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Iconoclasm Is an Expression of Fanaticism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

After he was killed by an assassin’s bullets almost 73 years ago on a cold January day in Delhi, the locals found a decapitated statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California’s Central Park. The 6’3” tall, 950-pound bronze statue that once stood in the same park was mutilated and disfigured on January 27, 2021. The statute of Gandhiji “appeared to have been sawed off at the ankles, and half its face was severed and missing,” reports said. The statue was installed in 2016, a gift from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

It wasn’t the first time a statue of one of the greatest proponents of ahimsā (Sanskrit, non-violence) in modern times was desecrated and disfigured in the Land of the Free. Barely a month ago, in December 2010, in Washington, DC, another Mahatma Gandhi statue was vandalized. Khalistani groups defaced Gandhiji’s statue that stands in front of the Indian Embassy. BLM Protestors also defaced Gandhiji’s statue in London’s Parliament Square. in June 2020, and wrote “racist” on it.

Iconoclasm is an expression of fanaticism and intolerance, and images are often destroyed for religious and political purposes. The destruction is a crude reminder of a weaponized intolerant ideology currently sweeping through the American landscape and elsewhere. However, the ideology of such brutality has its antecedents in history, which is replete with examples of iconoclastic destructions. Catherine Nixey’s ‘The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World describes in eye-popping graphic details the destruction and gore of the ancient temples of Serapeum in Alexandria and the Parthenon in Athens. 

Chairman Mao Zedong of China ordered the destruction of countless historical monuments and works of art during what is known as the Cultural Revolution. In 2001, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, ordered the Bamiyan Buddha’s blowing up in Afghanistan. Initially sculpted in 507 CE, this ancient sandstone carving was once the world’s tallest Buddha. Taliban fighters fired at the Buddha with tanks and artillery shells. When that failed, they ordered the planting of explosives to destroy it. Taliban fighters drilled holes into the statue to plant the dynamite. The process of drilling holes blowing up the Buddha image took 25 days to complete. The Islamic State did the same to the temples of Palmyra.

For Indians, Hindus specifically, the massive destruction of temples and the desecration and dismemberment of their deities throughout the past millennia have been an acute source of transgenerational trauma. Among thousands of silent yet an in-your-face reminder of that trauma is the ruins of 26 Jain-Hindu temples in Mehrauli, near Delhi. The Muslim ruler destroyed the temple complex to erect a victory tower and the Dome of Islam Mosque. Meenakshi Jain’s book ‘Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History details Hindu deities’ desecration, destruction, and preservation at significant risks by the faithful.

Iconoclasm is, primarily, an instrument of power. Its gore intends to instill an element of fear among the masses. Those who desecrated the Gandhi statues had every intention to terrorize the members of the Indian diaspora (and beyond) and exert political pressure. They did just that. Some of these terrorism techniques manifest themselves into blatant Hinduphobia. 

Members of the diaspora across North America and Europe have also received physical and sexual violence threats from the groups behind the desecrations. A Hindu doctor in California received threats for her strong opposition to the Khalistanis. 

“I am increasingly alarmed by the bloodcurdling sectarianism against India. Particularly against Hindus, for whom empirically the VAST majority support pluralism, progress, and peace,” tweeted Shuvaloy Majumdar, a Senior Fellow with MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Ottawa, Canada-based think tank.

Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Hindu advocacy group Hindu American Foundation (HAF), also tweeted that HAF “had to shut down offices in DC in 2019 after multiple threats when Sikhs for Justice rallied there. “Leave this country or we’ll take care of you,” they said.” Another member of the diaspora was reported in a newspaper saying: “Hinduphobics now have political shelter. Our safety is in jeopardy.”

