The Indian-American Trump Voter: A Breakdown

Trump’s outright support of the current Indian administration under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Trump’s considerable approval of the Indian-American work ethic, appeals to the nationalist tendencies of many first- and second-generation Indian-Americans. This pushes them to vote for him, a leader similar to the one in their homeland.

America’s tense partisan politics have stratified voters in the 2020 election based on background and ethnicity, with minorities overwhelmingly leaning toward the left, and the white majority overwhelmingly leaning toward the right. The common perception among American politicians of the Indian population’s voting tendencies is left-leaning. This is true to an extent: people of color generally feel more represented by the Democratic Party due to the party’s liberal ideologies, higher racial sensitivity, and diversity. However, Republican candidate Donald Trump’s outright support of the current Indian administration under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Trump’s considerable approval of the Indian-American work ethic, appeals to the nationalist tendencies of many first- and second-generation Indian-Americans. This pushes them to vote for him, a leader similar to the one in their homeland. 

It is important to note that the highest proportion of Indian-American Trump supporters are between the ages of 30 to 49. Whereas other minorities see Trump’s ignorance as an indication to vote against him, the Trump administration categorizes Indians as “thriving and hardworking,” as said by Trump himself at the “Howdy Modi!” event in Texas in late 2019. Trump perpetuates the infamous “Model Minority Myth,” which stereotypes Asians as “geniuses” simply based on their culture–think helicopter moms, Kumon worksheets, and a prioritization of academia, all categorized under a rigorous work ethic. The myth has permeated into modern media, from Ravi on Jessie to Baljeet on Phineas and Ferb to Raj on the Big Bang Theory. The Model Minority Myth stereotypes Indian people as socially awkward, incapable of talking to women, and above all, ridiculously intelligent. The Trump administration’s viewing of the Indian population in this light has blinded middle and older generations of Indian-American voters who see these positive sentiments Trump displays toward their own population. The Hindutva ideology, which is a nationalist Hindu ideology that Modi promotes, bears certain similarities to white supremacy in its lauding of the majority. Currently, the latter is attempting to sever ties with the former: “Hindutva ideology is trying to distance itself from white supremacy as much as it can. In India, there’s a really close connection between the two, but in the United States they try to hide it,” said Saket Malhotra, Ethnic Studies and Migration student at Yale University and member of Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI). While people of color must vote Trump out of office in order to stand against the racial prejudice that harms their communities, all Indian-Americans are not scrutinized under the current administration in the same manner. 

The Trump-Modi connection is further entrenched by the Brahmanical Patriarchy, which explains society as a scale of superiority based upon caste. Every aspect of life in the private sector for Indian families tends to be patriarchal. The tradition of male superiority has pervaded into marriage, financial, and political life. This sexism translates into politics, as electing a “strong” and “manly” leader becomes imperative. Trump has made offensive comments about women, calling them “nasty” and crudely rating them on a 1-10 scale, and, in doing so, has fashioned himself to be strong and powerful. Trump’s offensive comments about women make those who vote for him do so in disregard of his flagrant sexism. Violence against women, as well as the assumption of a male-dominated household, are constants in Indian society. Whereas the ideal woman is gentle and maternal in the Indian household, the ideal man is strong and commanding. For Modi supporters, Trump aligns with these private sector ideals: he is powerful, speaks what is on his mind, and emphasizes what he wants in a domineering manner typical of fascist leaders. 

It is easy for Indian-American voters to justify voting for Trump’s conservative economic policies, which benefit owners of small businesses. Many Indian immigrants continue to have the “American Dream” mentality that motivated them to immigrate to the United States initially. For them, the “American Dream” presents America as a land of opportunity, where the Republican ideal of a rigorous work ethic bringing success is emphasized. In contrast to other ethnic groups of immigrants, such as the African-American and Latinx communities, Indians typically come to America with a more educated background. The advantage granted to these immigrants with a medical or engineering degree is unparalleled in other minorities’ experiences. For example, “1 in every 7 people in the USA is touched by the care of a physician of Indian origin at any given time,” according to the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI). Fueling their financial dreams of stability can also equate with voting for Trump. Donald Trump casts himself as a “successful businessman” who established a multi-million dollar company with just “a small loan of a million dollars.” He claims to embody potential success for those who immigrate to America to also start a new business. Notably, Trump has an American Dream Plan, which strives to fight for the promise of the American Dream for the Hispanic population. Plans like these appeal to many Indian-American workers who immigrate to the “Land of Opportunity” to start small businesses of their own. 

