Marriage, religion and caste important among Indians in America, discrimination rife: study

Indian Americans celebrate Diwali Nov. 8, 2019 with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, center, at Drumthwacket (Photo Gov. Phil Murphy Facebook)

According to a study from the Washington-based think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, released June 9, 2021, immigrants of Indian origin are increasingly diverse certain social factors continue to be important among a significant majority of them, such as marriage, religion and caste.

A survey done at the end of 2020, seeks to answer everyday questions about how do Indian Americans perceive their own ethnic identity? How do they respond to the dual impulses of assimilation and integration? And how might their self-conception influence the composition of their social networks?

Indian Americans are a mosaic of recent arrivals, long-term residents, and a rising share of those born and raised in the United States. As such, some have brought with identities rooted in their ancestral homeland, while others prefer a nonhyphenated “American” identity.

Their very successful profile as a professional, highly educated, financially successful, has not inoculated them from the forces of discrimination, polarization, and contestation over questions of belonging and identity, the survey found.

This study draws on a new source of empirical data to answer these and other questions. Its findings are based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,200 Indian American residents in the United States—the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS)—conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020, in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov. The survey, drawing on both citizens and non-citizens in the United States, was conducted online using YouGov’s proprietary panel of 1.8 million Americans and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.

This study is the third in a series on the social, political, and foreign policy attitudes of Indian Americans.

The major findings of the study are:

  • Indian Americans exhibit very high rates of marriage within their community, including those born and brought up here.

While eight out of ten respondents have a spouse or partner of Indian origin, U.S.-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 study found.

  • 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. Forty percent of respondents pray at least once a day and 27 percent attend religious services at least once a week.

  • Roughly half of all Hindu Indian Americans identify with a caste group.

Foreign-born respondents are significantly more likely than U.S.-born respondents to espouse a caste identity. The overwhelming majority of Hindus with a caste identity—more than eight in ten—self-identify as belonging to the category of General or upper caste.

  • “Indian American” itself is a contested identity. While Indian American is a commonly used shorthand to describe people of Indian origin, it is not universally embraced.

Only four in ten respondents believe that “Indian American” is the term that best captures their background.

  • Civic and political engagement varies considerably by one’s citizenship status.

Across nearly all metrics of civic and political participation, U.S.-born citizens report the highest levels of engagement, followed by foreign-born U.S. 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 socialize 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.

  • Polarization among Indian Americans reflects broader trends in American society.

While religious polarization is less pronounced at an individual level, partisan polarization—linked to political preferences both in India and the United States—is rife. However, this polarization is asymmetric: Democrats are much less comfortable having close friends who are Republicans than the converse. The same is true of Congress Party supporters vis-à-vis supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

  • Indian Americans regularly encounter discrimination.

One in two Indian Americans reports being discriminated against in the past one year, with discrimination based on skin color 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.

  • 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 are identify religion, political leadership, and political parties in India as the most common factors.

This study is the third in a series on the social, political, and foreign policy attitudes of Indian Americans.




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