YORK: Since the World Trade Center collapsed on Tuesday, Sreenath
has been connecting people, getting word out on
who is missing and helping locate people in various New York hospitals.
Sreenivasan teaches at Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism. The Internet expert at WABC-7, a New York City area
TV station, and a freelance journalist, he co-founded the South
Asian Journalists Association (SAJA
a group of 800-odd South Asian journalists in New York and across
the US and Canada. He spoke to Smeeta Mishra Pandey
how the South Asian community in the US is coping with the terrible
tragedy. By Saturday afternoon, SAJA had received 37 death threats
from within the US and from around the world; one Sikh has been
killed in Arizona and others injured, obviously in what was a
clear case of mistaken identity:
Where were you during the attacks on Tuesday?
My wife, Roopa, and I, we were in Bermuda last weekend. We
were stuck there because of Hurricane Erin - we came back on one of
the last flights into JFK Tuesday morning. We flew into New York
City around 8.10 a.m. on an American Airlines flight.
As we came close to the city, I saw the familiar skyline from
my window seat. The World Trade Center towers were clearly visible
against the blue sky - we were about two miles away. We even talked
about how nice it all looked - the Citibank building and the WTC
were the two most visible landmarks. We landed, got into a cab and
were near the Triboro Bridge, driving towards Manhattan, when we saw
dark smoke billowing from one of the WTC towers. At that point, we
started listening to the radio and watched as emergency crews drove
past us. And the rest, you know.
Does SAJA have information on the exact number of Indians
killed in the WTC collapse?
As of now, nobody has the exact number of Indians killed in
the terrorist attacks. There's no way one can determine it right
away. Moreover, I think it is insensitive for people to come up with
figures before people are officially declared dead. There may be
many people lying in hospitals, seriously injured and without a name
tag. All I can say to the families in India who have loved ones
staying in the US is that I hope you've heard from your family.
Community organisations here are doing their best. Let's help one
How is SAJA helping the South Asian community cope?
We just concluded a SAJA meeting on ``Covering the WTC
Attacks and the Aftermath''. A group of senior journalists discussed
the coverage of the attacks and the backlash. Apart from South
Asians, east Asians and white Americans also attended the meeting. A
presentation by experts who have been tracking the bias crimes
preceded the discussion. South Asians who have been the subject of
anti-South Asian harassment and threats also spoke their hearts out.
It was the first large-scale community gathering after the
terrorist attacks and it became a cathartic experience to see other
brown faces. There was a lot of emotion. People spoke about what
they've been going through in the past few days. Those who still
haven't managed to trace their loved ones after the terrorist
attacks, talked about them, asking others if anyone had any
information about their family members and friends.
As we finished with the meeting, we saw a Sikh man being
interviewed by a television crew. As he spoke, a white American who
was passing by shouted, ``You Islamic mosquitoes should be killed''.
THIS is what we are facing. A friend of mine, who is a senior
journalist here and who doesn't want to be identified, faced a
similar situation on the night of the terrorist attack. He was at
the bar when two men in army clothes asked him if he was
Middle-Eastern. They posed several uncomfortable questions and it
got nasty. Several similar cases have happened to people I know. So
community organisations are not only coordinating rescue operations,
prayers and condolence meetings after the terrorist attacks, they're
trying their best to make their community members feel safe.
Have you, personally, experienced any kind of
discrimination in the US?
Not recently. But nearly 17 years ago when I was in the
seventh grade, I was taunted by a few boys who gathered around me.
They kept pointing at me, shouting, ``Gan-dee, Gan-dee'', ``Hindu
schmuck'', ``cow lover'' - all because the previous night at the
Oscars, the film Gandhi won eight Academy awards. Their
favourite films, ET and Tootsie were lagging behind.
This was in 1983. But at that time, being pushed around and laughed
at, got me real nervous and scared.
How is SAJA helping South Asian journalists covering the
SAJA has brought out media guides to cover the aftermath of
the disaster. Our website has reporting tips for journalists and
others covering the incident. In addition to reporting on the
tragedy, news organisations have begun to cover the reprisal attacks
against South Asians in the US. Our website contains backgrounders
on the South Asian regions involved, a list of experts and sources
from different communities who may be available for comment. We are
updating this information as often as possible. While the press has
done a good job of covering the dangers posed to Arab Americans and
Arabs living in the United States by media stereotyping, we feel
there still is not enough awareness of the bias crimes against South
Asians and how they are coping with it.
Can the United States use force to ensure security?
The terrorists on the hijacked plane did not use cutting-edge
armaments. They used box-cutters, something that anyone could buy
from a hardware store. Random carpet bombing over other countries is
not the answer. War will not solve any problems. For instance, in
1998, the US used force in Afghanistan, but that did not put an end
to Osama bin Laden's terrorist activities. It did not guarantee
security for the United States. I am not a security expert. But I
think what the US needs is better intelligence on the ground. The US
and the Americans have been looking inward. They should look beyond
the shorelines of the United States. They need to know what's going
on in the rest of the world. The terrorists have hit at the heart of
the United States. In the aftermath of the disaster, attitudes in
the media are also changing. For instance, I was speaking to an
editor in New York today, and he said they would now deploy more
journalists in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Do you think India wants to use Washington against
I don't want to comment on that. All I know is that no matter
what the subcontinental politics, South Asians need to stay united
here. It's absolutely important.