There are Indian-American Trump voters who also stand against his opposing candidate Joe Biden, who denounced some of India’s policies. Although it is victorious for the Indian-American population to have Indian representation on the ballot with Vice President Kamala Harris, Modi supporters with strong ties to their homeland disapprove of the Biden-Harris ticket. A survey by Indian-American Attitudes surprisingly found that only 49% of Indian-Americans were further enthused by Joe Biden as a Democratic candidate when he picked Harris as his running mate. Biden and running mate Harris have expressed their disapproval for India’s civil policies, which Indian-Americans for Trump have used as support for their own voting decision. On the contentious Kashmir issue, Biden’s campaign website states that “the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir. Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weaken democracy.” This does not sit well with those who approve of Modi’s recent revocation of Article 370 and 35A, which separate Kashmir from other Indian states by granting it the power to have its own constitution. Thus, nationalist Indian-American voters lean even further to the right with Biden’s denouncement of Modi’s repealment. It is also important to note that young people, specifically Generation Z (the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials), are especially critical of contemporary politicians. Alongside this, a  rise in youth activism has occurred after the George Floyd protests that sparked a global abolitionist movement aimed at furthering social equality. With Harris’s controversial criminal justice record on full display, youth have been quick to point out her paradoxical perspectives on progressivism, especially concerning prison reform. “How hard does that representation really go when she’s hurting the people that she claims to represent?” Malhotra said. This further enthuses Indian-American voters to vote not only for Trump, but against the Biden-Harris ticket as well.

With Modi’s Anti-Muslim policies fueling ethnic discrimination in India and Trump’s white supremacist ideals sparking racial unrest in America, both leaders’ platforms are built on fascist tendencies. Voting for administrations such as these threatens the freedoms of minority populations in both countries. It is imperative that voting decisions take into consideration the protection of all races, religions, and backgrounds, not just a voter’s own ethnic group.

“Deconstructing” the Kashmir-problem

By Radhika Marwaha

Before her arrest on August 5, 2019, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti (People’s Democratic Party, or PDP) expressed her concern at the increased deployment of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Mufti stated, “Such a big country has got frightened [of public expression and protest] … and made Kashmir an open jail so that no one can raise voice against the illegal proposal.” These sentiments came in light of a series of events that created a lockdown environment in India-administered Kashmir. An announcement was made on August 3rd, 2019 to suspend the much-celebrated Hindu pilgrimage of Amarnath Yatra due to intelligence collected on a supposed security threat. Following this, tourists, out-of-state students, and workers were evacuated immediately, after which a lockdown was imposed as Home Minister Amit Shah announced the revoking of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution that historically and crucially granted special status to the people of J&K.2  This rapid series of events left Kashmiris scared and trapped with no connection to their families or the world outside, in lieu of increased military deployment. With political leaders under arrest and neighbor nations expressing heightened concern, layers of development issues, religious conflict, and protest have multiplied in this highly disputed region.


Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir living in an ‘open-air prison

The “Kashmir-Problem”

Present-day Kashmir is divided between India, Pakistan, and China, with each controlling 45 percent, 35 percent, and 20 percent of the region respectively, with the state of J&K falling under Indian jurisdiction. Agitation towards the creation of a separate nation-state has been a long drawn challenge for the Indian government. During the Partition of India in 1947, all Muslim majority states were to become a part of Pakistan. However, J&K was under the Hindu Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, who decided that Kashmir would become a part of India in exchange for aid during an attack at that time. This move essentially extended Indian citizenship to the J&K residents without a referendum. Later, to account for this, the people were given a special status under article 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution, which forbids Indians belonging to other states, from buying property or permanently settling in Kashmir.   

