*A Killing in Kansas:  Some Questions about Visas in the American Heartland

Annals of the President Trump Regime IX

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer from Hyderabad, and all of 32 years old, was shot dead in a bar in the city of Olathe, Kansas, on Wednesday night.  He and his friend, Alok Madasani, were nursing a Jameson whiskey at Austins Bar and Grill when a Navy veteran, Adam Purinton, 51, fired on the two men.  Madasani survived the attack; so did Ian Grillot, 24, another patron who confronted the gunman after mistakenly thinking that he may have run out of ammunition.

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Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Source: Indian Express.

A surge in hate crimes has been reported from across the country, and not only since Trump gained the White House; there is ample empirical data to suggest that hate crimes began to increase once Trump had clinched the Republican nomination for the Presidency.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that on one single day, November 9, immediately after the election had been decided, 202 hate crimes were reported from across the country; in the ten days following the election, 867 such crimes of “harassment and intimidation” were reported.  “Many of the incidents involved harassers invoking Trump’s name, the Center’s report states unequivocally, “making it clear that the outbreak of hate was primarily due to his success in the election.”  In recent days, dozens of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated.  The racists have evidently been feeling greatly emboldened since Trump promised to ‘Make America Great Again’ and take the country back—though back from whom, and back to what, are almost never specified.

The history of the US is drenched in hate crimes, but the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla will in time to come surely be seen as forming an extraordinarily distinct chapter in this troubled history.  The killer, the New York Times has reported, was “tossing ethnic slurs at the two men and suggesting they did not belong in the United States” (Saturday, February 25:  “Drinks at a Bar, Ethnic Insults, Then Gunshots).  There are few hates crimes which are not accompanied by ‘ethnic slurs’; and doubtless the most common form of opprobrium that immigrants have continued to face is to be told, especially if they dare to be at all critical of the US, to return to where they came from.  Thus far, then, the killer, Adam Purinton, seems to have said nothing spectacularly vile.  However, it is Mr. Madasani’s testimony which furnishes the more pertinent clue to the unusual characteristics of this killing.  Mr. Madasani recalled, “He [Purinton] asked us what visa we are currently on and whether we are staying here illegally.”

The fact that both Mr. Kuchibhotla and Mr. Madasani had been living in the United States for many years, and had received their graduate degrees from American universities before becoming gainfully employed, is beside the point.  The shooting would have been no more justified had the victims been illegal, Muslims, refugees, or from working-class backgrounds.  The killer did not bother very much with their answers, since he pulled out a revolver and then shot one of them dead—but not before he yelled at them to “get out of my country”.  Ever heard of a killing where a victim was asked what kind of visa he had before bullets were pumped into his body?  One is accustomed to hear of killings over botched drug deals, a sex triangle, or a disputed inheritance, but what kind of hate crime is it where the victim is interrogated over his visa status?

The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, forcefully rejected on Friday any suggestion that the murder of Mr. Kuchibhotla and attempted murder of Mr. Madasani could even remotely be linked to the ferociously anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been emanating from the Trump administration. Spicer is not known for his command over the English language:  naturally gifted in being incoherent, he nevertheless made himself quite clear, “I mean, obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but I’m not going to get into, like, that kind of – to suggest that there’s any correlation, I think, is a bit absurd.  So I’m not going to go any further than that.”  But why should such a “correlation” be “absurd”?  If Trump’s followers, acolytes, and foot soldiers are sold on the idea that immigrants have stolen ‘their’ country, taken ‘their’ jobs, and made America unsafe, why is it at all unreasonable that the present administration, which has done everything within its power to incite hatred against immigrants, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, Syrians, and various other classes of foreigners, should be forced to acknowledge it has opened the flood-gates of racial and religious hatred?

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Srinivas Kuchibhotla and his wife Sunayana Dumala in happier days. Source: Live Mint.

Mr. Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, who is employed by another IT company in the same area, said that her husband’s killing had forced her to confront the question:  “Do we belong here?”  She has gone on record as saying that she awaits an answer from the US government about what “they’re going to do to stop this [kind of] hate crime.”  The entire country awaits such an answer.

5 thoughts on “*A Killing in Kansas:  Some Questions about Visas in the American Heartland

  1. we can only guess what the response from the administration would have been if the gunman was brown, maybe bearded and with a Persio/Arabic last name

    the perpetrator was a veteran (like many are) and maybe we should reflect on that – how the foot soldiers of empire are brutalized on alien lands and come back home to brutalize others – is this (along the lines of Ashis Nandy) how colonization affects the colonizer?

    would it be a crass and vulgar statement to suggest that Gandhi might have used this tragedy to rebuke the Indian diaspora for their deep support towards the Hindu right (and even their support to the right wing sections of the Republican establishment)

    how do we counter such hate in a society whose foundations are the native american genocide, trans-atlantic slave trade, empire and conquest?

    “..pyaar ka jashn nai tarah manana hoga..nafrat kisi dil mein hi sahi, nafrat ko mitana hoga..” – Kaifi Azmi

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  2. Hi Utsav,
    Your comments offers many provocations. In asking whether Gandhi might have used the tragic shooting of Mr Kuchibhotla to rebuke the Indian diaspora, you are, I suspect, thinking (to take one example that comes to mind) of his remarks on the Bihar earthquake and, as it were, God’s visitation of wrath upon the Hindus for their crimes of untouchability. But one must be careful that one does not apply the idea of ‘compensation’ mechanically. Yet, to argue this question from a different angle, there is no question that Indians in the US have done very little to forge bonds of solidarity with other racial, ethnic, or religious minorities. There are groups here and there, and remarkable endeavors by activists — the example of Biju Mathew in New York comes to mind, for instance — but nevertheless there is much work to be done in this regard.

    The killer of Mr. Kuchibhotla was, as you say, a veteran. Those who are brutalized are more likely to brutalize others. But there are other elements to the story: a disproportionate number of the homeless as well as the mentally ill in the US are veterans. The US Government has done very little for them, even though there are extensive rituals for celebrating the sacrifices of veterans, and the US of course also has a national holiday called ‘Veterans Day’. There are too many elements of this story that would have to be dissected bare.

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    • yes indeed i was thinking in terms of the Bihar Earthquake incident – but you do raise some excellent points about the indian diaspora not forging bonds with other racial minorites – say BLM or the undocumented movement – maybe there is a class divide there? since the indian diaspora might be in a more privileged economic situation compared to the others

      also some excellent points on veterans – veterans are indeed expelled to the scrap heap of history once they are done with their mission of empire. however i must say that veterans are also at the forefront in the fight against empire – protests at standing rock and the drone warfare revelations are some instances which spring to mind from the recent past

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  3. The article was not written, as you can understand, with the aim of elucidating all or even some of the complexities that may come to the fore when we begin to analyze the killer’s background as a veteran. It may well be the case that veterans sometimes been involved in resistance movements. Their experience can brutalize them; contrariwise, it can also sensitize them to forms of injustice.

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  4. Revisiting this article in light of recent events and after doing some more reading. So racism is after all an ideology, and all good ideologies require their planners, managers and technocrats to carry them out institutionally. The stereotypes follow from it. The categories of “illegals” need to be institutionalised first and then the racial crimes follow on the ground.

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