Indian American lawmakers urge DOJ to address ‘alarming’ rise of Hindu temple vandalism

(RNS) — In a letter despatched to the U.S. Division of Justice on Friday (March 29), 5 members of Congress of Indian and Hindu heritage requested a briefing on the standing of investigations into latest vandalism incidents at Hindu temples throughout the nation.

Members of the “Samosa Caucus” — a casual time period for the group, coined by considered one of its founders, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois — additionally urged Assistant Lawyer Normal Kristen Clarke to stipulate the the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s “broader technique in opposition to hate crimes focusing on Hindus in the USA.”

Assaults from New York to California have “elevated collective nervousness amongst Hindu People,” the letter indicated, including that “It takes comparatively few coordinated acts of hate to create worry inside a neighborhood that has usually been marginalized or uncared for.”

The letter was signed by Krishnamoorthi and U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna and Ami Bera of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Shri Thanedar of Michigan. 

The lawmakers requested that the division present the briefing no later than April 18. The DOJ mentioned it has acknowledged receipt of the letter, however declined a request for remark.

In keeping with the FBI’s most just lately revealed hate-crime report, there have been 37 cases of anti-Hindu hate crimes in 2021 and 2022, with no less than three identified assaults on Hindu mandirs, or temples, in California since December of 2023. The temples have been defaced with graffitied slogans protesting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and supporting the Khalistan motion, a Sikh-led separatist demand for a sovereign state in India’s Punjab area.

In March of 2023, the Indian Consulate of San Francisco was attacked by a bunch of protesters who stormed the constructing and put in small Khalistani flags inside. One other mob tried to set the consulate constructing afire in July of that 12 months.

These cases adopted the vandalism and destruction of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in entrance of a mandir in New York’s Queens borough in 2021, additionally defaced with anti-Modi and pro-Khalistan sentiments. 

A vandalized statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside the Shri Tulsi Mandir Hindu temple in Queens, New York. Photo courtesy of Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol

A vandalized statue of Mahatma Gandhi exterior the Shri Tulsi Mandir Hindu temple in Queens, New York. Photograph courtesy of Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol

“Such acts of hate shake the muse of our collective values of tolerance, respect, and freedom of faith,” mentioned Thanedar in a press release to RNS. “I urge a swift and thorough response from the Division of Justice to not solely tackle these particular incidents but additionally to bolster our nation’s dedication to safeguarding the rights and safety of each spiritual group.”

Hindu advocates say the pattern factors to a scarcity of an ample response from legislation enforcement, which they blame on anti-Hindu bias. Although the FBI in all cases indicated it will examine the vandalism as hate crimes, the company has not commented publicly on the standing of those efforts.

The letter from the members of Congress mentioned Hindu communities “stay involved about legislation enforcement coordination relating to these bias-motivated crimes, and they’re left questioning if there may be acceptable federal oversight to make sure equal safety beneath the legislation.”

Others within the Indian American neighborhood took concern with the letter’s message. Sangay Mishra, a outstanding scholar of the Indian American diaspora, took to X to clarify his view that the cases of vandalism and the “alleged involvement of Khalistan supporters” replicate extra complicated political dynamics than the umbrella time period of “hate crime” covers. 

“It’s laborious for me to disregard the truth that diaspora goes by way of a second of utmost polarization,” tweeted Mishra. “It’s unlucky that these members of Congress are treating these incidents solely as a legislation and order concern and framing them as incidents of hate crime.

“As elected leaders from the neighborhood, you possibly can play an vital position in constructing bridges and beginning constructive conversations,” he mentioned in a message directed towards Jayapal and Khanna.

Khanna has himself beforehand criticized Hindus who “cry Hinduphobia,” arguing that he had by no means felt Hinduphobia “at any single level” in his “97 p.c white and Christian” hometown.

But some Hindu leaders, resembling Pushpita Prasad of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, take into account Hinduphobia to be the “root trigger” of pro-Khalistani vandalism and have made the assaults a part of their yearslong effort to have Hinduphobia acknowledged on the federal degree. They level to a 2022 study revealed by Rutgers College’s Community Contagion Lab detailing a “widespread, insidious but underreported” phenomenon of Hinduphobia each on-line and in particular person. 

“Freedom of faith means little when sacred areas that should be an oasis of peace and calm are vandalized with no penalties,” mentioned Prasad, whose group has campaigned within the California space to make sure lawmakers perceive the gravity of the “ongoing Khalistani violence.”

“We’re glad to see some a lot overdue consideration to the problem of repeated and frighteningly frequent assaults on Hindu temples,” mentioned Prasad. ”It’s been surprising to see what number of had no thought what’s happening.”

Ramya Ramakrishnan. (Photo courtesy HAF)

Ramya Ramakrishnan. (Photograph courtesy of HAF)

The Hindu American Basis, the nation’s largest advocacy group for Hindu People, has equally lobbied native legislation enforcement, the FBI and the DOJ, in response to neighborhood outreach director Ramya Ramakrishnan, urging extra consciousness of “Khalistan extremism and lawlessness that, over the previous couple of years, has grown more and more violent.”

“We’ve been pissed off by the shortage of response — at finest, diminishing the anti-Hindu nature of those assaults, and at worst, giving area to outright gaslighting by Khalistani teams who’ve falsely blamed the victims,” mentioned Ramakrishnan.

Till the DOJ responds, she mentioned, HAF will proceed to work with temples to extend their safety measures, such because the addition of cameras.

“We applaud the transfer led by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and different Indian American members of Congress to ring the alarm on the uptick of focused assaults in opposition to Hindu mandirs,” she mentioned. “We hope the DoJ lastly pays heed and responds to the congressional request by the April 18th deadline.”

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