Every second member of the Indian-American community reports having faced some sort of discrimination in the past year in the United States, a new survey shows.

Thirty one percent of respondents in the third edition of the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey believe that discrimination is a major problem, while 53% believe it is a minor problem.

The survey asked respondents about discrimination with relation to skin colour, gender, religion and caste – beyond just country of origin. “The data suggest that discrimination based on skin colour is the most common form of bias: 30 percent of respondents report feeling discriminated against due to the colour of their skin,” the survey said. “An equal percentage of respondents – 18 percent apiece – report that they have been discriminated against due to their gender or religion.”

Conducted by a collaboration between the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-School of Advanced International Studies and the University of Pennsylvania, the survey examined the “social, political, and foreign policy attitudes of Indian Americans”.

It recorded responses of 1,200 Indian Americans between September 1 and September 20, 2020, in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov. The results carry an error margin of 2.8%.

“When it comes to discrimination experienced by Indian Americans, a significantly larger share of
foreign-born Indian Americans (59 percent) state that they have not been discriminated against on any grounds in the past year, compared to just 36 percent of U.S.-born Indian Americans,” the survey said.

Sources of discrimination

Discrimination based on skin colour was the most commonly reported common form of bias. But 16% said that their country of origin was a cause of discrimination.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

Among religious groups, Muslims felt the most discriminated against (39%), followed by Hindus (18%), and Christians (15%).

Five percent of respondents said that they were discriminated against based on their caste, almost equally by Indians, non-Indians or both. The survey noted that since non-Indians might not necessarily believe in caste divisions, the caste-based discrimination from that segment may include populations from other South Asian countries where it “holds greater salience”.

Sources of discrimination

Almost 75% of perpetrators of discrimination based on country of origin or skin colour were identified as non-Indian. In about one-fifth of incidents, both Indians and non-Indians were reported jointly be responsible.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

A little less than half of the respondents believe that Indian Americans face more discrimination than at least one minority group. But 52% believe that people living in the US discriminate more against all of the other minority groups listed compared to Indian Americans.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

Role of religion

Almost three-quarters of the respondents stated that religion plays an important role in their lives.

According to the data, 54% of respondents identified as Hindu. The second-largest bloc of 16% included agnostics, atheists, and people with no religious affiliation. Thirteen percent of respondents identified as Muslim, 11% as Christian and 1% as Buddhist.

Among Hindus, 86% associate themselves with some form of “Indian” identity, while 71% Christians and 52% Muslims do the same. Religion also influences the composition of social networks of Indian Americans, along with the region of origin and caste.

However, the social networks were observed to be more homogenous in terms of religion compared to the other two parameters.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

Both Hindus and Muslims reported that they are very comfortable having close friends of the same faith, but less comfortable with having close friends of another faith. Only 52% of Hindus said they are comfortable having close Muslim friends, while 46% of Muslims said they are comfortable having close Hindu friends.

Christians reportedly hold similar views towards both Hindus and Muslims.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

The Indian identity

The survey showed that the term “Indian American” is not widely accepted by the members of the immigrant community to best describe their background – only 43% of the sample group chose it. Twenty-five percent of all the respondents self-identify as “Indian”, followed by “South Asian Americans” (10%), and “Asian Indians” (7%).

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

Citizenship status

The citizenship status of Indian Americans is an important deciding factor in the immigrant group’s civic and political engagement. Citizens born in the US reported the highest levels of participation, followed by foreign-born US citizens.

Among the four types of civic engagement – working with others in their community to solve a problem; performing voluntary community service without pay; attending a public meeting, such as for a school board or city council; or attending a protest march, demonstration, or rally – community service was the most popular choice.

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

Around 45% of the respondents said that they participated in a political discussion in the last year – the most common form of political engagement. Posting comments about political issues online was the second-most-popular on the list (21%), followed by contributing financially to campaigns (14%), contacting an elected representative or government official (12%), and volunteering on a political campaign (9%).

Source: 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey

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