Indian diaspora divided over discrimination

Indian American Muslims react to growing Islamophobia back home


August 21, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Indian diaspora divided over discrimination

Protestors at the anti-CAA rally (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Organisations like the IAMC and CAIR in the United States aim to spread awareness about harmful, Islamophobic rhetoric and increasing human rights violations both across US and India.

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Amid the rapidly advancing Taliban takeover of Afghanistan this week, the Ministry of External Affairs declared in a statement that India would facilitate a safe return for members of the Sikh and Hindu communities stranded in the war-torn country. This pointed exclusion from extending aid to Muslim refugees triggered significant backlash from many, and reignited some of the fury over the CAA law, both locally and among Indian communities across the globe.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) is located in Washington DC with 15 chapters across the country and is a non-profit that aims to promote values of “pluralism, tolerance and respect” and advocates for well inter-faith and inter-community understanding. IAMC was founded in 2002 when American Muslims of Indian origin came together in the aftermath of the violent riots and massacre in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the western state.

“Our mission is to safeguard and preserve India’s constitutional democracy that hinges on its traditional ethos of pluralism, and a society that guarantees equality before the law for people of all faiths,” Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director and Co-Founder of IAMC, tells Media India Group.

“India as a Hindu Rashtra where Christians, Muslims and other minorities are relegated to the status of second-class citizens is not only unjust, it is also not viable or consistent with the Indian ethos. The recent government statement that it will allow only hapless Afghan Hindus and Sikhs but not Muslim refugees is a great moral lapse that will live in infamy. IAMC also rejects the unconstitutional and inherent religious test of CAA, where only refugees of some faiths are deemed worthy of a path to citizenship.” Ahmed adds.

Members of the IAMC constitute everyone from teenagers in high school to adults in various cities. In the US, leading up to the 2016 elections, there was a large spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, largely due to harmful rhetoric encouraged by political leaders and the hugely controversial ban on entry from Muslim countries. Even after the shift in leadership and years later however, many Muslim students, for example, still do not feel there has been much change in attitudes.

A 2020 Campus Climate report by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation based in the US, surveyed students on several college campuses across California, revealing that nearly 40 pc experienced discrimination or Islamophobia, while in college from professors and peers.

Nabiha Khan was born in Delhi and moved to California to attend high school and college. “University of California campuses are pretty liberal, so I have never seen any blatant racism towards me per say, but I have been in situations where people hear my last name and give a weird reaction, or sometimes they say insensitive comments or jokes about my religion, and that makes me feel uncomfortable in my own home, almost, which should not be the case,” says Khan.

Khan also explains that she feels worried when hearing about incidences of lynching or mob discrimination against minorities back home.

“I feel like I am in a luckier place because my family in India is more secure, but people in rural areas face this kind of abuse a lot and not enough protection is in place for them. Unfortunately, not a lot of people in the US are aware that India is in the middle of this kind of shocking downward spiral regarding human rights,” she adds.

Students believe raising awareness is one of the most important things these organisations and student-led clubs do, as it spreads dialogue and improves grounds for accountability. Foundations like IAMC have collaborated with organisations such as Amnesty International and US Congress, and often organise congressional briefings, monthly newsletters and press releases to spread information.

“The primary work of IAMC is to raise awareness among policy makers, media and the general public about the threats to democracy in India and its implications for the geopolitical stability of South Asia. We believe a greater awareness will ultimately create conditions where bigotry and repression can no longer thrive.”

However, organisations like theirs have also faced resistance, with several instances of trolling on social media from right-wing groups and even lawsuits filed again against Indian-American human rights activists by Hindu American Foundation, a non-profit organisation for the Hindu American community headquartered in Washington D.C.

“We believe India’s pluralism is under threat, but it will eventually prevail over a narrow, bigoted worldview that begets only division and violence.  The vast majority of Indians love their country and will not want to see it torn apart by the anachronistic and repressive Hindutva ideology that ultimately harms everyone, including Hindus,” explains Ahmed.

Experts believe that there are several ways American communities and organisations can work to make these spaces more inclusive, such as offering dedicated spaces on campus for prayers, diversifying staff and supporting student-led organisations that aim to raise awareness.

Members of the IAMC plan to continue to regularly speak out and try and raise awareness about any human rights violations both at home and in the United States. The IAMC also focuses on human rights and religious freedom for all communities, not only Muslims, and has members of various religions.

“We will continue to shape the narrative through awareness campaigns including Congressional briefings, documentaries, opinion pieces in the media, as well as through our collaborative work with allies who share our concern for the future of pluralism and democracy in India,” he says.



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