In a first anywhere in the world, the City Council of Berkeley is set to proclaim June 3rd as an annual “Partition Remembrance Day,” in recognition of the world’s largest mass refugee crisis that unfolded during India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Despite its immense scale and historical significance, Partition as an event has hardly been recognized by official governing bodies globally. The 1947 Partition Archive, a documentation organization that has been recording community oral histories of Partition since its 2011 launch in Berkeley, is now working with its home city to change this.
Ten years ago, the organization, which was incubated during its early years at the University of California at Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, began using a unique crowdsourcing protocol to empower citizens anywhere to record the nearly forgotten people’s history of Partition before the generation of witnesses was gone. With nearly 10,000 oral histories documented on digital video a decade later, from 18 countries and over 700 cities and villages, The 1947 Partition Archive has given new life to the public memory of Partition. Its social media pages with nearly a million followers annually receive 10’s of millions of post interactions, creating widespread interest across the British Commonwealth countries, and also amongst South Asians in America.
“Berkeley gave us the safe space to come together and revisit our shared past in a way we cannot in South Asia today,” says Guneeta Singh Bhalla, The 1947 Partition Archive’s founder. June 3rd was chosen, she said, after consulting with a number of historians: it was the day Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten published the ‘Mountbatten Plan’ to Partition British India into India and Pakistan. As a result, when Britain departed South Asia in 1947, an immense political reorganization took place. South Asian countries, which included British India and over 500 sovereign kingdoms, often protectorates of the British Indian government (similar to the US and Japan today), were merged to form two new countries: India and Pakistan. Chaos unfolded during the transition to power and violence erupted as extremist groups gained control. Up to 3 million died, about 15 million were uprooted in an instant from their ancestral homes and around 100,000 women were abducted. “We are giving the witnesses a cathartic outlet, while educating future generations on the dangers of extreme political polarization in society – the type we are starting to see in the United States today,” says Singh Bhalla.
Despite being exactly half a world away, the City of Berkeley has century-old ties to India and its independence movement in the early twentieth century. Students at the University of California in Berkeley were members of the Gadhar Party, formed in 1913, which conspired with the Berlin Committee in Germany to instigate a mutiny in the British Indian Army – an attempt that ultimately failed. It is a hidden chapter in Berkeley’s history that is coming full circle with The 1947 Partition Archive and is no longer in danger of fading into a bygone, forgotten past. “It’s our hope that cities across the world and especially in South Asia begin taking note of and recognizing this deeply impactful period in history,” says Singh Bhalla.
“The 1947 Partition Archive is building a powerful and resilient narrative to not only capture local perspectives rooted in global history but to also help us prepare for challenges we’re already facing today like forced displacement and migration brought on by the ongoing threats of climate change and political instability. My family’s immigration story to America began as a result of these events. As a Berkeley resident, I’m proud our City Council is recognizing this important, often-overlooked history,” notes long-time Berkeley resident and former Chief Resilience Officer, Kiran Jain.
“Cinema becomes a way of searching and learning through culture, history, music, beauty and eventually truth.” — Amit Dutta, Many Questions to Myself
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is UC Berkeley’s resource for artistic resources and serves the broader Bay Area population. Their mission is to create dialogue and community engagement through art mediums on local and global topics.
In pursuit of diversity in history, BAMPFA is showcasing Indian filmmaker and writer Amit Dutta. Dutta is known for his distinctive cinema through deep explorations of India’s artistic, literary, and cultural traditions, both contemporary and historical.
Dutta’s landmark film Nainsukh, on the eighteenth-century painter, is also a part of the series. The 2010 film first took Dutta back to the Kangra Valley near his childhood home, a land from which he has since drawn much of his inspiration. Dutta, who characterizes his films as research- and process-based, notes: “I became very interested in indigenous knowledge systems and the workings of tribal/folk and classical modes. How could these systems produce such stunning works? What was the source?”
Shambhavi Kaul describes his varied films as “travers[ing] genres, moving effortlessly from crafted scenario to spontaneous encounter, from mindful self-reflexivity to ghostly magic.”
