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Trouble in the promised land

The Modi government’s diplomats must also make sure that Indian students get safe havens to study by coercing university and local authorities.

SUNIL SHARAN |

Dallas is the city of hate. Dallas is where JFK was assassinated. A black man, visiting Atlanta, where I lived, from Dallas, told me not to move to Dallas. In Dallas, they take out a gun if you cut them in traffic. You Indians are everywhere, railed a Mexican-American woman at four Indian women in Dallas last week, before proceeding to hit them. Why the Indian women didn’t respond in kind beats me. They were after all four to one. But then the Mexican pulled out a gun. Trouble in the promised land, the land of milk and honey, of Jesus and his gospel, is blazing not just between the white majority and the coloured minorities, but also between minorities themselves. Tension is specially exacerbated between those who were born here, like the Mexican-American, and first-generation arrivals.

The Indian women all spoke fluent English, albeit with an accent. They were either professionals or were married to professionals. Minorities such as blacks and Mexicans are not able to stomach their affluence. I have been told by blacks often that they have been in the country 400 years whereas my kind have been there only 40. Every year almost two hundred thousand Indian students come to the US to study, the largest from any country. Most of these students are undergraduate students and pay their way through college. Suffice it to say that their Indian parents are affluent. Many parents accompany their wards to college at admission time to help get them settled there. Almost invariably the parents are impressed by Americana.

Everything is organized and manicured. The people are fair of skin. The parents leave their wards in seemingly good hands. In 1990, I was doing a PhD at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. My best friend was Rahil, a Pakistani. Rahil had graduated from Arizona State University. His friend there had been beaten by locals and had been hospitalized. The friend had told his friends not to alert his parents in Pakistan. They would get needlessly worried. I was 21 and thought what a brave lad the Pakistani was. He had been beaten to pulp, but did not want to worry his parents. He would mend on his own and get out on his own. By a quirk of fate, 2017 found me again at Purdue doing a PhD in a different subject. I was almost beaten up three times. The worst was in a restaurant called XXX. I had ordered a fish burger. In front of me sat three obvious-looking white thugs.

To my left was an old white woman. She commented, Oh my, that’s a big burger. I replied, insouciantly, it sure is. It was actually my only meal of the day. One of the white thugs didn’t like my insouciance. How dare I not grovel before a white woman. He asked me to come out with him and settle matters. What matters, I thought? The thug was frail. I would have beaten him easily. But then the cops would have come, and the cops would have invariably taken his side. So I sat glued to my chair and ate my burger in enormous tension. Some ten minutes later the white thug returned, disappointed that I had not taken his bait. I wanted to write to Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue, to ask him to warn the locals of his town to keep their hands off foreign students. But then I was not an activist and refrained from doing so.

Mitch Daniels was a hardcore Republican and would have done nothing in any case. Now I realize why the Indian women in Dallas did not lay their hands on the Mexican-American. If they had and the police had come, the Mexican would have invariably concocted a story in her favour. The police would have believed her because although she was not a white American, she was more American (born in America, accent-free, Christian) than the Indian women (who were accented, and most probably non-Christian). But how long can this Gandhian method of passive resistance go on? In 1990, during my first stint at Purdue, a senior Indian student warned me not to get into any scuffle with whites. He said that the cops would invariably take the side of whites. Some years back, a 70-year old Indian man was quietly walking the suburbs of Huntsville, Alabama.

A white man phoned the cops and told them that a “nigger” was prowling the neighbourhood. The cops came and gave the frail Indian man such a kick that he became paralyzed for life. So spoiler alert for Indian parents who want to send their wards to study in the US and other white countries like Australia and the UK. Make sure that before you send your wards, you get a sense of the racial climate of the place where your ward is going. You surely don’t want the head of your ward bashed in. Many parents upon visiting the West get duly impressed by the fast cars, the cleanliness, the manicured lawns, etc. They never expect that their offspring will encounter any trouble in such a fairy land. One of my friends just sent his son to study at a university in a place with a very fine climate. He was raving about the weather and how lucky his son was to be there. But Dallas weather is not too bad.

It is quite similar to Delhi’s weather, so many Indians are naturally acclimatized there. It is only when one looks beneath the bonnet of the fancy car that one can detect trouble. Parents spend an enormous amount of money and energy to send their children to the West. In many cases, were it not for the money that Indian students bring in, Western universities would go bankrupt. It is incumbent then that parents send their children to safe places to study. And if they cannot find a safe place, not send them at all. Some people will quibble, oh, these incidents are rare and far between. But they don’t seem so rare and far between when they actually happen to your own child.

The Modi government’s diplomats must also make sure that Indian students get safe havens to study by coercing university and local authorities. After-the-fact crocodile tears serve no one.

A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 29, 2022, issue.