In 1998, my family immigrated from India to the United States. The move thrust me into a new school, and a new culture. While my middle school was fairly diverse, students of Hindu origin were a small minority. As the new kid, and an immigrant to boot, I attracted attention. On my second day of school, I was pushed into the ground while changing in the gym room. A few days later, I caught a classmate mocking my Indian accent behind my back. Needless to say, school was neither a fun nor safe place for me.
About two months into the school year, my teacher asked me to give a class presentation on the upcoming Hindu festival of Diwali. I was excited about doing so. For the first time, I'd be given a chance to tell my story. On the day, I eagerly delivered my presentation, explaining the Hindu story and the celebration of Diwali; I showed my classmates pictures of my family celebrating. Afterwards, I sat down thinking things would be better. Instead, things got worse.
It seemed that by publicly identifying myself as Hindu, I had given the bullies more ammunition. I faced ethnic and sexual slurs, including some, such as "dothead" that I had never heard before. Students began to mock my vegetarian lunches, pretending to gag and throw up onto my plate.
In the last two decades, things have not improved much for Hindu students. According to a survey conducted by the Hindu American Foundation, bullying of Hindu students remains a serious problem in public schools. Among the problems identified:
Half of the Hindu students surveyed felt socially isolated because of their religion.
A third of Hindu students had been directly bullied based on their religion, with one in four having been bullied within the past year.
One in three students reported having students mocking their religious traditions
One in eight students reported having teachers mocking their religious traditions
These problems are troubling, and are consistent with figures found in similar studies conducted for Muslim and Sikh students. The bottom line is that far too many students in America today are bullied for being different.
Back in 1998, when I was being bullied, Hindu Americans were a newer community. My family had arrived shortly after the Dotbuster gangs had attacked Hindus and perceived Hindus around the New Jersey and New York area. As such, I hoped that, as awareness and numbers grow, students would learn from one another, and bullying would be reduced.
Today, there are nearly 3 million Hindus in the United States with vibrant communities in most of the major American cities. And yet, the bullying of Hindu students remains a major issue. As such, it is clear that numbers alone cannot solve this problem. Instead, it is imperative on policy-makers, stakeholders, and community groups to work together to ensure that all students have a safe and supportive learning environment.