My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.
And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.
Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms.
Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.
Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:
Before the start of travel:
(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.
You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy.
(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family.
Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.
During the flight:
I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.
Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.
(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul
(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing
Arriving in India:
We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers
Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.
At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form.
By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!
Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.
Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters.
There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.
Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.
So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!
UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries.
The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.
Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.
In a decision that is expected to significantly ease the process for re-issue of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, the Modi Government has decided to simplify the process. This decision has been taken on the directions of the Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah.
The OCI Card has proved to be very popular amongst foreigners of Indian Origin and spouses of foreign origin of Indian citizens or OCI cardholders, as it helps them in hassle-free entry and unlimited stay in India. So far about 377,200 OCI Cards have been issued by the Government of India.
A foreigner of Indian origin or a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen or foreign spouse of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder, can be registered as an OCI cardholder. OCI card is a lifelong visa for entry into and stay in India with a number of other major benefits attached to it that are not available to other foreigners.
Presently, the OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age, in view of biological changes in the face of the applicant.
It has now been decided by the Government of India to dispense with this requirement. A person who has got registration as OCI cardholder prior to attaining the age of 20 years will have to get the OCI card re-issued only once when a new passport is issued after his/her completing 20 years of age, so as to capture his/ her facial features on attaining adulthood. If a person has obtained registration as OCI cardholder after attaining the age of 20 years, there will be no requirement of re-issue of OCI card.
To update the data regarding new passports obtained by the OCI cardholder, he/she can upload a copy of the new passport containing his/her photo to the online OCI portal, each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder within 3 months of receipt of the new passport.
However, in the case of those who have been registered as OCI cardholder as the spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or an OCI cardholder, the person concerned will be required to upload on the system, a copy of the new passport containing the photo of the passport holder and also the latest photo along with a declaration that their marriage is still subsisting each time a new passport is issued. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder spouse within three months of receipt of his/ her new passport.
The details will be updated on the system and an auto acknowledgment through e-mail will be sent to the OCI cardholder informing that the updated details have been taken on record. There will be no restriction on the OCI cardholder to travel to/ from India during the period from the date of issue of new passport till the date of final acknowledgment of his/ her documents in the web-based system.
When traveling abroad, there are many important steps to ensuring that the trip goes perfectly. A trip between two countries so culturally diverse and far apart requires a lot of planning and research. If you are a cultural native of India, there will be many customs and attributes to American culture which will be surprising and take some getting used to. The below six simple steps will allow you to plan and enjoy a successful and beautiful trip to the United States.
1: Visa Process – The dreaded United States Visa application is one of the most difficult and important processes when planning a trip to America. You will most likely need to acquire a business and/or personal visa (labeled B1/B2) which is valid for 10 years. Unlike most other countries, the visa application process for the states requires the attendance of an in-person interview. You will need to fill out an online application on the US government website to get started first, then pay the initial visa fees, and apply for an interview date. You will then need to attend your interview date with the correct and required documents. I would also suggest bringing some cash, but nothing else is allowed into the interview. Once this process is completed, payment must be made for the visa to be delivered, and it usually will arrive within a week after it has been approved.
2: Travel & Health Insurance – One major difference between healthcare in India and the United States is that the whole system is very procedural. Though the privatization of the whole system has made healthcare expensive in the US, it is necessary to have the correct documents and insurance in case of emergency. You cannot simply walk into a pharmacy and ask to be treated; you must have the correct paperwork, and without insurance; an emergency could leave you with a very deep hole in your pocket.
3: Pick your Priorities – The United States is an exceptionally large country, and even state by state there is simply too much to see and do! However, it is important to pick your priorities. Figure out a certain number of things that are ‘must-dos’ for you and write them out into an itinerary of sorts. I would recommend not booking more than one ‘big’ thing in a day, and not to simply stay one night in each hotel before moving on. If you do this, you might see everything; but you will be too exhausted to genuinely enjoy it!
4: Space out your Trip – Similarly to the aforementioned ‘picking your priorities’, spacing out your trip is equally as important. As travel writer Asana Thala at Australia2Write and Write My X said, “Ensure that your trip is well-spaced out and that you are not rushing between your ‘big’ priorities, and actually enjoying them. It is better to do less, well.”
5: Be Aware of American Customs: American customs are vastly different from Indian customs, and the cultural norms are remarkably diverse. Lifestyle Blogger from Britstudent and NextCoursework, Harriet Amy noted, “One major difference is the tipping culture. Waiters at restaurants, doormen at hotels; basically, everyone who ever does anything for you will expect to be tipped.” Another divergence is fashion, you will be shocked initially at some of the clothes that people wear; it will take some getting used to.
6: Enjoy! – The last step is simple! Just enjoy. Take all your research and planning, all the prep work that you have done, and just enjoy. Take in all the sights and try not to stress about anything too much.