Whether in sensuous tracking shots of past paintings on gallery walls or ancient sculptures in their original setting; animations of artworks that reveal their underlying effects; moments of improvised acting; or expeditions and visits with unanticipated results, Dutta’s evocative films find new and beautiful expression in dialogue with their subjects.
Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.
When Kalai Bagai first arrived in San Francisco on September 6th, 1915 with her husband Vaishno and three sons, local newspapers flocked to cover the story of the first Indian-American woman to enter the Bay Area. Fleeing British imperialism in her homeland, Bagai was exposed to the very casual racism and persecution she thought she had escaped. When her family purchased their first home, she remembered her neighbors attempting to stop them from moving in.
“All of our luggage and everything was loaded on the trucks,’ she said. “‘I told Mr. Bagai I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I don’t want to live in this house, because they might hurt my children, and I don’t want it. We paid for the house and they locked the doors? No!'”
Although one in the hundreds of immigrants searching for new lives in the United States, Kala Bagai was singled out for her Indian heritage by the masses — ridiculed for her nose ring and skin color. Bagai, like so many other activists of color, was stenciled into America’s history for her “otherness”, and for her struggle to take ownership of her cultural identity.
The story of Kala Bagai is defined by risk — the risk to emigrate to the nascent United States with precarious citizenship laws, the risk to leave India without knowing a word of English, the risk to challenge this sense of “otherness” that permeated the public consciousness.
Though one of the first South Asians to find a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kala Bagai was aware that she would not be the last. As new Indian American families emigrated to her area, they were welcomed with a smile and a warm meal prepared by Bagai. She was endearingly named “Mother India” by Indian locals. By blurring the boundaries between California Americanisms and Desi customs, Bagai redefined this sense of “otherness” — she created a community out of the ambiguous and alienating identity that was given to her.
Then the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case defined Indians as citizens of color, ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Still, in shock over his sudden denaturalization, Vaishno Bagai took his own life. The Bagais were left without citizenship, livelihood, or home. And it was at their lowest that Kala Bagai began to fight back. Despite the loss of her husband, she advocated fiercely for Indian American rights and found ways to support anti-colonialism movements in India. Kala Bagai put all three of her sons through college, taking great pride in supporting their higher education. Before passing away at 90 years in 1983, Bagai had hosted a number of Indian festivals, community halls, and theatres — events continued in her honor to this day.
Kala Bagai was ostracized for her “otherness”. Today, the Berkeley community is ready to celebrate her for it. With a thriving South Asian American community, Berkeley has spent the past couple of months trying to find a name for a 2-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue East. In the heart of Berkeley downtown, this street has the potential to recognize and uplift America’s rich South Asian American cultural community. Because in an unexpected, yet beautiful turn of events, the Bay Area community is ready to name this street Kala Bagai Way. Anirvan Chatterjee, a San Francisco Bay Area activist who helped organize community support for the name, discusses the implications of this historic naming process in an exclusive interview with India Currents.
“Berkeley is a roughly 20% Asian American city, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the street names”, Chatterjee said. “I think Kala Bagai was a good fit because she was Asian American, a woman, an immigrant, a member of a minority faith, a survivor of local and federal racism. But she was more than her identity, or what was done to her family. She persisted through heartbreak, emerging as a critical California immigrant community-builder well into her forties. She demonstrated a model of quiet activism that sometimes doesn’t get recognized, but is so critical in our movements and communities.
In terms of her connection to Berkeley, her story shed light on the city’s difficult history around race and housing. It’s easier to honor someone who is a long-term resident, but more challenging—and interesting—to name a street after somebody who wanted to be a neighbor, but was kept out by community racism.”
