I immigrated to the United States of America in 1992. I was a young man, under 21 years old. Shortly after my arrival, I found myself working at TEXACO to earn money, not realizing that I had just then personified the American cliché of a brown man from India working at a gas station.
As my family became situated, I joined the United States Army Reserves. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I put my studies on hold and volunteered for active duty and was sent into the active war zone in Afghanistan. I wanted to do my duty, and fight back in the face of the massive terrorist attack that we had all experienced. This drive was inspired by Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, where he instructed me to do my duty, since action (karma) is superior to inaction.
I suppose you could say I was a staunch “Rush Limbaugh Republican” from the moment I arrived in 1992. Looking back, I believe my Republican identity was due to the very fact that I was an immigrant: I came through the proper legal channels and had worked extremely hard for what I had. It felt natural to align with conservatives living in my community in Georgia.
After I moved to Arizona, I became active in my local Republican party and nearly ran for political office. At that time, I was virulently anti-illegal immigration, owned many guns, and supported all of America’s military engagements overseas. Even as I was deployed multiple times into combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had no second thoughts about any of my deployments. I completely trusted President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and did not see any reason to doubt any decisions they took to send me to fight other brown people.
I did not realize then, in the manner I do today, that throughout my deployments, I was in subconscious conflict with people who shared a culture that was quite similar to my own. They even resembled me physically much more than my white compatriots did. Though there were horrible people on the battlefield who would have readily killed me, my family, and other Americans if presented the opportunity, the majority of the people caught up in the conflict, had no such terrorist credentials.
I failed to realize after my deployments that I was suffering from combat-related Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) No amount of cost-benefit analysis could justify my involvement in these unjust U.S. led wars, which made my PTSD suffering even worse. My war buddies and I belong to a generation of war veterans who absolutely detest being “thanked” for their service. Most people who have not served in the military do not realize that this country’s Republican leadership at that time, in waging the war in Iraq, had subjected their own military forces and their families to absolute hell without a clear endgame in sight.
I hadn’t realized that while fighting in barren combat zones, my erstwhile Republican utopia had had a tiny seed of reality planted in it for the first time. Fast forward a few years past both my daughters’ births, and I fully realized that I could no longer ignore reality in my search for arbitrary acceptance into American society. I could no longer afford the false belief and luxury of thinking that as a successful and well-off Indian American, I was “white enough” in a society that was getting more virulently anti-minority by the minute. Around the time President Obama’s second term in office ended, and Trump ripped apart Hillary Clinton’s dreams of a Presidency, I finally accepted my truth and became a Democrat.
As November approaches, I realize that as a Hindu, I must take action. Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita 3.8, “niyataṁ kuru karma tvaṁ karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ śharīra-yātrāpi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ” (action is better than inaction). If I refuse to fight against the injustices I see, I will sin (pāpam). Lord Krishna says as much to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita, 2.33. It is for these reasons that blind acceptance of all the destructive and racist policies of the Trump administration, simply because he appears to have a friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Modi, is morally wrong for Hindus. Excusing the Trump administration’s criminal actions in Washington, D.C., or Portland, Oregon, or the deliberate separation and imprisonment of little kids in cages away from their parents at the border would make me a deserter of my Dharma.
As Indians and Hindus, we must remember that it is the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who are fighting for the poor, the weak, the minorities, and for social equity and justice. Vice President Joe Biden is a man of conviction who has suffered unimaginable losses in his personal life, which in turn have honed him to be laser-focused (what we refer to as “एकाग्रता,” or concentration) on what he feels is vital for social good. Biden has been and always will be a friend to India. More importantly, he will support us immigrants who willingly chose to leave India behind and voluntarily became citizens of our new home, the U.S.
On this auspicious occasion of the 73rd Indian Independence Day, it would be a fitting tribute to our former home to stay true to our culture, our traditions, and our compassion for others. We represent India in the best light possible in our new home through our actions. I hope that you join me in voting for Joe Biden for President on November 3, 2020.
In the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: “Take to the path of Dharma – the path of truth and justice. Don’t misuse your valor. Remain united. March forward in all humility, but fully awake to the situation you face, demanding your rights and firmness.”
Ruchir Bakshi is a U.S. Army combat veteran with deployments to locations in South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Ruchir has a MA degree in Management, and he is a highly experienced Instructional Systems Design professional and has worked on both unclassified and classified projects within the federal government. He is a national board member of South Asians for Biden.