Ridgefield Indian Americans respond to Kansas killing

The following story was submitted to The Press Tuesday, Feb. 28, from Indian American members of the Ridgefield community.

The South Asian community — and Indian Americans, in particular — all over the United States has been in a state of shock since news broke of the shooting of two Indian men in Olathe, Kan., on Feb. 22, 2017, in what is being investigated as a hate crime.

Witnesses report that the suspect, Adam Purinton, shot the two engineers at a bar, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and critically injuring Alok Madasani. He is reported to have accosted them with questions about their legal presence in the U.S., yelled racial epithets and “Get out of my country,” mistaking them to be Middle Eastern. A third man, Ian Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter was also shot and critically injured.

A devastated Indian-American community is struggling to come to terms with this deadly shooting in the context of rising anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, exacerbated by the recent executive orders of President Trump. The South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national advocacy organization, documents over 200 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric against the South Asian community during the 2016 election season, of which 95% were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

While gun violence has sadly become commonplace in the U.S,, we are finding it difficult to dismiss this as yet another shooting. The deafening silence from President Trump so far — in denouncing the crime, expressing condolences to the victims’ families or reassuring the Indian American community — deepens our anguish and heightens our sense of insecurity.

As unpalatable as Islamophobia is, regardless of target, it is enough to be perceived as a Muslim to be the victim of such violence. Incidents like these rob us of our individual identities, render us invisible as human beings and instead group us impersonally as “them” or “foreigners” threatening the “American” way of life. They are rooted in the false belief that somehow being different makes us less “American.” That love for the U.S. depends on the color of our skin, the God we pray to or the way we dress.  

For many of us, there is no other home “to go back to.” This is our home. We (or in some cases our parents or grandparents) left our countries of birth just as many other hyphenated or European immigrant communities did, at one time or the other in this country’s history, in search of a better life.

The Indian diaspora in the U.S. is quite heterogeneous. According to the Migration Policy Institute data from 2014, there are about 2.6 million people of Indian origin in the U.S. (about 1% of the U.S. population). Connecticut accounts for 33,000, of whom 11,600 live in Fairfield County. Ridgefield is home to over 100 Indian American families. Sixty-nine percent of us are foreign-born and 31% of us have at least one Indian origin parent. We belong to every major religion on this earth and more — Hindu (51%), Christian (18%) and Muslim (10%), according to Pew Research Center. Our political affiliations, educational and employment backgrounds, income levels, native languages and cultural practices echo our heterogeneity and lie all over the spectrum.

Although the first Indian American immigrants arrived on U.S. shores as early as 1820, mostly as agricultural laborers, our immigration since then has occurred in distinct waves regulated by immigration policies. Between the 1800s and 1965, preferential quotas for European immigrants limited pathways for the rest of the world to migrate to the U.S.

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the subsequent family preference quota system, and the Immigration Act of 1990 enabled Indians — mostly skilled professionals like scientists, doctors, engineers and information technology workers — to migrate to the U.S. with their families. Indian Americans account for about 12% of the international student population of U.S. colleges and universities.

As much as our immigrant story centers on our economic contributions and have been welcomed, it has been, sadly, punctuated by periodic waves of hate and violence, mostly against our social presence.

We condemn all acts of violence against minorities, immigrants and people of color as they are an assault on our Constitutional rights and freedoms.

We appeal to Ridgefield to specifically join us in solidarity, as we stand with the Arab, Sikh and Muslim communities who bear the brunt of Islamophobia; and help build a community which celebrates diversity as a strength. We urge Ridgefield to resist the fear-mongering and scapegoating of specific groups of people as we collectively face the challenges as a nation.

Despite the toxicity of the political climate and the xenophobic words of the Olathe, Kan., shooting suspect, it is a fact that immigrants are the bedrock of this country and we will stand up for what is our rightful place in this country.

Monica Agrawal and Dr. Neeta Connally were contributors to this story.