Four days after the horrific attacks of 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh, was gunned down outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona. Mistaken to be Muslim because of their beards, Sikhs have been the victims of hate crimes since then, the worst being a gunman opening fire inside a Wisconsin gurdwara in 2012, killing six.
This time, a white guy mistook a dark-complexioned Srinivas Kuchibhotla from south India to be a Middle Eastern and shot him in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. ‘Get out my country’ chant was echoed days later in Washington state, by a masked white man with a gun who shot at Deep Rai, a Sikh American who has survived.
What is different this time is the enormity of the outrage and widespread fear among the Indian community in America over safety and security concerns. There have been vigils and protests in different parts of the country. Back in India too there have been protests against such hate crimes. One fallout: some people shelving the idea of going to America to study or work.
It is different this time because the recent hate crimes could have been foretold because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and bigotry of the Trump election campaign. President Trump’s executive actions and proposals since inauguration – such as travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries, revising H1 and H4 visa rules, making immigration merit-based etc – have only heightened the foreboding. That he himself dallied for a few days before decrying the clearly racist attack in Kansas was bad optics to say the least.
India has ‘strongly taken up’ the matter with Washington. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was conveyed by US officials that the Feb 22 attack on Kuchibhotla and his friend was an ‘individual case’. Of course, there is no conspiracy, no organized gangs like the dotbusters couple of decades ago in New Jersey. It was an isolated act by a disturbed White man who bore some grudge against the foreigner looking people. But that does not assuage the security fears in the community. The real, unsaid fear is this: the looming presence of Steve Bannon in the White House as Trump’s brain is a dog whistle, that this administration wants to curtail fresh immigration to retain white majority and white supremacy.
So, as eminent attorney Ravi Batra says on the adjoining page, the onus is on President Trump to call an end to shameful and country‑ripping demonic "hate," in favor of our Better Angels that uplifts us all.
Many of us Indian Americans voted for Trump last November. Let us now not find an expression worse than ‘basket of deplorables’ for them. They thought and perhaps still think that his trade and taxation policies and $1 trillion in infrastructure spending will be good for the country and betterment of all Americans. This may still come to pass. That still does nothing to calm down the insecurity among the minorities and people of color.
Indians, being brown and doing much better than some other minority communities in America, had become complacent. The current atmosphere may jolt them into more civic engagement. Already, the media noted that some Indian ladies took part in the women’s march the day after Trump’s inauguration in Washington, DC. Some progress! We must also take to heart the advice of community leaders and politicians of various stripes to participate more actively in the political process. Fortunately, we have five of our own in the US Congress currently, and they have voiced our concerns loudly and clearly. There need to be more pondering and heart-searching to find the way forward to not only make our place secure here, but also for the peace and prosperity of the country we now call home.
Update: 11 March, 2017