Tag Archives: #biden

A doctor holding a syringe.

An Indian-American Request to Biden: Sign this Petition!

We are requesting the US government to lift the embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make vaccines for India.

India is facing a severe crisis due to the resurgence of Covid infections in the country. Since March infections have ratcheted up, setting new case records on a near-daily basis, with more than 152,000 cases recorded on April 11, the largest single-day tally for the country. Some hospitals in cities such as Pune and Mumbai are running out of beds, and some vaccination centers said they’ve run out of vaccines. Meanwhile, migrant workers have started leaving their jobs in the cities to return to their villages, fearing a national lockdown like the one in 2020 that left hundreds of thousands of migrant workers jobless and without public transport to go back home.

The United States in February invoked the Defense Production Act, which gives the power to control the distribution of products, to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production. Vaccine makers and experts in India have been concerned that the use of the Defense Production Act by the U.S. to boost its own vaccine production was resulting in exports of critical raw materials being stopped. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, told The Associated Press that pivoting away from suppliers in the U.S. could result in a delay of up to six months for the production of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax. Serum Institute and Novavax have inked a deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of the vaccine to COVAX to equitably distribute it across the globe.

While prioritizing the needs of our own population is important, this consideration must be balanced with the need to tackle this pandemic on a global level and the current ferocious resurgence of Covid 19 in India will eventually put the US recovery as well as the global recovery at risk. We respectfully request the Biden administration to assist India, its friendly partner, and the world’s largest democracy, emerge from this unprecedented setback during this battle.

Please sign this petition I have put together:

https://www.change.org/p/joseph-r-biden-lift-us-embargo-on-exporting-vaccine-raw-materials-to-india


Prasenjit Sarkar has a Ph.D in Computer Science. His work experience includes working at IBM Research as well as founding and selling a startup in the big data space. He is passionate about education and giving back to society.


 

Letters to the Editor: 4/02/2021

Dear India Currents,

Biden Can’t End Cancer

Some politicians like to take credit for everything.  During a speech in Houston on February 26, 2021, President Joe Biden said, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  There’s just one thing—one thing—I could be known for as president.  It would be the end—the president who during his era ended cancer as we know it.”  There are three major problems with this statement.

First, scientific researchers, not politicians, will end cancer.  Second, there are over 100 types of cancer.  They won’t all be cured at once.  Third, the president cannot single-handedly allocate more taxpayer money for cancer research.  The House of Representatives and Senate are involved in determining how taxpayer money is spent.  Biden can’t end cancer.

Ashu M. G. Solo

Wilmington, Delaware


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. 

Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party?

Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party? Yes!

In a recent statement, GM pledged to stop selling Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles by 2035.  This is not much different than one of the merely aspirational goals set out in the green new deal put forth by AOC and others.  In other words, the so-called left-of-center Democrats are much closer to reality than they are given credit for.

On the other hand, we have 139 house republicans and 9 republican senators voting to overturn the 2020 election. This was after the failed insurrection attempt by the Trump mob.  In other words, 80% of the GOP representation in Washington is willing to overthrow democracy.  A significant majority of the registered republicans agree with this seditious position. As If sedition was not enough, the GOP is rich with Q-conspiracy followers and white supremacy groups to round out their core support. The principal policy position of this group is to hold onto power at all costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession are exasperating inherent inequality and preventing us from focusing on the climate crisis and crumbling infrastructure.  In this un-precedented environment of crisis and political chaos, the word centrist is meaningless. I hope the Biden Administration does the right thing and executes their plan to address these issues. They shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a common cause with the sedition caucus!

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.

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Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party? No!

The Democrats won the Presidency and also a narrow majority in both houses of Congress. However, this win is not a license to pursue an ultra-left wing agenda as AOC, Sanders, etc. are advocating for. Pursuing socialist policies will be a death knell to the party in future elections.

Ours remains a center-right country. The country itself was founded by immigrants who shunned communism and socialism to make land emphasize personal liberty and freedom. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were successful in part because they governed as moderates. Barack Obama did not pursue a Medicare for All socialist medicine but rather made insurance available to many more Americans at affordable rates. Neither Clinton nor Obama tried to make college free for all. Yes, Americans would support aid to low-income students of merit to attend college. But there would be outrage if colleges are made free for all.

President Biden and the Congressional Democrats would be wise to pursue a centrist agenda that will ensure their re-election and prosperity for the USA.

Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 


Have ideas for what our Forum columnists should debate? Send a note to [email protected]

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

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 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

Faltering Speech to Youth Poet Laureate: Words Carried Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman’s journey is stellar! Her ability to overcome her slippery speech serves as an excellent example to the multicultural children of America. Bilingual kids often have difficulty enunciating words because they hear their parents, who were brought up in India, pronounce words differently. The pressure to code-switch in order to be understood at home and in school may be challenging. Gorman is an excellent role model for all of us because she makes her words matter and her voice heard. 

Now a beautiful 22-year-old ambassador of poetry, Amanda Gorman, raised in West L.A. by a school teacher, struggled with a speech disability. She had difficulty enunciating her “Rrrrrrs”! She faced her challenges head-on. She used the power of the written word to formulate and strengthen her thoughts. She rehearsed with full vigor and powerful poetry gushed out like a wild cataract! She became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16. At 19, while at Harvard college, she was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate.

FLOTUS, Dr. Jill Biden suggested her name after hearing Amanda Gorman’s spoken word poetry at the Library of  Congress. In late December she was shortlisted to perform at the 2021 Presidential inauguration. “America United” was the theme offered by the then-incoming POTUS, Joseph R. Biden. Our nation was reeling under the COVID pandemic, economic disparity, systemic racism, and misinformation.

This call to action resonated with the heart of the young activist poet. She set to work! Gorman crafted inspirational words not to nullify or erase the harsh truths of our nation’s memory but to encourage the country to come together.  

“When the day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast, we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”

On the day that Senator Kamala Harris became the first Bi-racial woman to become the Vice President of America, Gorman’s words rang true!

“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.” 

On this historic day of January 20th, 2021, her words echoed in the hearts of millions of Americans.

“We will rise from the sunbaked South, we will rebuild, reconcile, and recover in every known nook of our nation in every corner called our country. Our diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.“

Gorman  gleaned the spoken and written words that tattooed the news, after the horrendous insurrection of 1/6/21 and edited her poem to cry out immortal words:

“When the day comes we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” How can we forget this day? How can we forget these words? “But while democracy can periodically be delayed, but it can never be permanently defeated.”

Gorman’s first poetry collection including the inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb”, will be published by Viking Books. She has talent. She has fortitude. She has a personality. She may not be Robert Frost or Maya Angelou but she is just 22! 

Her beautiful words brought a surge of patriotic emotion to my heart, just like when I hear poems like Vande Mataram by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. I hope she can inspire young writers to walk in her words. It would be an honor to breathe the air she is breathing.


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, and the other in her birth home India. Writing is a contemplative practice for her. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books: My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

An Inauguration That Awoke My Ancestors

(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.


 

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

Rising Healthcare Costs Make Patient Care Difficult for Visiting Parents

U.S. President Donald Trump and presidential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, are united by one issue at least – the rising cost of medication.   

This July, prices rose 3.1 percent on average for 67 drugs compared to the same period last year. GoodRx points out that the increases came on the heels of a 6.8% surge, on average, from January to June 30 of this year – manufacturers raise prices in January and July annually. And for many Americans, this means not filling their prescriptions. In a new poll by Best Health and the Global Strategy Group of 4,200 potential voters in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, the main battleground states for the Senate, 22 percent of the respondents said they couldn’t afford medications prescribed by their doctors. More than a quarter (26%) said they or their family members were unable to seek treatment for a health problem in the last year due to cost concerns.

Rising costs have also affected another demographic – parents from India visiting their offspring. Thousands of older Indians have had to extend their stay as a result of travel restrictions amidst the pandemic earlier this year.

“My father is 75 years old and has had benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) for about 10 years. His urologist made the very unwise decision to perform surgery for my father’s BPH right before he came to visit me. He’s been experiencing complications from that ever since,” says Dr. Debyani Chakravarty, a new mother and a faculty member in the department of pathology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “I bought both my parents’ travel insurance but since these are complications from surgery, nothing is covered. I pay $300 per consultation with a doctor here, $300 for my dad’s cystoscopy, $100 for labs, and $200 for his meds so far. In Pune, their medication (alone) would cost at least ten times less.”

Another set of parents visiting their daughter, also a new mother in New York, were Sushima Sekhar and her husband from Chennai. Both had to postpone their return and were running out of their diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medication they’d brought from India. 

