The New York Times reports today that an Illinois man, Subhash Chander admitted to setting a fire that killed his daughter, son-in-law, and their son because he saw their marriage as a “cultural slight” — his daughter married a man from a lower caste.

The story is disturbing on a number of levels, but what I found perhaps most alarming was the way in which the story is being reported here: it seems that the man’s lawyers are making a move to defend the charges of murder and arson by making the case about culture. He’s Indian! There is still caste discrimination in India! He’s been conditioned to think this way! Yes, what he did is wrong, but it’s a little less wrong, because it’s just the nature of his people!

OK, I may be taking it a little too far. But is it really necessary, after peppering the story with references to caste and culture, to close with these words?:

Smita Narula, the faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law who has studied the effects of the Indian caste system, said violence over caste differences and intercaste marriages still occurred in India, although discrimination against the lowest caste has been outlawed for decades.

“What is surprising,” Ms. Narula said, “is that it might happen here.”

Why is it so surprising? Hateful people do stupid things all over the world. Immigrating to America, or even living in America, doesn’t insulate you from adopting ideas or viewpoints from foreign lands. Would it also surprise Ms. Narula that I had arguments about American politics when I lived in Delhi? Does it surprise her that my husband still makes morning and evening tea for us, a tradition he grew accustomed to in India?

(Alternative voices from The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times.)

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