One in 2 Indian Americans say they have encountered discrimination in the U.S. in the last year, according to a new study. Colorism against darker-skinned people is the most common form of bias encountered, according to respondents, and the main perpetrators are non-Indian.
The report, released Wednesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, drew on a 2020 YouGov survey of over 1.8 million Americans, focusing on 1,200 Indian respondents.
The survey detailed the experiences of Indians in the U.S. across age and immigration status, from new arrivals to born citizens. It found that, though foreign-born Indians are less likely to report incidents, discrimination is a daily reality.
“When it comes to country of origin or skin color, almost three quarters of perpetrators were identified as non-Indians,” said Milan Vaishnav, director and senior fellow of Carnegie’s South Asia program and co-author of the study.
But bias also exists within Indian communities and families, according to some respondents.
“Indians seem to be blamed more for discrimination that takes place along religion and gender lines,” Vaishnav said.
Politics in India and caste identification among Hindus has also followed some Indians to the U.S., more so for those who immigrated to the U.S. later in life. Hindus born in India who identify as “upper caste” are the most likely to hold onto caste identity.
“They tend to be more educated, wealthier and have greater social mobility,” Vaishnav said. “And that tends to be reflected in who immigrates to the United States in the first place.”
Caste, along with other factors, tends to be one clear common thread in Indian Americans’ social circles, which are highly confined to other Indian Americans. The study cites this stratification as one of the reasons for discrimination within communities.
According to the survey, Indians in the U.S. form friend groups around religion, state of origin and caste, with religion being the dominating factor that binds circles. “Hindus saying that ‘most or all of our friends are Hindu,’” Vaishnav said. “Same with Muslims and Christians.”
Indian politics has also created social fissures in U.S. communities, but Vaishnav noted that surprisingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys support in the U.S. from Indian Republicans and Democrats alike.
“There’s a belief that if you’re pro-Trump, you’re pro-Modi, and if you’re anti-Trump, you’re anti-Modi,” Vaishnav said. “For Trump voters, Modi’s favorability is exceptionally high, but for Biden voters, Modi’s favorability is lower, but it’s still around 50 percent.”
People who are born in the U.S. and people from the East and South of Indian have lower rates of support for Modi, while support is higher in people from North India. “It’s not a monolith, but we were pretty struck by the resilience of his popularity,” Vaishnav said.
Another area of contention for respondents was the use of the term “Indian American” itself. Only 4 in 10 respondents said they identify with that label; others preferred simply “Indian” or “American.”
“Minority, non-Hindu communities — Muslims and others — feel differently,” Vaishnav said. “They feel less attached to India, more distraught by what’s happening there. In the case of Muslims specifically, they’re more likely to embrace a South Asian American identity.”
Only 6 percent of respondents chose “Asian American” as the label that best described them.