Ekal Honored With Gandhi Peace Prize

Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (EVF) the largest global organization dedicated to integrated village development in rural India was recently honored with the most prestigious national award in India for social work. On February 26, 2019 “Ekal Abhiyan Trust” (Ekal’s umbrella Organization) was bestowed with the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize’ for the year 2017 for its contribution in providing education to rural and tribal children and for promoting gender and social equality in remote parts of India. (The award ceremony had not been held since 2015. That is why the prize for 2017 was only awarded in 2019) This prize is conferred by the Government of India under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice, leader of the largest opposition party and many others.

The ceremony took place at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi and was graced by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind as well as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On behalf of Ekal Vidyalaya, the award was received by M.L. Jain, a senior trustee of Ekal Abhiyan. This unique honor carries a grant of Rs. 1 Crore, a citation and a plaque to commemorate the distinction. This prize was instituted in 1995 on the 125th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi to highlight his concept of ‘Gram Swaraj Model.’ In his laudatory message, Prime Minister Modi commended its efforts to give educational opportunities to children in tribal areas and empowering rural women.

Currently, the organization has been supporting 82,000 Ekal-schools across rural-tribal pockets of India and grooming almost 2.2 million children, more than half of which are girls. Ekal’s programs  empowers villagers, not only through adult education classes related to healthcare and environmental-issues, but also, by preparing them for cottage-industries with skill-development training.

At this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Varanasi, Ekal Founder in Australia – Nihal Singh Agar was honored with the Pravasi Bharatiya Sanman Award by the President Ram Nath Kovind. Nihal Singh-ji has also been a recipient of the prestigious “Order of Australia Award” in 2015. During Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Ekal’s Renu Gupta, who had been a Board Member & Chairperson of “Ekal-USA” and Dr Sudha Parikh, who has been an ardent supporter of Ekal Foundation received “She The Change – Nari Udyami Award” for their exemplary service to the community. The honor was given by Beti Shiksha Foundation at an event presided over by the Governor of Uttarakhand. On March 1, 2019, EVF ‘Founding Member’, Ma. Shaymji Gupta was felicitated by Kurukshetra University with the Goyal Peace Prize’for spreading education in remote areas of India. It must also be noted that Ekal serves people without any differences attributed to caste, creed, religion and region of origin and it has an established presence even in conflict-ridden areas.

In the past, Ekal had been the recipient of several distinguished awards for its transparency of administration and the innovativeness in its operations. Last year, Prime Minister Modi set out a goal to Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation to establish 100,000 schools by the year 2022  which will mark the 75th year since India’s Independence. The way Ekal is rapidly marching, it is likely to reach that target way ahead of time in the year 2020 itself. For more information and to support us, please reach out to www.ekal.org

 

Sabyasachi For The Masses?

Although the innovation behind the designer Sabyasachi is his willingness to break down barriers in traditional Indian designs, his movement towards historically cultural elements, signifies Fiza as a collection that serves to redefine the reputation of the designer, taking the classic elegance of a typical Sabyasachi piece, and combining it with a whimsical element, evidenced by the vibrant color palette, the prevalence of embroidery, and the use of the undisputedly “Indian” Khadi fabric.

The use of a uniquely Westernized color palette has been essential in the rise of popularity of Sabyasachi wedding wear. The muted tones, and generally heavy hues have characterized Sabyasachi’s ethnic fashion as high branded and luxurious. Through catering to the Indian desire to emulate European designs in an effort to appeal sophisticated, Sabyasachi has cemented his place among Indian designers. However, since 2017, and with this collection in  particular, he turns to an unabashedly Indian color scheme – of saturated yellows, greens, pinks and purples. Fiza marks the first time that a warmer orange tone has been a major player in Sabyasachi lehengas, contributing to the zeitgeist of designers who have embraced a purely “desi” aesthetic. This reversion, although not revolutionary, does evoke an image of the #JaiHind social media trend, that the designer himself has expressed affiliation with in the recent past.

The innately “Indian” theme of this collection is further emphasized by the emphasis of embroidery over embellishment, new to Sabyasachi designs. Generally notable for the bejeweled stone look of both blouses and lehengas, Fiza marks a new face of the Sabyasachi lehenga, one that finds grace in a silhouette of simplicity. Drawing on elements of minimalism, Fiza oozes a sense of effortlessness and charm, speaking to the core of Sabyasachi designs.