As long as you make sure that you plan ahead and organize all visa, travel, and medical pieces before you leave, and have researched your travel plans and written out a draft itinerary; the basic structure is there. There will be a transition period for you to get used to American customs, and find your ‘feet’ in the USA, but hopefully, these six simple steps will be stepping-stones to you enjoying your trip to America!
Michael DeHoyos is a lifestyle and travel blogger and editor at the Thesis writing service andWrite my case study. He often helps companies in their advertising action plans and sales strategies and enjoys contributing his talents to numerous sites and publications. He is also an author for Origin Writings.
Hey, the New Year 2021 is here! Yay! There were a lot of private parties and a few public parties, with both masking and unmasking happening, for sure. A lot of cake was eaten and quite a bit of champagne was drunk.
Unfortunately, the new year started with a heavy hangover from the previous one. What with the COVID-19 virus mutating and becoming even more contagious, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. About the transition of power in Washington, the lesser said the better. In fact, why say anything at all here? We are all watching it on TV on a daily basis.
Where I live in South India too, the new year is beginning on a weird note. It is raining a lot, when it should actually be sunny but cold. In Coorg, Karnataka, where we have a small coffee plantation, people are very worried. The unseasonal rain is causing the coffee berries to drop and rot on the ground, reducing the yield. Those that have been picked have had no time to dry and may rot on the drying yard, if they aren’t washed away by the water, that is. Paddy harvest too may be affected.
Indians are certainly waking up to the unwelcome realization that global warming and climate change are no longer just subjects for scientific debate, but the reality on the ground. Farmers are seeing it first hand, while consumers are suffering when prices fluctuate wildly due to the unseasonal weather. Onions at Rs. 120 a kilo? Enough said.
Meanwhile, the United States is seeing its share of natural disasters as well. Forest fires decimating large swathes of land and swallowing up neighborhoods, and hurricanes and tornadoes wreaking havoc with barely a pause between successive ones, are impressing the concept of climate change among the people far better than any Government initiative to educate them.
However, the big question is: how are the two countries responding to it and trying to change their behavior? And what are individuals doing? Well, here is a layperson’s perspective.
In my decidedly uneducated opinion, both the US and India are responding identically to the climate crisis. They are spending billions of dollars and rupees having conferences and putting out white papers and other colored papers on the subject. But not one of them is doing anything real or major on the ground that may have the slightest effect on reducing emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and cleaning up the environment that they have laid waste.
In India, new cars are flying off the shelves. All the money that couldn’t be spent during the lockdown days is being splurged on new and fancy cars. So much for reducing dependence on fossil fuel.
Public works are still being conducted for the welfare of PWD contractors and not the public – in short, resources being wasted on shoddy work, such as water pipes that break and bleed hundreds of gallons wastefully into the earth. Water wastage and electricity theft is rampant, and there is no earnest effort to clean up invaluable water resources, even after the shocking water crisis faced by Chennai city.
And forest management is absolutely non-existent. If you are a wild animal, or a human whose land is being encroached by wild animals (many parts of South India are seeing an unprecedented number of people being affected by the entry of elephant herds into cultivated land), or a tribal whose very livelihood is at stake, you are on your own. Meanwhile, blocks of flats keep appearing and land is being cleared to build new townships.
In short, very little is happening on the ground to actually combat the climate crisis.
As for the trend in the US, I had an opportunity to observe a few things when my husband and I visited the US this August. And what I observed was shocking, especially after having become used to the Indian way of life.
Again this is my humble opinion, but I think the US is seriously over-consuming. During our stay, we were stunned by the amount of trash we ended up generating each day…and this was mostly non-recyclable stuff. We stayed at a motel for an extended period, so we bought a bunch of silverware and some microwavable plastic and porcelain dishes. We had to depend on microwavable food from grocery stores, as eating every meal at restaurants was neither to our taste nor feasible due to COVID. We found that the frozen dinners were packaged in plastic that was of such durable quality that we actually washed a few and reused them as microwave bowls.
Every store used plastic bags. At large chain stores especially, they would literally put just a pack of socks in one bag and a t-shirt in another. It was as if they’d never heard of limiting plastic. I dearly love the US and am nuts about the stores, but I wanted to weep when I saw the sheer amount of plastic waste that was being generated.
In India, plenty of plastic waste is generated too, especially with Amazon, and Flipkart, Big Basket, and Swiggy, Zomato, and other food delivery companies. But a lot of it does get reused at least a little. Plastic containers are washed and used to store food. Many use cloth bags for shopping, and as for the plastic bags that are used for things like rice, dhal, etc., they get reused too. Small kirana shops use these to package their goods. Milk covers are given to kabadiwaalas who resell them to recyclers. Newspapers are also sold to recyclers, or used to package things or used around the house, or even to wrap used sanitary pads before discarding.
