Indian Americans, civil rights activists condemn attack on Hindu priest Swami Harish Chander Puri

Swami Harish Chander Puri
Swami Harish Chander Puri; Image via Facebook

“Time to stop aspiring to whiteness” — Indian Americans urged to denounce Trump’s “anti-immigrant” politics and be part of a broader movement.

Indian Americans and civil rights activists nationwide have strongly condemned an attack on a 54-year-old Hindu priest in Queens, New York, last week. Swami Harish Chander Puri was attacked around 11 am on Thursday while walking down the street in his religious saffron garb near the Shiv Shakti Peeth in Glen Oaks area of New York.

The 52-year-old attacker reportedly said, “This is my neighborhood” before assaulting the priest, who is currently undergoing treatment at a nearby hospital for bruises and abrasions all over the body, including his face.

The attacker, identified as Sergio Gouveia, was arrested and charged with assault, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon. Police are still considering bringing hate crime charges, said Pix11 news channel.

RELATED: ‘God Bless my attacker,’ says Hindu priest Swami Harish Chander Puri, who was attacked in Queens (July 22, 2019)

Reacting to the attack, the progressive Hindu group Sadhana said the incident was a targeted attack and sought probe under hate crime.

In a statement posted on its website, the group said, “When the US President targets immigrants and refugees and encourages chants of ‘send her back’ at rallies, this results in real harm inflicted on our communities.”

The group said, “Bigotry and xenophobia does not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims, or black or brown skin.”

Stating that “We all belong here!” the organization urged the New York Police Department to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat who represents the borough of Queens in US Congress, issued a statement strongly condemning the attack. “I am disgusted over the violent attack on a Hindu priest in our borough.” Since people from across the globe call Queens home, she said, “we are proud to embrace this rich diversity that exists in our communities and neighborhoods.”

Commending the NYPD for their swift reaction in arresting the attacker, she expressed confidence that justice will be served. “I stand with the Hindu community and wish the victim a full recovery,” she said.

Last week, President Donald Trump took to twitter targeting four democratic congresswomen including Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born US citizen, asking them to go back to their countries, if they are not happy living here. “Our Country is Free, Beautiful and Very Successful. If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” Trump tweeted.

The president’s tweet soon echoed all over the country and his supporters at a rally in North Carolina raised slogans asking one of the four Congresswomen, Omar, to “go back.”

A number of civil rights leaders from the community has urged the Indian Americans to be part of a broader movement against Trump’s “anti-immigrant” politics.

Deepa Iyer, a Senior Fellow at the racial justice research and advocacy organization Race Forward, tweeted: “Any Indian Americans who still don’t get it: we aren’t immune to hate violence. Time to stop aspiring to whiteness. Time to stop saying ‘this doesn’t affect my life.’ Time to learn, build an analysis, speak up, and take action.”

In a follow-up tweet, Iyer, a former Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), wrote: “Hateful political rhetoric fosters an environment of hate. Those who stand by or allow/enable 45 to continue his politics of hate is responsible for hate violence in this country.”

Some called out Hindu supporters of Trump and asked them to denounce the president’s politics.

Pawan Dhingra, an Indian American author and professor at Amherst College, tweeted: “Groups like Hindus for Trump, we are looking at you. Step up and denounce this racist president.”

Also joining condemning the attack was the South Asian Bar Association of North America. “We are saddened by this hateful attack on a Hindu priest in NY,” the group tweeted.

In India, former UN Deputy Secretary General and Indian Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was among those who first reacted to the incident. “When the US President targets immigrants and encourages chants of ‘send her back’ at rallies, real harm is inflicted on innocents,” said Tharoor in a tweet. “Swamiji was attacked on Thursday by a man who reportedly screamed “this is my neighborhood… Thankfully this advocate of compassion and harmonious coexistence is recovering from his injuries. The danger of bigoted language, increasingly apparent in our India, hurts the US too.”

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