Being anti-Brown is anti-Hindu

In one section of the Washington Post piece Cal State banned caste discrimination. Two Hindu professors sued an activist professor states:

Sundaram, who supports making caste a protected characteristic, said critiquing Hinduism — even in a country where Hindus are a minority — is not akin to promoting Hinduphobia. She said most discrimination against Hindus is based on the fact that many are South Asian, rather than on their religion, and that Hinduphobia is not a widespread problem.

There are two issues I have with this assertion.

As a person of non-Hindu background and upbringing, I can tell you that prejudice against the Hindu religion is tightly coupled with “anti-South Asian” bigotry. The number of times people made fun of me for “worshipping cows” or “elephants” and “monkeys” was frequent. I actually learned about Ganesh and Hanuman due to this mockery as I had to look up what people were making fun of.

If someone screams “go back to Mecca” at a bunch of Hindu Indian Americans is that not Islamophobia because they’re not Muslim and they are being targeted for being vaguely brown? Similarly, non-Hindu brown people are bracketed into the same category and subject to discrimination because of widespread prejudices against Hinduism. In fact, despite my clear Bengali non-ashraf appearance online Indian Leftists now call me an “upper caste Muslim” to insult me. Bangladesh, unlike Pakistan, does not have caste-like stratification (look at my genetics, my ancestors were clearly from many castes), so that’s wrong, and I’m not a Muslim by belief or frankly even much upbringing (I’ve always been an atheist or agnostic and was not raised in a Musim community). But even these secular online Indian Leftists deploy tropes and insults that draw on our South Asian ancestral culture, which is broadly Hindu, even if not always orthodox Brahmanically sanctioned Hinduism.

Second, it’s pretty apparent there is an anti-Hindu streak in American society simply because of its Christian (and Abrahamic)  cultural basis. Sometimes it is hateful, sometimes it is mean. Many conservative Christians, including some Hindu converts to Christianity, believe that Hindu gods do exist, but that they’re devils and demons. I once asked a friend who is from a Hindu background but converted to Christianity in college if he believed his ancestors worshipped the devil, and he pretty much admitted he believed this to be the case. Some of the same apply to Islam, but most Christians outside of the fundamentalist fringe generally concede that Allah (Arab Christians use this word for God) is the same God that they worship.

This Hinduphobia is broad, but shallow. It doesn’t effect most peoples’ lives deeply, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Many, though not all, Indian American Hindus are clearly embarrassed by their religion because of the mockery. This is obvious when I hear young Indian Americans emphasize that “actually our religion is monotheistic just like yours.” This is the Hindu version of Muslims saying “actually Jesus is a prophet.” Both of these assertions might be true, but the impulse behind them is to mitigate marginalization and pull themselves back to the center and normalcy.

Note: I dislike terms like “Hindophobia” and “Islamophobia,” and the stance of becoming a victim to win an argument. But this is how the game is played in America now.

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1 year ago

This is a bit tangential; but one upside is thinking about caste more.

I’d argue — and Cass Sunstein has also argued – that what the 14th amendment is trying to do is prevent a caste system — not prevent racial categorization.

Now, this is from 1999, and I remember reading it after law school. But the concept stuck with me.

1 year ago

I think Browness / otherness is main cause of prejudice. But religion is a “Browness” multiplier.

And then visible religious symbols of otherness like turban or hijab or bindi multiply that even more.

If you are demonizing (literally in the case of Hindus sometimes) a particular group that will increase prejudice against that group.

It ain’t rocket science. It’s political sophistry.

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