Indian blogger puts racial foot in the mouth - Woman sparks a row with comment on Virginia shooting

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 21.04.07

Washington, April 21: Even as Virginia governor Tim Kaine joined the efforts to prevent a backlash against Asians and foreigners as a result of Monday’s university massacre in his state, some Indians here have become caught up in allegations of bigotry and racial hatred against Koreans.

Kaine is sending two members of his cabinet to India. His secretary of technology Aneesh Chopra and secretary of commerce and trade Patrick Gottschalk will be in India from tomorrow until April 28 along with a delegation of more than 100 Virginia business and government leaders.

The delegation’s visit was planned before the shooting at Virginia Tech university as a highlight of the state’s rapidly expanding links with India.

It was to have been led by the governor himself, but Kaine has now withdrawn from the trip. “As we begin the healing process, I feel that my place is here with the citizens of our Commonwealth,” he said in a statement deeply regretting “that I am unable to travel to India”.

The nature of the Virginia delegation’s India visit has undergone an atmospheric change in the light of two Indian deaths in Monday’s shooting.

The funeral services of professor G.V. Loganathan and student Minal Panchal are getting under way in Blacksburg, Virginia, and in Odenton, Maryland, respectively, at the time of writing.

Kaine pointed out in his statement that the tragedy at Virginia Tech “claimed the lives of a student and a professor with direct family ties to India, and a portion of this (delegation’s) trip included discussions about a Tech programme based in India”, to which Loganathan was committed.

The governor said Asian students were part of the fabric of daily life at the university. “There is grief for all,” he said. “I don’t believe this will be seen by people in this community as an excuse to exercise prejudice or intolerance against anyone.”

The Indians have become embroiled in a high-profile controversy about racial slurs after a woman named Prema wrote on a popular blogsite that Korean men in America are “sick and tired of losing their Korean girlfriends to white men with an Asian fetish”.

She wrote the politically incorrect remark during a discussion on the gunman in Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23 year-old Korean immigrant to the US.

Prema also wrote that “Koreans are the most hot-headed and macho of East Asians”. Further, she insensitively tried to distance South Asians from East Asians at this time when there have been efforts by foreigners at Virginia Tech and outside to stand together and unite with American students in grieving for the victims.

“In America, unlike the UK, the word ‘Asian’ applies to East Asians, not South Asians. The shooter is East Asian,” Prema added.

Newsweek, which has a nationwide readership in America, wrote a strongly-worded web exclusive severely attacking the remarks.

“The bodies had barely been removed when the racial epithets started pouring in,” the Newsweek article said.

“Cho Seung-Hui... may have lived in the state since his elementary school days, but to the bigots in the blogosphere it was his origins in Korea that mattered most.”

Aimee Baldillo, a spokeswoman for the Asian American Justice Center, a Washington-based civil rights group, was quoted in the article as saying that “her organisation has already received reports — still unconfirmed — of several crimes of retribution against the (Korean) community”.

The website of the Korean Student Association at Virginia Tech has been shut down since the day after the shooting. Prema posted her comments on a popular website, Sepia Mutiny, whose contributors are mostly of Indian origin.

The site’s name is a pun on the 1857 war for Indian independence. At least one blogosphere “mutineer” complained to Newsweek that Prema’s comment was out of tune with 282 postings on the site about Cho and that the racially insensitive remark was rejected by others.

Newsweek responded that “we would hope that our readers who are concerned about this site check it out and find that out for themselves. Unfortunately, unless we have introduced actual errors into a piece we do not print retractions, and we stand by this piece.”