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1 in 2 Indian Americans have faced discrimination in last 12 months: Survey

·6-min read

They may be the second-largest immigrant group in the United States. However, that has not stopped Indian Americans from regularly encountering discrimination on the basis of skin colour. Surprisingly, Indian Americans born in the United States are more likely to report being victims of discrimination than those born outside. 

These are some of the facts about Indian Americans revealed in a survey conducted by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with survey firm YouGov.

Norwalk, CA - May 08: Payal Sawhney, third from left, president of the nonprofit Saahas for Cause, which helped coordinate COVID-19 vaccine clinics at a Norwalk Hindu temple, has immediate family members in India who are ill with COVID, including her mother and brother. Sawhney, third from left, and Raji Satish, second from left. Saahas co-founder, talk about COVID-19 vaccine importance and their Saahas organization to Indian community members on Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia on Saturday, May 8, 2021 in Norwalk, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Norwalk, CA - May 08: Payal Sawhney, third from left, president of the nonprofit Saahas for Cause, which helped coordinate COVID-19 vaccine clinics at a Norwalk Hindu temple, has immediate family members in India who are ill with COVID, including her mother and brother. Sawhney, third from left, and Raji Satish, second from left. Saahas co-founder, talk about COVID-19 vaccine importance and their Saahas organization to Indian community members on Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia on Saturday, May 8, 2021 in Norwalk, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Discussing the survey online, Sumitra Badrinathan, post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford, said that Indian Americans are in many successful positions, such as in the lobbies of Congress, tech, business. Further, these successes go hand in hand with higher levels of education and Indian Americans earning higher than the median income in the United States, have resulted in the community being labelled as a model minority.

However, this characterisation masks inequalities, difficulties, and struggles within the community. This is more so in the light of the disturbing surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the past few months. Though Indians have not been specific targets this time, the Indian American community is no stranger to prejudice and violence in America.

Here are the findings from the report that gives an insight into the social realities of Indian Americans:

Discrimination: Despite often being in positions of power, one in two Indian Americans have said that they have encountered discrimination in the past 12 months. While there were no gender differences in reporting discrimination, there were differences in terms of religion. Muslim respondents in the sample say they are more likely to face discrimination than other religions in the sample. 

While 30 per cent of respondents said they had been discriminated against on the basis of skin colour, 18 per cent said they were discriminated against on the basis of gender, while another 18 per cent said it was on the basis of religion.

On who the perpetrators were, the respondents blamed non-Indians for discrimination on the basis of country of origin. Indians were also equally responsible for discrimination along religious or gender lines. 

However, a majority of Indian Americans (more than 80 per cent) believed that Americans discriminate against non-Indians more and that Latino Americans, members of the LGBTQ, African Americans and women faced higher levels of discrimination in the country.

Polarisation: Despite high levels of education, polarisation is also evident in Indian American society. The survey revealed that Indian Americans are socially polarised along party lines, rather than along religious lines.

Democrat Party supporters are much less likely to have friends among Republican supporters than vice versa. 54 per cent of Republicans say they are comfortable having Republican friends, on the other hand only 27 per cent of Democrats say they are comfortable having Democratic friends. The same holds true for BJP supporters who are more likely to have friends who are Congress supporters than the other way round.

Identity: The survey provided eight categories in which respondents had to categorise themselves - Indian American, Indian, South Asian American, Asian Indian, American, Asian American, non-resident Indian and others. Only 43 per cent identified themselves as Indian American, while over half the samples used the other categories to describe themselves.

Over a quarter said that Indian describes them best, while 10 per cent felt South Asian American described them best and about 6 per cent identified only as American.

The results differed on the basis of place of birth as well. Indian Americans born in the United States are more likely to identify as Indian Americans while those born outside of the US are most likely to identify as Indian. This self-identity also varies by religion. Among Hindus, 86 per cent report identifying with certain kinds of Indian identities, as compared to just 50 per cent of the Muslim respondents.

In terms of how important being an Indian is to their identity, 41 per cent of the respondents rated it as very important and 37 per cent said it was somewhat important. On the other hand, around 22 per cent said it was somewhat or very unimportant. 

This again differs based on place of birth – while 83 per cent of foreign-born Indian Americans claim being an Indian is very important to them, 70 per cent of US-born Indian Americans felt the same.

There were also some who wished to relate to being just American. Former Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, for example, had said that he does not want a hyphenation and would prefer to be known as just American.

While discussing the findings online, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Milan Vaishnav, said that a reason why many would not associate as Indian American is that people from religions other than Hinduism, primarily in the case of Muslims, share a common bond with other South Asian countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh over religion. 

Further, roughly half of the respondents also identify themselves in a caste group. More than 80 per cent of those belonging to the Hindu religion categorise themselves in the 'General' and 'upper caste' segment. 

Socialising: The survey also revealed that the social circles of Indian Americans were mostly populated by others of Indian origin. This, again, varies based on place of birth. While 43 per cent of those born outside the US have a network of predominantly Indian friends, this is just 25 per cent among those born in the US. 

In counties with more Indian American communities, for example New Jersey, as opposed to those with less, for example, Wyoming, respondents are more likely to say that their social circles are predominantly Indian. 

Marriages: The fact that Indian Americans value the institution of marriage is evident from the survey findings - married couple households in the community is 50 per cent higher than the US average.

Indian American communities also exhibit a high rate of intermarriage. Eight out of ten respondents said that they have a spouse or partner of Indian origin. Further, US-born Indian Americans are four times more likely to have a spouse or partner of Indian origin born in the US than foreign-born.

To a certain extent, divisions in India are also being reproduced in the US among Indian Americans with religion, political parties and political leadership as the most common factors.

The study titled Social Realities of Indian Americans is the third in a series on the social, political, and foreign policy attitudes of Indian Americans.

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