Beyond some half-hearted press releases and Twitter statements, some very late, most Western leaders, including many high-profile US politicians, including those from the Indian-American community, have remained mute spectators to this barbaric onslaught on Western values of democracy. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

City Hall Socialists’ Indian Concerns

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

Ever since the Seattle City Council ran a campaign to pass a controversial resolution against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year, there has been a flurry of similar anti-India resolutions in many other US cities. India enacted the CAA after both its Sansad (Parliament) houses passed it. The Act expedites the immigration process of the persecuted minorities of the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent to India. 

Leading some of these resolutions were leaders of Indian subcontinental background with radical socialist ideology. They oppose Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Indian People’s Party). Incidentally, Modi received a massive mandate in 2019 to win a second 5-year term in office. These socialist leaders also have overt and covert support from organizations with explicit anti-India and anti-Hindu agenda. 

India is the largest democracy and the fifth largest economy globally. It is least bothered by attempts at bullying by fringe groups. Beyond mere optics, these resolutions are as meaningless as they are useless. They remind me of the resolutions my leftist comrade friends in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) used to pass in their GBMs (General Body Meetings) and other gatherings frequently. The comrades, belonging to the students’ wings of some of the most radical and violent communist groups in India, would threaten the ‘capitalist Americans’ and the US President with dire consequences if they did not stop their ‘imperialist takeover.’

These city council resolutions, at one level, are a typical example of the ‘wag the dog’ syndrome and a PR stunt to stay in the news. In this case, these city leaders are making desperate attempts to hide their failures as city administrators by focusing on other countries’ issues over which they have no control. In the process, they waste tax-payer money, public time, and resources on things that are not in their jurisdiction.   

Most US cities are reeling under a deteriorating law-and-order situation. For example, Seattle has been the hub of Antifa-BLM violence since the tragic death of George Floyd. Besides frequent looting, rioting, and arson, the city also saw an increased level of homicide. The protestors laid siege to the state Capitol building for days and created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), ran their parallel government with security, etc. There were riots about 200 miles south in Portland almost every night for months after the initial BLM protests. The rioters vandalized, damaged, and burnt businesses, government and private buildings, and homes. 

Minneapolis saw a sharp rise in the crime rate as police officers quit en masse due to looming funding cuts. “Day and night, the bullets zip through this predominantly Black neighborhood, hitting cars, and home, and people,” reported the Washington Post. In Chicago, the weekend shootings have become a common phenomenon. By November of last year, the city had recorded 3,033 shooting and 717 killings, a 50% increase from over a year ago.

Many of these city council members seem ‘concerned’ about human rights in other countries. However, they seem entirely comfortable with lockdowns, censorship, and curtailment of other civil liberties under one pretext or other in their communities. They also seem unperturbed with the rising homelessness and economic disparities in the cities they serve. They have also turned a blind eye to the persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent.

Protesters hold a banner for the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America at a Patriot Prayer counter-protest in San Francisco. (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

One common thread that connects these anti-India resolutions, incidentally, is the rise of the socialist group, most notably the Democratic Socialists of America. With a clear socialist agenda, their focus seems to capture power seats at the ground level. These socialists do not shy away from criticizing even the liberals, progressives, and Democrats for being “insufficiently leftist.” In the past four years, several dozen socialist candidates have won electoral victories in cities like Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. 

The style of functioning of these leaders, Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute calls them City Hall Socialists, is “disruptive… often ripped from the handbook of radical activists like Saul Alinski,” writes Malanga. These socialists are making significant inroads into the Democrat Party. In some cities, they have gained a reputation as “audacious outsiders crashing the Democratic Party.”

The Socialist movement has attracted many from the Indian subcontinent. Mostly from the younger second-generation immigrant background, these young leaders have experienced electoral successes. Some of them won the down-ballot races, and their accomplishments indicate a leftward-shift, including a transition from mere community activism to electoral politics. With their electoral and legislative successes at the lowest levels of democracy, these socialists create an ecosystem that will sustain them in the long run.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Featured image by SounderBruce under this license.

