Author: Francois Gautier
- Publication: Pioneer
Date: July 24, 2002
Travelling by air in the United States has become a major headache: You are frisked at least three times, made to remove your shoes and sometimes even to show your calves! Beware if you are an Indian: The manual search of your checked-in luggage is supposed to be decided “at random” by the computer; but ours has been explored at every leg of our US trip, probably because my wife has an Indian passport. In fact, being Indian today in the US can be a hazard: “People come to me and say – go back to Saudi Arabia,” says a New York taxi driver, who is from Punjab. Indeed, the average American cannot make the difference between an Indian and an Afghani, and this is creating a problem for the expatriate Indian community in the US, which prides itself in having fully integrated into the American way of life.
If only American correspondents sitting in Delhi would enlighten their readers in the US, as it is their duty to do; but most of the articles you read about India in America – when there are any, because they are very rare – are derogatory and biased. Two weeks ago, the Boston Globe, one of the most venerable US papers, published a piece by M Greenway, an ex-foreign editor and a regular columnist, which basically said that the US should be more wary of Hindu fundamentalism than Islamic militancy! You cannot write something more fallacious than this, but it was probably based on the input that Greenway gets from the New York Times correspondent (the Globe belongs to the NYT Group). Being in Boston and having met the previous day the Globe’s foreign editor, James Smith, I immediately called him and said that as a French journalist having covered India and South Asia during 20 years for prestigious European newspapers, I would write a rejoinder. Will he please forward it the Oped page editor? He did, but the rejoinder was never published.
A few days later the Houston Chronicle (readership 400,000) published an article ‘Living together’, which told the story of a Muslim man in Gujarat, who was “betrayed” by his Hindu friend and went on to speak about the “pogrom” of Muslims during the Gujarat riots at the hand of Hindu fundamentalists. Right at the end of the piece, the writer mentioned, in passing, that “a little before the riots 58 Hindu militants coming from Ayodhya – where a mosque was razed earlier by Hindu fanatics – were killed by a Muslim mob”. The blame was put on their being “aggressive” and there was not a single mention of the 34 innocent women and children who were burnt. Now, contrary to the Boston Globe story, the lady who did this piece for the Houston Chronicle was in India, in Gujarat even, and she had ample time to get her facts straight. But probably, she intentionally decided to omit the fact that cold blooded Godhra massacre triggered the riots against Muslims in Gujarat.
Do American correspondents and journalists tend to toe the US Government’s point of view? I would tend to think so. I was the other day at a White House press briefing, where a lady, who is the South Asia director of the National Security Council, gave us the usual double talk about India and Pakistan: “Yes, yes, India is doing a good job by being ‘restrained’ (pat on the back for New Delhi); but we must continue to support Musharraf, as he is our safeguard against a fundamentalist/nuclearised Pakistan (pat on the back for Islamabad).”
The US does seem to still have a policy of equating India and Pakistan, a policy which was initiated by the British to divide India and make sure it would never be strong. How else can you explain that Time magazine does a cover story on yoga and the word India is not mentioned even once? Even more baffling is the fact that the Indian diaspora in the US does not protest when Time pens a highly derogatory portrait of Prime Minister Vajpayee and gets away with it without having to apologise. Would they speak this way of Jiang Zemin?
And this raises an important question. How is it that except a few individuals and groups like the VHP, Indian expatriates in the US let articles such as the one in the Boston Globe or the Houston Chronicle pass without reacting to them? Whether they have an American passport, a green card, or an extended visa, Indians are doing extremely well in the US, where they are the most successful and visible community, being engineers, doctors, IT people, and even CEOs. They pay their taxes, send their children to the best universities, where they usually perform extremely well, are lawful, pay their taxes and honour America. Alas, individually they might go to temples, do their prayers and long for India, but there is very little unity amongst Hindus in America – Hindu groups keep fighting or ignoring each other. What is happening in India is thus replicated in the US.
Yet, if Hindus in the US would care to unite, call themselves “Hindu Americans”, which would give them an identity, they would form a formidable lobby, because they have the money, skill and influential positions. Not only would they be able to prop-up India’s image in the US at a time when the average American thinks that India is only poverty and Hindu fundamentalism, but they could influence US decision-makers and persuade American businessmen to invest more in India. They could also pressure the US Government to side more with India in its war against terrorism, as India has been suffering from Islamic fundamentalism for decades.
The need of the hour for the Indians in the US is to unite like the Jews. But is it happening? Last week there was this gala Indo-US friendship dinner in Washington. The cream of Indian expatriates was there, as well as more than 40 US congressman and senators. Most of the Indians there, though, instead of canvassing the senators and putting across India’s point of view, seemed more interested in giving boring self-congratulatory speeches and have their photos taken with US VIPs.