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India Day Rally

An August 14 rally in Edison, NJ, organized by the Indian Business Association to celebrate India’s Independence Day, ran into a firestorm of protest from residents after a bulldozer was included in the parade.

To many Muslims and minorities in India, the bulldozer has become a divisive symbol of sectarian oppression, used to suppress the voice of dissent and perpetuate communalism. In India, some state governments have used a bulldozer to illegally demolish homes, businesses, and places of worship of minority communities.

The Edison parade featured a bulldozer with a picture of Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu nationalist UP chief minister, and a placard that read “Baba Bulldozer.” Adityanath earned the nickname for using the machine as a campaign symbol against ‘unsocial elements,’ and to menace opposition and minority communities.

So, when a bulldozer festooned with images of Hindu nationalism rolled out in Edison’s India Day Parade, it promptly triggered a backlash against the organizers.

IAMC Demands Anti-Hate Action

In an exclusive interview with India Currents, Ajit Sahi, National Advocacy Director of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), explained the IAMC had demanded immediate action from the US Department of Justice, the New Jersey Attorney General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

IAMC, a DC-based US-based human rights organization, filed a formal complaint with the Edison Police Department and asked the US Department of Justice to cancel the visa of Sambit Patra, a BJP representative, who served as Grand Marshal at the rally. On August 21, IAMC organized a press conference to announce its actions.

At a Council Meeting with IAMC and its allies, residents from Woodbridge and Edison demanded answers from their town officials and mayors about how a public event was allowed to display a symbol of hate in a parade meant to celebrate freedom.

The Trauma of Persecution

Sahi said that Indian American Muslims who live in the US have been traumatized by the systematic persecution of Muslims in India over the last eight years. They worry about their families in India getting arrested or simply being lynched on the streets if they are discovered to be Muslim.

“If Islamophobic hate can be imported from India to the streets of New Jersey, then you never know what’s going to happen next,” Sahi added.

At the Town Council, Indian American Muslim residents shared their fears for their families.

“Now I worry for my wife and my daughters who wear a hijab and are going out in Edison, in Woodbridge, in NJ,” a resident said.

Importing Symbols Of Hate

Critics say “bulldozer politics” play a key role in perpetrating discrimination against minority communities in India.  

In June 2022, city authorities in Prayagraj (UP) UP razed the home of student activist Afreen Fatima to the ground. They accused Fatima and her father of vocal opposition to political issues like the hijab ban and of fostering sectarian unrest.

Bulldozer razes Afreen Fatima home in Prayagraj, UP. (source: YouTube)

In Atrauli, Aligarh District (UP), city officials bulldozed a church under construction on private property even though the Christian community building had papers authorizing construction.

Incidents like these drew condemnation from people of all faiths in India. Parliamentarian Dr. Shashi Tharoor tweeted “Due process of law is fundamental to democracy. Under what law & following what process has this been done?”

“Now imagine that hate transported into the United States,” reflected Sahi. “That’s appalling. This immediately was a red flag for so many. I think there is universal support for condemnation of the use of the bulldozer.”

Anti-Hate Advocates Condemn Use Of Bulldozer

In Edison, Black Lives Matter and anti-hate advocates were critical of bulldozer politics.

Edison Mayor Samip (Sam) Joshi, who was at the parade, categorically condemned the use of the bulldozer at the rally. In a statement, he called the bulldozer “a symbol of division that is absolutely unacceptable” and demanded an apology from the Indian Business Association.  “My office will be working with stakeholders to ensure that celebrations in the future serve the best interest of our community,” Joshi said.

Dr. Ali Chaudry of American Muslims for Democracy also denounced the use of terror symbols. “The inclusion of the bulldozer as the symbol of hate in the August 14 India Independence Day parade here should not be treated any different than an antisemitic, racist or Islamophobic incident.” He demanded that such symbols of hate must never be allowed in any future parades.

In a powerful statement, BLM’s Zellie Imani said the bulldozer served as a symbol of terror that was being used “to terrorize” Muslim and other Indian minorities.

“Just as black Americans were lynched from trees, and the noose became a tool to both intimidate and terrorize black communities, so too are bulldozers being used to remind Indian Muslims of the constant threat they are under,” said Imani.

Zellie Imani, Black Lives Matter

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, who had joined the rally also denounced it after he learned of the symbolism of the bulldozer. McCormac has launched an investigation into the parade and declared he would reject future permits to hate parades, ensure float inspections beforehand, and vet speaker lists so that hate speeches are prevented.

On August 30,  the Indian Business Association (IBA) apologized unconditionally in a letter addressed to Edison Mayor Joshi. The (IBA) did not respond to India Current’s request for comment.

Mute Symbols Of Menace

Political parties in India often use relatively benign inanimate objects (cycles and trees) to help identify their candidates on election tickets.

Given its role as a weapon of destruction in recent years in India, the use of a bulldozer as a political symbol sends a powerful message of division, as does defacing a statue of Gandhi.

“Ideologies of hate breed violence,” said BLM organizer Imani. “We must stop the spread of all ideologies of hate to ensure safe communities.  We are here to unite with all people who believe in peace, justice, and righteousness. We must condemn it as we do all other symbols of hatred.”

Anti-Asian crime is surging across America. Why can’t Asian Americans collaborate to combat this prejudice, instead of importing a culture of intolerance and symbols of hate from their home country?

India Currents’ Stop The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by India Currents do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.

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Meera Kymal

Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at DesiCollective. At India Currents, she covers immigration policy and reform, civil rights, the pandemic, and climate...