Shootings in schools, colleges, churches and offices in the United States are so commonplace now that few were particularly shocked when the news broke on 1 June about a murder-suicide involving a shooter in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). However, as details emerged, most were startled to hear that the shooter was an Indian. Kolkata-born Mainak Sarkar, a 38-year-old scientist, was a former UCLA doctorate student who received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 2013. He became a green card holder a year later.
He hadn't been on the campus for a while before the incident and law enforcement sources said that he'd driven there all the way from Minnesota after murdering his estranged wife Ashley Hasti in her home. Upon arriving, he sought out his former graduate mentor Prof. William Klug at his office and killed him before taking his own life.
Why should all Indian Americans issue an apology for the actions of one man who acted in isolation?
Police also said that that they believe that Sarkar had legally purchased both the guns and at least one was registered to him. Ballistics reports show that the same gun killed Hasti and Klug. They found Sarkar's car with a bizarre note requesting that his cat be checked on in his Minnesota apartment.
They also found a "kill list" with three names in his apartment. The third person, another professor he intended to murder, was not on the UCLA campus on that day. The campus was locked down for hours after the murder-suicide.
Indians will understand the fright, the panic and the stress they experience in anticipation of communal riots when disputes break out between Hindus and Muslims.
They fear being attacked over their religion and even though riots rarely break out in America, minority populations do tend to worry when crimes are committed by people of colour. We worry about becoming targets of hate by ignorant people who group all individuals of colour together. We fear retaliation in some form.
I felt unease, despair and concern as the news about Mainak Sarkar flared on social media. With growing alarm, I watched the racist tweets roll in.
Did everyone of Caucasian descent feel it necessary to say sorry for Adam Lanza who killed 20 schoolchildren and seven adults in Connecticut?
Sarkar was called a Muslim, a terrorist and his actions were proof positive that "third worlders shouldn't be allowed in advanced societies." Some people demanded that Indians issue an apology. Why? Why should all Indian Americans issue an apology for the actions of one man who acted in isolation? Did everyone of Caucasian descent feel it necessary to say sorry for Adam Lanza who killed 20 schoolchildren and seven adults in Connecticut or Dylann Roof who gunned down church goers in South Carolina? Or James Holmes who gunned down theatregoers in Colorado?
It's regressive, racist and wrong to assume that we are responsible for the actions of "one of our own." We feel the pain and the sorrow of the tragedy but we should not be shamed.
The hatred, loathing and suspicion that accompany each incident in which the suspect is a "person of colour" is difficult for us to swallow because we are not guilty. We are not complicit. We have done nothing wrong.
Sarkar's actions should not embarrass the thousands of Asian students studying in American colleges and universities. They should not feel self-conscious when they hear about the "psycho" Indian student.
It's regressive, racist and wrong to assume that we are responsible for the actions of "one of our own."
Police are releasing little information about Sarkar's motivations and underlying mental illness is suspected to have propelled his actions. They refused to comment further on a phone call made by this writer and the incident reports are not in the public domain yet. What has emerged in the media is that Sarkar was losing it in recent months, posting a bizarre blog entry in which he accused Klug of having stolen his computer code. UCLA says that the accusation is unfounded and completely false.
All in all, Sarkar is not a "typical" Indian. He does not represent us. We are not responsible for his actions. We do not need to apologize for this murderer who deserves our condemnation.
Nobody knows for sure how much damage this case will do to the many Indian students in US campuses. For example, UCLA is one of the most racially diverse campuses in the United States and it has one of the country's largest Asian American Studies departments. One third of its undergraduates say they are Asian Americans.
The hatred, loathing and suspicion that accompany each incident in which the suspect is a "person of colour" is difficult for us to swallow because we are not guilty.
The violence on the UCLA campus was the 186th school shooting since the Connecticut incident in 2012. This past weekend, more than 60 people died of gun violence in Chicago but frankly, the gorilla being shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo made more headlines than their deaths.
Every single shooting in America plays out with to a sickeningly predictable script with the same gruesome details of violence, horror and tragedy. The crime is usually committed by a person who has made the decision that his personal and private pain is much more important than the lives of others.
Then the police and ambulance personnel arrive, there is an outpouring of grief and support, there are candlelight vigils and funerals, media coverage and lots of declarations of how this won't happen again and then the nation moves on.
Until the next shooting.