Some cities like Mysore where I live also force citizens to segregate their waste into dry and wet waste. Some apartment complexes like ours have their own composting units, and give only their dry waste to the municipality.
Of course, in India, we have the overwhelming problem of public cleanliness – what garbage we have is usually in plain sight. Now after COVID, there might even be less will to clean up the country. Everyone feels that it was our daily exposure to all kinds of pathogens bred in our own neighborhoods that gave us lower susceptibility to COVID-19 virus. So God knows what will happen to the Swachh Bharath initiative.
The New Year has dawned. We’ve had to change a lot of our habits and behavior last year. Hopefully, we will change our behavior regarding many environmentally-sensitive practices so that 2021 will see a healthier planet emerging from shadow of COVID-19.
Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.
(Featured Image: Screenshot from CNBC coverage of the 2021 Inauguration)
I was pouring my coffee and almost spilled it when I heard Senator Amy Klobuchar’s words, “Our first African American, our first Asian American, our first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris” waft from my TV. As nonchalantly as I had been watching the inauguration, that moment – those words violently ran through my body, as though all my ancestors were asking me to listen.
Kamala Devi Harris.
I was happy to hear of the Democratic shift in our Executive and Legislative branches of government and had voted accordingly, yet I remained skeptical. Skeptical if the words matched the vision.
I accepted Vice President Kamala Harris as a person of color, but I’m not sure why, I hadn’t rationalized the identities she presented. Her Indian-American identity was one she had disengaged from early in her career, rightfully so, only to reach out conveniently when she needed votes. I still voted for her, advocated for her. Not because of her Indian heritage but because of her qualifications, her recent policies, her passion, her willingness to adapt, change, and grow. She was a powerhouse and deserved a position that matched her abilities. This was the narrative I spun for myself and others.
But…it wasn’t until those words were uttered at the inauguration that I felt myself shudder. Shudder in disbelief. Shudder at the significance. Shudder at the thought of my connection to her.
A Lotus Goddess.
And there she was…like Lakshmi Devi, ready to sit upon her throne. Her purple garments, vibrant like the purple lotus. Rooted in America in the most American way – a child of immigrants from two spaces and places. I could not will that away and neither could she.
For so long, I denied seeing myself in Kamala in the interest of seeming impartial; to not be criticized for voting based on resemblance. I cannot deny it any longer. Our Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris is an Indian-American and I love her for it. I love myself for it. She will be a part of my history and I, hers.
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
To borrow from the vast vocabulary of my favorite Democrat – shellacking – that’s what the Republican’s delivered to the Democrats. No, dethroning Trump was not a victory, it was merely a natural phenomenon like a volcano that ran out of lava. But folks, please don’t rest on your temporary laurels, for we know there is plenty of red livid magma, seventy-two million to be precise, that is still boiling within and can spurt again. In this brief respite, the need of the hour is a cooling President, and looks like what we have picked is the best bet from the pack we were dealt.
We, the marginal majority, have to wake up to the stark fact that nearly half of our countrymen really want the guy to continue to do/not do whatever the blighter was doing/not doing for the past four years. I know, I know, the normal human reaction is – What the hell?
To stay away from profanity let’s resort to Shakespeare to express the same sentiment.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.
Although Mark Antony laments in a different context, we can relate to the feeling of being let down en masse. How could they, Why are they, Can’t they see, similar-sounding questions keep reverberating at our dining tables. This tug-of-war has been going on for too long and the strands in our social fiber are tearing apart and hurting both sides. Need a full stop.
Honestly, I must confess there are some valid points that the Red party is fueled by and the Blue side is too pacific about. What our Master Conman did is make the right sounds like a Pied Piper and the meek and easily swayed crowd followed.
The man is gone but the void is still out there, unfulfilled – call it the elephant in the room. Terms like “We are better than this, E Pluribus Unum, Soul of the nation and other lofty tenets will not fly at this advanced stage of our malady. This is crunch time, we need to address it head-on and pay heed to our brethren. It’s like the Parable of the Lost Sheep but this time it’s a whole darn flock.
There is a story that emerged after the Holy Mosque in Mecca was occupied for a fortnight by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979, an incident that killed hundreds. It goes like this: to the total shock of the government officials, King Khalid invited to his palace the leaders behind the attack and he had only one question for them: What the heck do you want? Apparently, the Wahabi leaders complained the Saudis were losing their original values by embracing western culture and their own traditional way of life was becoming endangered. The King partially agreed and that’s how he started to implement stricter Shariah laws, so it goes.
