Sep 05, 2023

New Jersey prosecutors conclude that bulldozer at India Day was a 'bias incident'

The inclusion of a bulldozer as a float in a New Jersey town last August during an India Day rally was an act of bias, a joint investigation by the local county's prosecutor's office and police department has found.

Local Muslim activists welcomed the findings that stop short of initiating criminal charges against the organisers of the event that prompted national outrage and called on US politicians to be more proactive in halting the rise of Hindu nationalism in the US.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said last August that the local police department had received complaints that a bulldozer, emblazoned with posters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, a politician in India known for his anti-Muslim tirades, had been used as a float during an India Day parade.

"The complainants reported that the float was an offensive and Islamophobic endorsement of the divisive practice of using heavy machinery to demolish homes of alleged criminals, protestors, and rioters in India. This brand of 'bulldozer politics' has been criticized as disproportionately targeting religious-minority communities in India," the statement read.

"As a result of its investigation, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office has concluded that the incident was properly reported and classified as a bias incident," the statement added.

"The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office reiterates its stance against hate in all forms and will continue to vigorously investigate every reported bias incident in our community and will not hesitate to prosecute consistent with the law," the statement read.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.The image of the bulldozer rolling down the streets of Edison as bystanders chanted "Jai Shree Ram", a religious expression that has now become a battle cry for Hindu supremacists in India, made news across the US and in India.

Over the past three years, bulldozers have come to symbolise the destruction and demolition of homes belonging to Indian Muslims on the mere suspicion of participating in protests or riots in India.Adityanath pioneered this method and is known by both his supporters and detractors as "Bulldozer Baba".

In April 2021, Amnesty International said the "punitive demolition of family homes of suspects could also amount to collective punishment, in violation of international human rights law".

The inclusion of the bulldozer shocked Muslim residents in the town of Edison as well across New Jersey. It initiated several town council meetings involving local elected officials and drew several condemnations from state leadership. The Indian Business Association (IBA) who had organised the event, initially refused to apologise, telling Middle East Eye the complaints were "prejudiced". "The bulldozer only represents the demolishing of illegal structures on government land [in India]," Chandrakant Patel, the chairman of the IBA, said.Days later, the IBA apologised.

Both the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC-NJ) and Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), which were at the forefront of calling for an apology and accountability for the incident, welcomed the result of the investigation by Middlesex County but noted the state was still a hotbed for Hindu nationalism and supremacy. "Last year, the Indian Business Association (IBA), organisers of the parade, had publicly apologized and confessed that the bulldozer was a 'blatant divisive symbol' and its use was hateful," Mohammed Jawad, president of IAMC-NJ, told Middle East Eye. "We demand that the state and federal government open an investigation into various US-based groups for links to the Hindu supremacist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in India," Jawad said.

Likewise, Dina Sayedahmed, a spokesperson for CAIR-NJ, called on community leaders and elected officials to continue condemning anti-Muslim Hindu supremacist movements and incidents in a timely manner.

"Hindutva is a growing form of anti-Muslim bigotry in New Jersey, and CAIR-NJ will continue to monitor it closely," Sayedahmed said.

She added that CAIR-NJ had documented at least two separate incidents related to Hindutva since the bulldozer affair in Edison."In the most recent incident, a truck displaying anti-Muslim messages related to the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India circled the premises of multiple Islamic Centers in New Jersey. This coordinated incident remains under investigation," Sayedahmed added.

In September, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee (TDMC) passed a resolution warning of the dangers of Hindu nationalist organisations, resulting in backlash from Hindu nationalists across the state.

Since 2014, India has seen a rise in attacks on Muslims and Christians under Prime Minister Modi.

According to a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2020, the BJP is the most popular party among Indian Americans.It concluded that close to 50 percent of Indian Americans approve of Modi's performance.Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has specifically courted the estimated 4.2 million people of Indian origin living in the US for support.

Several Indian Americans have refused to speak on the record about the rise of Hindu nationalism in the US, telling MEE on the condition of anonymity that they fear reprisals from Hindu nationalists in the state.