By Guest Contributors: Lakshmi Gandhi (@lakshmigandhi) and Asha Sundararaman (@mixedtck)
Lakshmi: If you follow lots of South Asians on Twitter (as we both do) you probably saw lots of tweets on Saturday about what I’ve been calling “The Trumpet’s Hindutvaganza.” Which is to say, the Donald headed to NJ to pander to the Hindu American vote. What stood out to you?
Asha: “Do they not realize they have brown skin?” was my first thought.
Lakshmi: What struck me was the tone of the whole event. Both Trump and the attendees seemed to really want to telegraph that “(Hindu) Indians are the good ones.” They have jobs, they don’t use up resources like welfare (whether or not that’s true is much more complicated.)
Asha: Let’s talk about the Bollywood stars who showed up. What were they thinking???
Lakshmi: This BuzzFeed piece about the backlash the performers who showed up are now facing breaks down how fans are reacting.
… Others have pointed out that the stars would probably face a tough time getting to the U.S. if Trump wins and follows through on his tough stance on immigration.”
Asha: I guess they didn’t even think about that.
Lakshmi: I think they might not have thought about any of it! They were probably paid really well!
Lakshmi: One of the stars was the superstar choreographer Prabhu Deva, because the dance he put together because it sounds over-the-top even for Bollywood!
…two couples dancing onstage abruptly come to a stop. Two men wearing thobes, a traditional Arab garment, suddenly burst in carrying laser-beam guns and begin spraying imaginary bullets. A troop of prancing men in SWAT vests emerges, cartwheeling, shooting, and pummeling until the “terrorists” fall. Then, the soldiers and their freed hostages line up, hands on their hearts, and adopt solemn expressions as the Star-Spangled Banner begins to play.
Asha: I think there are two things going on here:
2) Like with our conversations about PC, these are people who have always been the majority. They have no idea what it’s like to be on the other side.
Lakshmi: Well, that’s why I was disappointed with Malaika Arora, because she is married to (and currently separated from) Salman Khan’s brother Arbaaz Khan! Her child is half Muslim! WHY WOULD SHE DO THIS?!
Lakshmi: As her preferred candidate would say: Sad!
Asha: It’s amazing what people will do for a paycheck.
Lakshmi: In that BuzzFeed article about the pushback these stars were getting, I was heartened by the one tweet that noted that it wasn’t surprising that Prabhu Deva would do this because his dances and films of choice are filled with misogyny.
Asha: I saw that! That was a good one.
Lakshmi: Counter that to the totally gross quotes by Shalab Kumar, the organizer of the event.
“See, there is an elephant—uh, I should correct myself—there is a camel in the room, which everybody is ignoring,” Shalabh Kumar, the founding chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition, the organization that sponsored the event, said at a press conference in India. “And Donald Trump is the first guy—non-politician, a businessman—who could be very comfortable just in his business but he decided to serve the world by jumping into this. And he has pointed out the camel in the room, and that monster is terrorism.”
The “camel” in the room. Could you be more subtle, uncle? I don’t think they understood in the back.
Asha: Prejudice is deeply ingrained.
Lakshmi: I’m also just weirded out by Indian Americans who are so invested in Hindutva, 1) because it’s gross but 2) They will never live in India again! And most of these people left many decades ago. Isn’t it time to let the motherland go? Kumar is not going to leave his cozy Chicago neighborhood for India. It’s simply not going to happen.
Asha: There’s probably a psychological component to this. No matter how much money they make they will never be truly “american” and the money insulates them (or they think it does) from discrimination based racism and xenophobia.
Lakshmi: Right! For example, the posters for this event touted that Trump will make getting green cards easier, which is totally contrary to everything else about his candidacy. But the people at this event may think (because they are “the good ones”) that of course they deserve green cards.
Also, it was funny just how clueless the Donald was here. He said he was “a big fan of the Hindu”!
Asha: I don’t think that’s surprising. I think Hindus are pretty low on his radar and with his campaign hemorraging, he’s just happy to have support.
Lakshmi: Right. Also, how much knowledge of India can we expect from a man who proudly named his most famous casino after the final resting place of a woman who died in childbirth?
