Attacks on Indians put MEA under pressure

Besieged by complaints from PIOs and NRIs, India can do little in the case of citizens of another country

March 06, 2017 12:20 am | Updated November 29, 2021 01:35 pm IST

A candlelight vigil for the victim of the shooting in Kansas.

A candlelight vigil for the victim of the shooting in Kansas.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was quick to react on Sunday to the shooting of a Sikh U.S. citizen in Washington, the third attack on a person of Indian origin in the past two weeks, even as the External Affairs Ministry faces concerns domestically over the safety of Indians in the U.S.

“I am sorry to know about the attack on Deep Rai, a U.S. national of Indian origin. I have spoken to Sardar Harpal Singh, father of the victim,” Ms. Swaraj tweeted, adding details about the bullet injury he sustained in his arm when a masked gunman opened fire at him outside his home, allegedly shouting, “Go back to your country.”

“Amb @NavtejSarna convyd r deep concerns to US Gov [Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna conveyed deep concerns to the U.S. government] on recent tragic incidents involving Harnish Patel & Deep Rai,” the Indian Embassy in Washington tweeted.

“Amb @NavtejSarna underlined need to prevent such incidents and protect Indian community.”

Ascertaining nature of crime

The Ministry said the Indian Consulate in San Francisco was in “touch with local authorities who are ascertaining the nature of the crime”, though there is a suspicion of this being a hate crime, similar to the killing of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in a bar in Kansas in February, which is now being investigated by the FBI.

On Sunday, Ms. Swaraj said she had ensured that the Indian Consul had reached Lancaster, South Carolina, to meet the family of Harnish Patel, a convenience store owner who was killed as he was closing his shop for the day. As news of a third attack of a person of Indian origin in the U.S. spread, concern came in from other politicians as well.

Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal urged Ms. Swaraj to “intervene in the matter and address the issue”, while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “Two more shocking killings of Indians in the U.S. GOI (Government of India) must take this up with the U.S. government on an urgent basis.”

Despite the pleas, however it is unclear what the Indian government can do, especially given that two of the men attacked are U.S. citizens.

‘Can’t be fixed easily’

“The problem is of intolerance and hate, and that is not something you can fix easily, in India or in the U.S,” says former Ambassador K.C. Singh. “Also the Modi government’s policy has been to treat the entire diaspora as one large entity, not distinguishing between Persons of Indian Origin [PIOs] and Non-Resident Indians [NRIs], which can become a problem.”

As a result, the Ministry is finding itself besieged by complaints from both categories, though there is little jurisdiction or official responsibility for India when it comes to U.S. citizens. Another problem that is emerging is the panic over all incidents involving citizens of Indian extraction being called racially motivated attacks.

On Sunday, Ms. Swaraj fended off an enquiry from a gentleman appealing for help with his passport after the death of his nephew in Boston which, he wrote, seemed to be “one of those hate crimes”.

“Our Consulate in New York has spoken to the father of the deceased in Massachusetts. He says this is a personal family tragedy,” Ms. Swaraj countered on Twitter, correcting him.

The incident is, however, an indicator of the task cut out for the government over fears that hate crimes are allegedly on the rise because of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the Trump administration.

(With inputs from PTI )

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