Their daughter’s physician, Sekhar says, asked to see them in order to prescribe. “The consult per person was $250, quite steep,” she recalls. “In the meantime, we got the number of a COVID Tamil Task Team which was doing an unbelievably great service to stranded Indians here. They had chemists and doctors in their group. All we had to do was give them our Indian prescription, and they would find the equivalent generic low-cost drug, double-check with their doctors, (and issue us a prescription here). We kept them as a last resort because the price of meds, however low, was way too high when converted in Indian rupees – anywhere between five to fifteen times higher.”

Sekhar eventually succeeded in getting the medication couriered from India, after that avenue opened up following a lockdown there. 

But for many others, obtaining affordable medication in time without missing dosages would have been impossible but for voluntary groups such as the COVID-19 Tamil Task Team, and Non-Resident Indian doctors in the Telugu community. 

Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, a Telugu NRI doctor who is helping parents visiting from India.

“The federal government relaxed telemedicine rules (as a result of the pandemic), and I wanted to help these people stranded here. For one prescription to go out, we had ten volunteers working on it,” says Dr. Saravanan Ramalingam, a trauma surgeon in New York who helped launch the service. The initiative gained momentum after the group had a conference call with Shatrughna Singha, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, who was keen that Indian-origin doctors provide help to visiting older Indians in need of healthcare and medication, Ramalingam points out.  

Vasudevan Kothandaraman, an IT professional in New Jersey, helps to co-ordinate within a group of around 30 volunteers. The quality checks are stringent, he says, and prescription requests are routed through the app Freshdesk. Volunteers verify the Indian prescription and refer patients to a telemedicine team of doctors if required. A group sends the list to local pharmacies to find out if an American equivalent of the drug is available. If it is, the verification team, consisting of doctors, nurses, and pharma PhDs search for a cheaper, generic alternative. The prescription team reviews the process, and a doctor faxes a prescription to a pharmacy nearest to the patient’s home. “If the cost is really high, we provide them with GoodRx type of discount coupons,” Kothandaraman says. “We have issued 400 prescriptions (at the start of the pandemic lockdown).”        

Now, a fall surge expected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could again intensify the struggles of older Indians visiting in the U.S., and those who have extended their visas to be with family. 

Doctors are standing by to help. 

“One Telugu lady, a mother visiting her family in North Carolina, had recurring urinary tract infection. She was stuck here because of the lockdown and had no clue where to go and what to do,” says Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, an internist who was recently awarded a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology by the New York Medical College. “I heard her medical history – she had co-morbidities – and prescribed antibiotics at a CVS Pharmacy close to her. Told her to drink plenty of water and some cranberry juice; her symptoms were gone within a week.”

Lakkasani pauses, adding reflectively: “She is an elderly stranger, she is talking in my language. It moves you.”  


Sujata Srinivasan is a business and healthcare journalist in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @SujataSrini.

Featured Image by Harsha K R.

1776 Words From an American Immigrant

My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.

My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US president George H.W. Bush is a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.

That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.

Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.

I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.

Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders. 

I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser.  He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes. 

The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.

November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.

Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit. 

Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”. 

For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.

Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one. 

But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.


Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and [email protected]

A Confession: Unbiased Bias

This is a confession.

I have always considered myself an empathetic chap, fully able to understand other people’s points of view. And believed in their freedom to voice them, however radically different or downright stupid they may be, till Mr. Trump showed up. Took maybe a year or two for this thing to bloom by watching my designated TV Channels, till I got infected with this new bug of intolerance – if Chacko is a supporter of Trump, I don’t want to have anything to do with Chacko.

I practiced this for some time till out of the blue the unthinkable happened – some of the folks I deeply respected emerged as T-supporters. My policy of shunning T-people came to a screeching halt and I called for an emergency top brass internal review of this tricky matter. We met in our basement bar, Tomatin on-the-rocks, and me.

While deliberating on the why, how, how come, etc. an old Hindi song dropped by:

Ye, kyaa hua, Kaisay hua
Kab hua, Kyon hua

After a while, my innards started to get attacked by a gnawing doubt – maybe I am wrong. I mean, these are really good people, who genuinely help their fellow beings, and some of them I even try to emulate. How can they be right and I be wrong in a matter that is as clear as black and white. Purely accident, I mean the pun. Drove me to think maybe am missing something and so our session ended with no conclusive findings but decided to keep collecting more perspectives.

