Debate over Indian I-Day parade at Edison, NJ heats up; orgs demand legal action

Civil rights organizations in New Jersey have demanded an investigation and legal action against the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) and the Indian Business Association (IBA) for their roles in organizing an alleged anti-Muslim hate parade on August 14, 2022. They have asked the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin an immediate investigation.

On August 14, a day before India’s Independence Day, OFBJP and IBA held a parade along Oak Tree Road, from Edison to Woodbridge, to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Videos and photographs indicated that the parade featured a bulldozer with a picture of Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The organizations said this the accompanying placard – ‘Baba Ka Bulldozer’ (Baba’s Bulldozer) – was a reference to his administration’s use of bulldozers to demolish homes, businesses, and places of worship of Muslims and Christians.

The UP government – run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – has denied that bulldozers are used only against minority communities, and that the demolition drives were organized only against illegal structures, regardless of what religion the property’s owner belongs to.

The civil rights organizations urged the US Secretary of State’s intervention to revoke the visa of Sambit Patra, BJP’s national spokesperson, who presided over New Jersey’s hate parade as ‘Grand Marshal’.

Earlier this week, at a press conference held at Edison Township in New Jersey, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Council on American Islamic Relations-New Jersey (CAIR-NJ), Black Lives Matter (BLM), American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) said they had met with the US Attorney General’s office and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to seek legal action against the parade’s organizers. They said they had filed charges with the Edison Police Department against the IBA and sought police investigation into the event, which they categorized as a “hate parade”.

On August 19, Edison Mayor Samip Joshi reportedly told these organizations’ representatives that the bulldozer was “a symbol of division and is absolutely unacceptable. I would like to see an apology from the Indian Business Association.” Joshi told them that he was unaware of the bulldozer’s presence at the parade when he attended it.

In a statement former IAMC New Jersey President Minhaj Khan said, “Hindu and Muslim Indian Americans are peace-loving communities in Edison. We will not allow Hindu extremists to disturb that peace by hate speech and rhetoric. This parade has created a sense of fear of potential hate violence among the Indian Muslim community in New Jersey.”

The Indian Business Association (IBA) in Edison, however, refused to apologize. According to local media reports, Chandrakant Patel, the chairman of the IBA at the Township Council meeting said his organization would not be apologizing because “we have done nothing wrong.” A parade supporter at the township meeting said, “The bulldozer is not a symbol of hate. It’s a symbol of law and order… The person who uses bulldozers used it to protect law and order. I don’t think you should be apologetic.”

“This is clearly giving a message of intimidation to American Indian Muslims and other minorities saying ‘We are here, we are in control and you can’t do anything, even in America,” said Dylan Terpstra, operations coordinator at CAIR-NJ.

At the township meeting, Terpstra drew a comparison on how the bulldozer served to fear monger Muslims the same way the Black community faced intimidation with the symbol of the noose throughout history, which struck a chord with Council Vice President Joyce Ship-Freeman. “Had it been the noose, would we all have been walking behind it and following it? No,” Ship-Freeman said. “This is not the Edison we should accept. We should all stand out against it because if it’s on one group today, it will be on another group tomorrow.”

Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR, New Jersey, said it was “important that the symbol of the bulldozer and the usurpation of Indian Independence Day by international political influence is universally recognized as wrong. Mayor Joshi and Mayor McCormac recognize the divisive and discriminatory motivation behind it. The precedent is now established to take extra care in preventing this from happening again or withhold official participation while maintaining the rights to free speech and assembly.”

BLM’s Zellie Thomas said bulldozers were being used “to terrorize” Muslim and other Indian minorities. “Just as black Americans were lynched from trees, and the noose became a tool to both intimidate and terrorize black communities, so too are bulldozers being used to remind Indian Muslims of the constant threat they are under,” he said.

Dr. Ali Chaudry of AMD said, “The inclusion of the bulldozer as the symbol of hate in the August 14 India Independence Day parade here should not be treated any different than an antisemitic, racist or Islamophobic incident.” He demanded that such symbols of hate must never be allowed to be used in any future parades.

The IAMC’s Minhaj Khan said Woodbridge Mayor John McMorcac, who had joined the August 14 parade but denounced it after he learned of the symbolism of the bulldozer, had “assured us he has already launched an investigation into the parade.” McMorcac reportedly told their delegation that he would reject future permits to hate parades, ensure float inspections beforehand, and vet speaker lists so that hate speeches are prevented.