New Jersey. December 2nd, 2020. The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) sent a letter to The Wall Street Journal, expressing outrage regarding a Hinduphobic, prejudiced and sensationalist Op-Ed, titled “Canceling Student Debt Will Be a Brahmin Bailout” (Nov. 29th, 2020) by Mr. Zaid Jilani.

In the Op-Ed, Mr. Jilani pejoratively uses words such as “Brahmin Left” and “Brahmin Bailout” to describe certain policies being considered by the Democratic party, deeming these policies as benefiting the elitist “upper class” of the American society. By using “Brahmin” as a disparaging label, Mr. Jilani falsely paints an entire community (completely unrelated to the issue being discussed) as greedy, elitist and oppressive and furthers a colonial and racist narrative.

“By using ‘Brahmin’ in this context, the article advances blatant propaganda and a thinly veiled attack on the Hindu community, thus promoting hatred and animosity towards Hindus in the United States (US) and worldwide,” remarked Nikunj Trivedi, President of CoHNA.

The word “Brahmin Left” was originally coined by French economist Thomas Piketty in his research on rising economic inequality and the changing structure of political conflicts in developed nations such as France, UK and US. While Mr. Piketty may be a respected economist who has shed light on income inequalities around the world, his coinage of a dangerous and offensive term (“Brahmin Left”) inaccurately juxtaposes Hinduism’s respected scholarly class onto the world order. It is a deliberate and nefarious mischaracterization, which assumes that Brahmin Hindus were the economic “upper class” of India. The reality is quite the opposite, as Brahmins were mandated to be devoid of wealth and power and instead focus on the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment – something antithetical to the elitist voters being discussed in the article.

But, the article takes the “Brahmin Left” theory one step further and deems that a policy seeking to reduce or eliminate student debt is tantamount to a “Brahmin Bailout,” adding further fuel to an already dangerous and wrongful association. Inserting the term into the headline essentially provides a giant megaphone to amplify Hinduphobia.

Such depictions are reminiscent of anti-Jewish caricatures in the late 19th and early 20th century, using bodily features, stereotypes and cartoons showing Jews as corrupt businessmen, usurpers, having too much world power, etc. Scholars have debated how Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” has advanced anti-Jewish sentiments by depicting the character as a “stereotypical greedy Jew,” and how the play was a favorite of Nazi Germany. Similarly, African Americans were depicted as animalistic, crazed and savage based on pseudoscientific anthropological theories such as the Aryan Theories of the late 1800s. It is well known that such characterizations were used to openly justify oppression of the people and endorse a violent history of oppression of Jewish, African American, women, LGBTQ, and other communities. Indigenous peoples were also depicted in prejudicial ways in the early 20th century to justify their conquest.

What’s more, Mr. Jilani’s ignorant conflation of American politics with Hindu societal framework is colored by his anti-India and anti-Hindu thought. Mr. Jilani has derided Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu US Congresswoman in his previous writings. His lies and half-truths have been pointed out by a Muslim, who exposed him for targeting Ms. Gabbard for her ties to the Hindu community (as if being a Hindu is a crime), and for maliciously accusing prominent and respected Indian American organizations and community members to be the handmaidens of the Indian Government.

“Imagine the impact on students who rely on the WSJ for research on economic policies,” remarked Shobha Swamy, General Secretary of CoHNA. “They will be fed the false narrative that Hindus, especially Brahmins, are somehow privileged and elitist and hence should be used as an example to counter economic policies supposedly aimed at benefiting the rich.”

Indeed, such narratives advance existing unconscious biases against Hindus within the minds of mainstream Americans (who often learn about Hinduism through negative stereotypes) and discourages an environment that fosters diversity, inclusion and mutual respect. It can also lead to bullying of Hindus students, as shown on many occasions.

“Even worse, the next time a person is disgruntled towards rich and ‘elite’ people, what stops them from attacking a Hindu temple or a Hindu community member, with the belief that he is attacking a ‘Brahmin?’ What responsibility will the WSJ or Mr. Jilani be ready to shoulder?” added Trivedi.

Bringing such deliberate and false associations into mainstream media normalizes Hinduphobia and skews public opinion against the Hindu community while damaging the credibility of WSJ. Certainly, a prestigious newspaper like the WSJ would not tolerate devious characterizations of other religious and ethnic communities to drive across a political point.

CoHNA has urged the WSJ to remove the word “Brahmin” from the article and issue a public apology to the global Hindu community.

CoHNA is a grassroots level advocacy organization dedicated to improving the understanding of Hinduism in North America by working on matters related to the Hindu community and by educating the public about Hindu heritage and tradition. For more information, please visit https://cohna.org or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cohnaofficial, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cohnaofficial and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/cohnaofficial.

 ###

If you would like more information about this topic, please call Nikunj Trivedi at (443) 408-8574 or email mediarelations [at] cohna.org.

Click here to read CoHNA’s letter to The Wall Street Journal.