Attacks on Indian-origin people: Diplomats open channels, community rallies support online

03/06/2017

WASHINGTON, Mar. 6: Alarmed by incidents targeting Indian-origin people in the US, Ambassador Navtej Sarna is quietly working the diplomatic channels by reaching out to governors, Congressmen and US administration officials, while the influential Indian community has been encouraged to mobilise public opinion and increase awareness.

The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organisation in the US which has 15 years of legal and policy expertise on issues related to hate crimes, has put up a series of questions on its website, encouraging the community to report such incidents.

The questions include asking respondents about the nature of the hate crime that had happened to them — “Verbal harassment/ physical assault/ property vandalized /school bullying/ harassment, or employment discrimination, or racial profiling, or public accommodation (e.g., discrimination by a public facility, like a restaurant or store), or airport/airplane encounter/ any other”. It asks them where it happened, and why — “Turban or Patka (Sikh covering)/ Beard/ Chooni (Punjabi scarf)/ Traditional clothing (e.g. salwar suit, sari, kurta pajama)/ Language/ Skin Color/ Accent/ Other”.

On March 3, a US citizen of Sikh faith was shot at by a gunman in Kent, Washington, who allegedly told him to “go back to your own country”.

Another Indian community group is organising a vigil on March 10 in Boston area in the memory of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the Indian engineer, killed in a hate crime in Kansas on February 22. The vigil would ask people to guard against racism and violence.

The Indian Embassy in Washington DC is closely monitoring such efforts even as Indian diplomats work with the US political elite to “respond effectively” to such incidents. “We do not want to blame the administration for such incidents… While we condemn such acts, we want to highlight the American community standing up against such violence. We want to give out the message that for every hate attacker, there is an Ian Grillot (the American who confronted the hate attacker in Kansas and got injured). That was the reason the Indian consul general in Houston was sent specifically to Kansas hospital to convey India’s gratitude towards the American national’s courage,” a top Indian diplomat in Washington DC told The Indian Express.

Sources pointed out that Ambassador Sarna had hosted 27 US governors and 27 US Congressmen visiting India, last month. “The exercise was aimed at diplomatically reaching out to them and conveying our concerns,” the Indian diplomat said.

Sarna tweeted on Sunday that India’s “deep concerns” on “recent tragic incidents” involving Hardish Patel and Deep Rai had been conveyed to the US government. He underlined the need to prevent such incidents and protect Indian community.

Diplomats told The Indian Express that such incidents had happened after 9/11, when Indians, and Sikhs in particular, had been targeted, after being mistakenly linked to Obama bin Laden due to their turban.

The Sikh Coalition also made a note of this, while telling The Indian Express, “The Sikh American community is working with local law enforcement to make sure that this case (of Rai) is investigated as an anti-Sikh hate crime.”

Asked if there had been a spike in hate crimes against Sikhs over the past few months, after the US elections, the spokesperson said, “We can’t publicise updated numbers at this time, but we can share that our research suggests that Sikh Americans are hundreds of times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime.”

Sikh Coalition Interim Program Manager Rajdeep Singh said in a statement: “While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority. Tone matters in our political discourse, because this is a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”

The vigil for Kuchibhotla on March 10 would denounce “hate crimes fueled by racism and xenophobia that continues to grip our beloved country”. “In this vigil, we also seek to denounce hate, violence, and hate-fuelled violence towards people based on the color of their skin, minority status or their cultural, social or political differences. Traditionally, a vigil is when one remembers the deceased. A vigil is also when you stay alert to guard something, someone, or an idea,” Sonali Lappin, President at Indian American Forum for Political Education in Massachusetts, said in an email, circulated to the Indian community.

The Indians have been asked to bring battery-operated candles in containers and contribute donations for Kuchibhotla family. The event is being publicised through social media.

As per a report in PTI, the American Sikh Council has asked gurdwaras to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. Asking President Donald Trump to take action, the council said, “More and more terrorist acts are being carried out due to the environment of heightened hate rhetoric over the past year… Some people seem to have been emboldened by the pomposity of the current leadership combined with the issue of immigration. This corrosive mix needs to be nipped in the bud before it turns into an inferno across our nation.”(TIE)

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