One in two Indian-Americans say they face bias, even as many import their own prejudices into US

(This story originally appeared in on Jun 10, 2021)

WASHINGTON: They are the second-largest immigrant group in the United States and wildly successful academically, professionally, and financially. But that does not inure the 4 million-strong Indian-American community from discrimination and prejudice in the US even as many of them channel their religious and caste identities into America.

A new 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey released on Wednesday reveals that one in two Indian Americans report being discriminated against in the past year (during the Trump term), with prejudice based on skin color identified as the most common form of bias.

Somewhat surprisingly, the report adds, Indian Americans born in the US are much more likely to report being victims of discrimination than counterparts born outside.

The survey, conducted jointly by Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Endowment, with polling group YouGov, unspools data that suggests discrimination based on skin color is the most common form of bias, with 30 percent of respondents report feeling discriminated against due to the color of their skin.

An equal percentage of respondents—18 per cent apiece—report that they have been discriminated against due to their gender or religion.

Overall, 31 per cent of respondents reported that discrimination against people of Indian origin is a major problem, 53 percent believe it is a minor problem, and a small minority (17 per cent) believe it is not a problem at all.

Placed in a comparative context though, the survey shows a majority of respondents — 52 per cent — believe that people in the United States discriminate more against all of the OTHER minority groups than they do against Indian Americans.

Seventy three per cent of respondents believe Asian Americans who are not of Indian origin face more discrimination than Indian Americans, and much larger shares believe that other minority groups face greater discrimination than Indian Americans, including Latino Americans (90 per cent), LGBTQ Americans (89 per cent), African Americans (86 per cent), and women (86 per cent).

The survey takes an unprecedented deep dive into the religious and caste orientation of Indian-Americans, revealing an ethnic cohort where 54 per cent of respondents report belonging to the Hindu faith, 13 per cent Muslim and 11 per cent Christian, with 16 per cent having no religious affiliation. While nearly three-quarters of Indian Americans state that religion plays an important role in their lives, religious practice is less pronounced, with 40 percent of respondents saying they pray at least once a day and 27 percent attending religious services at least once a week.

The survey reveals that Indian-Americans of Muslims faith report the greatest degree of religious discrimination by far (39 percent), followed by Hindus (18 percent), Christians (15 percent), and believers of other faiths (9 percent).

While both US- and foreign-born Indian Americans report significant discrimination based on skin color—35 percent and 27 percent respectively, respondents born in the US report twice as much discrimination along gender and religious lines than those born outside of US.

Amid stray cases of caste bias and discrimination even among Indian-Americans, the survey reveals that roughly half of all Hindu Indian Americans identify with a caste, remarkable for a group with high academic attainment.

Foreign-born respondents are significantly more likely than US-born respondents to espouse a caste identity. The overwhelming majority of Hindus with a caste identity—more than eight in ten—self-identify as belonging to the category of General or upper caste.

The survey also found “several indications that polarization in India had successfully metastasized in the Indian American community in the United States.”

Religious differences in particular have emerged as a salient divide both in India and among members of the diaspora, the study says, with supporters of the Congress and the BJP showing growing hostility toward the opposite side. Thirty percent of Congress supporters are not comfortable having close friends who support the BJP; double the share of BJP supporters who are uncomfortable having close friends who are Congress supporters.

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