Friday, December 25, 2015

US Creating India-phobia - and close market to protect local unemployable talent

Stealing from our silence: American Indophobia has led to the demonisation of Indians as “job stealers”

December 25, 2015, 2:57 AM IST  in TOI 
The writer is Professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco.
// U.S. jobless claims near 42-year low as labor market tightens
I suppose this is what happens when you get yourself known as a people who will only listen, but never speak. American Indophobia is a peculiar phenomenon, an invisible one. Unlike other forms of racism or xenophobia, no one will even admit to it.
After all, when Donald Trump makes even hypothetical (but ugly) declarations about banning Muslims from entering the US, the world rightly condemns it as Islamophobia. However, when laws are actually created to discourage Indian IT workers in the midst of a pervasive “they’re stealing our jobs” outcry, it is seen as normal, at best a trade issue, no xenophobia here.
The fact is that neither outsourcing nor immigration need to be framed as “job stealing”. Yet, that is the trope by which America knows India. When Americans consume French wines, they don’t think that French vineyard workers are stealing the jobs of their American counterparts. When Americans go shopping, they don’t stop because something they like was made in China. And yet, when it comes to the skilled labour that keeps their digital universe running smoothly, somehow a “thief” comes to mind. Their consumption of Indian services isn’t seen as just business, but as India stealing something.
It is strange that a country that for decades sold free markets as freedom to the world would fall back on old colonial myths to comfort itself in the face of Indian competitiveness. It is useful therefore to understand this racial mythology. Stereotypes tell us more about the people producing them than their victims.
Labelling Indians as job stealers, particularly in the rarefied world of the knowledge economy, might have something to do with unaddressed western guilt about appropriating Indian intelligence, whether in the form of mathematics and science (originally supposed to have been the gift of Enlightenment Europe to the dark and superstitious Hindoos), or even in the newer “gifts” from India. Large numbers of Americans are selfhelping themselves to like yoga (which, incidentally, their scholars maintain has little to do with Hinduism, or even India, according to one recent book that neatly accused India of having stolen yoga from European gymnastic-drills!).
For several decades, a tacit complicity in ignorance from both sides has ensured that a sub-human narrative about India has become the norm in American academia and media. For every Tom Friedman who saw hope for the world in India’s economic rise, America also had several Pankaj Mishras and Arundhati Roys hallucinating about its descent into neo-liberal, neo-Nazi Hindutva. And as if to make up for every small effort to humanise Indians beyond the old Temple of Doom stereotypes in popular culture, we had one blockbuster like Slumdog Millionaire reinforcing the myth of unredeemable Hindu oppressiveness.
As for academia, particularly the activism-fuelled world of South Asia studies, it continues to go around insisting that “dharma is code for Hindu nationalism” (in a recent petition challenging the proposed funding of India studies at the University of California Irvine by an organisation called the Dharma Civilization Foundation), or that the middle school history lessons on “Ancient India” be re-labelled as “Ancient South Asia” because “India didn’t exist before 1947″ (from a recent petition to the California board of education about proposed changes in the history curriculum).
Academia remains a major source of Indophobia in America because unlike in India the humanities and social sciences are well respected and end up being used to support political agendas and public policies (racially biased “intelligence” studies, for example, led to the immigration quotas Act in the 1920s).
Despite being nominally dedicated to supporting views from the region, South Asia studies largely clings to an outdated theory at its core about an invading (or “migrating”) Indo-European/ Aryan/Hindu race who must perforce be treated as oppressors. Unsurprisingly, soon after a frail Gujarati grandfather was brutalised by a policeman in Alabama and a number of Hindu temples were vandalised, South Asian anti-racism organisations were insisting that it was wrong to view these actions as cases of Hinduphobia or even Indophobia! According to them, racism and hate crimes in America happen only against Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and other “South Asians”.
Unfortunately, this silence about Indophobia is not the fault of American academia or politics alone. Successive Indian governments have lauded NRIs and talked trade and commerce, but continue to ignore the essential role of soft power in an age of global information and narrative wars. I wonder, for instance, if the Pravasi Bharatiya events ever address issues like the outdated American history lessons on India and their effects on Indian-origin children.
And for a government that speaks of India’s civilisational legacy, we have seen little more than big-arena pep talks for NRIs till now. In contrast, CCTV and Al Jazeera offer strong views on world affairs from their regions, while India doesn’t seem to have a story about itself anywhere on the world stage. At best, we offer tourism brochures, samosa stalls and Jai Ho dance routines.
Without a global voice, India will feel not only the cultural impact of Indophobia on its children and grandchildren, but the economic consequences too, as the visa fee hike has already shown. And since we listen to money more than people these days, ihope we learn something at least now.

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