Two Indian American candidates have overcome bigoted propaganda to win local elections in New Jersey – one of them as the Mayor of Hoboken.
Ravi Bhalla was elected in Tuesday’s elections as the first Sikh Mayor of the town that is a suburb of New York City.
While campaigning for the mayoral race, the Indian-American born and raised in New Jersey was called a “terrorist” in targeted racist attacks. Anonymously distributed flyers featured a picture of Bhalla with the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”
The 44-year-old politician responded to the flyers, saying last week they were troubling but “we won’t let hate win”. “I want to use this incident as an opportunity to affirm to each other and our children the value of living in a diverse community where we are judged by the content of our character — not by the color of our skin or how we worship,” Bhalla wrote in a Facebook post.
Bhalla, a Sikh who wears a turban, shared an image of the flier to social media on Friday. “I want people to know Hoboken, is a welcoming community where my wife and I are proud to raise our children,” he wrote on Twitter after sharing an image of the flier. “No matter your race [or] ethnicity, you are welcome here in our city. As mayor I will work hard to keep it that way.”
Gurwin Ahuja, executive director of the National Sikh Campaign said the Sikh faith’s historic emphasis on equality, borne out of resistance to India’s caste system, lends itself to participating in American democracy, “When I see him up there, I see someone that has committed himself to those values. It makes us more proud when we see that,” he said. “The turban actually represents the ethos of American values.”
On winning the election with a margin of about 600 votes, Bhalla feels exhilarated and “grateful to have the opportunity to serve Hoboken”, according to a New York Times report.
He hasn’t shied away from criticising US President Donald Trump either, whose election and divisive politics, he believes, have fuelled racist attacks in America. He claims he is “everything that Trump hates”.
According to the Sikh Coalition, since the 9/11 terror attacks, Sikhs are more likely to be targeted in cases of profiling, bigotry and backlash than the average American.
It’s perhaps telling that 2017 was an election of firsts. Apart from a turbaned Sikh being elected the mayor, a transgender Democrat won a seat in the Virginia state legislature against a Republican incumbent who openly boasted of being a “homophobe”.