The focus on thread and cloth is taken to a new level by Sabyasachi’s shift to Khadi, a handwoven fabric, significant in the Swadeshi Movement during Indian independence, where European (specifically British) goods were boycotted. Given the context of Sabyasachi’s opinions on the India-Pakistan situation, the use of Khadi in his designs is suggestive of a nationalist spin on this collection, a detail that might be essential in marketing his designs to a younger generation of politically conscious millennials.

As Sabyasachi’s consumer base moves from a generation of Sridevis to a younger demographic of Star Kids, the audience is reminded that Sabyasachi is a brand before he is an artist. His lehengas elicit a strong emulation of the relaxed and carefree desi style of a millennial India, and the choice to launch Fiza exclusively on Instagram speaks to a business strategy that targets desi youth in particular.

This collection is reflective of a new Sabyasachi — a designer who is adapting with the changing times through molding his famed lehengas into the new standard of desi pride.

Sumedha Vemulakonda is an avid follower of Indian designer brands. Looking at pretty lehengas makes her feel connected to her inner Deepika Padukone. This article was originally published on her fashion and culture blog à la mode (alamode2239641.wordpress.com), and has been republished on the India Currents page. All images courtesy of @sabysachiofficial Instagram page.

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    Why India Sent Fighter Jets to Pakistan

    Statement by Shri Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary on 26 February 2019 on the Strike on JeM training camp at Balakot

    February 26, 2019

    On 14 February 2019, a suicide terror attack was conducted by a Pak based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad, leading to the martyrdom of 40 brave jawans of the CRPF. JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades, and is led by MASOOD AZHAR with its headquarters in Bahawalpur.This organization, which is proscribed by the UN, has been responsible of a series of terrorist attacks including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.

    Information regarding the location of training camps in Pakistan and PoJK has been provided to Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan, however, denies their existence. The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities.

    India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan. Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.

    Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary.

    In an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by MAULANA YOUSUF AZHAR (alias USTAD GHOURI), the brother-in-law of MASOOD AZHAR, Chief of JeM.

    The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence. As the strike has taken place only a short while ago, we are awaiting further details.

    The Government of Pakistan had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India. We expect that Pakistan lives up to its public commitment and takes follow up actions to dismantle all JeM and other camps and hold the terrorists accountable for the actions.

    No Censor Board for Made in Heaven’s Co-Director

    An exclusive interview with Alankrita Shrivastava, whose last film, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) was promptly banned in India for its frank portrayal of female desire. Now, with other female film-makers, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, who have co-written the series, she has found a platform on Amazon that circumvents the fusty genteel sensibility of the Indian Censor Board. She spoke to Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain of India Currents about how the series Made in Heaven (2019) challenges not just the norms of society but also, with the help of technology, its institutions.

    So many women I know are bingeing on Made in Heaven (2019), just released in March, a fast-paced, highly entertaining and thoughtful series that takes on the chhee-chhhee (ewww) topics of homosexuality, adultery, sexual abuse, #metoo, and also women’s rights, ageism, and the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

    Tina Fey wondered aloud at the Oscars 2019 if microwave ovens would soon begin to make movies, a nod to how Hollywood studios are now routinely jostling on the red carpet with technology upstarts like Netflix and Amazon. Alankrita Shrivastava explains how streaming services like Amazon help film-makers circumvent the Indian Censor Board, patriarchy, and hetero-normativity.

    “There is a subconscious self-censorship that always happens. So that is the conditioning that will take many years to break down. So in India I feel we are kind of conditioned… in the case of Lipstick Under My Burkha, they didn’t know what to do with it — they just banned it. So you have to pass that test, and anything can happen with the Censor board. So it’s very freeing to write stuff, shoot it and then just the way you intended it to be, it played out like that… but having said that, I don’t feel that just because we can tell stories on the digital platform, free from censorship, that we should give up our fight to resist censorship in the theatrical space, or in the broadcast space.”

    Hear the full interview below:

     

    Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D., is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

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    Si Se Puede! Yes, We Can!