Biden could do a diet version of King Khalid’s chess move by inviting to the White House all the so-called good people on the other sidetoo and listen to them. Maybe bring Michael Moore as a mediator as some of his school buddies are White Militia and friendly with him. Must rope in AOC, Taliba, Omar, and their ilk, for them to hear firsthand the fears and demands of those on the other side of the fence. Being heard is half the remedy.
Down the road, we should consider what the British have – Speakers Corner. Every Sunday morning at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park in London men and women from different persuasions show up with their soapboxes. Anyone can speak at any decibel, discharge their bile, vent their anger and grievances in reckless abandon. The English abuse Indians, the Indians scream about Pakis and vice versa, the Irish thrash the English, the Africans go after all of Europe, the Arabs shower epithets at the Israelis, and on and on goes the fireworks of unbridled cursing. By early afternoon they all then return to their humble abodes, spent and serene.
When I first experienced this phenomenon, fearfully worried violence would erupt any moment, I asked a British Bobby, who was carrying no firearms, why they even allow this. He answered wryly – had it since 1872, this is British democracy, my son. If we could import that from England and practice it in our parks we won’t need them rallies people rush to for release.
I think Albert Camus was the one who said the root cause of all evil is ignorance. There is an even worse strain, being misinformed. It’s amazing that over the years with technological advances we can say it will rain tomorrow at 10:00 AM and surely there will be a downpour. Also amazing is that over several centuries mankind’s basic qualities remain unchanged: lust for power, jealousy, desire for revenge, territorial ambitions, and then there is this tendency to blindly latch on like a leech to what we inherently like to hear. Why some watch FOX only or follow a certain Tweeter only: Muslims are bad for the safety of our country, Mexicans are all thugs, China should be punished and put out of business, Lock her up, Gays should be thrown out of the armed forces, tell your governors to open the economy and get your jobs back. This is like Manna from heaven for the multitudes as these are the exact simplistic solutions they talk in their living rooms. This is the biggest challenge with democracy – the majority of the electorate is naive and so can be led astray, like that colorfully dressed chap with a tweeting pipe from the Middle Ages.
It must be noted in passing that in Australia there is a grassroots movement to curtail the dominance of Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly – in some cities 100% of the newspapers are owned by the feller. Citizens are demanding they don’t want to be brainwashed like the Americans. Let’s try a metaphor here. Say we neglected our normally beautiful lawn for too long and now it has become infected with all kinds of weeds, some as dangerous as poison ivy. But thankfully we have Roundup that can kill them all and bring back the lush green grass back – green moola.
We all know it’s high time the country invested in revamping our infrastructure, but even more, screaming urgent at this juncture is the multitude of jobs that must be quickly regained. We need to get carpet-bombed with all forms of low-tech work opportunities – road construction, bridges, Wind Mills, Solar, or whatever, so that none of us have idle time for the misinforming devils to use our minds as their workshop. Even the most gullible ones at the extreme virulent end of the right-wing arc, when they are earning say 40K or 50K, will be stone deaf to any dog whistles. So, like the topless Cuba Gooding Jr. says in that Cruise movie: El Presidente, show me the money, the moni, the monii………..
To borrow my favorite Republican’s expression, “fervently we pray and fondly we hope” that Joe will deliver in good time.
Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA.
Although many feel the democratic urgency of voting this election cycle in the US, it is not uncommon to hear, “My vote won’t count anyway.”
Associate Professor of Political Science at SFSU and Researcher, Jason McDaniel addresses the importance of local elections as a “foundation for democracy” and a “pathway to racial-ethnic equity.” Whether it be, city, county, or state jurisdiction, local law supersedes federal law and can more accurately represent the sentiment of its community.
Entrenched in the SF Voting Data, McDaniel cautions that RCV can be a contributor to the confounding nature of ballot response but its results are that of a lower democratic deficit. He finds that complexities within the SF local election and lack of information lowers voter turnout for communities of color.
The US follows the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, in which you vote for one candidate and the candidate who receives the most votes wins the election. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 6th, McDaniel reviewed Rank Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting.
When RCV is used, candidates are ranked from 1-10 (depending on the number of candidates). If a candidate immediately has an outright majority (50 percent plus one), then that candidate is declared the winner of the election. However, if none of the candidates have an outright majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on their voters’ second choice rankings. The process continues until one candidate’s adjusted vote number hits an outright majority.
Ranking candidates requires more knowledge of all platforms and of RCV. McDaniels comments, “Reformers who want to change democracy often overestimate what voters care about…The vast majority of voters don’t have strong preferences for more than one or two candidates.” The idea of voters having multiple informed preferences in nonpartisan, local elections is quite novel, unheard of, and is likely a barrier to participation. Research shows that it is possible to recover the loss of voter participation.
Benefits can outweigh the implications of using RCV in a few ways:
This particular method of voting can mitigate “spoiler” candidates, where a candidate that may be a third choice wins an election to a split vote.
