By Bhamy V. Shenoy
Mangaluru, March 15, 2017: In a short period of mere ten days (Feb. 22 to March 4) three hate crimes have taken place in three different regions of the United States. It is surprising that there has been very little public outpouring of support from the vibrant Indian American community in Houston, Texas. There are more than 120,000 people of Indian origin with more than 90 organizations representing all different states, religions, regions, philosophies, languages, etc. However, no one overarching Indian association can claim to represent the whole of India.
In the early 1970s when the Indian community was less than 500 (I was a graduate student at the University of Houston campus), the India Students Association by default represented all Indians. When Bangladeshi refugees came to India in the millions in 1971, it was ISA that spearheaded the efforts to raise funds to send to India. In 1972, when Ugandan refugees of Indian origin needed help for settling down in Houston, again it was the ISA which was contacted by a UN agency to help those refugees.
As a volunteer helping the Uganda refugees, it was the first time I faced racial bias. Though there were many vacant apartments, I could not get one. When renters learned for whom I was trying to rent for, I was told there was no vacancy. Later, the UN agency came to my rescue. They called the Houston Chronicle to discuss my difficulty. When the Houston Chronicle published the story, I got all kinds of help from different people. There was an outpouring of generosity.
As the Houston Indian community started to grow, the Indo Culture Center came into existence to represent all Indians. However, with the ever-increasing number of organizations by Houston Indians, ICC may be the smallest organization today. It is this unfortunate development that has prevented the Indian community from playing a critical role as a hate crime virus is spreading throughout the U.S.
On Feb. 22, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed and when it became obvious that it was a hate crime, the Telugu Association called its members for a vigil. Very few participated. Actually, it should have been an occasion not just for the Telugu community and not even for the Indian American community, but for all those who are against any hate crime to protest. That weekend on an open forum I was interviewed on “Unity in Diversity.” I tried to argue how if only there was unity in diversity, we would have been in a far better position to register our protest to make a difference. But I was surprised when callers questioned the need for any unity. None called to support my argument of the urgent need for unity in diversity.
As the U.S. was learning to deal with the Kansas hate crime, Harnish Patel was gunned down in front of his house in South Carolina on March 2, which was followed by another hate crime in Washington state on March 4 when a Sikh was shot at. While there is still doubt as of March 5 regarding the motive for the murder of Patel, whether it was a hate crime, there is no doubt at all about the Washington hate crime where the victim has survived. The gunman was shouting to the victim “go back to your country.”
There is no undeniable proof to argue that all these hate crimes are a result of Trumpism, or because of his direct and indirect support to a white supremacist philosophy. Still, it is not a random event that these three hate crimes have taken place soon after he took over the presidency. There are some who have questioned why the president was not quick in condemning these hate crimes. It is exactly for these reasons that the Indian American community not only in Houston but throughout the U.S. should come together to get involved in a movement to stop any hate crimes, not just against Indians, but against any other community.
The Indian community should not take up this Gandhian-type peaceful struggle as a hate crime only against Indians. Our community failed to get involved (there are certainly some exceptions) when there was the movement, “Black Life Matters,” following the killings of African Americans; or innocent Muslims or vandalization of Jewish temples, mosques, etc. We need to stand up whenever there is a hate crime to uphold the noble principle that all hate crime, irrespective of against whichever community, is a crime against humanity.
Let us not wait to get involved thinking all these three events are stray incidents and that the virus of hate crime will die. Time is running out since we do not know where and when the virus of hate crime is going to attack. There is no time to develop a permanent vaccination. We need to join hands with like-minded associations all over the U.S.
Those of us who can write articles should seek opportunities to write to leading newspapers. Since we have many IT experts, they should try to use their social network to promote racial harmony amongst different communities. In each city with a large number of Indians, they should organize seminars or workshops in universities and even companies to discuss how to eliminate hate crime in the U.S. After all, India’s civilizational value of “Sarve Jana Sukhino Bhavantu” (May all people live happily) should give us enough moral support to start the movement, “No More Hate Crime.”
(The writer is a former office bearer of the ISA and president of the ICC in Houston, Texas.)