always espouse the benefits of a secular nation. Bragging over the ability to build a multicultural society that has economic and cultural pull on the global stage.
But in reality, this is not always true. Study after study reveals Indian Americans have the same amount of misgivings and misconceptions about Muslims as most Americans. The majority of Indian-Americans supported the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir. Recent polls show most Indian Americans aren’t concerned with the rise of Hindu nationalism back home.
I have been to India twice in the last year where I interviewed dozens of Indian Americans vacationing, conducted fieldwork for numerous publications on conflicts in this area, and wrote a piece on Indian independence day interviewing hundreds of Indian Americans. The number of Indian Americans telling me about their distaste for Muslims was appalling.
It may be fair to say that this blatant animosity is only in small pockets. That my direct sample size of those with whom I spoke with is an outlier. That my anger is clouding my judgement. Some of that might be true. Regardless, Indian American support for our Muslim brothers and sisters has always been lackluster.
And our current response shows we’re not doing as much as we could. Our support is needed. It is important to speak up. The sheepish response from my brown brethren remind me of the words by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “To sin by silence while others doth protest makes cowards out of men.”
This outrage by the lack of outrage isn’t slacktivism. It isn’t an un-achievable purity test. Nor is it youthful idealism. The world’s largest democracy is on a mission seeking to suppress and endanger their largest and most vulnerable minority group. Mimicking the practice of some of history’s horrid dictators, the Indian government has opened up the possibility of rounding up “illegal” immigrants and shelving them in prisons indefinitely. If unchecked, Modi and his government plan to dehumanize and degrade an already marginalized community.
There is much pride in being Indian American. I feel blessed to be part of this group. There is much love to give India. We and our nation have a bevy of qualities to be proud of, but if we dismiss the current events happening back at home base, none of that matters. Power is worthless if it is not utilized for progress. Intelligence is meaningless if you can’t contextualize the gravity of hate. Strength is futile if it is not used to protect those in need. Indian Americans must not brush aside what’s happening. This is not the time to sit on the sidelines. We must fight against these injustices.