Newly drawn borders in disputed region of Kashmir

In 1948, when India raised the Kashmir issue in the United Nations Security Council, a referendum was prescribed necessary in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, following an election in 1951, the Indian government claimed this plebiscite to be “unnecessary,” and in 1953 arrested the then J&K Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah in light of his pro-referendum stance.

Indo-Pak Kargil War (1999) caused by infiltration of militants into the Indian-administered region

Flashforward nearly four decades to January 1990 and the tension never fell away, with  the Kashmiri Pandit exodus occuring that tore the already extremely stretched theocratic fabric of the state. In a mass overnight evacuation of Hindu Pandits from their ancestral home state, the anti-Hindu sentiment in this Muslim majority state only intensified. In the next few months, hundreds of innocent Pandits were tortured, killed, and raped. By the end of the year, about 350,000 Pandit escaped the valley and took refuge in Jammu and elsewhere. Only a handful of them stayed.

An account describes these threats as “Jihadi exhortations” that were meant to forcefully convert the Kafirs and bring “true Islamic order.” By labeling the Hindu Pandit and Sikhs as Kafirs, who are blind to the pure truth, the Islamist extremists created a new narrative. They presented the Pandit with three choices–“Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive,”  or rather, convert to Islam, leave the place, or perish.4

After the Kashmiri Pandit exodus, the Indian Government tried to curb militancy by increasing the deployment of armed forces in the region and protecting the Army from litigation in human rights violation cases. This defeats the essence of democracy by safeguarding perpetrators of mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual abuse and suppression of freedom of speech, under the umbrella of a nationalist cause. 

And today, there has been a radical shift in the approach of the Indian government towards nationalism and pro-Hindu majoritarianism when the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected in 2014. When they were re-elected in 2019, their election manifesto focused on the “One-India” Initiative, that would effectively revoke Kashmir’s special status. With their electoral vote given to the BJP in a landslide victory, Indians evidently expressed their approval of the initiative. However, this did not necessarily take into account the actual population in question: the people of Kashmir.  

For over a month, the state of J&K has been under the jurisdiction of the Indian government directly. It no longer has the right to frame laws through its elected Chief Ministers and Legislative Assemblies. Critics are extensively debating the timing and manner of the revocation across regional and national media channels, being against the creation of the “emergency-like” backdrop for the arrest of key political leaders in the valley and blockade of communication/internet channels. Indeed, this comes across as an attack on Indian democracy. 

While supporters continue to justify the lockdown as a means to promote peace in the valley, there is an undertone of suppression to the protests. For years, Kashmiri youth have adopted stone-pelting after Friday prayers to make their voices heard, defending their political expression against the police in that they do not fire bullets and cannot be labeled terrorists. When the Indian media boasts of peace in the valley, one knows that this is a result of the prohibition of political expression. The Kashmiris are not happy. The Kashmiris are being suppressed.

Stone pelting by Kashmiri youth in response to military subjugation

Statistics prove that Kashmir performs better than the national average in indicators like poverty rate and life expectancy. Yet government spokespersons are yelling across rallies and media channels to convince the country that this move will allow development through the influx of real estate groups and industries into the region. Financial experts though don’t think that businesses are going to jump right into investing in one of India’s most challenging to access, militarized zones.  

Skeptics believe that abrogation is actually a move to help Kashmiri Pandits get their ancestral land back. Critics are worried that the One-India Initiative is not targeting Northeastern states that enjoy a similar special status because these are not Muslim dominated areas. However, the current priority should be that the lockdown is lifted to initiate dialogue between the different facets involved. As of now, one only hopes the lockdown is not serving as the lull before a storm of instability.

