Indian community in Minnesota concerned about anti-Muslim sentiment and politics in India


A group of diverse members of the Indian community came together recently, united by their mission: to track India’s troubling policies and compel Americans to help stem a growing tide of hatred against Muslims in South Asia.

They formed the Indian Coalition to promote coexistence in the Twin Cities Indian community and to curb the spread of bigotry across the United States due, in part, to a form of Hindu nationalism – Hindutva – which pits Hindus against to Muslims.

I see an inexorable “wave of hatred, bigotry and fascism gripping India,” said Zafar Siddiqui, an activist and board member of several local nonprofits. “And if there’s no pushback, no matter how small, it’s going to consume us.”

Siddiqui started the group by bringing together friends and acquaintances of Indian origin from various religious, cultural, linguistic and professional backgrounds.

The group of about 31 people hopes to draw attention to political issues that have cost lives in India but gone largely unnoticed by the general public in the United States.

Members of the Indian Coalition, many of whom grew up in different parts of India and the diaspora, remember an upbringing very different from the India they see on the news today. People of all religions cared about each other, they said, and they did not see the hatred encouraged by the government.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, succeeding Manhoman Singh, the country’s first Sikh prime minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party advocates making India a Hindu state. The rise of Hindu nationalist sentiment in India, often referred to as “Hindutva” and not a sect of the religion, follows a global trend of political groups coming to power that are anti-establishment, anti-globalization and anti-immigration.

India is a religiously, culturally and linguistically diverse country. The conflict between Hindus, Muslims and other minorities is a long and complicated story driven by imperialism and British colonization. More recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party has taken controversial moves targeting Muslims and minorities across the country.

For example, a law passed in India in 2020 outlines a path to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However, all Muslims were excluded from eligibility. Hindus make up about 80% of India’s population in a country of nearly 1.2 billion people. Muslims are the second largest religious group, totaling over 200 million.

“What really troubled me was the non-reaction,” Siddiqui said of the local Indian community.

The government also released a citizens’ register in 2019 in the state of Assam in northeastern India. The register excluded 2 million people, many of whom were migrants, and around 600,000 Muslims. Those excluded had to prove their citizenship at state service centers and risked detention if they could not.

Ajay Skaria, professor of South Asian politics and history at the University of Minnesota, hopes the India Coalition will reach the Twin Cities’ largest Hindu community.

Developments in India have not gone completely unnoticed by local politicians. Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a House resolution in June to designate India as “a country of particular concern” because of “human rights abuses and violations of international religious freedom in India.” “against Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, as well as indigenous groups and Dalits. , members of the lowest castes in India.

St. Paul’s city council passed a similar measure in 2020, condemning Modi and the Bharatiya Janata party.

“This resolution is not a personal attack on any individual, but a way for us to advance our values ​​and protect our religions and all peoples,” then Council member Dai Thao said in May 2020.

More recently, a bulldozer used at an India Independence Day rally in New Jersey on August 14 sparked outrage across the United States.

US activists say bulldozers became a problematic symbol after Indian politicians used them to demolish Muslim homes in India. Photos and videos of the New Jersey bulldozer have been circulating widely on social media. The bulldozer was decorated with posters of Modi and another party leader.

Indian Coalition members fear something similar could happen in the Twin Cities, which have seen no public or overt clashes between Hindus and Muslims. According to the US Census, nearly 40,000 foreign- and US-born Indians live in Minnesota. There are no reliable data on the religious distribution of the population.

In January 2020, around 400 people marched to the Minnesota State Capitol to protest India’s citizenship law that excluded Muslims.

One of the first tasks of the Indian Coalition will be to share an opinion piece written by several contributors. The article was written by Ellen Kennedy, Executive Director of World Without Genocide and Professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Bishop Bernard Hebda; Debra Rappaport, co-president of the Rabbinical Association of Minnesota; and Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College. Coalition members plan to share the article with their local and national elected officials and invite them to future coalition meetings.

At the recent Indian Coalition meeting, Dipankar Mukherjee, co-director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, concluded the meeting on an inspiring note.

“We chose to focus on sewing our relationships with genuine steel threads,” Mukherjee said. “We’re so engaged that the ripples in this room are rising so that we’re the ocean and it’s just a few leaves that have fallen above the water.”

This story comes from Sahan Diary, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. Subscribe to his free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.

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