Indian immigrant Srinivas Kuchibhotla's death last month in Olathe, Kansas, hit rapper Raj "Lushlife" Haldar hard. As the Desi MC explains in an editorial published by The Washington Post yesterday (March 14), Kuchibhotla's death at the hands of Adam Purinton—a White man now awaiting trial for murder charges and facing a hate crime investigation—brought back memories of his upbringing in late-1980s northern New Jersey, where a hate group called the Dotbusters terrorized South Asian residents of Jersey City.
"At the height of their attacks, I can remember sitting in the back of our family car, panic-stricken as my dad drove us to a Hindu puja celebration in downtown Jersey City," he writes. "I was one of the only Brown kids at my school, and the climate of otherization created by the Dotbusters made me feel even more alone. Today, the senseless murder of Kuchibhotla is undoubtedly creating a new generation of South Asian children who, despite their best efforts, don't feel like they belong."
Haldar calls out President Donald Trump's policies and rhetoric targeting Muslims, immigrants and communities of color for incubating an atmosphere conducive to hate violence. Noting both the administration's policies and that it took almost a week for press secretary Sean Spicer to address the shooting, Haldar affirms that he'd prefer no apology from the president:
The newly revised Muslim ban shows that Trump isn't sorry. The continued push for a border wall and the formation of a federal program called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement—VOICE— show that he’s not sorry. The appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who once declared on the Senate floor that most Dominican immigrants lack any useful skills, shows that he's definitely not sorry. The repeated scapegoating of Muslims and Latinos ultimately fosters distrust and resentment toward all minorities. It's no wonder that indiscriminate acts of violence against Indians and other minority groups are also on the rise.
The rapper also turns his ire to conservative and predominantly Hindu Desis who supported Trump's policies against Muslims, describing an October 2016 event set-up by the Republican Hindu Coalition:
During an October 2016 campaign fundraising stop in Edison, N.J.—a suburb not far from the epicenter of Dotbuster activity two decades earlier—then-candidate Donald Trump held court with a glitzy audience of Indian business executives and Bollywood actresses. South Asians voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in last year's election, but Trump's anti-Muslim, hyper-nationalistic message resonated with some who found it complementary to their views on politics in India. The event featured performances by Bollywood stars such as Malaika Arora Khan—and a choreographed sequence in which dancers were attacked by "terrorists" wielding lightsabers, then rescued by fake Navy SEALs, who later danced to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." The details of the performance, which I couldn't have made up if I tried, reveal the Islamophobic undercurrent of the night's proceedings. When Trump finally took the stage to address the audience, he boorishly proclaimed, "I'm a big fan of Hindu," and went on to promise that as president, "the Indian and Hindu community will have a big friend in the White House."
Just a few months later, the attack on Kuchibhotla and [Kuchibhotla's Indian colleague Alok Madasani, who survived with wounds] who were reportedly mistaken to be Middle Eastern by their assailant, has barely elicited a reaction from my community's "friend" in the White House.
Haldar says Desis need to unite and organize across religious lines to appropriately counter hate violence:
Back in the early '90s, the Dotbusters were eventually quelled only by grassroots organizing among the South Asian Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities—setting aside their differences as they were collectively jarred into political action by more than 58 attacks in 1990 alone. Today, Indian Americans need to follow suit. Instead of agonizing over Facebook posts that beg for acknowledgment, we need to organize and insist on outreach and cooperation when it comes to bias-motivated crimes, immigration policy and other issues that affect the South Asian community at large. Instead of posing for pictures with politicians who take our money and then proceed to ignore us, we need to run for political office in greater numbers.
As for Kuchibhotla and Madasani, The Kansas City Star published an affidavit from Madasani's testimony to police on March 6 in which he says Purinton repeatedly asked them about their immigration status before leaving and eventually returning with a gun. The Star reported last month that police in Missouri apprehended Purinton after a bartender called 911, saying Purinton described shooting two "Middle Eastern" men.
(H/t Al Jazeera)