Desis Under Attack — Here are 5 ways to respond

Our communities in the United States are reeling from three recent shootings that appear to be inspired or encouraged by a culture of xenophobia that stems from the White House. But we are not powerless in the face of hate.

On February 22, we saw the shooting in Olathe, KS, which resulted in the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injury of Alok Madasani, who were both perceived as “Iranian.” On March 2, we saw the murder of Harnish Patel in Lancaster, SC; the motives remain unclear in this case. And most recently, the shooting of a 39 year old Sikh man in Kent, Ohio by a white man wearing a mask covering part of his face, telling him to go back to “his country.”

Fear is exacerbated by an increase in explicitly anti-immigrant messages on social media, aimed directly at H-1 B visa holders, tech workers, individuals who are racialized as Muslim, turbaned Sikh men, and Muslim women who wear hijab.

What can Hindus do? Here are five steps any of us can take:

1. Realize we are not alone.

The hate and fear we’re experiencing gives us a sense of how other communities feel when they’re under attack. Sikh, Muslim, African, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, Dalit, Indigenous, and poor people have been on the front lines of attack for a long time, in a multitude of ways. The hate violence and violent government policies we’re seeing in 2017 are part of a very long pattern.

If you are an upper caste Hindu with class privilege, as you grieve and condemn attacks against Hindus, use your relative privilege to raise awareness about the attacks on all of our communities. Doing this does not diminish the pain of the Hindu community, rather it serves to build solidarity with others towards the goal of protection for all.

[EDITED TO INCLUDE: If you have the means, support victims of hate crimes and their families.  Donations to a fund set up to support the family of Srinivas Kuchibhotla wonderfully met its goal five-fold in a matter of days. As Hindus with upper-caste and relative class privilege, we must respond in a similar generous manner towards efforts to collect funds to support Sikh, Muslim, African, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, Dalit, Indigenous and other vulnerable communities.]

2. Refuse to let them divide us

After the attacks in Kansas and Washington, some of our community members said things like “but why were these people shot? They are not Muslim.” This rhetoric suggests that the attacks would have been in any way justified had either of these individuals been Muslim. While sharing our cultures is important, there is no purpose to trying to “educate” White supremacists about the differences between our communities—their actions are predicated on a rejection of all non-White people.

When we forcefully stand up against all anti-Muslim attacks, we protect Hindus. Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s murderer perceived him as being “Iranian.” Our goals are aligned: when “Iranians” are safer, Hindus will be safer as well. There was a recent vigil for Kuchibhotla in Washington, DC organized by people spreading anti-Muslim hate. This is dangerous, because anti-Muslim hate is the reason why Kuchibhotla was murdered. Attempts to divide our communities put us all in danger.

Some of our community members say they are “good immigrants,” and others are “bad immigrants.” The idea that some of us—engineers, doctors, professionals—should be protected because they are “law-abiding” isn’t only laced with classism and racism, but it makes the lives of the most vulnerable (undocumented, working class, those that do not speak English, those that do not wear western clothes) among us more difficult. This is a time we need to stand together, rather than allowing for further division amongst our communities.

3. Document hate in your area

For every murder, there are thousands of smaller acts of hate, from name-calling to school bullying. Most of these smaller incidents are not widely shared, but put together, they form an early warning system to help us understand the threats against our communities. Talk to members of targeted communities to stay connected, and learn about incidents of hate that may not otherwise have been reported.

You can use this documentation to:

4. Connect with progressive allies

Allies are critical to help us weather the storm. You may be able to find allies in local interfaith groups, among liberal faith communities, among educators, or through organizations like Standing Up for Racial Justice. You may be able to work with allies to set up a community watch where people periodically check on places of worship, businesses owned by immigrants in isolated areas, etc. to ensure they are feeling safe and know their rights.

During an emergency, it’s important to have bystanders step up. When Ian Grillot stood up to protect Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani in Olathe, Kansas, he showed us what it looks like to intervene in moments of crisis. But bystander intervention doesn’t have to look like a grand act of heroism. Some of the most effective bystander intervention involves defusing situations before they start. We’re a fan of this simple four-step comic book guide to protecting people from targeted racial or religious harassment. Learning and teaching bystander intervention training is a useful everyday skill for allies who want to help, but don’t know what to do.

5. Write, call or visit your local elected officials

Cities and counties can play an important part in resisting attacks on their residents. Share this guide with city and county officials, and encourage them to try:

  • Issuing an unambiguous statement against hate by city officials and police to proactively condemn violence against minority communities in their jurisdiction (we like the simple anti-hate resolution passed by the District of Columbia’s city council)
  • Establishing the jurisdiction as a “hate-free zone,” committing to support the efforts of local organizations to eliminate racism, discrimination, and actions of hate against targeted residents
  • Talking to members of targeted communities to stay connected, and learn about incidents of hate that may not otherwise have been reported to the police
  • Investigate and prosecute hate crimes, while prioritizing restorative justice options whenever possible
  • Developing more effective alternatives to increasing police force or police presence, such as neighborhood community safety squads, or public health-based interventions
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