Was it a hate crime? Was US President Donald Trump, with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, complicit in the racially motivated killing of a young Indian IT professional by an enraged drunk white man in Kansas?
These are all-too-real questions to ask, but are not of much solace to the wife of Sunayana Dumala, whose husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was killed at Austins Bar and Grill in Kansas on February 23.
For the 32-year-old Kuchibhotla, it was a tragic and violent end to his American dream, which was all the more saddening as it happened in “a country he loved so much,” as his wife said. “Get out of my country,” – these were the last words yelled out by his killer he heard before he was shot dead by Adam Purinton, an American charged for drunk driving more than once. Kuchibhotla’s friend Alok Madasani, who was with him at the bar for a chill-out evening, was lucky to have survived. The 24-year-old Ian Grillot was also shot while intervening to stop the violence, but managed to survive.
The killing has predictably sparked outrage and condemnation across India and took place amid India’s concerns over the Trump administration’s policy changes towards H1B visas, which enable many Indian IT professionals to build and nurture their American dream. White House spokesman Sean Spicer has clarified that any loss of life was tragic but stressed that it would absurd to link it to Mr Trump’s rhetoric.
Presumption of Innocence?
This is a huge presumption of innocence as hate killings like these, though perpetrated by maniacs, feed on an atmosphere of jingoism and racism.
The FBI is now investigating the killing and possible motives behind it. The US embassy in India has also promised a thorough probe. “The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live,” said Charge d’Affaires MaryKay Carlson. “US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”
The insane killing like this one is clearly a morale dampener for the over 3-million strong Indian community that has made America their home. The incident questions the foundational myth of America as a country welcoming of immigrants. In the days to come, as New Delhi builds ties with the new US administration, it should carefully monitor rhetoric emanating from white supremacists in Washington as it could unintentionally endanger the lives of Indian-Americans who have enriched their adopted country in countless ways, but are now vulnerable to xenophobes of all stripes.
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