Indian-Americans have used the Jewish concerns and Jewish success in the U.S. as an example to pursue and emulate. Indian-American immigrants in the U.S., like the Jews, are mostly of non-Christian faith such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, etc. First cohort of Indians have been educated and well placed in the American labor market, much like the Jewish success stories. Indian-Americans, like the Jews, remain culturally unique but socially closer to the Anglo-Americans. They are a minority within minority representing less than 5 percent of the entire American population. Jews share a reverence for education that Indians do, which has pushed our children to success in spite of hardship. Jews have a loyalty to family and community concerns that are similar, sometimes their orthodoxy and elaborate cultural rituals are perceived as being comparable to Indians.
Even the Jewish loyalty to the state of Israel has been cited as an example for Indians to do the same, be it the Khalistan issue that reared its ugly head in India several years ago or the rantings of the Hindu fundamentalist who have forgotten about India.
What Indians in the U.S. and anywhere else should realize is that mimicking Jewish success in the U.S. is one thing, but making the South Asian region into another Israel-Palestine conflict is another. Unlike Israel, India is a very large country with many potentials and dangers. Unlike Israel, India has many linguistic, ethnic and religious minority groups. Unlike Israel, India has not been a historical favorite of the U.S. Unlike the Middle-East region, South Asia has no economic interests for the U.S. Unlike Palestine, Kashmir is not an occupied area and Kashmiris are Indians first.
Indians must develop the maturity and vision to realize that if the Hindu-Muslim riots are allowed to get out of control, then India’s problem will be worse than the Israel-Palestine conflict. There will be thousands of refugees fleeing India into neighboring countries. There will be thousands of women left penniless and widowed and thousands of children left orphans. India will become worse than many African countries that live in the dark ages with no stability or a chance for development.
India cannot afford chronic violence as the one that existed in Ireland, or the one between Israel and Palestine. These countries that could have developed sooner are lagging in growth and dependent on foreign aid. The Catholic-Protestant conflict has killed more Irish than the potato famine and more Irish have left Ireland in search of jobs and some stability than those who stayed behind. Is this what mediocre Indian leaders want? Or is that all one can expect from mediocre Indian leaders?
India has to win its people through trust and support. Poverty, unemployment, frustration, and jealousy make young minds susceptible to political propaganda. Our politicians and social activists are unable to admit the complexity of our social problems and are not humble enough to accept this. So they look for easy scapegoats.
Indians in the U.S. should know what it is to be a scapegoat. Many were targets after the Sept. 11 attack. We were held responsible for a crime that we had nothing to do with. Now innocent Muslims and Hindus have become targets of violence initiated by fundamentalists, politicians, and people who don’t think about the long-term stability of a nation.
It is the poor who suffer the most in these riots. A life that was once filled with hopelessness and misery is now also filled with fear and hate. How has India, that gave birth to men like Gandhi and Nehru, come to this? My mother used to say that half-baked knowledge is worse than no knowledge. As the Indian middle-class grows in India we get people who read but they don’t always think too deeply about what they read. They watch TV, but they don’t hear all perspectives. We have people who are frustrated by the Kashmir issue but do not realize that Kashmir is primarily a border issue, not a Hindu-Muslim conflict.
Indians should know that every time they fight among themselves, they weaken their system and their nation. Every hospital that is burnt, every school that is closed, and every industry that stays idle during a riot, takes us several steps backwards. Indian democracy and secularism should attract loyalty and commitment from all Indians. You cannot buy loyalty or commitment with violence and hatred. As a Hindu, I feel ashamed that my countrymen could commit such dastardly acts of violence towards each other.
I don’t believe a religious identity is going to help India. Is Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia the model that India wants to follow? India should be developing more like the Western European countries with a secular and a democratic government with people who feel culturally united rather than religiously ethnocentric.
What India and Indians everywhere must realize is that if India falls apart, no one will help India and no one will care. Just as Afghanis have to go begging to the world community to save themselves, India will become another begging bowl and all its achievement will be reduced to nothing. No wonder every time India stands up and moves forward, Indians themselves pull each other and themselves down. India today needs no other enemy than itself.
Mira Srinivasan teaches at San Francisco State University.