Break-up or Divorce: The Case of Indian-American Voters

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The 2020 US presidential election is poised to be the watershed moment in Indian-American (IA) politics. The significance of this election lies in the stratification of IA votes. Once a solid Democratic voting block, IA voters have been progressively turning away from the Democratic Party. 

A recent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) survey suggests that as many as 28% of eligible IA voters will vote for the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. That is a 12 point increase from a paltry 16% in 2016 who voted for Trump. The data suggests just 66% of support for Joe Biden. Compared to this, nearly 84% of Indian-Americans had voted for Barack Obama. The AAPI data also suggests only 57% of eligible IA men will vote Democrat in the 2020 elections compared to 71% in 2016.

The numbers for the Trump supporters could be even higher. We all know that most surveys had grossly underestimated support for Trump in the 2016 elections. Most gave Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and the former First Lady, 90% (or more) chance of winning the election going late into the election night itself. Suffice to say, many Trump supporters did not openly profess their electoral preferences in the last election for fear of ridicule and public shaming. With intolerance and ‘cancel culture’ sweeping the American landscape, this fear has become a reality. Several stories of personal and professional harm have come up in both social and mainstream media. 

The change marks a tectonic shift in the voting preferences of IAs. There is a general sense of disenchantment and disillusionment against the Democratic Party. Many IAs are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s hard left turn and its support for Antifa and other radical violent groups. That process of disenchantment has been exacerbated by Democrats’ brazen Islamopandering. When the Indian Parliament made provisions for full constitutional integration of Jammu & Kashmir, and when it passed the Citizenship Amendment Act making special provisions for persecuted religious minorities in the theocratic Islamic states of the Indian subcontinent, some of the high profile Democrats launched a campaign against the government of PM Narendra Modi. One of those high profile Democrats includes the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

The real concern for the Indian-Americans isn’t necessarily the H-1B visas, nor is the overall Indo-US relationship which has already “overcome the hesitations of history” in the last decade or so. The Indian-Americans, however, are now genuinely concerned about their future and safety in the US. The left-dominated academia and media have created an extremely negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Caste, etc., has been raised – without much understanding and contextualization – to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths. 

Many Democrats, including Indian-American politicians, have actively indulged in enabling and perpetuating Hinduphobia in the US. For example, some of the most vicious Hinduphpobic attacks on a former presidential candidate and a practicing Hindu woman came from within the Democratic Party and its affiliates. That trend of attacking politicians with Hindu roots has continued unabated as we approach the election date.

Another reason for the shift in IA voting preferences is due to what is going on in India. Home of the oldest civilization, India is the sacred land that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes. The memory of this land is etched deep in the consciousness of the Indian diaspora across the globe. That sacred land is undergoing, what journalist-scholar and parliamentarian Dr. Swapan Dasgupta calls, a phase of ‘awakening’.

After hundreds of years of loot, plunder, subjugation, colonization, and experimentation with the leftist ideology, India is rediscovering its roots, its suppressed history, and trampled pride. As it recovers from the abject poverty due to colonial exploitation, India as the world’s fifth-largest economy is much more prosperous and confident now than when its British colonizers had left it in1947. The idea of India presented by the prejudiced Indologists on one hand and colonial (and colonized) “outsiders on the other, is being challenged. This challenge, however, is resisted by vested interest groups and many of them find support within the Democratic Party. 

The Republicans may not be much different from the Democrats but President Trump, on his part, has refused to get involved in India’s internal politics and has openly embraced and extremely popular PM Modi. As a result, more Indian-Americans are willing to give Trump a chance and are jettisoning the Democratic ship in droves. They made their presence felt in the defeat of an extremely anti-Hindu Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries and they are gearing up for the presidential election, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. They already see a template in the historic defeat of the Labour Party in last year’s UK parliamentary elections.

