Hindutva in the United States


Date published: Thu, 23 July 20


When the Bharatiya Janata Party in India was reelected into power in 2019, the party had received more votes and had more support than ever before. In a global series of right-wing politics finding its way into power, India was another example of a purist and religious ideology descending into violence. The Hindutva movement began as a protest against the policies of a secular government but turned into the legitimization of the oppression of Muslims, Sikhs, and other religious minorities. The oppression started with denying Muslims living in India nationalization, which extended into state-sanctioned violence. Muslim businesses were targetted and destroyed, villages were pillaged, and women and children were killed. The Hindutva movement set a clear precedent of political rhetoric turning into bloodshed. This was especially alarming during the 2016 United States Presidential Election campaign, in which candidate Donald Trump spewed similar rhetoric against Muslims and other minority groups, sparking an uprising after his inauguration in January of 2017. The idea that the United States would follow these global patterns of oppression was troubling.

The BJP did not stop it’s spread of the Hindutva movement within the borders of India. After the election of Donald Trump, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has galvanized a new friendship with the United States, one that emphasizes the shared values between the two leaders. Though the two countries have been trying to strengthen ties for many decades to counter the influence of China in the region, the newfound relationship is based on the rise of right-wing populism in both countries. After the election in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States skyrocketed. Trump also fulfilled his promise to be aggressive on illegal immigration and the naturalization process. Under the Trump administration, martial law thrived in response to riots fueled by police brutality. Arguably, the situation in India can be described as worse- Mein Kampf, Hitler’s biography, historically banned in many countries until very recently, is a bestseller in India, translated into Hindi and Gujrati, among other languages, displaying an unprecedented rise of fascism in the country. The rhetoric against Muslims in India led to riots that resulted in the deaths of Muslims in Hindu majority regions. The relationship between Modi and Trump continues to grow based on the economic and political interests of the two nations. Trump famously invited Modi to the White House, a move which was criticized because of India’s reversal of democratic norms and human rights violations. The “Howdy Mody” event held by Trump in Texas gathered a crowd of almost 50,000 people, showing the support that the new right-wing BJP movement among Indian Americans in the United States.

The BJP is building popular opinion through India’s Bollywood industry, which is consumed by much South Asia and its global diaspora. Actresses like Priyanka Chopra, married to American pop star Nick Jonas tweet ‘Jai Hind” signally support for Modi’s regime. Its rhetoric is also making its way into American Politics. Joe Biden, 2020 presidential candidate allowed a vocal BJP supporter to run his Muslim engagement and outreach efforts until he was criticized. Supporters of the BJP find their ways into positions as staffers for Congressional leaders. Indian Americans are among the wealthiest and most educated immigrant groups in the United States and thus are hailed as leaders in the communities. Indian doctors, lawyers, and other professionals band together and form pro India views, and find themselves patriotic ex-pats to a falling country. A recent method of the BJP and pro-Modi sentiments are the vilification of Muslim groups in the United States. After the Islamic Center of North America’s Council for Social Justice called for action against the BJP’s Hindutva movement, the Indian press attacked the group, calling forth the same rhetoric that resulted in violence against Muslims in India.
The Trump Administration’s policies are a setback to the integration of Muslims in political and civic life. It is apparent that they now face a new threat, one that is so dangerous because it was formed in a country that is almost 14% Muslim, that so many among us are proud to call home. The pain of the Indian diaspora is unfathomable- to have been betrayed by a homeland left behind. Hindutva and Hindu supremacy ravage towns in India but also has made its way into the American culture and political system. Organizations like the Indian American Muslim Council advocate for the Trump administration to penalize Modi for India’s civil liberties violations. This would demonstrate the United States’ commitment to global democracy and freedom, and motivate the Indian government to change its rhetoric against Indian Muslims. Their work documents the extent of bloodshed in India, but also the silent spread of the harmful movement in the United States. Hindu’s for Human Rights is a faith-based advocacy organization that calls for interfaith accountability and justice in both India and the United States. Organizations like these garnered support for House Resolution 745, authored by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian American congresswoman to serve in office, which urges the Indian Government to uphold human rights, civil liberties, and religious freedom for all Indians. There is hope, it seems, that with accountable lawmakers and advocates for justice, India will be held accountable for its actions against Muslims, and penalized until the state-sanctioned violence comes to an end. The 2020 election results are of paramount importance to the validation of India’s regime. It remains to be seen where India’s relationship with the United States is heading, but more movement and more advocacy is needed to combat the devastating effects of India’s rhetoric against its Muslim citizens.