The Edison Township Council This week denounced the spectacle of a bulldozer during the Indian Independence Day celebration last weekend.
Several members of the Indian-Muslim community in Edison as well as representatives from Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC-NJ), American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Council on American Islamic Relations-New Jersey (CAIR-NJ), and Edison’s Human Relations Commission appeared at the meeting to voice their concerns regarding the symbol of Muslim hate at the parade.
A bulldozer with a portrait of Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of the state
of Uttar Pradesh, joined the the march on Aug. 14, referring to his inhumane use of bulldozers to destroy Muslim and Christian houses, businesses, and places of worship.
Also included in the parade was Sambit Patra, who was the Grand Marshall of the India Day parade. He is the spokesperson of the divisive political party BJP in India, and is known to spew hate and further the mission of the RSS ideology; which is hate and oppression of the minorities such as Lower Caste Hindus (Dalits), Christians and specifically Muslims in India.
“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 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 voiced. “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.”
Ship-Freeman also spoke directly to the organizers of the parade, reputed to be the Indian Business Association, demanding them to come forward and take responsibility.
Joseph A. Coyle, Council President of Edison, also voiced his disgust with the acts that took place on Aug. 14, acknowledging the divisive international politics is causing in Edison and expressing reproach for the parade from all parties.
“I would not have participated in the parade had I known [about the bulldozer]. I would have walked right off the street. And I’m sure I speak for every council member and any official in Edison or the state of New Jersey,” said Coyle.
Councilwoman Margot Harris spoke to the lack of knowledge that the elected officials had on this topic, condemning the bulldozer and calling for advances in education about cultural sensitivity.
“Admittedly, not knowing anything about what the root of this bulldozer issue was, therein lies the problem. I do find what took place a week ago Sunday to be absolutely hideous and unacceptable,” Harris said.
The Councilwoman promises to the Edison community, “Please rest assured that this [issue] is not going to be dropped and it is not going to sit and gather rust.”
Councilman John Poyner also stressed the importance of communication on this incident, inviting residents of the public to stay after the meeting and speak with the council further.
“Before getting the email about the incident last Tuesday, I had no idea what this symbol represented. We do not want that type of divisiveness and that type of hatred, quite honestly, spread about the township,” said Poyner.
Councilman Nishith Patel, an Indian American himself, admitted that, despite the parade celebrating his own culture’s independence, he would not have been present if he was aware of what the bulldozer meant to the Muslim community.
“It is not a culture of hate that I want to represent. I am deeply disturbed by the symbolism that was displayed in the march. The bulldozer represented intolerance of culture, division, hatred and I firmly condemn the use of this imagery,” Patel said. “In Edison, the only thing we should be intolerable of is intolerance itself.”
All council members spoke out with strong disapproval of the hate crime present at the march with the exception of councilman Ajay Patil, whose comments raised controversy at the meeting. Despite traveling to India recently, Patel rejected that he follows India’s politics and admitted he saw the bulldozer while marching but said it “didn’t catch his attention.”
“Yes that one particular float, the bulldozer, yes, it [was] not acceptable. But in terms of the entire India Independence Day parade, I think it went pretty well,” Patil said.
He continued by disapproving that residents came to the council meeting to voice their opinions, stating that “coming out publicly and showing to the world that there is a big issue in the communities” will only draw more attention to the conflicts.
Patil faced backlash from the crowd for downplaying the severity of the bulldozer’s meaning and bringing up India’s relations with Kashmir and Pakistan in his comments. “Pakistan has nothing to do with this,” an Edison resident added from the audience. “You’re a part of this, we all know it.”
Executive director of CAIR-NJ Selaedin Maksut expressed his unease about Patil’s pessimism regarding the incident. “Ajay Patil’s dismissal of the issue is of great concern. It should not be difficult to condemn the parading of symbols of violence and hatred in your own town,” Maksut said.
Councilman Richard Brescher, who was not present at the parade, raised the question of parade permits and how they can be vetted by the Edison mayor’s office going forward for future sensitive religious and cultural celebrations.
“I will ask my colleagues and the mayor to look into the permit process of parades and see where we can put restrictions on this ever happening again,” added Council President Coyle.