No matter how one looks at it, there are telltale signs all around of a strained relationship between the Democrats and the Indian-Americans. Whether there will be a short-term break-up or a permanent divorce from what some call an abusive relationship, only time will tell.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Indian-Americans Must Resist South Asian Identity

The South-Asian identity of the Indian diaspora is inherently biased and it is fraught with inaccuracies. It also constitutes part of a deliberate attempt by leftist groups to deny and subsequently erase from the consciousness the memory of a glorious non-Western indigenous pagan civilization.

The question of identity and how we, both as an individual and a group, relate to the rest of the world has been explored by social scientists, anthropologists, and spiritual scholars alike. Most consider identity as linkages of social structure and/or an internal process of self-verification. Whether in affirming group identity or in resisting assimilation and digestion, this notion forms the core of identity politics. 

Bharatvarsha – as the indigenous inhabitants called their subcontinental sacred land – is a land of major rivers (the Sapta-Sindhu), high mountains (the Himalayas), vast forests (the Vindhyas), and unfathomable seas (Samudra). It has a recorded history spanning well over 5,000 years. This land “bears traces of the gods and the footprints of the heroes. Every place has its own story, and conversely, every story in the vast storehouse of myth and legend has its place.” (Diana Eck, A Sacred Geography). 

Foreigners – travelers, and invaders alike – later called this land as India and Hindustan (the land of the Hindus). When Columbus sailed to explore the ‘new world’, the land of big fortunes, he was going to India, not South Asia. The European colonizers named their trading companies East India Company, not South Asia Company.

In fact, South Asia did not enter the Western lexicon until the 1940s. It became an identity marker for immigrants in North America from the Indian subcontinent, including Myanmar and Tibet in some cases. In its simplest form, this marker represents a certain cultural and historical background of US immigrants from the Subcontinent in general and India in particular. Post-1947, ‘South Asianism’ in the US emerged as a form of political activism. This notion of belonging to a borderless larger geographical entity was promoted primarily by the leftist intellectuals and activists.i

In the graph below, you will see the term South Asia unused until the 1940s.

Source: Google Ngram Search

The ‘South Asian” label itself, however, was first used by American politicians and academics, not the immigrants themselves. In 1948 the first department of South Asian Regional Studies became functional in the US at the University of Pennsylvania that offered courses in geography, linguistics, Hindustani, sociology, etc. The emergence of such departments in US universities, however, owes primarily to the political and strategic objectives of the US government during and after World War II. Many South Asia departments were funded, among others, by the US intelligence apparatuses, and many of the South Asian ‘scholars’ were actually spies of the US government. Prominent among them include Olive Irine Reddick and Maureen L. P. Patterson. Reddick was an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services and worked as an undercover operative in India during the war (1942-1946). Later she ran the Fulbright Scholarship program for 14 years. Patterson, who worked in the US Government’s War Department, is credited with developing the world-famous collection at the University of Chicago South Asian Library. 

Picture credit: The University of Chicago Library

The other purpose served by these South Asia departments was to train the missionaries about to go off to do “church work” in India. Combined, the legacy of these South Asia departments still haunts every aspect of the study of India in the US and beyond.

The South Asian identity is highly contested and has never been universally accepted. Many consider South Asia as a representation of India’s cultural, geographical, and economic hegemony. Leftist groups, academicians, and politicians opposed to the identity of the Hindus and people belonging to other indigenous faiths of the Indian subcontinent have used the South Asian label to delegitimize the genuine concerns of these religious minorities in the US.  The same group has also worked hard to remove most references of India and Hindu from the California high school textbooks

The socio-political goals of the Indian-subcontinental diaspora in the US are diverse and varied. India is the second-most populous country as well as the fifth-largest economy in the world. While Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are constitutional Islamic theocracy, India is a Hindu-majority secular state. Indians are among the most educated and their average household income is among the highest of any ethnic/national group in the US. 

It is time for Indian-Americans to carve out a separate non-South Asian identity for themselves to advance their social, political, and cultural agenda in the US.

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.