The senseless and brutal gunning down of an Indian engineer, Srinivas Kuchibhotla by an angry Caucasian American, Adam Purinton at a Kansas bar shocked the Indians both in USA and India. The 32-year-old engineer’s murder is ghastly and his family’s grief and loss is unimaginable. The issue brings to fore several complex dynamics.
First, undoubtedly, this was a hate crime and it is important to unequivocally state it as such because some American Media outlets have reported that the culprit had a troubled past recently with death of his father and battles with alcoholism with no apparent prior history of hate. A self-anointed, vigilante-style ‘patriot’ that yelled at the Indian engineer and his friend to “get out of my country” is nothing but a hate machine spewing venom. His act of returning to the bar where he unleashed vitriol with a loaded gun is an unmistakable act of blind, visceral hatred that swallowed a life and injured two others. Many reports in the media have linked Mr. Purinton’s act to the election of President Donald Trump. Now Mr. Trump is beyond doubt a vicious demagogue but to stop there in understanding this hate crime is like looking only at the tip of an iceberg. Interestingly, the name of the town where the crime occurred offers a poignant clue. ‘Olathe’ obviously is a Native American word alluding to the fact that Mr. Purinton’s “my country” barb holds no weight. The Native American population of what is now USA has gone from 100% in 1492 to 0.9% in 2015 thanks to the systematic genocide of a race both before the birth of USA in 1776 and afterwards with endless westward expansion to become a 50-state behemoth from a 13-colony nation along the east coast of North America. Another historical fact to be noted is that Christopher Columbus landed on the American shores by mistake as his intended destination was India and to this day, the epithet “Indians” has stuck to Native Americans as a sad reminder of that fortuitous misnomer. Thus, the dubious claims over land and its historical ownership have much deeper roots than the nascent political life of Trump as the media demagogues from the anti-Trump camp would make us believe. Asian Indians thus are only recent additions to the hate crime victim list that began with the Native American ‘Indians’.
Another aspect of Mr. Purinton’s barbaric act that should be examined is the false sense of Nationalism. Again, to tie this squarely to rightwing ultra-nationalism is to ignore the role of bloated concepts of nation-state and the modern-day witchcraft practiced by media in the name of ‘enemy’ states. One has to realize that nationalism is the precursor of ultra-nationalism. If only humans start looking at fellow humans as only such and ignore the falsity of labels of religion and nation, the world would be a much different place. But the fault does not lay with the individual. Rather the fault is with governments of nation-states that have instilled pride and honor in loving a defined area on earth as ‘mine/ours’ and exhorting armies of able-bodied humans to kill each other in defense of it. Mr. Purinton claimed that he mistook the Indian engineers for Muslims from the Middle East. If Mr. Kuchibhotla was rather a Mr. Mohammed, would that be a justifiable crime? Sadly, there is no dearth of Indians leave alone white supremacists that openly think so. Although a sizable section of such haters are bigots, there is a vast underbelly of people that have been programmed by the media to perceive the Middle East as the sole originator of mindless terror while ignoring the complex geopolitical oil wars and neo-imperialist agendas that have been claiming millions of Muslim lives in the Middle East for more than a century now. Before hating an immigrant or a refugee, the next Purinton should introspect on the role of a government that invades in the name of war but how can he when he is cooped up in the lies of a mainstream media and a namesake two-party system that churns out puppet after puppet with the sole aim of institutionalizing a neoliberal foreign policy?
Shifting the focus to the means of this murder, the right of Mr. Purinton to bear arms was what led to the death of an aspiring immigrant that actively contributed to the advancement of a nation that he called home while the offender took his life in the name of the same nation. As a raucous debate rages on the issue of guns, 15,061 people were killed by gun violence in USA in 2016 and 2406 people thus far in 2017 itself. A grim reminder of the failed state of guns in USA is the fact that in a similar Western country i.e. Australia, implementation of Gun Reform laws led to a precipitous decline in gun violence since 1997. But there is no hope of even common sense gun laws in USA anytime in the near future with viciously active gun lobby controlling a significant proportion of lawmakers on both sides of the delusionary aisle. The whole gun ownership sentiment is a vestige of the racial and vigilante past of this nation that paradoxically also has been the harbinger of modern technology and science that led to human advancement. On a separate note, it is worth reminding Purintons and such that they might have unknowingly benefited by the work of Indian engineers in the field of technology and that they are very likely to be treated by an Indian physician if they fall sick as almost 50,000 of them now make up ~8% of all the licensed physicians in USA even though Indians only account for ~1% of US population.
Finally, however nerve-wracking this event might be, hate crime statistics in USA show that there is no epidemic against Indians as some in the Indian media paint it to be. Of the 4029 single-bias hate crimes motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry in 2015 in USA, a staggering 53% were anti-black and only ~3% anti-Asian (data not separable to the level of Indians, etc.). It certainly is an issue of concern but one should not lose sight of the fact that a vast majority of average Americans do not harbor violent intentions towards immigrants. In the light of this dastardly act, Indians should also take a moment to introspect on the countless number of hate crimes that continue to be committed in the name of the Indian state against its very own hapless citizens hailing from oppressed communities. Either in the USA or in India, our hope should be that the value of a human should not be reduced to one’s “immediate identity – to a number”!
Dr Nijam Gara is a rationalist thinker based in the US. His articles are devoted towards voicing the concerns of downtrodden and marginalized communities.