Building a Wall: India balances its misplaced priorities as Trump tours the country

Locals in New Delhi protest against CAA in December 2019. Photo credit to Sanjeev Yadav (for Wikimedia Commons).

By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service

There is much in common between President Donald Trump’s America and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India. 

For instance, to prepare for Trump’s first policy tour to India this week, the government built a wall to hide a poorer neighborhood. 

Before the U.S President touched down in the city, the municipal body in Ahmedabad tore down houses of the Dev Saran slum and built a half-mile long wall to hide the slum from public view. 

This was part of a “beautification” drive to spruce up the route that the president was likely to take from the airport to the Sardar Patel stadium. Trump announced his foreign policy initiatives and expressed his respect for his Indian counterpart to boost his foreign policies ahead of his 2020 presidential campaign.

But that means nothing to the dwellers of Dev Saran. The slum has existed for decades with no municipal oversight. It’s made up of nearly 2,000 makeshift mud houses with tarps for roofs, the Dev Saran slum is home to about 2,500 -– a small section representative of India’s unending housing crisis in urban spaces. 

For scale, India’s city slums are equivalent to the population of Italy. When Trump left Ahmedabad, the wall remained, and the slum will continue to be without a drinking facility as a result of the construction.

Then the president went to New Delhi, my home. My two worlds that were neatly separated by oceans and cultures have found common ground and this time it’s personal.  

I’ve spent my life mapping the nooks and crannies of this city that grows every month. I’ve grown up watching airplanes zoom past my head, my windows shaking because of my house’s proximity to the airport. The idiosyncrasies make it a home worth going back to. 

But the city is embroiled in violence. The clashes over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are now in their third month and unsurprisingly, the mainstream Indian media has steadfastly ignored it.

In contrast, major news channels such as Republic TV, Times Now and India Today spent hours Monday night tracking Trump’s movement through the country. 

It is not that Trump’s visit is not important for Indian viewers. He represents the touchstone of the progress that a developing state like India can make. Better air to breathe, better markets, better jobs and better pay. An average middle-class family desires all of the above and while they may not know the mechanics of how that could happen, Trump’s presence in India spells opportunity. 

But how does one balance that with violence in their backyards? 

Trump’s visit to the Taj Mahal made national news, while the religious riots that left a reported 13 dead and over 100 injured in Delhi, did not. Much like its counterparts in Ahmedabad, the state-run TV media built a wall: A wall of indifference and hate. 

The sustained string of protests against the CAA also comes at a personal cost. Students studying in universities fighting the CAA legislation that allows many immigrants in India a path to citizenship, but specifically excludes Muslims. Laws remove any pretense that Modi’s government isn’t an extension of the RSS, a militant Hindu nationalist organization. 

In December 2019, the Delhi Police, under the jurisdiction of the central government, trespassed on university grounds and “brutally attacked” students in libraries while they were preparing for their year-end exams. 

They used tear gas on those who, according to officers’ interpretation, were “anti-national.” In all of the cases of “anti-nationalism,” the people detained were simply anti-law or anti-policy. The mainstream Indian media spent days undoing the evidence of large-scale university violence being carried out by Hindu nationalist factions. 

I spent the whole of December confused. I was home for a break. My world in Boston was in direct opposition to my world in Delhi. 

Now as I see more of what’s happening around the country, my body continues to be locked in a perpetual state of depersonalization. 

I’ve fought waves of sadness, helplessness, and everything I write about these days has a sense of futility pervading it.  

On my first day Boston University, I was asked to briefly introduce myself and I said that I wanted to become a competent journalist, learn the tricks of the trade from the best and go back home. 

Last year, my reason was Kashmir. The Indian government built a smokescreen around the state, revoked a law that gave the state autonomy and suspended normalcy with a blanket communication ban after passing a law that allowed state incursion in Kashmir. 

Today, my reasons involve the Indian Muslim community. Many are reportedly fleeing their homes in Delhi, anticipating that the next attack will happen outside their house. 

As we beautify and ignore the wounds of Modi’s government in the face of Trump’s tour, India showed that we’re nothing but an example of misplaced priorities.  

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.