It is a time of fear and foreboding for Indians in America.
Targeted in a string of attacks fuelled by racism, first in Kansas and now in Washington state, the Indian-American community is rattled, scared, and trying to come to terms with the unexpected violence seven weeks into Trump’s presidency. It’s an unusual feeling for one of the best educated and wealthiest immigrant group in the US.
“Suddenly, you’re thinking and being concerned about things you never thought of before,” Senthil Bagavathy, an information technology (IT) consultant, told the Financial Times a little over a week after Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian-American engineer, was shot dead at a bar in Olathe, Kansas. “I don’t want to believe that the country has suddenly changed,” Bagavathy added.
Kuchibhotla was having a drink with an Indian colleague on Feb. 22 when they were attacked by 51-year-old Adam Purinton. “Get out of my country,” Purinton reportedly shouted before firing at the two men. It took nearly a week for Trump, who openly derided immigrant workers during his campaign, to condemn the attack.
On March 04, Deep Rai, a 39-year-old Sikh man in Kent, Washington, also heard a similar cry— “go back to your own country”—before he was shot in the arm. The assailant is described as a six-foot-tall white man, with a mask covering the lower half of his face, the Press Trust of India reported.
Unfortunately, Sikh-Americans are no strangers to racially motivated attacks. Sikh men were targeted in revenge attacks after 9/11 because some mistook them, with their turbans and long beards, to be Muslims. Then, in 2012, six people were shot dead and four wounded when an army veteran attacked a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
The attack on Rai has jolted Washington’s Sikh community. “We’re all kind of at a loss in terms of what’s going on right now, this is just bringing it home,” Jasmit Singh, a community leader, told the Seattle Times. “The climate of hate that has been created doesn’t distinguish between anyone.”
“It is scary,” Satwinder Kaur, another Sikh community leader in Washington, told the Associated Press. “The community has been shaken up.”
A wave of anxiety is also sweeping through the countless families of Indian engineers working in the country. The group is under fire not only because of its immigrant status (Kuchibhotla was asked what visa he was on before being shot), but also because its members are accused of taking away jobs from US citizens.
For instance, an August 2016 video of a suburban Ohio park, shot by anti-immigrant website SaveAmericanITJobs.org, is causing unease. “Our walk in the park provides evidence as to who has (sic) the Jobs in this area, and they are not the citizens of Ohio,” the video’s YouTube description reads. “It is proof on the ground how guest workers are not only taking over jobs, but also taking away the real estate and parks. The USA Ohio IT Workers have disappeared to oblivion.”
Six months ago, the video wouldn’t have made much of a difference—and it didn’t. But, following the recent spate of attacks, such messages have acquired a new, more sinister meaning, mirroring the worsening racial friction in the US.
“I am 100 percent convinced we’ll see more incidents,” Anil Dash, an Indian-American startup founder based in New York, told BuzzFeed News. “The thing I’m hearing from folks across the country is, it’s a much more hostile environment than even after 9/11.”