The candidate that wins better represents the majority.
Voters can cast “sincere” votes, unbridled by the burden of a “wasted vote”. Independent third-party candidates can be represented by a genuine vote, but if they are dropped during the process of RCV, then another candidate with a similar platform can receive that vote.
It can reduce negative campaigning because it may lie in the interest of multiple parties with resembling platforms to advocate for one another.
It can reduce polarization by rewarding moderate candidates. There is no research to support this yet.
Why stop at local elections?
India, which generally employs FPTP voting, explored a version of Rank Choice Voting in electing their 14th and current President, Ram Nath Kovind. President Kovind is only the second Dalit president elected in Indian history. RCV secured a notable win for someone like Kovind, who overcame countless adversity in his path to a presidential win, while accounting for the public vote in a substantial way. After his win, Kovind addressed the Indian populace, “My win should prove that even honest people can get ahead in life.”
An ongoing dialogue around voting processes can be beneficial for our communities and for reform. If not to change the process, then to better educate everyone around us.
Anni Chung, SF resident and CEO of Self Help for the Elderly, “Rank Choice Voting has always been a mystery to me, even now, after all these years.”
Voting can only be effective if understood. Keep the conversation going and go out and vote this November 3rd!
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Trigger Warning: this article discusses sexual assault, rape, and trauma.
When 29-year-old Srishti Prabha said she was sexually assaulted by her boss at her first job, she said she did not file a complaint with human resources. She did not find a lawyer and contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There were no courtroom dramas or scalding accusations.
Why? Because the only story that Prabha, like many other Indian American women who say they’ve suffered sexual harassment, can tell is a story of silence.
“I had to run. I didn’t understand that I could say something. I was uncomfortable,” said Srishti Prabha, Assistant Editor for India Currents, a community news website based in the Bay Area.
“Our generation didn’t have the language. Growing up, my parents didn’t understand the culture, so I had to understand these boundaries by myself,” Prabha said.
Over the past two years, the #MeToo movement has provided survivors of sexual harassment and abuse with a platform to hold their abusers accountable. What began as a grassroots social media movement has brought thousands of sexual assault cases to light, penetrating nearly every sphere of public life.
Within the South Asian community in the U.S., however, women and activists say the #MeToo movement has a long way to go.
Childhood and Cultural Taboos
Prabha traced her silence about sexual harassment in the workplace to the cultural taboos she encountered as a child. According to Prabha, topics like sexual assault and domestic violence were left unaddressed.
“Indian culture sometimes doesn’t permit …flaws. It’s a culture that wants you to have the perception that everything is perfect, your house is perfect, your children are perfect, to give the perception of prosperity as opposed to honesty,” Prabha said. “Growing up, I didn’t understand what was going on…I didn’t know if someone’s mom was being abused. It was never a topic of conversation.”
Sex is still an unspoken and taboo subject in many Indian American households, agrees Pramila Venkateswaran, a women’s studies professor at Nassau Community College in East Garden City, New York.
“Indian Americans don’t even want to address anything sexuality-related. It’s a sort of a fear,” she said in a Zoom interview. “It’s a taboo they carry from their socialization that they bring here, and that refusal to discuss sexuality is to protect and barricade the family.”
Prabha’s personal experiences point to broader issues within the South Asian community. When dialogue about sexual assault is stifled across gendered and generational boundaries, survivors can become isolated.
“Women often carry the burden of unpacking their traumas alone,” Prabha said.
Public Speech and Private Pain
Unfortunately, laws and public pronouncements often haven’t supported those who’ve taken a stand against sexual abuse.
The harrowing 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter,”a response to the infamous 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, was banned by the Indian government for fear of provoking “public disorder.” When that same rape case incited protests across the country, politician Abhijit Mukherjee called the women participating in candlelight vigils “highly painted and dented, no longer students” (“painted” denotes a woman who is sexually promiscuous). His sweeping generalizations about the protestors undermined their outcry against sexual assault.
Meanwhile, producers of the Bollywood film “PINK,”which was designed to raise awareness of sexual assault, grappled with India’s Central Board of Film Certification before its release. This movie’s arguably most pivotal scene, which discusses the kind of language that runs rampant in public discourse about rape, received multiple verbal cuts to block “abusive language against women.”
“The community feels more progressive than they actually are at times,” Prabha said. “They’ll say something, but their ideologies don’t match the words they speak.”
The Indian community’s reticence on sex reflects India’s inadequate, underfunded sex education curriculum. According to a 2015 article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, sex education is banned in six major states, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka for fear of aggrieving Indian values. A 2013 study published by the National Library of Medicine reported that less than half of students from Mumbai colleges received sex education from schools or parents.
