By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
In 2022, celebrating 75 Years of U.S. relations with Independent India, the U.S. Government commended the remarkable contributions of the Indian Diaspora, highlighting the significance of Indians whose talents in various fields have enriched this country.
Immigrants from India come here to study, work, live, learn, and earn. They use their talent and resources to join or start enterprises and become rich, in turn helping to grow the economies of America and India. After enjoying and benefiting from the opportunities America offers, not only iconic Indians but also the ‘sadharan’ or common Indians – work diligently to return the favors to the adopted country.
The history of Indian immigration is a saga of extreme courage, hardship, exploitation, and anguish over the challenges of assimilation. Behind every success story, lie generations of painful labor by unknown Indian immigrants. The first Hindu Prime Minister in Britain, the first Sikh to become a Deputy Prime Minister in Canada, the first Indian to head a major American corporation, or the first Indian to become the Governor of a state in America – were able to do so on the backs of generations of diligent Indian immigrants who were path breakers of their times.
After 1965, educational exchange programs, new temporary visas for highly skilled workers, and expanded employment-based immigration channels opened pathways for skilled and educated Indian immigrants, many of whom brought family. From 1980 to 2019 unsurprisingly, the Indian immigrant population in the United States increased 13-fold. While most Indians obtained lawful permanent residence or ‘green card’ through family reunification channels, a sizable number did so through employment preference.
America is generally welcoming towards immigrants, at least those who come in legally. It is especially partial to talented immigrants who deliver on their promise by working their tails off, eventually assuming positions of power in the economy, society, and politics. It is true, like other Asian Americans, we face the “bamboo ceiling” at work and reverse racism through affirmative action regulating college admissions.
We also frequently encounter negative stereotyping not only by Whites but also by Blacks and other minorities. Indian elected members in Congress are referred to as the ‘samosa’ caucus, comedians often mimic our accents, and spelling bee contests are dismissively viewed as exclusively Indian turf based on our legacy of an educational tradition that relies more on memory and regurgitation of learnt text, rather than on intelligent grasp and independent critique of imparted knowledge.
That kind of denigration may hurt but it is valuable in that it encourages us to treat other ethnic groups fairly, with respect. It also helps us to address our ingrained caste-based biases. The baggage of caste distinctions unfortunately is not necessarily left behind when we migrate here – as highlighted by recent complaints in Silicon Valley registered by Indians of lesser caste against the Brahmin and upper caste segments of the tech community.
Whatever their past upbringing, Indian immigrants need to uphold the tenets of equal treatment and equal justice, which drew us to this land of opportunity and wealth. While America is not innocent of corrupt practices, Indian propensity to break the law and use influence and other means to achieve our ends is world famous. Our tendency to cut corners, avoid paying taxes, exploit poor and uneducated immigrant labor, and underpay the caregivers we hire locally or import from India is proof that we need to serve America better. Equally, we must eschew improper means to circumvent Indian laws regulating various sectors of the Indian economy.
That we are not shy to interfere in and manipulate electoral politics is clear from the recently released Twitter files which point to how, along with other executives, two top Indians leading Twitter as Chief Executive and Content Manager willingly set aside free speech, a constitutionally guaranteed right of Americans.
Media’s changing role from a watchdog to a lapdog of ruling parties has become a global concern and shameful characteristic of all democracies. When governments cajole and compel powerful digital platforms to suppress, shadow ban, or permanently exclude opposing views such as Twitter did to Trump and other conservatives, it impacts electoral outcomes.
By falsely but successfully mobilizing popular support for a candidate or party its management and executives favor, a private company such as Twitter, Google, CNN, NBC or other, ends up appropriating the power of a casting vote. Consequently, when we decry Modi for his suppression of India’s secular democracy and for crushing the media and a free press, let us examine our own trespasses in subverting our host country’s democracy and its fourth estate.
2023 is predicted to be India’s glorious year. McKinsey & Co’s chief executive recently stated that it is not India’s decade, but it is India’s century. With multinational companies looking for new supply chains, and India ready with its large working population and talented tech pool, investors expect India to emerge as a manufacturing hub and growth engine for the global economy.
Much is made of ‘pravasi’ Indians for earning through hard work the goodwill of world’s major powers that are hosts to immigrant Indians. But even more important to the ‘India Rising’ story, are the remittances from our earnings abroad and funds deposited in attractive Indian savings instruments that have added to India’s gross domestic product and enabled it to achieve an improved Balance of Payment.
As we step into the New Year, while relishing and celebrating our success as a minority that has reached unprecedented heights in American politics, economy, media, academia, medicine, science, and other spheres, we need to candidly assess our innocent or intended interference with the rule of law. We need an indefatigable courage to stand up for the U.S. and the Indian democracy, and call out those Indians who are comfortable with manipulating the system and thwarting the constitution. Working at the pinnacle of their field, those who choose to undermine our conventionally lauded standing as a “model minority” have no place in the Indian community’s Hall of Fame.
Neera Kuckreja Sohoni is a published author based in California. A Ph.D. in Economics from Pune University, she was an affiliated research scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times