I stood atop of the dusty rose fort, looking over the crowded blue homes of Jodhpur. The sunlight streamed down through smog, and the sound of street traffic was faint. Over winter break, my family and I traveled to India, visiting my mother’s home state of Rajasthan. I had not been back for five years, and was excited to see India as an adult. My parents showed me crowded city markets, sand dunes and ancient palaces. They were proud, and didn’t want their Indian American daughter to lose that pride.
I am certainly proud of my family’s heritage. I speak Hindi, and follow both Hinduism and Sikhism. My family and I watch Bollywood movies, and enjoy cooking Indian food together. But after this visit, I realized I understood my identity in a limited context. I treated being Indian relative to being American rather than as an identity in itself. But to be Indian American is more than appreciating memes on “Subtle Curry Traits” and sharing stories of strict parents. To be Indian American means looking at India through a critical lens and confronting injustices in the world’s largest democracy.
There is a lot at stake. In Kashmir, a historically contested region that is majority-Muslim, the government abruptly took away administrative powers and has detained thousands of people, including young children. The New York Times reported that India “tops the world” in internet shutdowns that stifle free speech and press, affecting over 60 million people. Recently, Modi passed the Citizenship Amendment Act. Targeting Hindu refugees, the bill introduced religion as a criteria for Indian citizenship, disenfranchising Muslims. Indian students have risen for justice in protests against the CAA, and remain resilient in the face of state violence.
Even worse, Modi’s actions affect other regimes. India’s actions shape global norms and empower other countries to commit abuses. China, for example, has pointed to India’s internet curbing as justification for its own.
I am ashamed after hearing about these atrocities, but outrage is not enough. I want to call on Indian Americans to use our privilege to push for reform in India. There are several reasons why our involvement is so important. First, Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the US, and thus an increasingly important electorate. Even Trump recognizes this: during his campaign, he hosted joint events with Modi for wealthy Indians. Despite our political power, American politicians have shown a complete lack of interest in holding India accountable. Last November, a congressional hearing for Kashmir had a pitiful turnout of four out of the 84 members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Political pressure from Indian Americans could finally change this.
Second, the Modi regime has successfully manipulated the popular narrative, painting dissidents as anti-Indians who are speaking for Pakistan. Meanwhile, Indian Americans are an important source of international legitimacy for Indian politicians. Modi has used Indian American funding and campaigning in prior elections. Indian Americans could provide a serious blow to Modi’s international support and change the image of the protest movement from rogue “anti-Indian” youth to an international, educated group.
There are many ways you can take action. Contact your congressional representatives, and support Indian American politicians like Pramila Jayapal who are calling out the Modi regime. Talk to your family and friends about these issues, even when the conversations become difficult. Join movements on college campuses, such as Holi against Hindutva. Perhaps then Modi’s campaign slogan could be realized: achhe din aane waale hain. “The good days will come.”
RABYHA MEHROTRA is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact her at email@example.com .