Indian organisers apologise for 'divisive' bulldozer at New Jersey parade
The Indian Business Association (IBA), under fire for bringing a bulldozer to an India Day Parade in two New Jersey towns in mid-August, has apologised for the incident, calling it "a divisive image that did not reflect our mission".
In a letter addressed to the mayor of the two neighbouring towns in which the parade passed through on 14 August, Chandrakant Patel, chair of the IBA, wrote that he was writing to "offer his sincere apologies for certain aspects of our 2022 Indian Independence Day Parade that reflected poorly on our organisation and offended the Indian American minority groups, especially Muslims, from the local area, and across the state and country".
The bulldozer was decorated with posters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, an Indian politician from the state of Uttar Pradesh, who has earned the nickname "Bulldozer Baba" over his extensive use of excavators.
Since Modi took power in 2014, bulldozers have become a symbol of anti-Muslim and anti-minority hate, with authorities using them to demolish the homes of activists, particularly Muslim activists, under the pretext of the structures being illegal. The practice has drawn the ire of both the UN and international human rights groups.
"Unfortunately, there was a bulldozer among the floats in the parade which is a divisive image that did not reflect our mission," the letter addressed to Edison Mayor Samip Joshi and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, said.
"The parade should be and has always been about a celebration of our Indian heritage and inclusion and diversity among our many different cultures and religions," the letter read.
"Our parade should never be about politics and should never include these blatant divisive symbols."
Indian Muslims across the country have been outraged over the past two weeks after video footage emerged showing the inclusion of a bulldozer at the rally celebrating India's 75th Independence Day.
'A symbol of intimidation'
Reacting to the letter, Salaedin Maksut, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), applauded Mayor McCormac of Woodbridge "for taking our community’s concerns seriously and calling on the IBA to issue this public apology”.
“The bulldozer is a symbol of intimidation and support of the oppression of minorities in India. Such hateful symbols have no place on our streets," Maksut said in a statement.
“We recognize IBA’S apology acknowledges their own wrongdoing, which is a necessary step towards making future parades representative of the Indian diaspora which includes Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Tribals."
Meanwhile, longtime Indian American Muslim activist Sana Qutubuddin, described the apology as "promising" but added that "only time will tell what impact it will have on the organisation's future actions."
Qutubuddin told MEE that it is well established that Indian Americans were funding Hindu nationalism in India, much of which emanated from Edison township itself.
"It's clear those links have deep ties to the area's Little India, where ladoos (sweets) are given out every time there's a major instance of anti-minority violence in India," she added.
New Jersey-based South Asian historian Audrey Truschke described the letter of apology as "a moment that matters".
"A Sangh-connected group has been compelled to apologize for a hateful anti-Muslim display. That's big. We are only at the beginning of educating folks about Hindutva hate in New Jersey. Let's get to work."
The IBA's apology comes days after the group said it would not apologise for the incident "because it had not done anything wrong".