Crappy or Cultured: One Man’s Journey to Eat All the Indian Food at Trader Joe’s

By Teja Dusanapudi 

Hold on to your saris, folks! Today, Trader Joe’s is becoming “Trader Raja’s.” Starting with a meal of fish korma before heading to a savory chicken tikka masala and then finally chana masala and some whole-wheat naan, I am fully committed to either eating some good Indian food or making fun of it. 

The food itself will be rated on three main criteria:

  1. Taste: Is their idea of spice salt and pepper or half a bottle of chili powder
  2. Texture: Look, if I’m being entirely honest here, the prospect of frozen, pre-packaged Indian food seems bizarre at best.
  3. Authenticity: Is my mom going to jump out of a Toyota Corolla and shame me for eating Trader Raja’s Oriental Samosas or will they be using her secret recipe?

Picture of the goods, reasonably priced at $3.49.
Not pictured is the Trader Joe’s employee watching me take a picture of the frozen food aisle.

Fish Korma

I can say, firmly, that it looks edible. The rice is cooked; it’s Basmati style rice, long and thin, and there’s a decent amount in the black plastic that the meal comes in. The fish, on the other hand, is an oddly shaped orange triangle. As I poke at it with my spoon, chunks of the sauce hang to it. 

Setting aside a sense of mild disgust, I bite in. The fish is tender and the sauce, while bland, has a pleasant, gravy-like consistency. When eaten with rice the warm, creamy texture of the sauce coats the Basmati, and the light meat of the fish tops it off. It’s flavorful (somewhat), filling (for the most part), and tastes like home (if I lived in a grocery store aisle).

Taste: Warm and inviting, but more than a little disappointing. The gravy could use more spice, otherwise the cream can be a little overpowering.

Texture: Spot on. I was uneasy about eating fish from a cardboard box, but every aspect of the dish, from the rice to the sauce, had a perfect balance, smooth and saucy without being too heavy or rich.

Authenticity: Very authentic to food you might eat at an Indian restaurant, which itself is leagues away from actual Indian food. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Toyota Corolla pull up in the driveway and be told to put down the food and start studying for the GRE.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

I’d eat it again, but I wouldn’t stock my doomsday bunker with it or anything. Keep fishing, Trader Raja.

Butter Chicken

The chicken, as I pull it out of the box, is initially grey and frozen, but looks significantly more appetizing after being cooked; the meat is strident and has a nice lurid orange to it, the rich scent of butter chicken drifting through my apartment. Hey, if you know you know. 

The chicken itself cuts easily; the meat is tender, but with enough of a pull to resist the fork without being chewy. Halfway through, joining me are a friend and my roommate; they ask to pull up a chair and eat. We agree that the sauce is more soup-like in its consistency, but the meat itself is well-cooked. When eaten with the rice, the spoon is a rolling wave of the warm, savory butter sauce, anchored by the succulent chicken.

Taste:  Chicken was well flavored by the sauce, very fulfilling taste. While it could’ve probably used more spice, butter chicken usually tends to veer to the blander side anyway. As my roommate put it, it has “the taste of spice, without the spice of spice.”

Texture: The consistency of the gravy was odd and runny, verging on soup. Rice was a little strangely cooked, but the chicken, again, was the clear MVP.

Authenticity: In my 19 years of living, I have never seen somebody make butter chicken at home. I guess it passes?

Overall Rating: 3.9/5

I would eat this again! Not this week, mind, but maybe the next time I want to feel like I’m in some place called Peacock Express and the waiters all remind me of my older cousins.

Chana Masala with Tandoori Naan

The Chana Masala comes out of the oven looking nice; the chickpeas are round and brown, floating in the thick gravy. Dipping part of the naan into it, which I unceremoniously jammed into my toaster, I attempt to scoop some of the masala. This, unfortunately does not work; the naan is far to thick, by about three q’s, to effectively scoop curry. Eating the chana masala anyway, I realize two things: the naan is very thick (add two more c’s onto that) and the chana masala is somehow more bland than you would expect chickpeas to be.