    On the evening of Sunday, March 3rd 2019, The School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, San Jose,  was the venue for an interesting portrayal of the life of one of America’s famous civil rights leaders, Cesar Chavez. What set this production apart was not only the object of the story, but the medium of storytelling. Cesar Chavez and his celebrated struggle on behalf of migrant farmworkers in California, was conveyed through the traditional Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam.

    Presented by the Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose, “Si Se Puede!” brought to light not only the echoes of those long ago struggles, but also placed today’s issues front and center for us to examine. In the current political environment, with the subject of Immigration – illegal or otherwise – taking centerstage;  spotlighting Chavez’s struggles and successes seemed especially appropriate.

    Beneath the layers of music and movement, poetry and lyrics, the stage lights lit up an immigrant narrative made up of two separate cultures.  And weaving through it all were the universal tenets of human rights, freedom and social justice.

    Abhinaya Dance Company:

    Abhinaya School of Dance, founded in 1980, is well known for originality in creative exploration. The recipient of several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, state and city agencies, the dance company has deservedly earned a leading name for itself in the SF Bay area. Helmed by an accomplished dancer, teacher and choreographer Mythili Kumar, the company has until date staged over 50 original productions. Offering classes in San Jose and Monte Sereno, the school has 130 students who have graduated with their solo debut (arangetram) performances.

    Abhinaya has staged socially relevant productions in years past. “Gandhi the Mahatma in 1995 was the first of such projects that we staged. Our 2018 production ‘Stories of Justice’ featured the legacy of Martin Luther King. Jr – which included a 6 minute piece on Cesar Chavez,” says Artistic director Mythili Kumar. Her research revealed the fact that Chavez was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s successful non-violent resistance which helped India gain independence from British rule in 1947.

    She felt the time was ripe for delving deeper into Chavez’s life given the recent upheaval in the lives of immigrant workers all over America, Her goal is to educate and inspire the diverse Bay Area community about Cesar Chavez’s pioneering work, while also highlighting ongoing struggles that continue to be part of the lives of those who strive so hard to provide us with the very lifestyle that is denied them. 

    Cesar Chavez’s quote from the 1960s is relevant even today – “It is ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves!”

    Si Se Puede! – Yes, You Can!

    Abhinaya Dance Company’s first production in 2019, titled “Si, Se Puede” – which translates to mean “Yes, You Can!” – pays homage to the slogan made famous by the farmworkers under the leadership of Cesar Chavez in 1962.

    The program opened with dancers outfitted in traditional Bharatanatyam attire, dancing to a beautiful rendition of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. Stories of the demon king Kumbhakarna, Ravana and King Midas highlighted the central idea of greed as being the downfall of the human condition. Lord Krishna’s twin messages of Universal Love – “Vishwaprema”, and the victory of Truth – “Satyameva Jayate,” set the tone for the story of the man, the visionary, and the leader – Cesar Chavez.

    Cesar’s humble beginnings working the fields with his family showed him the harsher truths of life. He was forced to bear witness to abject poverty, hunger, mistreatment, ill health and poor living conditions while working as a migrant farm worker. Abhinaya’s dancers deftly led us through scene after scene showing families of itinerant farm laborers struggling under sweltering temperatures, facing immense hardship, leaving children with no opportunity to enjoy their childhoods.

    The soulful voice of Bay Area’s notable Carnatic music vocalists, Asha Ramesh, was ably supported by respected instrumentalists – Ravi Gutala (bols & tabla), Amit Ranganathan (mridangam & kanjira), Lakshmi Balasubramanya (violin), Ashwin Krishnakumar (flute) and Prasant Radhakrishnan (saxophone). Lending counterpoint were Ignacio Alvarez (guitar & vocals) and Gil Cruz (guitar) from the Trio Igalva group.  Ignacio’s rendition of ‘De colores’ was especially poignant. Originally a traditional Spanish song sung during happy occasions, De colores’ was adopted by the striking farm workers at their meetings, and it eventually became a symbol of hope for their resistance movement. Mr. Alvarez’s soft, gentle rendition brought to mind a thirst for beauty and kindness that all human beings yearn and strive for.

