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Minnesota’s Indian community raises concerns about anti-Muslim sentiment and politics in

A group of diverse Indian community members met recently, united by their mission: to track the troubling politics of India and compel Americans to help stem a growing tide of hate against South Asian Muslims.

They formed the India Coalition to promote coexistence in the Twin Cities’ Indian community and to curb bigotry spreading across the United States as a result, in part, of a form of Hindu nationalism — Hindutva — that is pitting Hindus against Muslims.

“I see an inexonerable wave of hate, bigotry and fascism taking over India,” said attendee Zafar Siddiqui, an activist and board member of several local nonprofits. “And if there is no pushback, however small that is, it’s going to consume us.”

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

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

Members of the India Coalition, many of whom grew up in different parts of India and the diaspora, remembered an upbringing very different from the India they see on the news today. People of all religions cared for one another, they said, and they didn’t see hate emboldened by the government.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, succeeding Manhoman Singh, the nation’s first Sikh prime minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party advocates making India a Hindu state. The rise of the Hindu nationalist sentiment in India, often referred to as “Hindutva” and not a sect of the religion, follows a global trend of the coming to power of political groups that are anti-political 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 history driven by imperialism and British colonization. More recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party has made controversial moves targeting Muslims and minorities throughout the country.

For example, a law passed in India in 2020 outlines a pathway to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from 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. Muslims make up the second largest faith group, totaling more than 200 million.

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

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

Ajay Skaria, a professor of South Asian politics and history at the University of Minnesota, hopes the India Coalition will reach out to the larger Hindu community in the Twin Cities.

The developments in India haven’t 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” due to “human rights violations 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.

The St. Paul 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 move forward our values and protecting our religions and all folks,” then-Council Member Dai Thao said in May 2020.

Most recently, a bulldozer used during an Indian Independence Day rally in New Jersey on Aug. 14 sparked outrage across the United States.

U.S. activists said bulldozers have become a problematic symbol after Indian politicians used them to demolish Muslim homes in India. Photos and videos of the New Jersey bulldozer circulated widely on social media. The bulldozer was decorated with posters of Modi and another party leader.

Members of the India Coalition fear something similar could occur in the Twin Cities, which hasn’t experienced any public or overt Hindu-Muslim clashes. According to the U.S. Census, there are nearly 40,000 foreign-born and U.S.-born Indians living in Minnesota. There’s no reliable data on the population’s religious breakdown.

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

One of the India Coalition’s first tasks will be to share an opinion piece written by several contributors. The piece was authored by Ellen Kennedy, executive director of World Without Genocide and a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Archbishop Bernard Hebda; Debra Rappaport, co-chair of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association; and Anantanand Rambachan, a professor of religion at St. Olaf College. Coalition members plan to share the piece with their local and state elected officials and invite them to future coalition meetings.

At the India Coalition’s recent meeting, Dipankar Mukherjee, co-director of the Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, wrapped up the gathering on an inspirational note.

“We choose to focus on stitching our relationships with authentic threads of steel,” Mukherjee said. “We are so committed that the ripples of this room increases so that we are the ocean and they are just a few leaves that have fallen on top of the water.”

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering…

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