by Queer Indian-American Hindu voices of the Alliance for South Asian Progressives in Pittsburgh

By Alliance for South Asian Progressives in PGH

As the 2024 Democratic primary election draws nearer, we, queer, Indian-American, Hindu progressives in Pittsburgh, find it imperative to speak on the candidacy of Bhavini Patel, who seeks to unseat Congresswoman Summer Lee. Patel’s sixth campaign since 2017 is Islamophobic, racist, homophobic, casteist, and only seeks to better one person — herself.

Patel is associated with groups affiliated with right-wing Hindu Nationalism (“Hindutva”), including the controversial Hindu American Foundation (“HAF”). She has received rightful criticism for taking money from Hindu nationalists. However, Patel has construed these critiques as bigoted, “othering,” and “subjecting her to racist, xenophobic, and hateful scare tactics.” It is not racist or xenophobic to condemn right-wing religious fundamentalism, especially as Hindutva gains political power in the US and India.

The Hindutva project seeks to redefine India from the largest secular democracy in the world to the homeland of Hindus, belonging to Hindus only. Hindu Nationalists, influenced by European fascist movements like Nazism, have incited violence against Muslims and other religious minorities, leading to increased sectarianism, casteism, and fundamentalism.

This violence is not contained to India — officials in America identified a plot by Indian officials to assassinate a Sikh man in New York. HAF and its progeny, along with the right wing ruling party of India, have lobbied extensively against bills protecting India’s religious minorities. While courting Hindu American PAC (“HAPAC”) donors, Patel noted that she, too, would protect Hindutva ideology over people’s lives by voting against Representative Omar’s bill condemning human rights violations against religious minorities in India.

Relying on American progressives’ lack of political context, Hindutva groups have attempted to encode Hindutva Values into American legislation by blocking bills protecting against casteist discrimination. On a survey seeking donations from HAPAC , Patel indicated that she, too, would not support any anti-discrimination bills that center caste — this is racist.

Hindutva groups have also targeted India’s queer community, despite a long and rich presence of queer people in our culture and history. These groups have denounced efforts to increase protections for the trans community in India, referring to them as “against Indian culture.” As the queer community in the US faces mounting homophobic and transphobic attacks, Patel’s silence is audible. Patel only invokes queer people to justify Islamophobic rhetoric. Otherwise, she has been notably absent from queer community advocacy, losing the Stonewall Democrat endorsement to Summer Lee.

If Hindutva is normalized in the US through campaigns like Patel’s, it directly impacts not only us as queer Hindus, but also other groups marginalized by Hindutva. Our Hinduism asks that we speak up in times of injustice, especially when the Hindutva project seeks to define Hinduism into a tool used only for their perverse, fascist goals.

In the past, many of us found ourselves in community spaces with Patel, seeking to leverage our diverse South Asian identities to build a better Pittsburgh. Now, our goals seem to diverge, and we haven’t seen Patel in these spaces for years. Though Patel self-describes as a progressive in her mailers, her record disagrees. Patel interned with the American Enterprise Institute, a prominent ExxonMobil-funded climate denial front group, and is encouraging Republicans to re-register as Democrats to vote for her in the primary. Even as close to 80% of Democrats support a ceasefire in Gaza, Patel refuses to do so. She instead supports fighting “forever wars” abroad instead of addressing our communities’ need for clean water, infrastructure, affordable housing, and education.

Beyond Patel’s abdication of progressive values, she is unqualified for Congress. She claims a history of entrepreneurship through Beam-Data’s Be The Change app, but the app is unfindable and unusable. (The Beam-Data website is now a Portuguese blog.) Though Patel’s campaign website lists her as the community outreach manager for the County, she has not held this role in months. Patel has never meaningfully shaped broad policy, represented more than a few hundred people, or demonstrated an interest in community outreach outside of an election cycle.

It is therefore imperative to vote for Summer Lee in the upcoming primary. In her short time as a freshman member of Congress, she has secured more than 1 billion dollars for the region, held a perfect attendance record on votes, demonstrated strong moral courage, advocated for our most marginalized communities on the House floor, invested in our infrastructure, and remained committed to the people she went to Washington to represent. Lee has rejected Hindu nationalism and been a strong ally for LGBTQ+ people across our region. We need someone that stands for us, and that will continue to stand for all of Pittsburgh, not just whatever moneyed interests will suit her the most at the moment.

Let us say, as Indian-Americans, as Hindus, as queer people, as Pittsburghers, we are more welcome here represented by Summer Lee than under Bhavini Patel.

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