    Malavika Kumar Walia’s crisp nattuvangam added the perfect vigor to the famed UFW (United Farm Workers) march from Delano to Sacramento, bearing the distinctive flag of resistance. Likewise, Ravi Gutala’s sprightly rendition of bols enhanced the scene where the striking workers were brutalized by law enforcers. Rasika Kumar’s narration provided continuity along with a backdrop of slides from that period in history.

    The final scene brought home the fact that the struggles of immigrants is not over yet. Mythili Kumar portrayed a Hispanic woman’s story as she lives with the constant fear of deportation. A normal day in her life with her children shadowed by fear, every time there is a knock on the door. Finally, the law comes calling and she is taken away. The twist came at the end of the scene where the woman wakes and realizes it is a nightmare. This is the reality that untold numbers face today.  

    Abhinaya’s production shows us that fear lives among us and holds us in its clutches in today’s world, as it did in Cesar Chavez’s day. Will we have the courage to shed ourselves of the manacles of fear?

    Will we have the courage to say – Yes We Can? 

    ===============================================================

    Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

    Oh Rapturous Spring!

    “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson: The Sense of Wonder

    Growing up in the Nilgiri hills in South India, I must admit that I did not feel the keen delineation of seasons. In jest, we often told each other that our seasons were broadly divided into two: rainy and not rainy.

    It was beautiful and scenic all around me, and I am eternally grateful for a childhood spent in those charming environs. It isn’t a gift granted to many – I realized this truth as a child, and this becomes even truer with every passing day, as I live as an adult far away from those beautiful hills which formed the landscape of my childhood. Nestled in the South of India where the Eastern Ghats met the Western Ghats, the Nilgiris was at the unique spot of inviting monsoon rains that lashed both the East and West coasts of the Indian peninsula. Between the South-West monsoons and the North-East monsoons, it rained for almost 9 to 10 months during the year. The few months in April and May, when we could hope for sunshine, doubled up as our summer.

    Spending many months with rainy weather in an environment devoid of electronic stimulation meant that we learnt to occupy ourselves with books and our imagination. Complaining about being “bored” got us the gift of chores or more homework. We were smart enough to give these two a wide berth and be completely at peace with ourselves. The books that I read were varied and often spoke of fantastic adventures in the English countryside or on the slopes of the Alps; books about sleuthing that made me yearn for such deductive skills; or travel and humor that made me want to pack up and get started on adventures of my own.

    Many of these books were set in Europe where the seasons were far different from the rainy and not-rainy strains of weather that I experienced.  They spoke rapturously of spring and autumn. I suppose the magic of youth made me read about “gold and scarlet leaves” and imagine a wondrous world of multi-colored leaves though my forays into the forests nearby always revealed only shades of green. I wondered what geography textbooks meant when they spoke of Deciduous and Evergreen forests. Did the leaves fall like clumps of hair? What did they mean by resplendent autumn? The trees were always beautiful, green and calming – I could not quite understand how they became especially resplendent in autumn.

    I think it is fair to say that I did not truly get the meaning of spring and autumn till I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. When I first moved to the United States as a wide-eyed lass in my twenties, everything about the weather and seasons seemed wondrous (it still does!). Suddenly, what the books were talking about when they referred to autumn and spring took on a new meaning.

    The bare trees of the winter have a beauty of their own. How could there be trees without any leaves, I wondered when I first came. But every year since, my heart has burst at this explosion of beauty when the leaves change colors, when the stark branches stand out, and when the flowers burst forth on the trees all at once, before slowly growing and complementing them with leaves.

    I watch wondrous, a child again, as I see my flowering cherry tree, and the apricot tree that flowers a little later.

    Looking at the earth fresh and colorful in its spring glory has been marvelous. Does your heart not sing when you see geese flying towards the waters making a perfect landing? The joyous anticipation of seeing mallard babies as they get ready to hatch in a few weeks has me in a tizzy. The blooming of my first daffodils has given me joy beyond measure.

    Growing up in the Nilgiris gave me the immeasurable gift of finding pleasure in the simple gifts of nature. It is the reason I persist in passing this on to my children, even though I am given the “who-is-the-little-nature-nutcase?” eye roll and pat on the head by them.

    I could not have put it better than Rachel Carson as she comments in her book, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring.”

    Spring is here!