The revelation came during a weekend when my Mother-in-Law was visiting us. I was at the kitchen island in the company of the ladies, gingerly cutting ladies-finger lengthwise and overhearing the mother-daughter banter. My wife was asking her something about a ménage-a-trois involving Indra, Ahalya, and Gauthama and the clarification Amma was giving was too complicated for me to digest, but her rejoinder at the end of explaining was a no-brainer – “Anita, these stories in our epics are not just to enjoy their story value, these have lessons we can use in our lives.” My flickering mental tube light suddenly stood still, shining its full 100 Wattage.

I think it was a Zen Buddhist who said, When a man cutting wood gets enlightenment, he continues to cut wood. I continued to cut the green
vegetables but my mind was on Drona, Bhishma, and Karna. All noble characters and stayed so till the end, in the eyes of Vyasa. And this is in spite of staying on the dark side with the Kauravas, for whatever pre-existing conditions, to borrow the popular medical parlance. And we all look up to them as good souls.

That’s when I realized the embarrassing shift that had happened in my neurons over the past few years. Like in the Crusades period in Europe, I came to embrace the mantra “if you are not with me, you are against me.” I wonder what happened to my favorite Henry R. Luce’s journalistic principle, “I will write against my opponents, but I will willingly die fighting for their right to voice their opinion.”

My opinion about Mr. T remains the same and I will continue on the side of the Pandavas, fighting for the soul of the country. But the dismal thoughts I had about my near and dear supporting the wrong guy have been resolved and I feel relieved now, having circled back to my normal self – able to stand in the opposing teams camp and sympathize with them. When close friends and colleagues that I look up to are supporting Big T, they are merely taking a political stand. Me and those folks – we still share the same long term values, only our opinions differ and as we all know, by the grace of God, opinions are not unbreakable, they are always reversible.


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. 

It Is Sacrilegious Not to Vote…

(Featured Image: 1952 ballot boxes in Delhi – Wikimedia Commons

Why will I not fail to vote?

I am an immigrant who has never failed to vote in ANY of the elections since my citizenship. Moving from India to the USA, I transferred from one Democratic country to another.

I remember when India got to be a free country and the first election we had after that in 1951-52. I was a high school student tenaciously engaged in helping out our first election as a volunteer. There was a historically mammoth turn out of people waiting in line to vote. I remember so many older people unable to walk who were assisted by volunteers like myself or who came by oxen driven carts, some running out of breath but nobody will return without voting.

Nobody used the convenient excuses of inconvenience like long lines, heat, etc. to abstain from voting. The tradition has continued until today. People were determined to vote patiently, quietly, and ungrudgingly. Democracy brings its own challenges and hardships but to be able to vote is its ultimate reward and quieting relief. Peoples’ dissatisfactions get a chance to be resolved, dissolved, or diluted.

Democracy is our elementary right provided it is executed in an elemental way. Yes, majority prevails in democracy but how do we ascertain that if the majority of people do not vote or vote responsibly?

Perhaps everyone may not agree with me but our journalists are doing a job as well as humanly possible to enhance our power of responsible voting. If we want democracy to survive and thrive, it needs our commitment and loyalty. We also have to redefine our loyalty.

“A healthy loyalty is not passive and complacent, but active and critical,” said Harold Laski, the astute political Philosopher from England. Voting without discretion will only perpetuate anachronism. We, therefore, have to shake off our sleepy confidence and restore our lost glory.

“Success is not the position where you are standing but which direction you are going,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., once an Acting Chief Justice of our unique country. When our leaders do not operate discreetly under “unfettered freedom”, the voters can and should. In Democracy, voters can control and should modify their leaders. All the columns and letters published in our media reverberate the feeling of “ our happiness” rather than “my happiness”.

Let our leaders take this life-saving hint while time is still permitting. Any deviation that leads to personal or party interests will be lethal to both this country and its leaders. True democracy means everyone breathes without effort. A shudder went down my spine when I read a quote by Winston Churchill, “Democracy means that when there’s a knock in the door at 3 am, it’s probably the milkman.”

Senility versus sanity in the choice of our next President…

It was perhaps not entirely fortuitous that within a span of a few hours I came across two thought-provoking articles: One on “Age and health both on the ballot” by Charles Blow and “Elder Statesmen” in Psychology Today by Christopher Ferguson, Professor of Psychology at Stetson University. They both expressed concern about the septuagenarians’ battle for the highest office of our country. Both candidates, while in their seventies are likely to be engaged in the “younger than thou” approach to fulfill their political ambitions.

