On November 20, 2016, 41-year-old Nicki Pancholy was attacked in California after her bandana was mistaken for a hijab. Just a few months before that, Davinder Singh, 47, was shot dead at his gas station in Newark. Both cases had victims who were Indian-Americans and both were hate crimes. However, both cases were also largely ignored, meriting no more than a 200-word news article.
So why has the February 22 murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, in a Kansas bar evoked such outrage in India?
The Indian dream is to “escape” to the US. Almost every other neighbourhood family boasts about their son or daughter who has “made it big” in the ‘States’.
According to a report by the department of homeland security, the US approved 315,857 H1-B visas in the financial year 2013-14, of which 220,286 were given to workers from India. In addition, roughly 166,000 Indians study in the US.
In many ways, Kuchibhotla was the embodiment of the Indian middle-class dream. After completing his bachelors in India, he travelled to the United States as a masters student, and after completing his degree at the University of Texas, El Paso, he stayed on in the US to work.
His friend and colleague, Alok Madasani, who was injured in the attack, had a similar story. Madasani, 32, stayed on in the US after completing his masters at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
These two were successful, outgoing members of the immigrant community in the US. They were regulars at the bar at which they were shot at, but one racist was all it took to shatter their families.
The attack on them has cracked the rose-tinted glasses with which Indians tend to look at the US. Racism and hate crimes were assumed to be problems that affected “others”, not Indians. But for the first time perhaps an attack has shaken up Indians in America and Indians who want to be in America. Kuchibhotla was one of us: he could have been from anywhere in India, from Delhi to Dehradun.
His death troubles all those neighbourhood aunties and uncles because they know that the attack on Kuchibhotla could have easily occurred on their children.
The US, even with Donald Trump at its helm, is far from being the dystopia many are painting it to be. However, it is worrying that the US President, who has not shied away from tweeting about everything from Iran to the “failing” New York Times, took time to condemn Kuchibhotla’s killing. “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said on Wednesday.
Initially, the White House denied any links between Trump’s rhetoric and Adam Purinton, the man charged with attacking Kuchibhotla and Madasani, despite the fact that the 51-year-old US Navy veteran repeatedly asked the Indians about their visa status and mistook them to be illegal Iranian aliens.
When the White House finally did make a statement, it was after it came under pressure to do so and issued it on Monday night — five days after the incident.
Trump’s condemnation of the Kansas attack is welcome, but it could have come earlier.
(The views expressed are personal.)