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For Better Or For (How Much) Worse? What Trump’s Win Means For Indians

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By Nirjhar Mukherjee:

Trump’s victory in the U.S. Presidential elections is a reality now. Given the pre-election racist rhetoric that he used, it is not surprising that many Indians are rightfully feeling insecure about the future. This even more applicable with those Indians living in the United States and their family and near ones. On the other hand, Trump has also said a number of nice things about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has raised speculation among certain sections of Indians that things might not be as bad as expected. Thus, unpredictable as this shocking victory was, the future of the Trump presidency for the millions of Indians in USA seems to be quite uncertain as well.

To look at the racial factor, things aren’t quite promising. Like it or not, racism is still a salient feature of life in the United States. Nothing could make this even more evident than the latest election results. The Trump victory was propelled by a predominantly white, less educated, lower middle class, rural vote base. It is common knowledge that the racism within the American population is more pronounced within this demographic base. Further, racism is profound even within white women – something which was evident in the election result.

In such a situation, it is definitely not safe to be a non-white person in America. To ease the tension a little, it might be said that most Indian Americans and Indians in American generally live in the cities as they are either students or professionals. The cities, even in red states largely vote Democrat and universities, even in rural or semi-rural areas, are largely islands of progressive thought. But the problems would again be more pervasive for Indians living in the small suburban and rural cities of middle America. These small towns are residential areas and many Indians have purchased homes there.

While the cities and coastal blue states may offer a greater degree of protection, it is still to be kept in mind that racism exists in those areas too. Further, if Trump lives up to his election rhetoric, it would not need the genius of a social science professor to say that ordinary citizens would be even more emboldened to exhibit their racist proclivities.

Within days of the election verdict, there has been a huge increment in the number of racist and other hate crimes throughout the United States. Campuses have not escaped this wave. In fact, right after the election results- in some cases within hours, international students at various American universities have received messages from the university authorities stating that they should not feel unsafe and the authorities are there for their well-being. The very fact that the university authorities have to send such messages after an election victory is a clear example which demonstrates the gravity of the situation!

The Trump victory is an indicator that getting visas to the United States is going to be tougher. It is being reported that the OPT and CPT training period extensions and facilities of the F1 visa might be withdrawn under a Trump regime. According to some reports, Trump favours the abolition of the J1 visa program which was used for exchange students. There might be further restrictions on working facilities for Indian students who have the F1 visa. Students who work beyond the 20 hours per week work limit informally (illegally) at establishments like restaurants and shops, may expect crackdowns or other government action. The white working class which has significantly voted for Trump would definitely try to extract its pound of flesh.

As far as H1B visas are concerned, the situation is expected to get worse. If Trump does try to enforce job restrictions on foreigners to generate jobs for Americans, the news is definitely of great alarm to those currently residing there and those who aspire to work in the USA. Another section of Indians which might bear the brunt of Trump’s policies is the large number of BPO/KPO workers who work for American firms sitting in India. If outsourcing of jobs end, it would mean disaster for many Indian youths whose livelihoods depend on such jobs.

If everything is so bad then, where does the Modi factor come in? Isn’t Modi a great friend of Trump? Well yes, Modi and his ideological similarities with the new President-elect might have certain ramifications. Firstly, on the economic front, a certain section of Indians living in the United States – some very well off capitalists and entrepreneurs – might gain as Trump needs their financial support. It must be noted that a number of Indians have, over many decades, done very well in America in terms of money. A large number of such rich Hindu capitalists have sided with Trump. It was the same group of persons who had rallied behind Modi, financially and otherwise, during the 2014 elections.

It needs to be noted that right from the days of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, a significant portion of funding for the RSS has been coming from the rich NRI American Hindus. If one goes by data, Hindu Americans are the second richest religious group in USA after the Jews. The opportunity to exchange political support in exchange of financial dividends has been secured by the Republican party. Recently, an organisation called the Republican Hindu Coalition has been created modelled on the Jewish Republican Coalition. Trump has personally been a part of the programs of this organisation whoss leader Shalabh Kumar happens to be a great supporter of Trump.

The resonance of this kind of nexus has been felt in India with the activists of the Hindu Sena, which has gained notoriety for a number of communal activities, advocating for a Trump victory. Further, some Facebook posts depicted Trump as the Hindu God Vishnu, seated on a lotus. The Islamophobia of Trump has indeed been welcomed by such communal elements in India, USA and of course on social media. This coupled with the financial backing of the rich Hindus will indeed create a potent mix of capitalism and spread of communal hatred within and beyond the boundaries of the two countries.

While Indians are likely to lose jobs, a Modi-Trump ‘jugalbandi‘ (duet) is likely to make capitalist ventures (read, exploitation) smoother. It is only logical to expect greater investments in India by American firms including those owned by Hindu capitalists and greater ease of business (read, labour exploitation and related damage). As the environment is likely to take a beating in USA, its effects will be felt in India. Encouraged by the lower environmental regulation and protection (very likely in the near future), India is likely to follow suit. The Modi administration would be perfect to speed up the exploitation of resources and related activities.

In the foreign affairs sector, there might be substantial areas where India might stand a chance of gaining.  Trump is likely to clamp down hard on Islamic terror outfits and the states which fund them. This may (if he lives up to his rhetoric) lead to deteriorating relations with Pakistan and better relations with India. Trump might just see India as a valuable ally in a region vital to US interests as a power both against Islamist terror outfits and as a counter to China. There remains a theoretical possibility (again if Trump doesn’t change much after becoming president) of a palpable shift in the axis of US foreign policy in South Asia.

Further, if Trump’s friendship with Putin (who it seems will remain the Russian ace for a while) endures, it might be easier for India to deal with USA and Russia – all at once and manoeuvre a greater deal in terms of power, influence and diplomatic benefits in the international sphere. However, all this is subject to speculation and great degrees of fluctuations with a large number of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ attached. It might be a different story altogether if someone like Mitt Romney becomes the Secretary of State.

However, if Trump remains anything like his pre-election self, it will be easier to negotiate easy terms for powers like India and Russia. No prizes for guessing why. Thus, there may be a scope to negotiate terms and weaken American hegemony and increase the dimension of multilateralism in international relations.

Finally, unless you are exceptionally rich and/or a Hindu capitalist in the USA, a person committed to the rise of Hindutva or some diplomat in the Foreign Service, Trump has not brought “ache din” (good days) for you. Much like the non-white, non-privileged working classes across the world, the days are likely to bring forth greater struggles and hardships both inside USA and outside.

The heartening news for these people is the fact that activism in USA is the other thing which has increased dramatically in the last ten days or so. Such struggles have to be carried on inside USA as well as in India – more vigorously than ever, else the world might be radically changed place in the next eight (at least four) years in a not-so-positive manner. As Slavoj Zizek and others have said, a Trump presidency does mean an uncertain and dangerous future. But it also opens up possibilities to bring change – to reset some of the equations in world politics. Whether that happens for better or worse will depend on the commitment and potency of struggles worldwide. Indians too should brace themselves for such a struggle.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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