There is a long history of tension between Hindus and Muslims. After President Trump’s executive order, it’s time to set that aside and support Muslims.
by Sanjana Lakshmi
Barely a week after he took office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan — from entering the United States. He signed another executive order indefinitely suspending admission of Syrian refugees into the United States and limits other refugees from entering the country. At the same time, Trump has claimed that he will prioritize Christian refugees — all but saying that the ban is meant only for Muslims.
It is more important than ever that South Asians — in particular, Indians who are religiously and/or culturally Hindu — take a stand against Trump’s administration and its actions. There is a long history of tension between Hindus and Muslims, primarily in the subcontinent itself. Today, there are many cities in India in which Muslims cannot even find homes to rent, solely because of their religious beliefs.
The relationship has expanded into the diaspora as well. For example, Shalabh Kumar, the president of the Republican Hindu Coalition, told The Hill that “The policy setting is that we need to have a lot of scrutiny. I totally agree with [former Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.]: Mosques should be monitored completely, vetting should be taking place. … I am totally for profiling. If you need to profile, what is the fuss?”
This kind of harmful rhetoric is not limited to those who are a part of the Republican Hindu Coalition. In my life, I have heard many Hindu Americans make similarly antagonistic statements about Muslims; Islamophobia is deeply entrenched within the Hindu community.
It is even more important for South Asians to take a stand because many South Asian families have had the privilege of choosing to come to this country for a better life. By contrast, the people currently banned by Trump often have no choice but to leave their countries in order to save their own lives. A large portion of the South Asian American community — though not all of us — benefitted from the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which established an immigration policy based on attracting skilled labor into the country. The Act is precisely why the stereotype of South Asians as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businesspeople exists. It is precisely why the Model Minority stereotype exists. This does not define the South Asian community, but it is true for a good portion of it — there are many financially privileged South Asians with legal residence in the United States.
No South Asian countries are yet on Trump’s list, and yet at protests and rallies on my university campus, I have primarily seen Muslim South Asians show up. Non-Muslim South Asians need to do better. We need to show that we will not accept Trump’s dangerous, harmful policies that are ruining the lives of so many of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We need to show that we do not think of ourselves as better because of our status in the United States. We need to show that we will not play into the Model Minority Myth, and we need to show that we are fighting against the rampant Islamophobia that exists within our communities.
At the same time, those of us — particularly Indians — who are working to fight against Trump’s discriminatory policies need to make sure that we are speaking up against the discriminatory policies that exist within India. In the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP, India’s largest political party) 2014 election manifesto, it states that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus to seek refuge here.” This ignores all other religions that exist within and around the country, and pushes forth the BJP’s extremely harmful idea of India as a “Hindu nation,” while the country’s Constitution names India as a secular nation. (Note, too, that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 recognizes Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Christians as minority communities, but makes no mention of Muslims.)
So Indian Americans in particular have a double moral obligation: to fight for the rights of Muslims in the United States — as well as within India. And all South Asian Americans, especially those whose families have benefitted from the United States’ immigration policy in the past, need to make sure that we will not stand for Trump’s Islamophobic, xenophobic policies.
Featured photo by <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/harmyd/4776448072/”>Harminder Desi</a>. Creative commons license.