Turning a downtown Berkeley street into Kala Bagai Way was certainly an uphill battle. Chatterjee and other local activists worked with descendants of Kala Bagai to tell her story to the media and represent her legacy. They even created a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, so that Berkeley locals could educate themselves on her role in Indian American activism. Chatterjee attended the final meeting of the Berkeley naming advisory committee and noted a discrepancy in Berkeley’s representation and the area itself. Only 2 of the 9 members of the committee were people of color. And while this committee wanted to honor the city’s rich history, they realized that naming the street after Kala Bagai was defined, much like Bagai herself, by risk.
“She wasn’t the safest possible choice, because her most relevant connection to Berkeley was the way she and her family were kept out,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street after her also means naming an uncomfortable past, and also serves as a reminder to defend all of today’s Kala Bagais, by resisting displacement and welcoming newcomers.”
While Kala Bagai Way is a victory for the Asian American community, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement without recognizing the current backdrop of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just three weeks ago, a man opened fire at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing six Asian American women. This is not an isolated atrocity, but rather one in the many crimes which suggest that America’s terrifying history of prejudice and xenophobia is far from over. Chatterjee thinks that in the wake of these hate crimes, naming this street after a South Asian American activist only grows more necessary.
“Anti-Asian racism is often rooted in the stereotype of Asian Americans as eternal foreigners, generation after generation,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street isn’t just about community pride, but also about shifting that culture. Naming a downtown street after an Asian American activist who tried to move to Berkeley over a century ago is making a claim to belonging, and is a tiny part of much larger anti-racist movements.”
While no one knows what the future holds in store for America’s immigrant communities, we hope that symbolic progress leads to constructive change. Indian Americans have played a major role in shaping today’s America, but they often don’t see themselves represented by the local or national leadership. Chatterjee believes that Kala Bagai Way is a foot in the door, and serves as a homage to the footsteps of Asian American activists before him.
“Our histories are important, both because they’re ours, and also because they connect to larger stories,” Chatterjee says. “We’re walking a path paved by the activism of other communities, like Black activists taking on the honoring of the Confederacy, or Native American activists taking on racist sports teams. The point isn’t just to change the names, but to address what the names represent.”
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor Kala Bagai for all her contributions to our Indian American communities in California.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
As the Bay Area reels under new shelter-at-home restrictions, most holiday activities that you and your family have been used to for years have profoundly changed. However, you don’t have to be house bound, you can still enjoy some of the long-standing Christmas traditions and get into the holiday spirit by embracing the best of winter.
We’ve got you covered with Covid safe activities you can enjoy with your whole family and spread the holiday cheer!
Union Square’s Great Tree Over 83 feet tall and is decorated with more than 33,000 energy-efficient LED lights, the Great Tree will be lit throughout the holiday season. Thru Dec. 31, 2020 Location: 170 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco Free
Westfield Shopping Center’s Upside Down 50-ft Crystal Tree San Francisco’s famous Inverted Christmas Tree, the 50-foot chandelier-like tree, covered in crystals. Thru Dec. 31, 2020 Location: Westfield Center, 865 Market St., Level 4 Under the Dome, SF Free
Whimsical Wonderland of Lights at Golden Gate Park The Entwined art installation transforms Peacock Meadow into an enchanted forest of otherworldly shapes and ever-changing light creating a whimsical wonderland where visitors can explore paths and sit under a grove of three entwined sculptural trees while practicing social distancing. December 10, 2020 to February 28, 2021 (Possible extension to June 1, 2021) Sundown to 9:45pm Location: Peacock Meadow (between McLaren Lodge & Conservatory of Flowers) Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Free
