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Hindu Americans split over Trump’s travel ban

President Donald Trump has said he loves Hindus. But he seems to have loved the tiny community of Hindu Americans into an acrimonious split predictably along political lines, over his travel bans on refugees and select Muslim-majority countries.

world Updated: Jan 31, 2017 23:33 IST
Yashwant Raj
Right-wing activists of India's Hindu Sena celebrate the victorious outcome for US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential elections in New Delhi on November 9, 2016. A far-right Hindu group which has been one of Donald Trump's most avid overseas cheerleaders began celebrating in New Delhi Wednesday as the Republican pulled off a shock US presidential election victory. / AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH
Right-wing activists of India's Hindu Sena celebrate the victorious outcome for US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential elections in New Delhi on November 9, 2016. A far-right Hindu group which has been one of Donald Trump's most avid overseas cheerleaders began celebrating in New Delhi Wednesday as the Republican pulled off a shock US presidential election victory. / AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH(AFP)

President Donald Trump has said he loves Hindus. But he seems to have loved the tiny Hindu American community into an acrimonious split predictably along political lines, over his travel bans on refugees and select Muslim-majority countries.

On the one side is the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), which had supported Trump for president and campaigned for him and has, expectedly, supported his travel restrictions, calling it a “decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror”.

And on the other side are those opposed to the RHC, such as Pramila Jayapal, one of the four newly elected Indian-American members of the House of Representatives — all Democrats.

She has said it was a matter of “shame” that some member of the community, and she specifically named the RHC, had supported the restrictions, which she said were “un-American”and divisive.

“To them I say shame,” Jayapal said on Monday at an event hosted by Democratic group, Asian American ad Pacific Islander Victory Fund, to oppose Trump’s order. “Shame for trying to divide our Indian American community.”

“As a Hindu I can tell you,” said the congresswoman whose parents live in India, “this group does not represent the much larger Indian American community that honours our birth country’s commitment to religious freedom.”

The Hindu American Foundation, a non-partisan advocacy organisation for the Hindu American community, has also opposed the president’s order saying it “risked harm to innocent people.”

“Implementing any sort of religious preference for admittance would be fundamentally unconstitutional and any permanent blanket ban based on national origin would be illegal,” it said.

There are an estimated 2.29 million Hindus in the United States.

Though the bulk of them are of Indian descent, some are from Hindu-majority countries such as Nepal, Fiji, Mauritius and the Caribbean.

And there are still others, such as Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, who is an American Hindu of American descent. 

Most of them vote Democratic, following a community-wide trend among Indian Americans, but an increasing number of them are moving towards the Republican Party, which has felt the need to leverage itself better with the community given the fact that the only two Indian American governors in US history are both Republicans — Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal.

Anecdotally, more Indian Americans and Hindu Americans voted for Trump than they had voted for any Republican candidate for the White House before.

And the RHC was at the forefront with Shalli Kumar, its founder, being an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump.

“While Americans do not discriminate, and this is a country that encourages legal immigration and celebrates the contributions that immigrants have made to our culture,” Kumar said in a statement on Monday, “it is about time we get serious about combatting the dangers of terrorism on our shores.”

The coalition has, in fact, called for the list of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens have been banned from entering the US for 90 days to be expanded to include three more: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.