When I was in gradeschool, one of my most dreaded daily rituals was getting on the bus every morning and again in the afternoon.
On the bus, I was constantly tormented by my peers, though one of my guardian angels in 6th grade was the driver, who roared to my defense when he could hear what the other students were saying. While many of the comments were your garden variety racist remarks, the most hurtful ones were about my faith. I was pummeled verbally with comments about Hinduism, unable to retort because I had no good responses nor the self-confidence to stand up for myself. I got little support in the school, since my social studies teachers often claimed ignorance about Hindu identity and only seemed to re-affirm my classmates' claims that I worshipped a "foreign" religion.
More than two decades later, the tormenting continues in parts of the country for Hindu American students, many of whose parents are immigrants and lack the knowledge of how schools police bullying. Even second-generation parents have had their kids bullied for their religious practices. My colleague's sons, for example, endured torment in the form of their peers tossing meat into their lunch trays or being told to swear on a Bible if they wanted to play on a slide. Unfortunately, many Hindu victims of bullying are too afraid to speak up, and years later, the scars of the bullying for some remain. I've written about this previously, but now there is an opportunity to build off what other groups have done on the issue.
With anti-LGBT bullying in the headlines for the past five years, and Sikh and Muslim-American groups across the country asserting their voice against harassment, perhaps it's time for the Hindu American community to mobilize in a way that illustrates just how harmful anti-Hindu bullying can be. It also projects a strong message to schools that bullying of any form cannot be tolerated.
The Anti-Defamation League has been one of the most vocal faith-based organizations when it comes to addressing bullying and cyberbullying, providing resources to schools and community members on how to deal with the issue. Its No Place For Hate campaign is one of the most prominent anti-bullying initiatives. The Hindu American Foundation and the ADL worked closely together last year to deal with a case of bullying involving two students of Indian descent in a school district in Texas.
In similar form, Hindu American community members must work to build interfaith, cross-cultural, and common cause alliances with others impacted by bullying so that the community's voices resonates much more strongly with education policy makers. Too often, schools just don't think Hindu American children are victims of bullying, based upon their assumption that Hindu Americans are overachievers who don't face the same sorts of problems as their peers. Tearing apart that assumption should be a key goal in confronting the epidemic of bullying and harassment.
By joining in the campaign against bullying, Hindu Americans can help to make sure they are part of the solution and ensure that their kids don't have to put up with same harassment they did growing up. That alone should be a motivation to act and speak up.