Managing Editor’s Note: In this compelling essay, Shilpi Suneja explores the dilemma many first-generation Indian migrants face after moving to the United States: whether to stay in this new country, where opportunities might be more easily found, or to return to India, the place of their birth. The burden of leaving India is both societal and personal. As Suneja writes, “this choice often becomes the hardest moral dilemma upon which not only our lives but the lives of whom we marry, love, and birth depend.”
by Shilpi Suneja
Two days after Srinivas Kuchibhotlas was shot dead at a bar in Kansas, his wife Sunayana Dumala spoke at a press conference about her concern for staying on in America. “I often asked my husband,” she revealed, her voice breaking, “are we doing the right thing (by) staying.” Sunayana’s fears hint at the awkward moral burden immigrants from the Indian subcontinent place upon themselves.
For many of us first generation migrants who can remember our arrival into America, we have a choice—or at least, we feel that we do—of either staying on in America or returning to India. This choice often becomes the hardest moral dilemma upon which not only our lives but the lives of whom we marry, love, and birth depend.
The act of leaving India remains one of Hinduism’s oldest taboos. Traversing the black waters lead to the loss of one’s caste status as well as an end of the cycle of reincarnation, because, leaving India meant coming into touch with non-Indians, or those without caste, and going far out of reach from the life-giving waters of the holy Ganges. But when the British came to India and brought great economic and social upheaval, they sent three and a half million indentured laborers to the Caribbean. This forced crossing of oceans, albeit with large cauldrons of Ganges water to alleviate concerns about the loss of rebirth, was perhaps the first time in modern history when caste-Indians defied Hinduism’s oldest taboos in such vast numbers. (more…)