A Hindu teen was attacked as she was thought to be a Muslim. This is another reason why desis in the US need to raise their voices against hate
Published: 27th May 2019
By Anahita Mukherji
In the heart of Silicon Valley, a teenager’s life hangs by a thread. Thirteen-year-old Dhriti Narayan is in coma, with a bleeding, swelling brain; the left side of her skull was removed to relieve pressure. She was recently mowed down by an Iraq war veteran who drove into a crowd of pedestrians because he thought they were Muslim. Her father Rajesh and brother Prakhar were also among those injured.
The street they were crossing was in Sunnyvale, a city with such a large Indian population that it’s often referred to, jokingly, by it’s Hindi moniker, Suraj Nagari. Sunnyvale is a city full of chaat shops, South Indian restaurants, Indian grocery stores selling Parachute coconut oil, saree shops and beauty salons where you can get your eye-brows threaded under posters of Bollywood celebrities. Desis drive 40 miles down south from San Francisco to shop at Indian stores in Sunnyvale.
This borough full of Indians is the very last place you’d expect an Indian-American family to be the target of a hate crime. Add to this the inescapable irony of a Hindu family attacked for being Muslim, a throwback to the post 9/11 era when Sikhs in America were mistaken for Muslim and attacked. (Unprovoked attacks on Sikhs continue to this day).
Silicon Valley academic Rohit Chopra, who teaches global media and culture at Santa Clara University, believes the NRI Hindu community at large needs to realise that it shares vulnerabilities with Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities.
Indians in America have often dismissed the rise in hate crimes during the Trump regime, secure in their belief that these crimes are not targeted at them. The horrific attack on Dhriti and her family shows that an Islamophobe cannot differentiate between a brown Hindu and a brown Muslim.
While much has been written about racism and the rise of white supremacy in America, Isaiah Peoples, the Iraq war veteran who drove his car into pedestrians in Sunnyvale, was black, and not white. An attack in which a black man ran his car into brown people because he thought they were Muslim, calls for a nuanced understanding of race and religion. It is also a reminder of how an environment of hate and intolerance can be all pervasive; no race is immune to it, not even one that has been marginalised.
A local newspaper report on a multi-faith vigil at the site of the Sunnyvale crash, spoke to Muslim groups as well as an Armenian American from Jerusalem. Indian voices were conspicuous by their absence in the paper. While this may have been an oversight by the press, Indians in Silicon Valley are routinely quoted by American publications on issues that concern them, such as the crackdown on H-1B visas, the rate at which these visas are being rejected by immigration authorities, and Trump’s threats to revoke work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders, a threat that would largely target Indian women and render them jobless.