“I wonder if they think I don’t belong”

The growing bonhomie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump appears to strongly reflect in the way Indians perceive the US President when it comes to his leadership qualities and policy initiatives, Indian media reported.

About 42 per cent Indians view Trump as a strong leader, 22 per cent as charismatic and 41 per cent think that he is well-qualified to be President, according to a Pew Research Centre survey.

India was among the 37 countries surveyed by centre in which the respondents were asked to rate Trump and his signature policies.

The results were in stark contrast to what Europe feels about Trump, where a high percentage agree that he displays strong leadership but is least qualified to be President.

And for Indians in America, it’s a confusing time as outrage against the ‘tell them to go home’ attitudes surfaces has become heightened since the start of the Trump administration.

 In terms of personal traits, 26 per cent of Indians said he is “arrogant” and 28 per cent described him as “dangerous”.

Ahead of PM Modi’s Washington visit, Trump pulled US out of the Paris deal and singled out India saying it made its “participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries”. Despite PM Modi underlining the importance addressing climate change and stressing on India’s commitment to the Paris accord, a significant number of Indian appeared to side with Trump.

Only 25 per cent Indians disapprove with Trump withdrawing US support from the climate change agreement, well against the global median of 71 per cent. And 32 per cent Indians approve Trump’s decision, making India the only country with the highest favourable rating supporting the move.

Few want U.S. to withdraw from climate agreements

On the relationship between India and the US, 36 per cent Indians said it will get better, compared to the 12 per cent who said it will get worse.

America’s standing in India’s eyes has also slightly altered. At the end of the Obama presidency 56 per cent Indians had a favourable view of the US, in contrast to the 49 per cent after Trump was sworn-in.

Also the American culture, ideas and customs found little appeal among Indians as a whopping 49 per cent feel that it is a bad thing that they are spreading across South Asia.

In America, despite support within neighbourhoods, the sense of being different and standing out from the crowd has heightened for Indian students since Trump assumed office.

Take Sushovan Sircar, a student at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He used to sport a luxuriant beard that completed his hipster look. Last month, the 28-year-old student of cybersecurity policy decided to shave.

“I have become acutely aware of my skin colour in the last few months, after the rise of alleged hate crimes against Indians and Indians mistaken for ‘Arabs’,” he says. “The last two months have seen three violent attacks against people of Indian origin in Kansas city, Kent and South Carolina, which resulted in two deaths. I didn’t want to stand out any more than I already do, and my family back home has been worried too. So I shaved off my beard, and the absurdity of this fear is saddening,” he adds.

Development professional Apala Guhathakurta, 24, describes New York as a “safe bubble”.

“The most notable change for me is that, anyone new I meet or make eye contact with, at parties, in the street, on the subway, I wonder who they voted for. I wonder if they think I don’t belong, that I should ‘go back to where I came from’,” says Guhathakurta, who moved to the US with her family at the age of 6.

At work, she says she and her colleagues watched in distress as Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, who had run a campaign built largely on anti-immigrant, anti-outsourcing rhetoric.

“The most notable change for me is that, anyone new I meet or make eye contact with, at parties, in the street, on the subway, I wonder who they voted for.”

“After the results, our entire organisation mourned,” says Guhathakurta, who works in the field of public health, with a special focus on women and girls. “We already had indications of how our work would be affected. We also mourned for the pure misogynistic, nationalistic, and manipulative way he won the election.”

A recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) has indicated that 40% of US colleges are seeing a decline in applications from international students. The largest drop reported was from India and China, who together made up 47% of the international students in the country in 2016.

Among the students already there, many say they feel it’s time to take a stand. Some are participating in protest marches for the first time ever, others are taking every opportunity to confront extreme views on issues like immigration.

Both Guhathakurta and the now-clean-shaven Sircar have been on their first political rallies ever, since the election results.

“I joined the women’s march in January and it was electric,” Guhathakurta says.

Sircar walked in three separate protest marches on January 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration.

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