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Testimony on Persistent Targeting of American Hindu Students and Attacks on Hindu Temples Resonate at CoHNA’s 3rd Hindu Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill

By   /  June 30, 2024  /  Comments Off on Testimony on Persistent Targeting of American Hindu Students and Attacks on Hindu Temples Resonate at CoHNA’s 3rd Hindu Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON   —   Lawmakers, Hindu students, researchers, and community leaders came together in a packed room during the 3rd National Hindu Advocacy Day on the Hill, to discuss the concerns Hindus living in the US face. Close to 25 lawmakers (a mix of congressional representatives and staffers both Democrat and Republican) attended the event, organized by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) which highlighted the multi-pronged attacks Hindus face. These range from the continued usage of stereotypical colonial frameworks, to gaslighting and verbal slurs, and all the way to the vandalizations of multiple temples. Over 100 delegates (including a large number of Hindu youth) from 15 states attended the event and 40 plus core CoHNA volunteers visited over 115 congressional offices to advocate support for H.Res.1131, which condemns Hinduphobia and attacks on temples, while celebrating the contribution of the Hindu American community. Watch vignettes from the day here.

“From students to retired community members of diverse backgrounds, CoHNA’s Advocacy Day has grown steadily to become an important mechanism through which our community engages with lawmakers on the Hill,” remarked CoHNA President Nikunj Trivedi. “We are also glad to see other organizations as well as non-Hindu allies join us in support of the causes that matter to our community and especially our youth.”

The highlight of the event was the multiplicity of student voices. Attendees heard heartfelt personal testimony from a powerful panel of Hindu students from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and University of Georgia. They delved into the challenges they face on campus, in academic settings, and even in their dorm rooms. Their voices and stories brought home the prevalent Hinduphobia on campus and the way it shapes their lives and the choices they make.

Rutvij Holay spoke of being mocked for having a small space for Hindu worship in his dorm room and of having to console a close Kashmiri friend who was traumatized by the display of on-campus displays sanitizing the ethnic cleansing his community had faced. Aryan Sawant shared his isolation in being an openly proud Hindu on campus and having to deal with the disapproval of peers. He highlighted the misinformation by professors who deny anti-Hindu hate, even as they peddle it by denying the religious nature of recorded pogroms against Hindus around the world such as the 1971 Bengali Hindu Genocide. Anvita Yerramsetty shared how growing awareness of anti-Hindu hate in her high school years strengthened her resolve to stay proud of her roots and reshaped her decision and research on something as fundamental as where to apply and go to college.

Surya Naga, the Youth Director for Hindu on Campus, presented data collected from student testimonials across the United States and the impact of such experiences on a student’s psyche – from students being told to wipe off the bindis on their foreheads and attempts to rip of their sacred threads, to being made fun of for worshiping Hindu deities with “weird names,” to being accused of supporting extremism and oppression of minorities just because of one’s Hindu identity, etc.

American Hindus have just lived through a turbulent year and these issues were highlighted throughout the event. Data shows a rise in hate against Hindus. Academic Hinduphobia has been amplified as a result of the turmoil on college campuses and Hindu students shared personal stories of the many ways they get targeted on campus. And even sacred spaces are not safe — SIX Hindu temples were attacked in California between Nov. 2023-Jan. 2024, with no resulting action and little lasting outrage. A detailed list of the incidents was published in April.

Congressional Support

The event began with Congressman Max Miller (R-OH), talking about the importance of freedom of religion and sharing how proud he was for supporting H.Res 1131. He expressed empathy with the issues the Hindu community has been facing, and assured that he would continue to stand against all forms of hate and bigotry throughout the country. He acknowledged that it was a tough time for the country, but that he would be there for the Hindu community: “If anything were to happen to your community, I’ll be there standing shoulder to shoulder with you.” He also asked the audience to stand strong and never back away from their values.

CoHNA was excited to host the force behind H.Res 1131 – Congressman Shri Thanedar (D-MI) – who stressed he will not tolerate Hinduphobia, discrimination, or other forms of hate. “We are here and we are fighting,” he said, drawing attention to “the voice you all have, the voice the Hindu community has in Congress.” Thanedar spoke of why  H.Res. 1131 was needed in the first place and also shared his own immigration story as a way of illustrating the great American story and the ability to surmount hurdles.

Sharing his excitement at being back at CoHNA’s event, Congressman Rich McCormick (R-GA) welcomed the continued and growing engagement of the Hindu American and Indian American community in policy making and its potential to transform the future of America. He called attention to his support for H.Res 1131, honoring the contributions of Hindu Americans, and asked the community to continue pursuing the American dream which celebrates innovation, hard work, success, AND its traditions.

Other lawmakers like Congressman Glen Grothman (R-WI) also expressed solidarity with the community and congratulated CoHNA for being a force in advocating for the community

Closing out the day, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) celebrated the growth of the community’s advocacy over the past decade, and lauded CoHNA’s efforts in ensuring the community has a growing voice on Capitol Hill via advocacy events. He exhorted everyone to be proud of who they are and congratulated the audience on making time to come to DC for an event that exemplified pride in their heritage and roots.

Several lawmakers also spoke about the importance of tackling immigration – especially problems like the Green Card backlog – an issue that has an outsized impact on the Hindu American immigrant community.

In addition to lawmakers and staffers, the event was also attended by community leaders and representatives from various organizations such as HinduACTion, Howard County Jewish Advocacy Group (HoCoJAG), ISKCON, Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples, Americans for Hindus (A4H),  Indian Cultural Association of Howard County, etc.

Data and Research

Aaron Gross, Research Fellow at Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), highlighted the alarming rise of Hinduphobia in North America, driven by the Khalistan extremist movement and attacks on temples, along with the need for law enforcement to tackle online hate before it escalates into further violence. NCRI’s analysis of online chatter surrounding real life anti-Hindu hate incidents (attacks on temples, vandalization of Gandhi statues, etc.) pointed to the involvement of Khalistan movement supporters, a group advocating for the creation of a separate Sikh nation out of Punjab, India. Each attack was preceded and followed by a spike in online posts promoting violence, powered by a bot network designed to amplify anti-Hindu sentiment. Often, these posts include videos from Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, leader of Sikhs for Justice, who openly incites his followers to target Hindus in Canada, US, and India. Interestingly, about 20% of these Twitter accounts purport to be from Pakistan, where Sikhs constitute less than 0.02% of the population. This suggests that many of these accounts do not genuinely support Sikh separatism but are driven by Hinduphobia and geo political considerations.

Rana Reddy, CoHNA’s Policy Fellow, shared his analysis of a report recently published by Carnegie Mellon University. He showed how geo-political players use Hinduism to target India even though India is a secular country. And in a digital world, these anti-India tropes are used to target Hindus across the globe. The key report findings – organized cybercrime, bot networks, and sophisticated disinformation tactics to propagate Hinduphobia globally by exploiting/misrepresenting Indian political narratives for targeted information attacks. He concluded that counter strategies and reporting mechanisms are required by private distribution platforms to mitigate this digital threat through robust cybersecurity measures and international regulatory bodies.

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