Rep. Thanedar’s New Congressional Caucus That Excludes Indian Muslims and Christians Draws Flak of Civil Rights Groups


WASHINGTON – Several South Asian American communities and faith-based human rights organizations have denounced the formation of the new Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Jain American Congressional Caucus for excluding minority and marginalized people. Launched earlier this month by Rep. Shri Thanedar, the caucus aims to combat religious discrimination, promote Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain community needs and foster interfaith dialogue. 

Thanedar, the newest member of the “Samosa Caucus” in the U.S. Congress from Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, announced the formation of the caucus last week on Capitol Hill. He described it as “a movement that strives for understanding, inclusion and affirmative policy actions. A movement that says every faith, every culture, and every community has a place in America.” Twenty-seven Congressmen from both parties have reportedly joined this initiative, according to reports in Indian media. 

However, a few days later, the first-term congressman received criticism from several civil rights groups. In a letter, representatives from Hindus for Human Rights, The Sikh Coalition, The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Emgage, and the Indian American Muslim Council expressed “surprise” to hear of the formation of the caucus “without the consultation of mainstream organizations representing these faith communities, such as ours.”

While they “welcome any caucus to forward the interests of our and other religious communities, so long as it does so in a way that is inclusive of perspectives of the entire South Asian community across faith, caste, and ethnic lines,” they are however “skeptical that this particular caucus meets that description,” read the letter.

According to Wikipedia, there are 3 million Hindus, 1.2 million Buddhists, 500,000 Sikhs, and 200,000 Jains in the United States. Currently, there are over 1,450 Hindu temples, over 450 gurdwaras, 70 Jain centers, and approximately 3,250 Buddhist temples. 

This is not the first time that Thanedar has courted controversy for announcing a religion-specific caucus. In June, he announced his intention to establish a ‘Hindu Caucus’ in the U.S. Congress to bring like-minded lawmakers under one umbrella to eliminate hate and bigotry against Hindus in the country. He made the announcement at the first-ever Hindu American Summit at the Capitol Visitor Center, held a week ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s three-day state visit.

The letter called the HBSJ caucus to be “a new iteration” of the Hindu Caucus, which they said “came without input from the full spectrum of Hindu American civil society, including Dalit and linguistic community organizations.”

The letter suggests repackaging the announcement “with a more inclusive label but the same makeup.” Doing that “will likely combat meaningful oversight of the U.S.-India relationship, ongoing work to protect the civil rights and safety of Sikhs and other marginalized groups, and efforts to ban caste discrimination at a federal level,” the letter noted. It also laments the lack of Muslim representation, which “may oppose ongoing efforts to combat Islamophobia.” So, “any caucus without inclusive representation from the Indian diaspora will serve as nothing more than a vehicle for Hindu nationalist policies,  and will inevitably harm the entire South Asian American community.”

Thanedar’s office has not responded to American Kahani’s request for a response to the civil rights groups’ allegations. 

C-American Kahani

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