Whose country is it anyway?

It is easy to stir up emotions. Politicians like the newly elected US president know only too well how to.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind….” mourned a 16th century poet. John Donne’s philosophy that no man is an island has become more relevant today with dictators claiming that “outsiders” will not be allowed inside their hallowed territories.

If the claim remained mere rhetoric, it could be ignored. But, when it resounds across 50 states, igniting hatred and prejudice, it is no longer rhetoric. It is a battle cry to wipe out those who supposedly snatched away their land and their jobs.

It is easy to stir up emotions. Politicians like the newly elected president of America know only too well how to rouse hatred. By convincing his countrymen that their security was threatened and their employment stolen by immigrants, and by promising that both these threats would be eliminated if he came to power, he won their confidence and their votes.

Strange that Americans still believe that they are the rightful citizens of that country while all the others are trespassers. Perhaps, they should read their history again. At least, those of them who are literate.

The illiteracy rate in a country that boasts of being the best and the first in everything, is shocking. According to official estimates, 32 million adults in the US cannot read or write. If nearly 15% of the population is unemployable, why blame “outsiders” for stealing their jobs? The president needs to do his homework before making rash statements that end in tragedies like the recent felling of a young engineer from India.

I was talking to a white American plumber once who said something I will not forget. “I admire the way your kids from India work” he said. “No wonder they go places. Our kids are too lazy and prefer fun to work!”

This may not be true of all American youth. But, those who grumble that their jobs are taken away by immigrants, voted for a man who posed as their saviour. They, along with the older white American who thinks that the country is exclusively his, are like travellers who board a train thinking that all those who come after them are intruders! Srinivas Kuchibhotla was one such unwanted and unwelcome guest in this land of milk and honey.

A qualified engineer by profession, he had gone to chase his American dream like hundreds before him. His sad story has sent a message the world over that America is no longer the melting pot of civilisation. It stands for forces that will wipe out the free movement of men across continents if allowed to grow. The cry “Get out of my country,” which represents this new culture, may echo across the globe.

Yet, the irony of it all has escaped the president of the USA. Whose country is he talking about anyway?  Is it the land of the pilgrim fathers who fled Europe to seek shelter in this continent? Or, is it the land of the convicts from European prisons shipped to these shores as indentured labourers? Or, is it the land of the Africans forcibly brought by the same convicts to serve as their slaves?

Country of immigrants
America is a country made of immigrants — those who were brought by force or those who came to better their economic opportunities. Finally, let us not forget the original inhabitants of this land who were wiped out of existence by the later arrivals. The native American Indian who was annihilated in his own land never got a chance to tell his oppressors “Get out of my country!”  

There is another danger in such politics of hate.  A danger that could percolate to other countries. We in India, ever ready to follow the west in all matters, must be careful not to let such forces come into play in the guise of patriotism.

A large section of Indians rejoiced over America’s recent ban on Muslims, little realising that a Hindu would be the first casualty of such short sighted policies. Even now, we should have been more vocal in condemning this unpardonable attack on an Indian professional on American soil.

Our prime minister’s deafening silence may send a wrong signal to other countries that we don’t care. The countries where our qualified young men and women have contributed meaningfully in terms of academic, scientific and technological progress have a responsibility to ensure their safety.

America, in particular, owes more to the Indian community than mere votes. It has always been a peaceful, responsible community that has enriched many a workplace. The graduates who migrated there have brought laurels to their adopted land.

If they feel threatened now to work in that country, it is America’s loss.  If they are killed because they are not wanted, that too will rebound. John Donne’s words, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” is more relevant than ever.

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