Fueled by Social Media, Hinduphobia Surges Across the United States

Hateful behavior against Hindus has been on the rise lately, mirroring the hostility that has long been directed at Jews and Muslims in the U.S., including on social media platforms.

(Photo by Tero Vesalainen, Shutterstock.com)
(Photo by Tero Vesalainen, Shutterstock.com)

In August, four days after a man in Fremont, California, hurled epithets attacking the Hindu faith of an Indian American customer at a Taco Bell fast food store, police arrested a woman on charges of assault and terrorist threats against a group of Indian women in a parking lot in the town of Plano near Dallas, Texas.

Both incidents, which were captured on video and widely viewed on social media, occurred against the background of twin attacks on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside Shri Tulsi Mandir, a Hindu temple in Queens, New York.

In the first attack at the temple, on August 3, vandals defaced a statue of Gandhi, a devout Hindu who played a seminal role in India’s freedom struggle against British colonial rule. Nearly two weeks later, six young men were spotted smashing the Gandhi statue with a sledgehammer and spray-painting the word “dog” in English and Hindi on the temple grounds.

Both incidents are clear examples of hatred toward Hindus, resulting from a “deadly combination of widespread ignorance,” combined with “targeted hate and stereotyping,” according to the Coalition of Hindus of North America.

“The violent attack on a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, at a Hindu temple no less, was meant to instill fear in the Queens community and send a message that Hindus are not safe to worship however or whomever they choose—the very definition of a hate crime,” said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, an educational and advocacy group.

According to Shula, Footage from surveillance videos of the second incident showed the attackers uttering phrases in support of “Khalistan,” a violent Sikh extremist movement that uses terrorism in its attempts to secure an independent Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab.

The New York Police Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime. New York Mayor Eric Adams and faith leaders from Hindu, Jewish and Sikh communities in Queens have condemned the attack.

Offenses against Hindus and their faith symbols are relatively minor compared with those against Muslims and Sikhs, according to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer. Last updated in 2020, it records 11 offenses related to “anti-Hindu bias,” 110 anti-Islamic crimes, and 89 pertaining to the Sikh faith.

However, the recent spate of anti-Hindu attacks comes after the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University released a study in July 2022 in which it reported: “Hinduphobic tropes—such as the portrayal of Hindus as fundamentally heretical, evil, dirty, tyrannical, genocidal, irredeemable or disloyal—are prominent across the ideological spectrum and are being deployed by fringe web communities and state actors alike.” 

Titled “Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media,” the study was conducted by Rutgers’ Network Contagion Lab, part of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which partners with major universities to offer training and internship programs in “cyber-social threat identification and forecasting.”

In an August news briefing hosted by the Coalition of Hindus of North America, the study’s principal researcher, Joel Finkelstein, explained that a variety of anti-Hindu online memes and social cyber signals—such as distinct cultural markings on the forehead known as tilak and bindi—are created from the same tropes used to attack the Jewish community.

“The internet has provided a fertile ground for the large-scale organization and weaponization of Hinduphobia by extremist communities, state actors and hateful players in the online space, Finkelstein said, adding that such targeted hate remains largely unchecked and “reliably precedes real-world violence” because social media platforms such as Twitter have not yet acknowledged the threat of anti-Hindu tropes and idioms.

“Unfortunately, these incidents are evidence of the un-tackled Hinduphobia that refuses to be given mainstream acknowledgement,” said Pushpita Prasad, a board member of the Coalition of Hindus of North America.


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hate crime Hinduism Hinduphobia