Contextualizing Georgia’s resolution condemning Hinduphobia

The Georgia Assembly passed one Resolution condemning Hinduphobia on March 27, making it the first American state to take such legislative action, PTI reported.

The resolution was supported by Republican Representatives Lauren McDonald, Todd Jones, Rick Jasperse, David Clark and Brent Cox. It was launched by Forsyth County officials McDonald and Jones in suburban Atlanta, home of one of the largest Indian American diaspora communities in the state of Georgia, the PTI report said.

What does the legislation say?

The resolution condemns “Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu bigotry” and describes Hinduphobia as “a range of antagonistic, destructive and derogatory attitudes and behaviors toward Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus, which may take the form of prejudice, fear or hatred”.

It states: “Hinduism is one of the largest and oldest religions in the world with over 1.2 billion 3 followers in over 100 countries and encompasses a number of different traditions and 4 belief systems with values ​​such as acceptance, mutual respect and peace.” It adds added that the United States “welcomed more than four million Hindus.”

It also recognizes the many contributions made by the American Hindu community in a variety of fields, ranging from medicine to “yoga, ayurveda, meditation, food, music, arts,” among others.

The resolution then states that “there have been documented cases of hate crimes against Hindu Americans in many parts of the country in recent decades,” citing a 2022 Rutgers University report. It argues that “Hinduphobia being exacerbated and institutionalized by some in the academic community who support the dismantling of Hinduism and accuse its sacred texts and cultural practices of violence and oppression”.

What does this legislation mean?

This is a simple fix. It doesn’t have any “teeth”—it just lets the public know the stance of Forsyth County and Georgia Assembly officials.

The law ends with the words: “HAVING THE REPRESENTATIVES RESOLVE that the Forsyth County Representatives in the Georgia State Legislature condemn Hinduphobia, anti-Hindu bigotry and intolerance and declare Forsyth County a place that recognizes the diversity that it brings with it bring is welcome.” Hindu-Americans and all who work hard, obey our laws, uphold family values, and contribute to our economic and social well-being.”

Unlike the Seattle legislature, which introduced the category of caste into the city’s antidiscrimination laws, this resolution provides for nothing of the sort.

Who is behind this step?

Leading the move was the Atlanta branch of the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), which organized the first-ever Hindu Advocacy Day on March 22 at the Georgia State Capitol, PTI reported.

“It has been a true honor to work with Rep McDonald and Rep Jones, as well as other lawmakers, who have guided us through the entire process of passing this county resolution,” said Rajeev Menon, Vice President of CoHNA.

“We have also heard that all legislators have been working for a very long time given the amount of legislative issues on the agenda, but still chose to attend Advocacy Day to show how much they value the Hindu community,” said he.

CoHNA is “a grassroots advocacy group representing the Hindu community of North America. “The coalition seeks to protect the collective interests of the Hindu community by working on the issues they face and by educating the public about Hindu heritage and tradition,” the group’s website reads.

It has recently been in the news as one of the most vocal opponents of anti-caste legislation and policies in the country. It has been argued that these measures are anti-Hindu in that they specifically target the Hindu community and their beliefs.

“The problems Hindu Americans in Georgia and the rest of the country face because of false Hinduphobic narratives negatively impact a community that is industrious, law-abiding and enriching the fabric of America,” said CoHNA Secretary General Shobha Swamy.

“We have asked them (Georgian lawmakers) for help in combating this bigotry, which is fueling hatred and creating the impression that Hindus and people of Indian descent need special laws and supervision due to allegations of an inherent tendency to discriminate,” she added added.

How has caste divided the Indian diaspora in the US?

This anti-Hinduphobia legislation must therefore be viewed in the larger context of the ongoing political struggles within the Native American community. On the one hand there are those who believe that caste discrimination laws themselves constitute discrimination against Hindus, on the other hand there are those who fight against the caste discrimination they face in the United States.

And the latter have had some success lately. In February 2023, Seattle became the first US city to outlaw caste discrimination. A number of other colleges, including Boston’s Brandeis University, the California State University System, Colby College, Brown University, the University of California, Davis, and Harvard University have adopted similar policies since 2019. Currently, such a policy has also been introduced by the California State Assembly.

Georgian legislation appears to directly contradict this, particularly in light of statements made by CoHNA Secretary General Shobha Swamy.

Notably, anti-caste discrimination legislation was passed by people with Democratic leanings, while Georgia’s anti-Hinduphobia legislation was passed by Republicans. Thus, the political divide in the Indian diaspora has strongly spilled over into party lines in the US.

So is Hinduphobia “real”?

It is undoubtedly true that Hindu Americans have been discriminated against throughout the United States. This is well documented. However, whether this discrimination was specifically “anti-Hindu” is less certain.

According to the US Department of Justice’s 2021 Report on Hate Crime Statistics, there were 7,074 single-bias incidents involving 8,753 victims. Of those, a whopping 64.8 percent were motivated by “race, ethnicity, or ancestry,” according to the DOJ report.

1,005 or 13.3 percent of these crimes were committed for religious reasons. The religious communities most affected were: Jews (who account for 31.9 percent of all religious hate crimes), Sikhs (21.3 percent), Muslims (9.5 percent) and Catholics (6.1 percent). By comparison, anti-Hindu incidents were estimated at 1 percent, or 10 in 1,005, which ranks 34th out of 35 communities listed.