Unfortunately, lack of education and information leaves room for rampant misinformation about sexual health, reproductive rights, and most notably, consent. Rather than shielding the younger generation from talking about, thinking about, and having sex, these restrictions only reinforce rape culture within the Indian community and its diaspora.
What Works — And How
So what does work to help women?
New York-based nonprofit Sakhi for South Asian Women, which assists South Asian immigrant victims of violence, aims to convert #MeToo outrage into constructive change.
According to Anusha Goossens, Sakhi’s sexual assault program manager, education and intergenerational dialogue are a crucial part of the solution. As someone who works with Indian American survivors on a daily basis, Goossens says abusers use a “lack of knowledge” to gain control over women.
“It’s not something we talk about with our children,” Goossens said. “Without discussing or learning about healthy relationships, these women become vulnerable to sexual assault and ongoing abuse.”
Sakhi offers a 24-hour confidential helpline, where a trained professional can listen to and record their experience. To prevent the continuation of this cycle of abuse, Sakhi crafts a detailed safety plan and connects its clients with external services, such as defense lawyers, financial support, and mental health counselors.
Following #MeToo’s explosion on social media, Sakhi has seen a “modest increase” in the number of sexual assault survivors contacting its hotline. While Goossens conceded that a majority of Sakhi’s clients are newer immigrants who are less aware of the movement, she pointed to what one writer called a “wave” of #MeToo second-generation Indian and Bangladeshi survivors in New York who are discussing rape culture:
In response to the movement, Sakhi is actively working on youth outreach, even creating a text hotline to make young people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences. The text line was positively received by the nonprofit’s clientele and provided a necessary doorway toward intergenerational support –– the kind of support that was not available to Srishti Prabha almost 10 years ago.
The grassroots #MeToo movement has played a major role in dismantling a power dynamic that protects rapists. Though it can be difficult to use given cultural differences, it’s a platform that allows South Asian American survivors to discuss their experiences and educate the public, a remarkable change.
Recently, the @AdivasiLivesMatter handle used #MeToo to discuss the marginalization and abuse of tribal women, including the suspension of a case of a 13-year-old girl who was reportedly raped by police after she became lost while attending a fair in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
“(As) someone who works with feminist advocacy groups, I was pretty happy when the #Metoo movement happened,” Venkateswaran said. “It disrupts fear. It disrupts shame. That’s the kind of thing that has to happen all over.”
But #MeToo doesn’t necessarily protect Indian American women after they expose their abusers. When actress Tanushree Dutta accused film veteran Ganesh Acharya of abuse and sexual harassment, she was reportedly blacklisted in the industry, while Acharya continued to produce blockbusters and engage with the Bollywood fraternity.
And Dutta is certainly not alone. In the South Asian community, women are frequently blamed and ostracized for being honest about their experiences.
“What is not happening in (South Asia) is laws that actually help these women,” Venkateswaran said. “If some middle-class woman comes and outs her abuser, she will just be replaced. She becomes dispensable. Does she have a union protecting her? Does she have a support system that holds her job?”
But Prabha sees progress.
“I’m happy that the next generation is so much better off than I am,” Prabha said. “I’m always learning from the people younger than me. Maybe they’ll have the tools to address this. We’re late, but I think we’re really changing for the better.
If you’re struggling with sexual harassment, abuse or violence, please contact:
Sakhi For South Asian Women: Helpline: 1 (212).868.6741 or text 1 (305) 697-2544 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://www.sakhi.org/
Maitri: Helpline: 1-888-8MAITRI or 1-888-862-4874 Email: email@example.com www.facebook.com/maitribayarea Languages: English, South Asian languages (countries: Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Fiji Islands, amongst others)
Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. This year, Kanchan was selected as a semifinalist for the National Student Poets Program.
Ambassador of India to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers today held a virtual meeting and discussed trade and investment as well as people-to-people relations between Wisconsin and India.
Both discussed strategies to tap the potential in the agriculture, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors common to India and Wisconsin that would lead to win-win outcomes for both. The Ambassador briefed the Governor about the initiatives India has taken in healthcare and education and discussed collaboration in these sectors.
India and Wisconsin share a robust trade and investment relationship. The total trade between India and Wisconsin is over US $1 billion. Many Indian companies in the IT, engineering services, medical equipment, and manufacturing sectors have invested in Wisconsin.
These companies have invested close to $185 million in Wisconsin, creating over 2,460 jobs in the state. They also add value to local economies and communities through their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Similarly, Wisconsin-based companies in the automobile, electrical equipment, financial services, and technology sectors have established a strong presence in India. They include Harley Davidson, Rockwell Automation Inc., ManPower Group, etc.
The Indian community has a vibrant presence in Wisconsin, which is also an important destination for Indian students. Close to 1,500 Indian students are studying in educational institutions in Wisconsin.
