A white supremacist killing a counter-protester in Charlottesville, Va., last week rekindled for Indian-Americans the horrific memories of the Gurdwara massacre five years ago this month.
Around the fifth anniversary of the worst massacre of Indian-Americans in recent history — the Aug. 5, 2012, killing of six Sikhs in a Wisconsin gurdwara by a White supremacist — the nation is confronting the challenge of dealing with the open assertion of bigotry by extremist white groups.
On Aug. 12, members of Unite the Right, an umbrella group of the Alt-Right whites, who were protesting proposals to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, confronted counter-protesters in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Some of them were dressed in Nazi and other white extremist regalia.
A white supremacist rammed his vehicle into the crowd of protesters killing one woman and injuring several others, some critically. President Donald Trump, after initial hesitation, came out condemning the acts of the white supremacists, only to pull back a day later to say both sides were at fault – a stand that has drawn condemnation across the mainstream political spectrum.
In February this year, Indian-Americans were shaken by the killing of Indian techie in Olathe, Kansas, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and the wounding of his colleague Alok Madasani, by a white man spouting hate.
“We feel the tragedy has hit home again,” Rajwant Singh, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign told News India Times. “Just a few days ago we revisited the Wisconsin tragedy and the wounds were already reopened. And now this happened in Charlottesville. It seems as if the nation is going backwards rather than forward.”
“The hatred is not just against those with turbans, but also blacks, Jews,” Singh observed, “And there is such a contrast. President Obama lowered the flags nationally when Sikhs were killed, and that was the first time flags were lowered for a domestic terror attack,” Singh noted, “And now we have a president who is rationalizing the violence and saying both sides were at fault. It’s very confusing for the nation.”
The night before the violent protest at Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville, Vilas Annavarapu says he had an “harrowing” experience on the University of Virginia campus. The 19-year-old political science major told News India Times he saw “Nazi and KKK members” walking around the campus past his residence and the library where students routinely go to study. “I happened to be on the road with my friend when we noticed hundreds of individuals carrying unlit torches walking through the streets. As we circled back we saw the group gather at a field right outside of my dorm room and begin to walk towards the Rotunda,” Annavapura said.
A few hours later, when he and his friend returned to his dorm to gather some belongings and stay at his house for the night, they turned onto the main road, when “a swarm of neonazis came walking down the street,” and one of them motioned to him to go around their parked cars. “It was terrifying,” he added.
Now his parents want Annavapurva to text them every hour.
Next day when the right-wing rally was to take place, UVA was put on lockdown, and students watched the demonstration and violence unfold on their television screens, tweets from friends, and administration emails. There was also a rumor, he said of an active shooter on campus.
The day after the violence, hundreds of students and Charlottesville residents, held a silent vigil on campus walking down the route the white supremacist groups had taken on campus.
The Indian Students Association at the university condemned “the villainous attitudes, hatred, and terrorism towards people of color.
The environment in Charlottesville and around the campus remains tense, according to Aman Kapadia of the Indian Students Association. “It affects minorities across the spectrum – the goal of White supremacy does not ‘dis-include’ Indians,” Kapadia observed.
Indian-American lawmakers are among 47 co-signers to a House Resolution led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, censuring President Trump for his remarks on the Charlottesville events. Indian-American tech leaders condemned the violence as well. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in an email to employees, called it “horrific” and saying it had a “profound” impact on him. “There is no place in our society for the bias, bigotry and senseless violence we witnessed this weekend in Virginia provoked by white nationalists,” Nadella said.”There is simply no place for this kind of extremism in America,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees. Google, along with GoDaddy Inc., the security firm Cloudflare and some other technology companies moved to block hate groups, Reuters reported. “There’s no equivalency between white supremacists and those who opposed them in Charlottesville,” declared the advocacy organization, Hindu American Foundation.
“Today, we are joining forces with DailyKos to demand the removal of all Confederate statues and memorials,” said Shekar Narasimhan, a Democratic political activist and co-founder of the AAPI Victory Fund. DailyKos is a progressive news outlet. “These hateful monuments to white supremacy present a real and present danger to communities throughout the United States,” Shekar told News India Times.
Religious and racial bigotry against Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims has been part of history since these minorities began immigrating to the U.S. But it appears to have intensified especially after 9/11, according to some analysts. The first victim of the 9/11 backlash for an Indian-American, a Sikh man in Arizona.
Even during President Obama’s administration, hate crimes against Indian-Americans and their religious institutions like gurdwaras, temples, and mosques took place.
During Trump’s campaign and after his election, analysts contend there has been a rise in hate crimes against these and other groups. But unlike Wisconsin or Charlottesville, these may be more random acts rather than ones by organized entities.
Suhag Shukla, co-founder and legal counsel of HAF, sees something more ominous in the Charlottesville killing compared to the earlier hate crimes. It is important to distinguished between Charlottesville and the individual acts of violence in the Wisconsin gurdwara or the African American church in South Carolina, both carried out by a single white supremacist, contends Suhag Shukla. “The events in Charlottesville, were the work of organized Alt-Right groups, speaking of a ‘white ethno state’ where others would be excluded,” she told News India Times.
“Prior to this last weekend, our community faced hate violence on an individualized basis – individuals acting out on their hate,” Shukla said. “Charlottesville, on the other hand, was an act of large swathes of people collectively feeling threatened about their history. It was firstly, unprecedented in its visibility, and secondly, did not receive the immediate condemnation it should have,” Shukla said.
Nevertheless, what happened in Charlottesville the National Sikh Campaign said in a statement, was “Driven by the same beliefs as the terrorist who struck the Sikh community in Oak Creek, WI just over five years ago.”
“These white supremacists, KKK members and Neo-Nazis are once again trying to divide America through hate and bigotry,” it added.
For Lakshmi Sridharan, director of national policy and advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the Charlottesville violence has at least two important takeaways.
“I’m glad that ‘White Supremacy’ is being used in common vernacular – naming it as it is,” Sridharan told News India Times. “And another takeaway is that the violence behind white supremacy — it is not just about free speech. (Furthermore) it does not have to take just this form, but is in all of our institutions, our leaders who make policies on immigration or criminal justice,” Sridharan said, adding, “We need to work to transform these.”