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The Indian H-1B worker in Trump’s US is like the Muslim in Modi’s India

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Even for tech behemoths from Cisco to IBM, Facebook to Google, there is no sentimental love or preference for Indians.

The year began with the perfect gift for Indians from Donald Trump. There was much joy about his tweet accusing Pakistan of conning the US while supporting terror in Afghanistan.

His attack on Pakistan seemed to confirm several deeply held beliefs by right-wing Hindus: that Trump, unlike his predecessor, sees India as an ally against, and fellow victim of, Islamic terror; that Trump recognises Modi as a fellow strongman and kindred spirit; and that Indians share with Americans the innate qualities of technological brilliance, entrepreneurial ability, and general greatness.

Alas, this rosy — and somewhat deluded — image of India as the favorite son of an American patriarch, with Pakistan as the proverbial prodigal, was cruelly shattered when news emerged of a Trump proposal to deny extensions to H-1B visa holders. The plan, likely brewing before Trump dropped his Pakistan bombshell tweet, clearly targets Indians. As this article notes:

“’The idea is to create a sort of ‘self-deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,’ said a U.S. source briefed by Homeland Security officials.”

Ironically, the plan falls under Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, which echoes Modi’s “Make in India” programme. The Trump administration clarified that it just wants to cut down on H-1B abuse. Indian commentators began looking for a silver lining by claiming that the forced brain gain of five lakh Indian techies will help our nascent superpower.

These developments reveal certain harsh truths about the conditions of Indians in the US. There are a few strong similarities between the political situations in America and India, which should occasion some soul-searching among privileged Hindus in India, both Modi supporters and otherwise.

Despite the pompous rhetoric about themselves as an intellectually cutting-edge, highly qualified and affluent model minority, the purpose most Indian immigrants (the majority of whom are Hindu) serve in America is largely instrumental. In the conservative American imagination (to which Trump panders even if he may not privately agree with it entirely), America remains a fundamentally Christian country or, grudgingly, a Judeo-Christian one, with Hindus and Muslims as outsiders. No doubt NRI and PIO Hindus are aware of this, and it is this anxiety that compels them to constantly announce their difference from Muslims, South Asian or otherwise, in a classic case of what Freud called “the narcissism of minor difference”.

Even for the tech behemoths, from Cisco to IBM, Facebook to Google, there is no sentimental love or preference for Indians, even if their CEOs may make such flattering noises when they meet Modi. Tomorrow, if Indonesia or Malaysia produced a better version of the Indian tech worker, or if China upped its already formidable game, citizens of these countries would replace the ample numbers of desis in Silicon Valley.

It is curious, though, that Hindus in the US—many of whom have been steadfast supporters of Hindu nationalism since the 1980s, generously funding the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir movement (which is yet to be built) and launching websites on imaginary Hindu genocides and holocausts at the hands of Muslims—fail to see the parallels between Trump’s America and Modi’s India. In both cases, the nationalism that purports to put America and India first, respectively, is barely more than an ugly majoritarianism that discriminates against minorities.

Trump does not read anything, as Michael Wolff’s just-to-be-released tell-all book reveals, so he is unlikely to have read V.D. Savarkar. Were he to read the pioneering ideologue of Hindutva, he might well find a kindred spirit, at least in terms of his strategy of using policy as a tool of ethnic-religious exclusion.

There is no schadenfreude to be experienced at the possible dislocation of hundreds of thousands of Indians who have made the US their home for years, who pay their taxes, and who enrich American society like other immigrants. But at least among the die-hard Modi supporters, who approvingly see both Modi and Trump as anti-Muslim crusaders, it will provoke some reflection about the costs of ugly nativism and anti-minority prejudices.

At the risk of some simplification, the Indian worker on an H-1B visa in the US is like the Muslim in Modi’s India. She is an outsider, not just by legal status, but by origin and identity. And she is told that she exists only by the good graces and generosity of the majority.

For Trump, the H-1B Indian is no different from the Muslim grandmother who must be kept out of the United States or removed from it by whatever means necessary.

In this perverse equality of discrimination that Trump has practiced, hopefully Modi-supporting NRIs and resident Indians alike can clearly recognise the devastating irrationality of prejudice and the potential it has to severely damage a large number of lives.

Rohit Chopra is an associate professor at Santa Clara University.

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  1. To the Writer,

    The articles on the print seem to be well researched and better presented than the other networks. Having said that the title of the article is horrible, it doesn’t do justice to the content in it. Modi doesn’t represent India and neither do trump and also Muslims in India are not foreigners they will fight for their rights rather than migrate to some other country. Avoiding comparisons of injustices can be a thumb rule for writing good articles. I am not biased in my view, I am a left-leaning Indian.

  2. Americans are tired of watching their fellow citizens weep while describing job loss and being forced to train their H1B replacements. Or watching young Amerricans with tech degrees work as grocery store clerks while imported Indian and Chinese workers take tech sector jobs.

    Why do you support this corrupt system, Dr Chopra?

  3. I don’t even care to read this article because when this person does not know Muslim modi equation he is nothing but a ignorant buffoon. Modi had the guts to tell one of HIS countrymen, the Muslims that you are on the wrong path of regression..he made them stand up, turn about and see for themselves the light of progress education and real importance for themselves in modern India.

  4. Thanks for writing this thoughtful piece Prof. Rohit. The phrase “the narcissism of minor difference” will ring my head for a while.

    Unfortunately, some folks in the Indian community (commonly known as bhakts) are either shameless hypocrites or so obtuse that they completely lack the capacity to introspect.

    The anti-muslim hatred has permeated their souls, there is nothing much that can be done now.

  5. I have to say I can’t see how anyone could support not extending the H-1b visa for those seeking a Green Card. My main problem with the H-1b is that it disenfranchises both American citizens and H-1b workers at the same time. The main thing that gets lost with H-1b, is the ability of any American worker (and by American, that means anyone in America including those on a Visa, or having a Green Card.).

    The H-1b prevents normal market forces from determining the outcome of one’s working status. That’s just plain Anti-Capitalist and harkens back to the days of indentured servitude and Feudalism, it is a step backward for the entire society. People should be highly valued, so that management is motivated to maximize human productivity. That productivity maximization is what makes Capitalism the preferred system.

    We all have to use our hearts on this one, that will guide us in the right path for both our awesome countries.

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