The Capitol on June 28, 2022.

Civil rights groups denounce new Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain Congressional Caucus

Several South Asian American civil rights groups are criticizing the formation of a new Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain American Congressional Caucus, saying they’re worried marginalized groups are being left out.

They also say their nationwide community advocacy groups were not consulted in its creation.

“This caucus is not representative of the Sikh community,” tweeted the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization that authored a letter, along with other four groups, denouncing the caucus.

Spearheaded by Rep. Shri Thanedar, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, the caucus aims to combat religious discrimination, promote Hindu, Buddhist and Jain community needs and foster interfaith dialogue.

“We are assembling to pioneer a movement,” Thanedar said in his announcement of the caucus. “One 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.”

But in the letter signed by organizations like Hindus for Human Rights, the Sikh Coalition and the Indian American Muslim Council, advocates say the caucus is missing some vital perspectives from minority South Asians.

“We 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,” the letter reads. “We are skeptical, however, that this particular caucus meets that description.”

Thanedar’s office did not response to a request for comment.

The plan for the caucus was first announced by Rep. Thanedar in June and it was initially labeled a Hindu Caucus, according to a memo from his office. That same month, he was one of the lawmakers who escorted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Washington, D.C., and addressed a joint session of Congress.

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“I am very proud of PM Modi,” Thanedar said at the time. “He is enormously popular. I am looking forward to working with him to broaden and deepen our relationship.”

Advocates for Muslim South Asians and those born into caste-oppressed communities have long warned against Modi’s rhetoric and policies, saying it’s fomented Hindu nationalist sentiments and led to violence against them on the subcontinent and in the diaspora.

They fear that, without input from historically oppressed minority groups, the caucus has the potential to do the same, their letter said.

“Any caucus without inclusive representation from the Indian diaspora will serve as nothing more than a vehicle for Hindu nationalist policies that will inevitably harm the entire South Asian American community, including Sikh, Muslim, Dalit, Buddhist, Jain, and even Hindu Americans,” the letter said.

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Sakshi Venkatraman

Sakshi Venkatraman is a reporter for NBC Asian America.