The killing of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla at a bar in Kansas comes as a grim reminder of what a toxic mix of xenophobia and jingoism can do to a country built on liberal values. It would be naive to dismiss it as a stray act of crime under drunken condition because there is a clear political context to it resulting from a sustained hate campaign against immigrants. The killer, an inebriated Navy veteran, was heard yelling “Get out of my country” before opening fire, killing Srinivas and injuring his colleague Alok Madasani. Both hail from Hyderabad and were employed at Garmin International, a GPS navigation and communications company. Apparently, the shooter mistook them for Middle-Easterners. The hate crime has raised fears over safety and security of thousands of Indian professionals living in America. The slain engineer’s wife Sunayana summed up the angst of many Indians with her anguish-filled question “Do we belong here?” There is an unprecedented anger sweeping across immigrant community as many Indians feel their American dreams are shattered and their future is uncertain due to possible restrictions on their stay. There are more than two lakh Indians studying at US universities. The reports also suggest that many students, aspiring to pursue higher education in America, are now forced to rethink and explore other destinations. The Kansas killing represents the kind of global fears that Donald Trump’s presidency had evoked. The social atmosphere, vitiated by Team Trump’s campaign rhetoric, provides handle for White supremacists to carry out racial attacks.
The latest attack will surely exacerbate the tensions created by protectionist pronouncements on immigration in the name of “America First” policy. Understandably, the fear has reached such an extent that Indians in America have circulated a list of do’s and don’ts in public places to avoid becoming targets of racial slur. For Indians who have been integral to America’s technology success story and India’s $150 billion IT services industry, the biggest fear is over imminent restrictions on H1-B visas. Incidentally, the slain engineer was also on H-1B after completing graduate studies in the US. Though the White House has dismissed any link between Kansas shooting and President’s comments on immigration, there are real worries arising out of a surge in ethnic and racial tensions in the aftermath of his election. The Trump administration, which has already triggered chaos and confusion through its executive orders, needs to show sincerity and commitment for protection of various ethnic communities. The killer must be tried for the hate crime under federal law. Credible steps must be taken to put an end to the vicious racism being unleashed in some quarters and preserve the essence of American values–pluralism, liberal, free and open democracy.