How critical are the age and health factors in choosing our President?

We usually apply the criteria of statistics and science to evaluate them but they both are soft. They can provide crude estimates but not a perfect portent. This is because health is fickle and beyond prediction. Let us look at our own Presidential history:

* John F. Kennedy: had Addison’s disease with chronic back pain, needing occasional use of crutches.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt: Functioned fully while in a wheelchair.

* Woodrow Wilson: Dyslexic from childhood, massive stroke during Presidency.

* Dwight Eisenhower: Abdominal pains from adhesions, heart attack, Crohn’s disease.

* Ronald Reagan:  Alzheimer’s disease started manifesting in the later parts of his Presidency.

It may, therefore, be an exercise in futility to predict the consequences related to the age and health of our elected President. 

Accordingly, I do not think the age or health of our future President (although we will pray for his health) is a decisive factor. If we cast a glance at the age of our illustrious world leaders, some of them were chronologically old, but a young and open heart to serve humanity was throbbing in them. “Young men know the rules, but old men know the exceptions, “ said Oliver Wendell Holmes. Jr., our insightful ancestor. It is open to question at the same time if old age is invariably associated with wisdom. Sometimes old age can come all by itself. 

At this point in time in our current world, we are fortunate to have an assorted group of young and senior world leaders assisted by a caring cluster of experts in all fields. Our challenge is to create a chorus of coordinated talents that are unswervingly dedicated to the welfare of the Globe at large. Effective leadership in the present and future will undoubtedly be consisting of teamwork. No single leader, no matter how brilliant, can handle the complexity of the rapidly changing world. His success will depend on the company of advisors he keeps and parts from. The term “Third world country” is now replaced by “developing Country” and even that term is fast being replaced by the term” developing world.” We are all developing, hopefully cohesively and cooperatively to make our globe inhabitable if not glorious.

This election extends to us a chance of creating leadership that our country benefits from and the world is grateful for. Anything less than that is less. America still provides a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.

Let us all vote with a vision. Not to vote is sacrilegious. To vote without the welfare of the world in mind, ours and everyone’s, is self-destructive in the long run.


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at [email protected] 

Navratri’s Significance as Hindus Across America Cast Votes

Navratri is a Hindu festival that is celebrated for nine nights and ten days during the Fall season. The lunar calendar determines the timing of the holiday. Navratri is celebrated a few times during the year, but the festival that occurs during the Fall is referred to as Sharad Navratri, which is the most important one. This year, the festivities started on October 17th.

Navratri is usually a time of fasting and reflection for Hindus and is celebrated differently depending on the region of India in which it is celebrated. When fasting during this festival, many Hindus eat a vegetarian diet and avoid alcohol. Hindus honor goddesses by providing offerings. In many parts of India, worshippers celebrate the goddess Durga on the 10th day of the festival. On this final day, we observe Dussehra, when Hindus acknowledge Durga’s triumphant victory of good over evil. 

This Navratri, I am looking ahead to this year’s presidential election. As an Indian-American, it is important for us to recognize candidates that have consistently defended our values and will understand the rich diversity that Indian-Americans and Americans from various backgrounds, bring to this country. Vice President Joe Biden has a distinguished track record as a public servant. As a Senator, he authored important legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, and had the crucial role of serving as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden also exemplified an excellent track record as Vice President during the Obama Administration when he helped America through a crippling recession and successfully led the federal government’s response to the Ebola pandemic.

Biden is the right person to lead America during this uniquely difficult time in our nation’s history.  He has a plan to help millions of Americans obtain affordable healthcare. For our youth, he has a plan for people to obtain a quality education by investing in schools and making college more affordable. He is determined to help communities recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19 instead of just giving away taxpayer money to billionaires. Biden also has a vision for clean energy and environmental justice. Most importantly, his leadership is respected worldwide and I believe that as the next President of the United States, he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of this nation to build on our democracy and strengthen world alliances. 

This year at the voting booth, let’s show the world that just like in the festival of Navratri, “Goodwill always triumphs.” 


Meenu Khanna is a proud New Yorker and active volunteer in Democratic politics. She immigrated from India more than 30 years ago and after becoming a U.S. citizen, she cast her first vote for then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2007 Presidential Primaries.