Taste: Disappointing. Lacks in spice, but is decently savory.

Texture: Nails texture! While the naan is oppressively thick, the chana masala maintains tender, soft chickpeas drowned in a chunky, savory gravy. 

Authenticity: This is the kind of masala that one mom who’s really into “ethnic foods” makes. 

Overall Rating: 3.2 /5 

Disappointing, but still maintaining enough taste to remain at a 3 level. Good as a party food, but not for solo use.

In the end, I was gladly wrong about Trader Raja’s. While I assumed the worst, on the whole the food they had was not an inaccurate display of what Indian food tastes like. While bland at times (a problem quickly solved by an at-home spice kit), the textures were frequently stellar, and the warm, inviting taste carried through well in all of the dishes. 

After all was said and done, however, I ate a fair amount of Indian food with some people I’m close to, and we enjoyed writing, talking, and laughing about it as much as we enjoyed eating it. Maybe the real Indian food was the friends I found along the way. Thank you, Trader Raja’s.


From a Jewish Perspective: Boycott Birthright

For Jewish individuals living in diaspora today, such as myself, we’ve pondered the thought of taking a free trip to Israel with Birthright, a Zionist organization which takes young Jews on a 10 day tour of Israel.

I’ve spoken with a number of Jewish peers who have participated in Birthright trips. Nearly all of them consider themselves to have leftist views, and would undoubtedly agree that human rights and refugee rights are important issues. However, the political situation in Israel seems to be the pivotal issue in which their views are incongruous with the rest of their beliefs.

Some of these peers are oblivious to the fact that Birthright is heavily funded by right-wing sources (including the Israeli government and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation which also supports illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank); others are aware of these facts but believe that their participation is harmless since none of the funding is going to Birthright, and is therefore not supporting Israel. I argue that going on Birthright is demonstrating support of the Israeli state and their actions; it shows a willingness to actively participate in the same kind of Zionist youth movements which were instrumental in the founding of Israel. Birthright participants are also diverted from the fact that, while they are given untouchable rights to citizenship and freedom in Israel, Palestinians have been denied freedoms and forced from their homes, without a chance of return.

For decades, youth support has been essential to constructing today’s Israeli state and advancing a Zionist agenda. An example is the desert fortress of Masada, a popular Zionist tourist destination. It has long been a pilgrimage site for Jewish youth groups, even before Israel’s establishment. Sites like this are critical in instilling a sense of mission and dedication in the participants. Young Jews invested in the Zionist cause are the backbone of Israel’s future, and Israel knows they are necessary for its survival.

This indoctrination takes place on the ground, where Israeli citizens straight out of high school serve mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Forces. And it also takes place abroad, where an assimilated American Jew is given the privilege to “return” to Israel for free. Young non-Israeli Jews, most innocently curious about their Jewish identity and connection to Israel, are pulled into Israel’s systemic manipulation of young Jewish individuals, brainwashing them with pro-Israel propaganda. It’s these techniques that make Birthright’s ideology toxic.

In December 1948, the United Nations Resolution 194 on Palestine declared that refugees should have the right to return home and live in peace. The right of refugees to return home is a basic human right. Why can an assimilated, secular American Jew from New York City travel to Israel, to live in freedom, when a Palestinian refugee cannot return to their home?

To my Jewish friends, I encourage you, if you care about human rights, boycott Birthright. Not only is resisting these forces essential to working towards a more just state in Israel-Palestine, but because it is imperative if you wish to be on the right side of history. As a Jewish person, I am constantly confronted with the history of my people and our struggles. It is because of this that I feel a deep, moral responsibility to strive for a more just future in the Middle East and at home. This moral responsibility transcends borders and national conflict, it is about basic human rights. I urge my young Jewish readers to recognize their moral responsibility as well.

For more information on how to get involved in the movement to resist Birthright, visit the #ReturnTheBirthright campaign by Jewish Voice for Peace (https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/returnthebirthright/).

Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/henrymaxm/29378951792

Written by: Ingrid Rosenthal