Asha: Hahaha. Although to be fair, there’s an Indian hotel chain called the same thing.
Lakshmi: I think it was particularly insidious that the speech was part of the Humanity Against Terror Charity Concert which supposedly was meant to raise money for Hindu victims of Kashmiri terror and Hindus in Bangladesh. It’s disgusting, especially considering all of the stories right now of Kashmiri protestors being blinded and the situation there in general.
Asha: Well, these are the people who elected Modi so…..
Lakshmi: About that! Because the speech wasn’t technically a political fundraiser (it was a charity event) anyone could go. Many of the attendees were green card holders or students or other non-voters.)
Asha: Of course.
Lakshmi: Also, I highly recommend this piece about the event if you haven’t read it. The quotes are incredible.
Asha: AAAAAAAA Sri Sri Ravi Shankar!
Lakshmi: Oh yes, he delivered remarks!
Asha: The man must have an amazing PR person.
Lakshmi: And, raise your hand if you are surprised that board members of the Hindu American Foundation were there!
Rishi Bhutada, a member of the board of directors of the Hindu American Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, says that calling the event an “anti-terror” charity concert was not the way other Hindus understood those atrocities. “Because it’s not terrorism as such,” he says of Hindu refugees in Bangladesh and Pakistan. “They are subject to more of a general persecution.”
Sigh. There are 200 million Muslims in India, Rishi. Why don’t you ask them what their everyday lives are like and about the prejudices they experience.
Asha: Seriously. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan.
Lakshmi: And then there is this lady who goes on a tirade that “eventually ends with her exasperation that Hindu actors from Bollywood are marrying Muslim actors.” Underneath it all there’s this terror that Hindus will one day be outnumbered. That’s why these people like Trump.
Asha: Yep. He plays to their fears.
Lakshmi: And he can do that in the same way he plays to the fears of people in rural areas of the United States. “They” are coming to take away what is rightfully yours.
Asha: For a culture that’s supposed to emphasize communal values, there sure is an us vs them mentality.
Lakshmi: We should note that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly take the vast majority of both the Indian American and Hindu American vote. While the people at the Hindutvaganza were loud, they are the minority.
Asha: This is true. Indian Americans are pretty solidly Democratic voters.
Lakshmi: And Indian Americans tend to be very liberal when it comes to reproductive rights.
Asha: I think the key word there is “Indian-Americans,” So the second generation, rather than first. There are a lot more of us than there are of our parents.
Lakshmi: Well, I have a theory that you can’t have been born between 1940-1960 in India and have not personally witnessed at least five absolutely horrible things. That post-1965 generation of Indians in the United States grew up at a time where dying in childbirth was common.
That will certainly affect your views on maternal health care.
Asha: Interesting… You’re probably right. BUT, the Indians who emigrated in the 70s were already more privileged than the average Indian. They had the money and education to leave.
Lakshmi: You know what else was weird? This dude who talked to BuzzFeed and said this:
“Trump is 100% nationalist,” said Brijash Agarwal, a New Jersey accountant. “They’re both nationalists, that’s enough.”
Lakshmi: Brijash, THEY DON’T LIKE YOU. THEY WILL NEVER LIKE YOU.
Asha: He doesn’t get it. Like that one brown kid who was beaten at a rally a few months ago?
Lakshmi: His name was Jake Anantha.
Asha: That’s what i mean when i say “you realize you have brown skin right?” Also, that you’re the ones coming for their jobs.
Lakshmi: Well, Jake to his credit said that getting beaten up has gotten him to reconsider his support of Trump. So that’s something!
Asha: It is!
This post originally appeared on The Lakshmi and Asha Show, our new weekly pop culture newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Lakshmi Gandhi is a journalist and pop culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Metro New York, NBC Asian America and NPR’s Code Switch blog, among other sites. She likes it when readers tweet her @LakshmiGandhi with their thoughts on Asian American issues and romance novels.
Asha Sundararaman is a freelance writer and photographer based in Oakland, California. When she’s not discussing pop culture, she can be found in her kitchen blending the flavors of her Southern and Indian roots.
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