The Statue of Liberty has always been a heartening sight for immigrants from across the globe. It signifies the land of opportunities, a land of democracy and equality, a land that often acts as a sanctuary for those who seek a better life and are willing to work for it. It is this very dream that draws thousands of Indians to the United States of America each year. Some land here to find higher education, others to find the growth opportunities that they always dreamed of, yet others to build up a good life for their families.
The American Nightmare
In the past fortnight, though, a series of events, unfolding for the millions of Indians (and other immigrant groups from other nations) who now live in the US, were indeed hideous and disturbing.
On February 22, 2017, two Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani – engineers working with Gramin – were shot in a bar outside of Kansas City. Kuchibhotla succumbed to the wounds while Madasani is now recovering. The shooter, Adam Purinton, yelled “Get out of my country”, as he fired the shots.
On March 2, 2017, Harnish Patel was shot dead in the front yard of his South Carolina home. Patel was the owner of a local convenience store and an important member of the Lancaster community.
On March 3, 2017, a 39-year-old Sikh man, Deep Rai, was also shot in Kent, Washington, by an armed man who said to Rai, “Go back to your own country“. Rai, now released from the hospital, is recovering.
Indian students make up almost 16 percent of the 10,43,839 international students studying in the US (as of 2015-16). Many of them have reported a pronounced increase in racial slurs and abuses directed towards them in the past few weeks. Many have said that their tanned skins make them targets of unprecedented levels of prejudice.
Earlier this week an anti-immigrant video surfaced on YouTube (linked to a hate site). The video showed Indian families enjoying a leisurely stroll in a park in Ohio and claimed that Indians had started to displace Americans, taking away their jobs. The video had over 41,000 views within a few days of being posted.
Xenophobia In The Air
The crimes against the two Indians in Kansas and the Sikh man in Kent are under investigation by the FBI. While the Indian community in the US is convinced that these are hate crimes and are racially motivated, the White House denies that these incidents are part of a growing animosity against the immigrant community.
Deepening fear among the Indian-Americans indicates that the country may no longer be safe for our citizens. No more is America the land where strangers are welcomed with open arms and where one’s success does not depend on the colour of one’s skin.
Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric To Blame?
India and Indians kept their spirits buoyant when Donald Trump was elected the President of the United States. It is, however, President Trump’s rather harsh stand on immigration and ethnicity that is being increasingly blamed for the vicious atmosphere that is striking fear in the hearts of Indians in the US.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a South Asian civil rights organisation in the US, issued a strong statement protesting the ban against travellers from (select) Muslim nations and the increased surveillance on immigrant communities.
“Sadly, this latest act of violence comes as no surprise given the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim vitriol escalating across the country, most notably illustrated in President Trump’s divisive recent executive orders“, it said in a statement following the Kansas shooting.
In all fairness, President Trump did condemn the attack in his first address to a joint session of the US Congress. It is, however, likely that his words of condemnation failed to produce the intended effect since his own presidential campaign was seasoned generously with anti-immigrant sentiments and what critics are now calling the “politics of hate”.
Is it Time For A Travel Advisory?
The External Affairs Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj was quick to react to the crimes against Indians in the US. The question that is ruling our minds, though, is if the ministry will soon be issuing a travel advisory to Indian citizens travelling to the US. If not, what are the precautions and safeguards that an Indian living in the US or travelling to the country must take.
A travel advisory is a warning issued by a government to its citizens travelling to a particular country. The advisory often asks the country’s citizens to reconsider or postpone non-essential travel due to violence, civil unrest, security threats, or natural disasters in the destination. An advisory is not a ban but is a red flag, a prompt to take caution.
Once issued, a travel advisory is often revaluated and revised within weeks. If a person chooses to travel despite an advisory, the government will help if the person runs into trouble but the risk is a greater one. Advisories may also be issued if there is an outbreak of a disease at the destination. According to news reports, the US has currently issued a travel advisory warning its citizens against active “extremist elements” in the country.
“Darkness Of The Womb”
It is in our darkest hours that we must keep the flame of hope lit. “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?… What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born?”, asked Valarie Kaur, social justice activist and lawyer, in an interfaith meeting. She was raising personal concerns about the safety of Indians in the US. The video of her speech has garnered an overwhelming support and has been watched 16 million times. It is a dream that millions of Indian-Americans share.