8 in 10 Hindu Indian Americans who identify with caste say they are upper caste: Survey


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New Delhi: Over 8 in 10 Indian Americans who identify with a Hindu caste group say they belong to general or upper caste, showed a new survey on the attitude of Indian Americans published Wednesday.

The Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) is a collaboration between the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS and the University of Pennsylvania.

The IAAS sample included responses from 1,200 Indian Americans. While 632 respondents belonged to the Hindu faith, only 293 identified with a caste group. Of this latter group, a whopping 83 per cent categorised themselves as general or upper caste, 16 per cent identified as a member of Other Backward Class (OBC) and 1 per cent identified as Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Scheduled Caste (SC).

While roughly half of all Hindu respondents identified with a caste group, there was a difference between foreign-born respondents and US-born respondents.

Fifty-three per cent of foreign-born respondents affiliated with a caste group while 34 per cent of US-born respondents did the same, the survey found. It is important to note that a majority of respondents (77 per cent) are US citizens and the rest are non-US citizens.

In July 2020, the state of California had filed a lawsuit against network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc after it emerged that a Dalit employee was harassed by Indian American company managers on the basis of his caste. Citing this example, the IAAS survey stated that there is an “entrenched nature of caste — a marker of hierarchy and status associated with Hinduism…within the diaspora community in the United States”.

The survey was conducted during 1-20 September 2020 in partnership with research firm YouGov, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.8 per cent.


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1 in 2 Indian Americans face discrimination

One in two Indian Americans reported facing discrimination, mainly on the basis of skin colour, in the past one year, the survey found.

“Somewhat surprisingly, Indian Americans born in the United States are much more likely to report being victims of discrimination than their foreign-born counterparts,” it added.

However, the results were surprising when respondents were asked if they think discrimination against people of Indian origin is a major problem. Fifty-three per cent believed it was a minor problem, 31 per cent said it was a major problem and 17 per cent said it was not a problem at all.

The survey also asked respondents to compare discrimination towards their community with that of African Americans, Hispanics or Asian people. It found that 52 per cent of respondents believe that people in the US discriminate more against all of the other minority groups than they do against Indian Americans.

On India’s ‘current political climate’

With regard to Indian identity, the survey found that 88 per cent of Hindus respondents said being Indian is very or somewhat important to them, compared to 79 per cent of Christians and 66 per cent of Muslims.

“This is possibly a reflection of India’s current political climate,” it said, adding that an earlier survey in February found that Hindu Indian Americans are likelier to approve of Narendra Modi’s performance as prime minister than Muslim Indian Americans.

The survey also asked respondents — both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters — if they are uncomfortable having friends who support the other party.

Thirty per cent of Congress supporters said they are uncomfortable having close friends who support the BJP. This was double the share of BJP supporters who are uncomfortable having close friends supporting Congress.

Meanwhile, 37 per cent of Congress supporters are somewhat comfortable having friends who support the BJP. This number is identical to the share of BJP supporters who are somewhat comfortable having Congress friends.


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