1 in 2 Indians faced bias in Trump’s final year: US study

The Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS), done jointly by Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie with polling group YouGov, also found that US-born Indian Americans are more likely to complain of discrimination than those born outside, mostly in India
PM Modi meets people of Indian origin in the US in 2014. (HT archive)
PM Modi meets people of Indian origin in the US in 2014. (HT archive)
Updated on Jun 10, 2021 12:14 AM IST
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By Yashwant Raj, Washington

One in two Indian Americans experienced some form of discrimination in the United States over the course of a 12-month period, says a new survey-based study. And it’s mostly over the colour of their skin, followed by gender, religion, country of origin and caste, in that order.

The Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS), done jointly by Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie, with polling group YouGov, also found that US-born Indian Americans are more likely to complain of discrimination than those born outside, mostly in India.

The study is based on a poll of 1,200 Indian Americans — including citizens, Green Card holders and Non-Resident Indians — in September of 2020, in the run up to the November election. Respondents were asked, among a wide range of questions, if they had felt discrimination against in the past 12 months, roughly the last year of President Donald Trump’s term.

Trump’s four years were marked by a significant spike in hate crimes and discriminatory behaviour in the US, including the mainstreaming of white supremacists. The worst of it was against Asian Americans, over the Covid-19 outbreak, which Trump and his supporters had taken to calling the “China Virus”, “Wuhan Virus” or “Kung Flu”.

But there is no data to show if Indian American felt the same level of discrimination or less pre-Trump. The report said, according to their data, “one in two Indian Americans reports being subject to some form of discrimination in the past year”.

It added that the data suggested that “discrimination based on skin colour is the most common form of bias: 30% of respondents report feeling discriminated against due to the colour of their skin”. The findings showed that 18% were discriminated against due to their gender or religion and 16% for their country of origin. About 5% were discriminated over caste, which, the authors of the report said, based on the responses, was perpetrated by both Indian Americans and non-Indians, such as South Asians who are familiar with caste and related issues.

The state of California sued Cisco Systems, a San Jose-based IT giant in July 2020 for alleged caste-based discrimination at workplace on a complaint from an employee who was described as “Dalit”. The lawsuit cited a 2018 survey that found that 67% of Dalit employees reported being treated unfairly at American workplaces.

Indian Americans were also hit by a wave of hate crimes and ethnic slurs in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 -- a Sikh man in Arizona was the first person killed in the backlash. A white supremacist gunned down six people at a Wisconsin gurdwara in 2012; and Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an IT engineer from Hyderabad, was killed in Kansas by a man who yelled at him and a friend to “get out of my country” in 2017.

“The incident of my friend’s daughter who was born in America being told by another person who was standing in line at a coffee shop to ‘go home’ still stands out for me,” said MR Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, an advocacy group for the Indian American community. The study, he added, “is a clarion call for the Indian diaspora to build institutions that can stand up for the community and work aggressively on these issues”.

A significantly larger number of foreign-born Indian Americans , 59% , did not feel they had been discriminated against in the past one year, compared to 36% of their US-born counterparts, the survey showed. “Differences in social norms, greater awareness of discriminatory practices, or less fear of retaliation”, were some of the factors cited by the study for the higher reporting of discrimination by US-born Indian Americans.

In other findings, Indian Americans — both born in the US and outside — tend to marry within the community, with US-born Indian Americans marrying non-Indians at a significantly higher number than foreign-born Indian Americans. They tend to hang out with other Indian Americans as their “social network [is] populated with relatively more people of Indian origin. And only 43% believe the phrase “Indian American” describes them adequately. About 30% preferred to be called “Indian” and 6% don’t like the “hyphenated American” part like Bobby Jindal, the Republican who briefly ran for the White House in 2016, and wanted to be called “American”.

The survey makes a broader point that the Indian American community has come of age and as it has come to be portrayed “as a poster child” of America opening up to immigrants, it has also faced greater scrutiny.

“This paper argues that while there is much that binds the community, there are also nascent signs that these common bonds are being tested as religious cleavages, generational divides, and political polarisation invite fragmentation,” the study said in conclusion. “In that sense, the currents coursing their way through the Indian diaspora are perhaps reflective not only of broader developments in American society but also—and perhaps even to a greater extent—the turbulence afflicting India.”

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Monday, October 18, 2021