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50% of American Indians have experienced discrimination in the past year, study finds

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One in two American Indians say they have experienced discrimination in the United States in the past year, according to a new study. Colorism against people with darker skin is the most common form of prejudice, according to respondents, and the main perpetrators are non-Indians.

The report, released Wednesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, builds on a YouGov 2020 survey of more than 1.8 million Americans, focusing on 1,200 Indian respondents.

The survey detailed the experiences of Indians in the United States by age and immigration status, from newcomers to born citizens. He found that although Indian-born Indians are less likely to report incidents, discrimination is a daily reality.

Regarding country of origin or skin color, nearly three-quarters of the authors were identified as non-Indians, said Milan Vaishnav, director and principal investigator of the Carnegies South Asia program and co-author of study.

But prejudices also exist within Indian communities and families, according to some respondents.

Indians seem to be blamed more for the discrimination that takes place based on religion and gender, Vaishnav said.

Politics in India and the identification of castes among Hindus also followed some Indians to the United States, more so for those who immigrated to the United States later in life. Hindus born in India who identify with the upper caste are the most likely to retain their caste identity.

They tend to be more educated, wealthier, and have greater social mobility, Vaishnav said. And this tends to be reflected in who immigrates to the United States in the first place.

Caste, along with other factors, tends to be a clear common thread in the social circles of American Indians, who are strongly confined to other American Indians. The study cites this stratification as one of the reasons for discrimination within communities.

According to the survey, Indians in the United States form groups of friends around religion, state of origin and caste, with religion being the dominant factor that binds the circles. Hindus say that most or all of our friends are Hindus, Vaishnav said. Ditto for Muslims and Christians.

Indian politics have also created social rifts in American communities, but Vaishnav noted that, surprisingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys support in the United States from Republicans and Indian Democrats.

There is a belief that if you are pro-Trump you are pro-Modi, and if you are anti-Trump you are anti-Modi, Vaishnav said. For Trump voters, Modis favorability is unusually high, but for Biden voters, Modis favorability is lower, but still around 50%.

People born in the United States and people in eastern and southern India have lower rates of support for Modi, while support is higher among people in northern India. It’s not a monolith, but we were quite struck by the resilience of its popularity, Vaishnav said.

Another point of contention for respondents was the use of the term American Indian itself. Only 4 out of 10 respondents said they identified with this label; others preferred simply Indians or Americans.

Minorities, non-Hindu communities, Muslims and others feel different, Vaishnav said. They feel less attached to India, more upset by what is happening there. In the case of Muslims in particular, they are more likely to adopt a South Asian American identity.

Only 6% of those surveyed chose Asian American as the label that best described them.

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