Many Indian-Americans Encounter Discrimination; Are Increasingly Polarised: Survey

Social networks of Indian-Americans are more homogenous in terms of religion than either their state of origin or caste, the Indian-American Attitudes Survey found.

New Delhi: Indian-Americans, who constitute the second-largest immigrant group in the US, regularly encounter discrimination and polarisation, according to a survey released on Wednesday, which also found that the diaspora is increasingly polarised along partisan lines.

The report, Social Realities of Indian Americans: Results from the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey draws on the Indian-American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) – a collaboration between the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The findings of the report are based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,200 Indian-American residents in the US – the 2020 IAAS – conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020, in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov, it said in a statement.

“Indian-Americans regularly encounter discrimination. One in two Indian Americans reports being discriminated against in the past one year, with discrimination based on skin colour identified as the most common form of bias.

“Somewhat surprisingly, Indian-Americans born in the United States are much more likely to report being victims of discrimination than their foreign-born counterparts,” said the report.

According to the report, Indian-Americans exhibit very high rates of marriage within their community.

While eight out of 10 respondents have a spouse or partner of Indian-origin, US-born Indian-Americans are four times more likely to have a spouse or partner who is of Indian-origin but was born in the United States.

The survey found that religion plays a central role in the lives of Indian-Americans but religious practice varies. While nearly three-quarters of Indian-Americans state that religion plays an important role in their lives, religious practice is less pronounced.

40% of respondents pray at least once a day and 27% attend religious services at least once a week.


The report notes that roughly half of all Hindu Indian-Americans identify with a caste group. Foreign-born respondents are significantly more likely than US-born respondents to espouse a caste identity. The overwhelming majority of Hindus with a caste identity – more than eight in 10 – self-identify as belonging to the category of general or upper caste.

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“While the social realities of Indian Americans are often glossed over, recent events have brought them to the fore. In 2020, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against US-based technology company Cisco Systems after an employee from one of India’s historically marginalised caste communities (“Dalits”) alleged that some of his upper caste Indian American colleagues discriminated against him on the basis of his caste identity.

The suit, and subsequent media melee, triggered a wave of wrenching testimonials about the entrenched nature of caste—a marker of hierarchy and status associated with Hinduism (as well as other South Asian religions)—within the diaspora community in the United States,” the report added.

“Indian-American” itself is a contested identity, the report says. While Indian-American is a commonly used shorthand to describe people of Indian origin, it is not universally embraced. “Only four in 10 respondents believe that ‘Indian-American is the term that best captures their background,” the report said.

Last year’s survey had said that Indian-Americans have relatively more conservative views of policies in India while on issues affecting the US, the diaspora has a more liberal take.

Civic and political engagement, and religion 

Civic and political engagement varies considerably by one’s citizenship status. Across nearly all metrics of civic and political participation, US-born citizens report the highest levels of engagement, followed by foreign-born US citizens, with non-citizens trailing behind.

Indian-Americans’ social communities are heavily populated by other people of Indian origin. Indian-Americans – especially members of the first generation – tend to socialise with other Indian-Americans.

Internally, the social networks of Indian-Americans are more homogenous in terms of religion than either Indian region (state) of origin or caste.

The report says that polarisation among Indian-Americans reflects broader trends in American society.

“While religious polarisation is less pronounced at an individual level, partisan polarisation – linked to political preferences both in India and the United States – is rife. However, this polarisation is asymmetric: Democrats are much less comfortable having close friends who are Republicans than the converse,” it said.

The same is true of Congress Party supporters vis-a-vis supporters of the BJP.

“To some extent, divisions in India are being reproduced within the Indian-American community. While only a minority of respondents are concerned about the importation of political divisions from India to the United States, those who identify religion, political leadership and political parties in India as the most common factors,” the report added.

Indian-Americans comprise slightly more than 1% of the total US population – and less than 1% of all registered voters.

In an article for Hindustan Times, the authors of the report say that the previous edition of the survey had also warned of the Indian-American community being “increasingly divided on political, religious, and generational lines”.

“Political polarisation in India had not stopped at the water’s edge; it has been exported to the US,” they say, adding that the IAAS 2020 digs deeper into the social realities of the Indian-American diaspora.

“Once more, the warning signs of polarisation are evident. Fortunately, at an individual level, religious polarisation among diaspora members of different faiths is less pronounced than one might fear. But partisan polarisation linked to political preferences both in India and the US is rife,” they add.

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Region of origin and Indian languages 

The survey finds that a few states in India contribute to the most number of Indian Americans, and it is not evenly distributed.

The western state of Gujarat emerges as the most common home state, with 14% of respondents calling it their home, followed by Maharashtra (12%), Andhra Pradesh (10%), and Tamil Nadu (9%). Other popular home states include Delhi (9%), Punjab (8%), and Kerala (7%).

Overall, Hindi is the most common mother tongue (19%), followed by Gujarati (14%), English only (10%), and Telugu (10%). Among 8% of respondents report Tamil as their mother tongue, while 7%  apiece report Punjabi or Bengali. Malayalam (6%), Urdu (5%), Marathi (4%), and Kannada (3%) round out the list. The balance (around 7%) consists of less frequently listed languages, ranging from Sindhi to Santali.


Overall, the Indian American population is highly educated compared to the US average, as other studies have suggested. Nearly three-fourths have a college education—40% of respondents have completed a postgraduate education and another 33% have finished four years of undergraduate study. Four percent have completed at least a junior college (two-year programme) education, while 9% have completed some college. Thirteen percent have a high school diploma and just 1% have not finished high school.

Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the United States. There are 4.2 million people of Indian origin residing in the United States, according to 2018 data.

(With PTI inputs)