Hinduphobia in the UK: Big issue or sign of greater confidence?

Hinduphobia in the UK: Big issue or sign of greater confidence?

It is an unfortunate reality of our world that there is racism and discrimination, that people’s ethnic origin or religious background is still held against them by prejudiced individuals. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are two well-documented forms of prejudice. The big question is, should there be a similar clearly defined category for hatred of Hindus? Perhaps it would be a useful yardstick to measure attitudes to Hindus in a changing UK. This important issue is being explored in iGlobal’s survey of British Indians.

Is ‘Hinduphobia’ a thing?

It is debateable whether so-called ‘Hinduphobia’ (a sentiment of derogatory and destructive feelings towards Hinduism, to paraphrase the definition of the US-based Hindu Students Council) exists in Britain.

Most Hindus in the UK are upwardly mobile professionals, well-known for their ethos of hard work and facing relatively fewer barriers as many of them have achieved welcome heights in work and politics. However, recent events have cast a shadow over the otherwise meteoric rise of Hindus in Britain as an influential community.

Rashmi Sawant flew back to India after quitting her role as newly-elected Oxford University Student Union President, following racist bullying against her on social media by a member of Oxford University staff, who allegedly derided her Hindu identity in posts online. The cyber bullying of Ms Sawant is currently being investigated by Thames Valley Police. The Indian Parliament debated racism in Britain in the aftermath of this incident, underlining concern at perceived anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiment abroad at the very highest levels of Indian government.

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Belied by the statistics?

Official statistics on hate crime, however, show that the majority of racially and religiously inspired crimes in the UK are targeted primarily at Muslims and Jewish people, as they are 50% and 19% of victims respectively. Out of 6,203 hate crime incidents recorded in the UK in 2019-20, only 114 of the reported victims were Hindu. This would indicate that Hindus need not overtly fear increased racism.

On the other hand, a 1928 Institute report stated that 80 per cent of respondents felt discriminated against for being of Indian – especially Hindu-origin in the past year, highlighting that racist attitudes remain a problem for British Hindus, social mobility and affluence notwithstanding.

Although the possibility exists that a more confident and assertive community is reporting anti-Hindu hate crime, rather than there being a rising tide of intolerance toward Hindus.

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Academic and media bias?

The conflation of Hinduism with Hindutva extremism in Western media narratives is a key point. As a counterterrorism expert I can assure that, statistical data does not back up the strident assertion that Hinduism is linked to a violent ideology.

The majority of terrorist attacks globally are not committed by Hindus (they are if anything victims of terrorism), and yet Hindus who rise to prominence are often targeted for supposed ties with Hindu extremism, as Rashmi Sawant would testify. Counterintuitively to the data, the Western media appears to delight in painting Hindus as intolerant.

Powerful Hindus in the UK are sometimes derided as controlling or sinister, as Priti Patel was in a controversial ‘Guardian’ cartoon portraying her as a menacing cow figure with a nose ring, besides putting up with frequent calls for her to quit as Home Secretary. Is there a common anti-Hindu theme behind all this?

Western intellectual and media discourse on Hinduism is biased and focuses purely on negatives. For example, most public discussion of Hinduism centres on the issue of caste discrimination, or supposed superstition. While caste discrimination undoubtedly still exists in India (especially rural areas) and outside it, there is also significant upward mobility as evidenced by the rise of a new middle class that is less rooted in caste. There is also little discussion of the profound, logically rigorous Hindu philosophy that the Universe and everyone in it is a manifestation of one single Consciousness (the essence of the Hindu philosophy of non-duality or Advaita), which if followed earnestly would make the world a more peaceful and tolerant place.

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Need for discussion

While Hindus are not statistically subject to the kind of discrimination that followers of other religions are, concerns still exist on negative portrayals of Hinduism in academia and the media, which could easily filter into public discourse at a time when immigration is still a controversial issue in the UK.

It naturally follows that an increasingly confident Hindu community needs to be on the guard against anti-Hindu hatred when it does manifest its ugly head.

A clear definition of Hindu-hatred would indeed be useful against this backdrop – I wonder if iGlobal readers will agree?

Jeevan Vipinachandran is a UK-based writer and political analyst specialising in political conflict and counter-terrorism. With a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE), his core interest is in international relations with a special focus on the rise of India and its impact on the world stage.

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