    Of Down Dogs, Goats and Salvation: 5 Yoga Myths

    Down dogs go well with beer. Goats are Yogis in disguise. Humans evolve into The Divine Pretzel to gain salvation. Instagram images implode with visions and variations of what Yoga has become all over the world. Sweaty, smiling “yogis” in heated rooms twist and turn to seek deeper truths. There are as many myths about the practice and the outcomes associated with Yoga as there are human beings and other creatures practicing Yoga (37 million two-legged creatures in the U.S. alone).

    As a Yoga teacher, one hears it all with some humor, some compassion and some exasperation. Here are five of the most common myths about Yoga.

    I am NOT flexible/bendy to practice yoga: As light as a feather, as bendy as Gumby. Many beginners are intimidated to get into a Yoga class with more “experienced practitioners” who seem to effortlessly fold forward, bend backward, transition gracefully from one difficult pose to another without losing their breath, a beatific smile always writ large on their glowing faces. Flexibility comes from practice and conscious, skilled stretching of deep connective tissue and muscle fibers. It’s a complex function involving the musculoskeletal, the circulatory and the nervous system. Most of us who practice regularly see an increase in flexibility. It is a gradual process. Each of us have areas that are more flexible than others in our bodies. There is such a thing as being too flexible. Hyper flexibility can cause a person to stretch too deep into the joints and may cause pain and injury if the movements are consistently above the normal range of motion for that joint.

    I don’t have a Yoga Body: There is no such thing as a “Yoga body”. If one has a body, it’s a Yoga body. If one can breathe, it’s a Yoga body. If one can practice kindness, it’s a Yoga body. If one can drive in freeway traffic and not cuss at someone who cuts you off, you are practicing Yoga. While social media showcases acrobatic poses by mostly young men and women, this is not the real, whole picture of what a complete yoga practice, or a real practitioner, looks like.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong in practicing advanced and how-the-heck-is-she doing-that-when-alive poses. Asanas tone, stretch, and strengthen one’s physical body. The advanced poses can help motivate the practitioner to practice physically in a regular and disciplined fashion.

    Asana practice taught by an experienced teacher is inclusive. A group class can, and should, be modified so anyone who wants to practice, can practice and reap all its benefits. From B.K.S. Iyengar, a stocky South Indian man, the trailblazing Indian Guru, to Jessamyn Stanley, an advocate for body positivity and the author of “Every Body Yoga”, to Tao Porchon Lynch, the vibrant 99 year old Yoga icon and the oldest living Yoga teacher, there are inspiring Yoga teachers and practitioners who have diverse body types.

    There’s only one type of Yoga, and that’s the true Yoga: Hatha Yoga, the ubiquitous umbrella term refers to all of the physical practices in the ancient Yoga tradition. It is sometimes confused with other brand names of modern Yoga such as Power Yoga, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Restorative etc. Each of these variations of modern Yoga stem from Hatha Yoga, and have nuances and practices that have evolved due to innovation and study by the founder of that particular style. Each of these variations offer something unique and there is no one true “Yoga” style. One can think of modern Yoga as a delicious buffet, and try different combinations of styles to see what suits one’s lifestyle and needs the best.

    Yoga belongs to Hindus and Indians: Does relativity belong to Einstein? Do the stars belong to Galileo? Yes, Yoga has deep, historic and mythological connections to India. Ancient sages believe that Lord Shiva was the original creator of Yoga. References to Yoga are found in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is widely regarded as the most important codification of Yoga practices (Ashtanga or the Eight limbs), some scholars believe that the text had very little to do with the physical practice and more to do with the Yogi’s quest for the Divine or salvation. From the 10th century Hatha Yoga Guru Matsyendranath (believed to be an incarnation of Shiva) to the 15th century Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there are many texts that pertain to the study and the practice of Yoga. However, it was only in the early 19th century that Guru Krishnamacharya, the “Father of Modern Yoga”, revived and synthesized all his learning from ancient texts, study under sages, Indian wrestling, and gymnastics, and created the Vinyasa style of Yoga, variations of which are taught and practiced today all over the world.

    The history of Yoga, like most phenomena that have survived the test of time, is highly debated, studied and analyzed, and is open to one’s interpretation, perceptions and world view. In the modern context, most of the standing asanas have evolved and are a product of study and creativity. It is a true global practice since it has influences from Asian martial arts, Buddhist philosophy, Western gymnastics, and modern science. It hence belongs to all of humanity. If Yoga has to survive and evolve further, its teachers and practitioners will continue to absorb the context and needs of the time.