SF’s 20-Ft. “Star” Light Sculpture The Kilroy Star is a stellated dodecahedron installation of light and movement. It spans 20 feet in diameter and is outfitted with more than 30,000 individually programmable LED bulbs. The sparkling structures may be seen from miles away and will be configured to oscillate in various rhythms and patterns of dynamic light. Dec 15- January 31, 2021 Location: The Exchange on Sixteenth (SoMA), 1800 Owens St., San Francisco
San Francisco’s New Floating Fire Station Fireboat Station 35, a two-story, 14,900-square-foot facility sitting on a massive steel float is the first of its kind in the world. SF’s new station, berthed at Pier 22½, will also have a new observation deck. Location: Pier 22 right by the Bay Bridge. Free
Illuminate SF Festival of Lights Observe 43 striking public light art installations across San Francisco’s 17 neighborhoods through New Year’s Eve. Visit this website for public art locations. Times vary, though best visited after 6 p.m. Free
San Jose’s Christmas in the Park Drive-Thru Features your favorite annual displays plus some new immersive features dreamed up for 2020 like a tunnel of lights. Nov. 27, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021 Location: History Park, 635 Phelan Ave, San Jose $10 from 4-5 pm; $20 from 5-10 pm Tickets required in advance
Garden of d’Lights at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Using thousands of lights and lasers, the illuminated Ruth Bancroft Garden will come alive at night, as colorful sculptures are created from hundreds of illuminated cacti, succulents and trees. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Through Dec. 20. $8-$20, free for children under 5. Reservations required. Location: Ruth Bancroft Garden, 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek. ruthbancroftgarden.org
Alameda’s Christmas Tree Lane Each house has a different theme, drive through and listen to Christmas music on spotify. Through New Year’s Eve. 5:30 – 10 pm Location: 3200 block of Thompson Ave., Alameda Free
“Snow” Showers at Santana Row in San Jose Snow is coming to San Jose, so make the most of this winter wonderland. Starting Nov. 28, Santana Row will be covered by “snow” showers, as holiday music plays to 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. Through Dec. 23; 6-8 p.m. nightly Dec. 20-23. Location: Park Valencia, 377 Santana Row, San Jose. Free
“Crippsmas Place” Festive Fremont Neighborhood Lights Continuing the tradition since 1967, over 80 homes participate in a cheerful neighborhood holiday display of Christmas lights and unique handmade plywood decorations. 2020’s event will be drive-thru only. Dec. 12 – 25, 2020 Cripps Place (and surrounding streets), Fremont Free
Lesher Center Visit To The North Pole – Walnut Creek An immersive visit to the North Pole home and workshop of Mr & Mrs Claus. Reserved timeslots of 10-15 minutes are being offered for families up to 6 people. Dec. 15-23 (times vary.) Location: Lesher Center For The Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94596 $45 General Admission
Holidays at Filoli Gardens Follow the one-way route to stroll and enjoy the beauty of the winter garden adorned with lights and colorful decor. Cozy up to a fire pit under twinkling lights and sip on hot cider or mulled wine. Socially-distanced Santa visits will also be available on select Saturdays in December from 10 am to 4 pm, and themed visits will be held on Monday nights. Through Jan. 3, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday
Location: Filoli, 86 Cañada Road, Woodside $28 from 10 am – 4 pm; $38 from 4 pm – 8 pm Tickets required in advance
Mattos Orchard Lights
Spans over 1/3 acre of apricot trees. Its display includes over 20,000 LED lights including thirty-two blow molds and 10 inflatables. The decorations make up 8 lands, a nativity scene, and candy cane lane.
5-10 p.m. Through January 12 Location: 1545 Stone Creek Dr, San Jose Free
Christmas Tree Lane
Drive through beautifully decorated homes each night from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Location: 1700-1800 Fulton Street, Palo Alto
A Virtual Chanticleer Christmas: From Darkness to Light Featuring a candle-lit procession to the dawn of Christmas morning, featuring works by Antoine Brumel, Josquin Dez Prez, and holiday repertoire, including Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” and “Oh Jerusalem in the Morning” by Music Director Emeritus Joseph H. Jennings. Available to stream starting noon, Dec. 15. Through noon, Jan. 1. $25-$42. 415 252-8589. chanticleer.org
Zoom Sing-Along Messiah The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley’s fifty-year traditional sing-along. The Handel masterwork will be performed with live soloists, an orchestra and chorus. You can get a free score to follow online at messiahcelebration.com. 4 p.m. Dec. 20, 4 p.m. uucb.org Free.
