By George Abraham
I was merely happy to be invited to the ‘Holiday Party’ organized by the South Asian Community in Queens. However, I have learned that the main purpose of the gathering was to honor the newly appointed Consul General Sandeep Chakraborthy of India and introduce him to various elected officials from Queens, New York. The program ran in typical Indian style, with as many of the community leaders jockeying for VIP seats and later on putting up a brave struggle to position themselves for a celebrity photo for their next Facebook post.
These politicos in New York City appear to show very little respect for the South Asian Community. To them, we are an ATM they could push a button on and get their so-called campaign contributions. They seem to be quite confident as well that we are ‘simple-minded’ and would go away happily after an embrace and a Selfie shoot for the next edition in an Indian weekly newspaper.
I wonder why the South Asian Community, probably the largest concentration anywhere in the U.S. has so far failed to get a footing in the mainstream politics in New York City! Indians who live even in the old Confederacy seem to have more success than their peers who live in the most liberal city in the U.S.
I had long wanted to vent this boiling frustration within me to somebody when Professor Saluja, the emcee for the evening, informed me that I would have an opportunity to say few words at the function felicitating the Chief Guest before all those public officials from the Queens. However, it never came to pass, and they simply had too many speakers who paid the bill, they said!
However, I had an opportunity to speak to Ms. Letitia James, the Public Advocate for the New York City Council. I tried to make my case and requested her to help appropriate one city council seat, probably District 23, for an Asian Indian if not a South Asian. She tried to convince me that we have to come together and fight the election. My response to her was that we are quite observant of the political dynamics here and unless the Democratic Party officially put their weight behind a South Asian, it will be a futile effort. We have indeed learned how the ‘single-party system’ dominated by the Democratic party in New York is lately reduced into machine politics and unless you are in it, ‘you ain’t going anywhere’!
As I sat there listening to speaker after speaker greeting the audience, not a single one uttered the word “Merry Christmas”. A number of them were eager to say “Happy Hannukah’ that was mostly addressed to the visiting Jewish public officials. Anyway, we could come to the conclusion by now that ‘Merry Christmas’ has become a toxic greeting phrase in New York as our Diaspora is pretty much adapted to the PC culture of the Northeast. As a Christian who was sitting there, probably one of the few in the audience, my mind wandered back to the younger days of growing up in Kerala, India where we all greeted each other with ‘Merry Christmas’ for the simple reason for the season.
Upon my return home that evening, Gujarat poll results started coming in. Congress had indeed outperformed all the expectations and appeared to have thoroughly thrashed the much-heralded exit poll results. However, people of Gujarat still handed BJP another term despite becoming miserable and more impoverished through their demonetization policies as well as the messy GST implementation. The verdict sends a clear message to the world that hate and bigotry trumps over economic troubles and personal misery!
Opening up the Internet browser the following day, I am once again reminded that this is not a season of peace and goodwill toward men as right-wing fringe groups have threatened to disrupt Christmas and New Year celebrations in some Uttar Pradesh towns. A series of warnings have come from these groups just days after an alleged attack on priests in a Madhya Pradesh town. In Aligarh, a group called the Hindu Jagran Manch has warned schools against celebrating Christmas, saying they could do so “at their own risk”.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that December 25, Christmas Day, would be observed as Good Governance day. India has 2000 years of history of Christianity that was long before even England had embraced the religion. Why then this alienation of a religious group in India that has contributed much to the educational and social development of the nation! Nevertheless, it is quite impressive to note that as the first generation Indians to the US, we are already lobbying to make Diwali a holiday in New York City!
By this time you may have heard about the decimation of ISIS and its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Recently, Iraqi forces with overwhelming support from U.S. Airforce have retaken the city of Mosul. ISIS has pushed Iraq’s religious minorities to the edge of extinction. However, the sad story of one Christian family brings the ugly face of religious discrimination home to us all.
The story is told as follows: A family of four lived in a small village about sixteen miles outside of Mosul. Shortly after the Islamic State took over, the father, a construction worker, took his wife of twenty-eight years to Mosul to continue her breast cancer treatments. But at the hospital, a guard refused to allow the man’s wife to enter because they were Christians. He told her that to continue receiving medical care, she would have to convert to Islam. She refused and the couple was forced to return to their village. Ten days later she died with her husband and sons at her bedside.
New York city, that sits thousands of miles away and Oceans apart, is once again on the edge during this Christmas season as ISIS propaganda machine shows chilling picture of Santa Claus next to a box of dynamite in Times Square! As we are on the threshold of a new year, the human effort to bring peace, security and harmony among disparate groups appear to be as elusive as ever! Will the year 2018 bring us a ray of hope? We can only pray!
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)