Has any cold-blooded murderer ever scoped out targets by asking their victim about their Visa status? In Kansas City, Adam Purinton did just that. He asked the victims Mr. Kuchibhotla and Mr. Madasani what type of Visa they held, before yelling at them to “get out of my country” and shooting at them. Kuchibhotla died on the spot. Likewise, in an alarming series of racially motivated attacks against Indians living in the US, another Indian Sikh in Kent, Washington, was also shot at. This has been followed by more attacks on Indian-American community members in South Carolina and Florida. This spate of recent attacks have turned a new page in the annals of violence in the US, and have already coloured how the new and present Indian residents now view the current scenario in US. NRI Achievers brings you an opinion piece.
Indian immigrants in the US are today largely in a state of mourning. After the aforesaid attacks, Indian immigrants are perhaps reconsidering their Great American Dream. Perfectly understandable, as Kuchibhotla’s grieving widow asked in her social media appeal: “Do we belong here? Is this the same country we dreamt of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?” That was the American dream she was talking about. No wonder, many are asking themselves the same question posed on the social media by the victim’s widow, Ms. Sunayana Dumala.
The parents of the departed grieved that this was not the way they expected their son to return. Madasani’s father has even warned Indian parents not to send their children to the US with Trump as president, shortly after his son was attacked in Kansas. It seems that the dark clouds are back again to stay, at least until the misdirected activism and vigilantism are at significantly louder and better organized levels than ever before.
The Background: During the past three decades or so, there have been at least three periods in which hate crimes against the community spiked. First during the late 1980s in Jersey City, New Jersey, during both Iraq Wars and post the 2001 September 11 attacks. At that time, Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first victim of the backlash, when a man mistook him for a middle-eastern due to his turban and shot him dead outside his gas station in Messa, in Arizona City. The most heart-wrenching was the killing of six members of the community at a Gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2012.
If we go a little deeper into US social history, it was the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act that eliminated country-specific/origin quotas, that saw larger numbers of Indians begin to come into the US. The 1965 act delineated preferences for professionals, scientists and artists, and drew immigrants who were highly skilled and educated in British India. In 1960, only 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the US. Since that initial wave of immigrants, the community has diversified significantly, so much so that Indian-Americans are now the second largest group after Mexican-Americans. Today, that number has grown to around 3 million. Speaking about temporary work visas, it is estimated that 70% of the 85,000 H1B visas handed out annually to highly skilled workers goes to Indians. About 1 million people from India also visit the US annually, a number forecast to grow according to the US Travel Association.
Some sections of the Indian American community have blamed Trump’s harsh tone on immigration for the attacks, and fear his rhetoric is fueling violent attacks against immigrants. The recent shootings made considerable headlines in the Indian media, amid concerns that the hardliner immigration policies of the US President Trump may have helped create the climate for such attacks. Importantly, these attacks have also deepened the fear among South Asian and immigrant communities that President Trump’s aggressive posturing and executive orders encourage violence against them. Not to mention the White House asserting that there is no connection, categorically rejecting any links between Trump’s foreign policy stance and the recent attacks. Though President Trump has condemned these recent attacks, particularly the Kansas one, and averred that "we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” he has also said that the United States cannot be allowed to become a ‘sanctuary for extremists’. As if adding insult to injury, the President’s delayed response to the killing might also have done little to allay fears among the Indian community residing in the US, and in the minds of their relatives and friends back home.
The Indian government has also conveyed its ‘deep concern’ to the US administration over attacks on Indians. India’s External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj has asserted that the safety of Indian Diaspora was a top priority for her and her ministry. India’s PM Narendra Modi, who by the way is also being accused of silence, has sought daily updates from her ministry amid his busy election campaign, the minister informed. "The government has taken up this issue with the US government at very high-levels and conveyed our deep concerns. We have called for necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of Indian diaspora and expeditious investigation into these incidents," she said while in Parliament. "I would like to reassure the House and its members that the safety and security of India Diaspora abroad remains a top priority for this government. We will remain vigilant to developments impacting the lives of Indians abroad and do everything possible to safeguard their interests and welfare," she said.
Ms. Swaraj also referred to President Donald Trump's condemnation of the Kansas shooting and condolences from other top US officials, including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. "The fact that broad sections of American society have expressed their deep sorrow and regret over these incidents reassures us that despite these individual incidents, America values the people-to-people engagement between our two countries," she told the Lok Sabha.
Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar has also discussed the matter with US ministers and other senior functionaries of the US administration, as well as with the Congressional leadership during his recent visit to the US during February 28 – March 3. For the Modi government, which takes immense pride in its Diaspora — both non-resident Indians and people of Indian-origin, the prevailing unpleasant scenario leaves it with not too many options either.
So what could be a way forward? The ideal is that everyone in any country, including a great country like the US, must have equal opportunities to achieve success and prosperity. Considering that several Indian-americans originally hailed from humble beginnings in their homeland and are living in the US on one credo - Work hard, because in the US one achieves what he deserves, it becomes all the more important to shelter these newly minted citizens from such unpleasentness. However, the recent crimes against them have further stoked a very credible fear that the present day mood in the US no longer offers that cherished beacon of hope and opportunity for immigrants, and subjective feelings in the community are today rife that the current administration has maybe helped create an environment for this kind of hostility to take hold in a way. There is a fear that such racist beliefs, practices and laws may become more a norm than an aberration or a flash in the pan.
Donald Trump had in the runup to the presedential elections declared: “If I am elected President, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House. I can guarantee you that,” he had said, while canvassing for his Presidentship. One can only hope that the new President will keep his words. As Good leaders take unity and nationalism together, taking one without the other would end up in just mediocrity.
Another part of the selfsame story is the valour of young 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who was also shot while saving Kuchibotla. Grillot said: “I was just doing what anyone would have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did”. The Indian foreign minister also spoke about the braveheart while in the Indian Parliament, saying "I salute his heroism and am sure the House joins me in wishing him speedy recovery."
One can only hope the wounds will heal and scars disappear in near future, and the Indian-American community will also learn the greater lesson necessary to respond to such future attacks. True, racial bigotry can't be fought alone, there is a pressing need to form long-term alliances with other minority groups and find strength in organized collective action. Perhaps, the community requires a rapid response, communications and activism machine that is louder and more organised than ever. This may be as good a time as any to stop and fix it. Making right, effective and appropriate noises is the need of the hour.