India has a strong education connection with Wisconsin. The tradition of Indian studies started on the University of Wisconsin campus in the mid-1880s when a Professorship of Sanskrit was established.
Renowned biochemist Dr. Hargobind Khorana received his Nobel Prize in 1968 for research he conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was on faculty.
The Ambassador underscored the need to revive and strengthen the university-to-university linkages between India and the U.S., including in the fields of R&D and bio-health.
Ambassador Sandhu and Governor Evers agreed to further strengthen the multifaceted engagement between India and the state of Wisconsin.
The summer has been eventful for ByteDance, the owner of the rapidly growing social network TikTok. First, the government of India banned the application from distribution in the country due to concerns that the Chinese government is accessing user data. Then, a number of US companies warned employees to remove TikTok from their work phones. Most recently, US President Donald J. Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the US.
Into this maelstrom has stepped Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with an offer to purchase the US business of TikTok. Nadella has earned a reputation as a savvy operator. He has restored Microsoft’s growth with smart bets on various types of business software, and a strong push to move the users of various applications, including the company’s lucrative Office products on to the online Office 365 version. Nadella has also remade the image of the swaggering giant as a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful company.
Microsoft’s purchase of TikTok would be Nadella’s riskiest bet to date. If Beijing, in fact, views TikTok as a crucial asset for influencing US political and social discourse, it could attempt to put backdoors into the software and service. Microsoft would need to work hard to extricate them, and they could result in TikTok’s being shut down anyway.
Also, with TikTok, Microsoft would enter the politically fraught world of social-content moderation. Microsoft has assiduously avoided political controversy, but TikTok would inevitably force Nadella to enter that arena in one way or another. For example, critics have loudly complained that TikTok censored videos of recent Hong Kong protests, citing that as evidence of Chinese government control. One can imagine similar discontent, due to slights — real or perceived — arising among any number of causes, particularly at either extreme of the US political spectrum.
TikTok’s present valuation $5 billion has critics warning that Microsoft is about to overpay. That is one of many things that could halt the deal altogether — valuation, government intervention, and fresh revelations of spying on users being just a few.
Yet the logic of the acquisition is clear. TikTok is under threat of closure by the US federal government. It’s hard to imagine that Microsoft will pay its full valuation price. For ByteDance, this may offer a graceful exit from a business that it realizes will only create more problems. So, Nadella may be making a smart bet — one with less to lose and more to gain than others realize.
Microsoft would increase its market presence by simultaneously acquiring both a social medium and an application popular with the younger crowd. It has long pined for more of the under-25 group, and TikTok may fulfill that aspiration most clearly and cleanly. Also, TikTok, a kinder, gentler social network than Facebook and Twitter, aligns culturally with Microsoft’s carefully groomed image.
The platform is designed to encourage discovery and consumption, but not to fan the flames of extremism. That does entail algorithmically controlling content more carefully and spreading new content more slowly than Facebook and Twitter care to. To date, however, moderation has been a lesser problem on TikTok than on other platforms and, due to its design and mechanism, is likely to remain so.
With TikTok would come a large and growing pool of user-generated video data for training Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) engines. In theory, if Microsoft can continue to grow TikTok’s user base, its advertising benefits to Microsoft may be enormous. Microsoft’s cash flow would benefit from the added diversity of the advertising revenue and potentially of another rapidly growing source: social advertising. To put this into perspective, Amazon’s fastest-growing revenue stream, of late, has been advertising sales on its powerful eCommerce platform.
The purchase’s major benefit to Microsoft and the US public may be the ability of US consumers to continue to use an innovative platform for free expression and creativity after rescuing it from the quicksand of politics. Yes, we must remain vigilant in limiting government spying (which, let’s be honest, both sides engage in) and restrictive business practices (in which China is clearly the worst offender). But ultimately the potential of such technology as TikTok is to soar above partisanship and divisiveness to let people connect and create.
Certainly, social networks have created their fair share of problems for society, and TikTok is not a perfect vessel. People will find ways to abuse its potential. For now, however, Microsoft’s purchase of TikTok would, in a rare win-win, benefit Microsoft, TikTok’s users, and society.
And just as the US learned from India’s ban, India now needs to learn from it. China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 requires all of its companies and citizens to ‘support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work’. If China decided to launch more aggressive moves against India, it could have its companies intercept private communications, shut down key services, or even sabotage infrastructure. This is why the US State Department launched the Clean Network program: to purge Chinese companies from US infrastructure. This applies to telecoms carriers, cloud services, undersea cables, apps, and app stores.
Removing Chinese-developed infrastructure will take time. But India can surely take a page out of the US State Department’s book and require companies such as Xiaomi, Haier, Oppo, Vivo, Oneplus, Huawei, and Motorola to sell their Indian products to local players. Companies such as Reliance, Mahindra, and Tata have the capability and funding and could win in the same way as Microsoft.
Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow, Labour and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School, US, and co-author of the forthcoming book, From Incremental to Exponential: How Large Companies Can See the Future and Rethink Innovation.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have been thinking of my mother. If ever there was a person who was ready for an epidemic, it was my mother. She was the FDA and the CDC combined. Her advice on health matters was prescient. Fearing cancer, she refused to use artificial colorings in food even though the FDA would not study and ban some for six decades. She suspected that fats like margarine, which were solid at room temperature, would stick inside you. When you consider that she was raising children in India in the nineteen-fifties you have to marvel at her audacity.
Yet she was a middle-class woman with no college education. Not for lack of ambition, mind you, but because women of her generation were not even expected to finish high school. She had worked alongside Anglo Indian girls at the General Post Office in Mumbai during the Second World War however and felt nostalgic for her life as a working woman.
One of my earliest memories is of being taken to the family doctor because she thought one of my legs looked shorter than the other and suspected polio. We lived in the old part of Nagpur then, where stones were covered in saffron paint and worshipped as Gods. Where women wearing nine-yard saris carried offerings of oil to the temple to appease the goddess who had scourged their children with smallpox. The women did not know science, my mother said, so they catered to andhashraddha, blind belief. She was so wary of superstition that she refused to keep the vatasavitri fast she was expected to observe as a Hindu woman in order to obtain the same husband for the next seven incarnations.
I can see her now, sitting on the doorstep and reading Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, the only mother I knew to do so. Dr. Spock was her bible and her Bhagavad Gita. Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Jonas Salk were household names in our family.
My mother was devoted to science because she lived in a world teetering on the edge of calamity. In his thirties, my father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to move his family from Mumbai to his hometown of Nagpur in case he needed help from his brothers. My father’s plate and eating utensils were kept separate, he never hugged or kissed me, he lay in his cot, resting. His chest X-Rays were stored in a locked trunk and the word TB was never uttered in my earshot, yet I sensed death in the air. Streptomycin, the cure for tuberculosis, was either around the corner or had recently been invented, but not commonplace in India, I suspect. I recall being taken by an aunt to a series of TB-themed Bollywood movies, similar to the cancer movies of a later era in Hollywood. I would cry at the imminent death of the hero or the heroine in these movies, not realizing that the films allowed me much needed catharsis.
Dangers lurked everywhere. Cholera, typhoid, and malaria were rampant. I had to drop out of preschool because of measles.
After my father recovered, my infant brother was taken ill with diphtheria in the middle of the night and carried to the hospital in a rickshaw by my mother.
Upon her return, she made a bonfire in the yard and threw into it her clothes, including the best sari she had worn to the hospital. It was the only sure method of sterilization she knew, since alternatives like clothes washers and powerful detergents were not accessible to her.
Health and hygiene were never far from my parent’s minds. So that when the Nagpur Improvement Trust began to develop land on the outskirts of town, my mother withdrew from her post office savings account the money she had saved from her job in Mumbai and made the down payment. Soon we moved to our new house with running water – cold, not hot – and a flush latrine and the quality of our life made a quantum leap.
Slowly, India began to catch up with my mother’s ideas. Newly independent after one hundred and fifty years of British rule, the country aimed to build a public health system along the lines of Europe. Public health workers began to come to our door every month to ask if anyone had a fever and if the answer was yes, to offer pills. This was how malaria was eradicated in our region. Later, one of my aunts began working as a public health worker as well, distributing contraceptives to women in remote villages.
Our community celebrated all of the Hindu rites and rituals while maintaining a firm belief in medicine and science. Thousands of cities and towns like mine thrived across the nation. No wonder then that India began to nurture one of the largest workforces trained in science, medicine, and engineering in the world.
My mother is long gone from this earth. But I wonder what she would say if she learned that many citizens of the nation of Dr. Spock are denying vaccines and science today. What would she say if she discovered that there does not exist a nationwide public health infrastructure capable of coping with COVID-19 in Dr. Spock’s America? What would she say if she learned that not only is there no such system along the lines of what many European nations have and what India and other developing countries have always aspired to, but that many Americans do not even expect to have it?
Would she laugh at the jokes many Indians are posting on social media about Americans belonging to the flat earth society?
Or would she feel incredibly sad?
Would she be shocked that the US has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths?
What would she say if she learned that in defiance of medical advice, the president of the nation of Dr. Spock and Dr. Salk refuses to wear a mask? That he has suggested that people should drink Lysol to cure COVID19? Or that they should shine ultraviolet light on their inner organs?
Would she curl her lips and ask if Donald Trump studied any science in school at all?
Sarita Sarvate has written op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, the Baltimore Sun, and Salon.com among other publications and has written her Last Word column for India Currents for twenty-five years.