Berkeley Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker Celebration The live-streamed event includes interviews, a ballet watch party with many generations of dancers included and a Zoom happy hour celebration following the performance at 7 p.m. 5 p.m. Dec. 20. Free. Viewing available on their YouTube channel. berkeleyballet.org
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus: (At) Home for the Holidays Celebrate three decades of the group’s traditional holiday performance, presented in 2020 as a virtual live-streamed showcase. Programming includes performances by Tony Award winner Laura Benanti, comedian and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” champion Bianca Del Rio, India’s first openly gay royal Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, members of the San Francisco Philharmonic, the SFGMC Homophonics and Lollipop Guild ensembles and others. Home delivery of wine and treats to Bay Area homes is included with VIP tickets. 5 p.m. Dec. 24. $25-$150. sfgmc.org
San Francisco Ballet: Nutcracker Online Newly mastered recording of a previous year’s performance and a digital tour of the War Memorial Opera House including interactive activities to enjoy. Send downloadable holiday pictures to friends, enjoy historical highlights from the S.F. Ballet “Nutcracker’s” long history and learn steps from the choreography. Through Dec. 31. $49, includes 48 hour access to the programming. sfballet.org
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair at Home In lieu of an in person event, the organizers plan to add a section on their website with new content each weekend. It will include access to videos of “A Christmas Carol” presented as a serialized reading, performances of traditional Victorian songs from the Coventry Carolers and the Bangers & Mash Band, era-appropriate craft projects and a virtual party on Christmas Eve. Through Dec. 24. Free. dickensfair.com
HIKES Some off the beaten path options. For trail directions and parking info visit All Trails or the park website.
Eagle Rock Impeccably maintained trails and stunning views, this trail may appear intimidating at first glance from the parking lot, but it is easier than it looks. The wide, swooping North Rim Trail leaves from the Eagle Rock parking area and slowly works its way uphill toward the ridge. At the top of the hike, Eagle Rock provides a wealth of different viewpoints among the many large rocks. Find your own spot away from the crowd and soak in the sweeping views before you. Distance: 3.3 miles Difficulty: Easy
Berry Creek Falls Loop Numerous redwood groves and breathtaking waterfalls grace this long trek. The length may be too difficult for some people to endure, but the overall difficulty of this trail is moderate as it is gently graded, well-shaded and the waterfalls provide cooling mists. Distance: 10.2 miles Difficulty: Moderate
Mcnee Ranch State Park Great options for any level of walk or hike that you would like. From a gentle walk on Gray Whale Cove Trail to the rigorous 1800 feet ascent to the top of the mountain where on a clear day you can see the tops of Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo and everything in between. Distance: 8.04 miles Difficulty: Intermediate
San Pedro Valley Park: Hazelnut Trail Loop Great views of the ocean and Montara Mountain. With a huge variety of plant’s you’re likely to see something blooming or fruiting almost all year round. Distance: 4.25 mile Difficulty: Moderate
Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop Hike a loop on Mt. Tamalpais covering two of the most famous bay area trails: Dipsea and Steep Ravine. Experience amazing views of Pt. Reyes, the Pacific Ocean, waterfalls, and wildflowers. Distance: 7.5 miles Difficulty: Moderate
Hawk Hill Enjoy a sweeping panorama 923 feet above the Pacific, and a great spot for raptor observing. The bare Headlands hilltop also offers eye-popping views of the surrounding Marin hills, the Golden Gate, and San Francisco. Distance: 0.7 mile Difficulty: Easy
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park Perfect for the holidays, this loop through the East Bay’s Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park is brimming with a holiday staple: mistletoe. Distance: 2.7-mile Difficulty: Easy
Springhill Loop, Briones Regional Park, Berkeley This loop is a series of trails with some uphill sections and is mostly unshaded. Be prepared to climb and work up a sweat, but the steep inclines are well worth it for the views. Once you get to the ridge, you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Walnut Creek and the surrounding areas, as well as unparalleled views of Mt. Diablo. Distance: 3.9 miles Difficulty: Moderate
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations.
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.