    Yoga is Asana: Yoga is really much more than the physical body. The very meaning of Yoga comes from the word, Yug, to yoke, to unite. To connect the physical, mental, emotional, and the spiritual, and eventually, the Divine in all of us. To narrowly define this all-encompassing practice is not giving it its due. Asana is the third limb of the eight limbs of Yoga (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi). Each progressively aims to advance the practitioner’s path from the physical body to the subtle body, to eventually merge with the Divine.

    A consistent Yoga practice can take many forms, styles, shapes, and colors. As one goes deeper and deeper into the practice, the practice permeates into everyday life, the way we live, our relationships with each other and the world, the way we deal with stress, the ways in which we grow as human beings. While this author has nothing against beer or goats or the two in combination, a down dog just may be better executed without having the other two. Maybe a pup some day.

    Anjali Kamath Rao believes that Yoga can help one live a life of meaning and intention. Her passion is to help others discover their own strength and potential. She teaches at Stanford Cancer Program, Washington Hospital and corporate locations in the Bay Area. When she is not on her mat, you can find her with her kids on a bike, or in the car with her kids practicing Yoga on the freeway. Contact her at yoganjali05@gmail.com

    First published in March 2018.

    My Search For My Great Grandfather Among 1.3 Million

     

    Like most people, I love chocolate, ice cream, and—as every Indian knows—delicious sweets such as laddoos, jalebi, and gulab jamuns. And for most of my life, I rarely gave a thought for how sugar, the key ingredient in all these treats, is grown and manufactured. I most likely would never have thought about it, but for the curiosity about my roots.

    As a child, my grandmother told me stories about my great-grandfather – that he went to South Africa, was hardworking, but died poor and in tragic circumstances. I wondered why he went to South Africa and what happened in his life. Unfortunately, there were no records or photographs for me to see. All I had were stories from my grandmother and a lot of questions.

    As a youngster, I realized that my great-grandfather was an indentured coolie.

    He was one of the 1.3 million (13 Lakh) Indians who were sent as indentured laborers in the nineteenth century to sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean, Mauritius, South Africa and Fiji.

    The search for my great-grandfather spanned most of my adult life and only recently after a series of miracles, I found the original ship record of my great grandfather. After a search of more than three decades, I was finally able to piece together my great grandfather’s life and mine.

    The indenture journey

    These indentured laborers suffered immense hardship on the plantations, working dawn to dusk, six days a week in inhuman conditions.

    They struggled against all odds and faced humiliation so that their descendants would have a better life. The indenture life was close to slavery. The farm owners withheld pay and rations at their whim. Coolies were whipped for the slightest transgression and women coolies were sexually harassed.

    Today, about 4.5 million people of Indian descent live in these countries, most of whom are the offspring of indentured laborers. Like their forebearers, many of them have worked hard and seen great success in their lives, such as Alvin Kallicharan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, famous West Indian cricketers, Vijay Singh, the World Number 1 golfer; V. S. Naipaul, the Nobel literature prize winner; and Anerood Jugnauth, former prime minister of Mauritius.

    During the course of my research, I was shocked to learn that the indenture system is very much alive even today. In the Middle East, hundreds of thousands of kafala workers from India, Pakistan, and other countries labor in the scorching sun to build gleaming malls, office towers, and stadiums. The lives of laborers haven’t changes much since the indenture days.

    This book is an attempt to present a sadly neglected chapter in human history, the story of Indian indenture in the industrialized world. The addendums on Gandhiji, Colonial history, Sugar history and Kafala will surely make this an interesting read.

    Book: Viriah: 1.3 Million (13 Lakh) Indians Were Shipped as Indentured Laborers to Sugarcane Plantations in British Colonies to Replace Slaves. My Great-Grandfather Was One of Them. This Is his story.

    About the Author

    Krishna Gubili was born in 1970 in Hyderabad, India. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter. He is passionate about history, travel, movies and cricket. He is an alumnus of JNTU College of Engineering, Hyderabad and Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.

     

     

     

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