Indians Behaving Badly


An email titled “Proud to be an Indian” has been making the rounds on the Internet for nearly a decade now, extolling the extraordinary accomplishments of Indians and India, both modern and ancient. It catalogues a bevy of successful Indian American entrepreneurs and businessmen, as well as historical Indian achievements, such as Ayurveda being the earliest school of medicine, the invention of zero, the establishment of Nalanda as the world’s first university, etc.

It happens to also list several dubious claims, such as Sanskrit being the most suitable language for computer software and that “India never invaded any country in her last 100,000 years of history,” as well as demonstrably false ones — for instance, that a third of U.S. physicians and NASA scientists are Indians. In fact, around 6 percent of U.S. physicians are Indian and while no hard data is available on the distribution of NASA scientists, it is likely lower than even the proportion of physicians.

But, as we have long known, facts never deter jingoists. Pres. George H. W Bush (the humbler Bush)  once famously said, “I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are.” Little wonder, the Web is thriving with “Proud Indian” offshoots, including videos set to music, “Proud to be an Indian.” In March 2008, the Minister of State for Human Resources Development D Purandeshwari, even rattled off many of these discredited claims into the public record of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house.

The email keeps reappearing like jack-in-an-email-box, no matter how often it is discredited and batted down. Perhaps it is time to counter it with a catalogue of Indians behaving badly. These past weeks offer up quite a menu:

• An Indian American couple, Reddy Allen and Padma Allen, who have fled to India, are among 11 people indicted in a $600 million information technology project, involving what the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, dubbed as “one of the largest and most brazen frauds ever committed against the City of New York.”

• Two Indian jewelers were convicted for staging a fake robbery at their Manhattan store in a $7 million insurance scam.

• Nearly half a dozen Indians were ensnared in the recent Galleon trial, one of the biggest insider trading cases on Wall Street.

The point here is not to knock Indian accomplishments, of which one can understandably be proud, but to temper that pride with a measure of modesty and humility. Arrogance has a habit of biting back, sometimes in the most inane of situations, as an Indian New York University graduate student recently discovered on a Metro North train ride.

Remonstrated by a train conductor to tone down her cell phone conversation and the use of profanity, the student, who has been identified on several websites as Hermon Kaur Raju, launched into a tirade, replete with references to her stellar educational qualifications: “Excuse me, do you know what schools I have been to and how well-educated I am…. I’m a very well-educated person…. Do you think I’m a little hoodlum?”

Raju, likely found nothing odd about wearing her educational credentials on her sleeve, because the hubris that Indian Americans are the most highly educated and affluent ethnic group in the United States is often tooted within the community. But, contrary to Ms. Raju’s belief, neither wealth nor education makes one decent, humane or wise. On quite the contrary, as the video of her altercation, captured by another passenger, which has gone viral on the Web, amply demonstrates, educated prima donnas can equally be foul and vile — even something of “a little hoodlum.”

It is time for some soul-searching within the community, before more Indians discover themselves attracting the relentless public humiliation that Kaur’s boorish and arrogant conduct has subjected her to.

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