WASHINGTON: Edison is a town of about 110,000 people in New Jersey. In the 2000 census, 17.75 percent of Edison residents identified themselves as Indian- Americans.

This is the highest percentage of Indian-American people of any municipality in the United States. So, it’s no surprise that the city’s mile-long commercial belt is called Little India.

Like every year, Edison residents also celebrated India’s Independence Day with day-long rallies, fares, and other cultural events. But this year, Edison’s Indian Americans did something that had not been done before.

Some of them came to the parade with a bulldozer with pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. A banner next to Adityanath’s photo on the controversial float described it as “Baba ka Bulldozer.

The rest of the population — 44.10 percent Whites, 43.17 percent other Asians, such as Chinese, Koreans, 7.05 percent African Americans and others — did not understand the significance of this symbol. Not until, the city’s Muslim population – Indians, Pakistanis, and Arabs – explained it to them.

Azra Baig, chair of the South Brunswick’s Human Relations Commission, said at this week’s Township Council meeting that “as someone who is Muslim, I find this terrorizing and harassing, and so does the Muslim community across New Jersey and across the country.” Her remarks were published in the local media.

In India, homes, businesses, and places of worship “are bulldozed because of people’s faith and when they stand up for their rights.” Baig said.

She and other Muslims explained that the bulldozer was a symbol of the ruling BJP’s muscle-power, and “something this hateful should never be included in a parade in Edison.”

The message – that the bulldozer was a symbol of hate against Muslims and other minorities – annoyed Edison residents who demanded an explanation from the parade organisers — Indian Business Association. The organizers, however, did not respond to calls seeking an explanation.

. “That bulldozer was an evil display of bigotry, racism, injustice and prejudice. That was wrong,” an Edison resident told a local news outlet, My Central Jersey.

Dylan Terpstra, operations coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) New Jersey, told the Township Council meeting that the symbolism could have more far-reaching effects.

“Most people in America don’t understand this is a form of hate. This needs to be condemned, and the organizers need to be told it’s unacceptable; and there should be more of a vetting process,” he said.

Baig said she was concerned that such displays could spread to local schools as well, where Muslims “are often blamed even when fire alarms go off.”

Councilwoman Margot Harris told another local media outlet that even though they participated in the parade, they did not know that the bulldozer was a symbol of hate against Muslims. “But I do find what took place a week ago Sunday to be absolutely hideous, unacceptable,” she said, “Those responsible for putting this on display have to be held accountable and we need some answers about what they plan to do about this going forward,” she said

The councilwoman also called for more education on cultural sensitivity and what kind of symbols were toxic to different cultures.

The Town Council Vice President Joyce Ship-Freeman said she was disturbed by the event. She said if there were a noose in the parade, the council members would not have been walking behind it.

The reaction persuaded Edison’s Indian American Mayor Sam Joshi to declare that symbols of hate and discrimination were not welcome in the township.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2022

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