The Seattle incident has provoked much outrage in India. Many media outlets have reported it as a part of growing hate crimes against Hindus in the US. In recent months, a temple in Georgia was vandalized and the idol spray painted black. In Virginia, a park in an area with many Hindu residents showed up anti-Hindu graffiti.
But it’s still difficult to say whether there is a pattern of attacks against people following Hinduism.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains data on hate crimes against religious groups. Until January this year, anti-Hindu hate crimes were not even a separate category, most likely because the number of attacks against Hindus is minuscule compared to attacks against people of other religions.
Data from 2013, the last year for which the bureau has published data, shows that about 60% of religion-based hate crimes in the US are against Jews, 13% are anti-Muslim, 10% are anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant. The remaining 17% percent of religion-based hate crimes target people following other religions, multiple faiths, atheists and agnostics. Data for 2012 and 2011 show a similar trend.
“Often it’s not even a matter of religious hatred so much as just not knowing,” said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group for the community. “It is not knowing the difference between Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism or any of these. People just don’t know and they don’t like anyone who is different.”
Most people have been quick to point out the irony of the swastika painted on the wall of the temple in Seattle. The swastika is understood in western countries to be a Nazi sign of supremacy. The attackers appear not to have known that it is also a sacred Hindu symbol.
Categorising hate crimes
In January this year, the US Department of Justice mandated that the police will have to record hate-crimes as separate categories if they are found to be anti-Arab, anti-Sikh or anti-Hindu. “One may say that because of the rising number of incidents there is now a category like that,” said Vasudha Narayanan, professor at the University of Florida’s department of religion. “But it is also true that when you have a category you can populate it.”
Narayanan is surprised that the attack took place in Seattle, a city that has a reputation for being more liberal than many other places in the country. Hindus are not considered a vulnerable minority group in the city. The Seattle police has advisory councils for other communities like African Americans, East Africans, Filipinos, Koreans, Latinos, LGBTQ members, Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs, Native Americans and South East Asians, but not for Hindus.
Even with an anti-Hindu category for police records now, categorization of the hate crime still poses a problem. If a Hindu man is mistaken for a Muslim and attacked, is it an anti-Hindu hate crime or an anti-Muslim hate crime?
“We do know that there is a rising trend of anti-Muslim hate. The fact that they confuse one of the other doesn’t make anyone happy. Hate is hate,” Narayanan said. “When is a minority in any country it is always very unsettling when there is an attack on your structure.”
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