Tag Archives: #blm

Audacity to Hope

I sat in my backyard reading Becoming by Michelle Obama on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience, and much more. The children & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for:

While I sat reading, there was faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?  

I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where Michelle Obama writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before the failure itself. She writes about this in the context to the South Side in Chicago, and how the ‘ghetto’ label slowly portended its decline long before the city did. Families fled the place in search of suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.

The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our subconscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.

Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

The largest section of the population to know these limitations must be women.

In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.” 

It was, therefore, in a somber mood that I set out for the walk.

I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask was hoisted on my face and I felt sweaty. Every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake. 

“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous. 

Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.

Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs, rang through the car, as we pulled into the garage. 

I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack & Michelle Obama have shown us what is possible.

Dare we hope?  

Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long before they happen…

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

Policies of Exclusion

“If they’re illegal, they don’t deserve to stay.” 

My mouth dropped as I heard these words from one of my relatives, an immigrant himself. 

My family emigrated to the United States from India about 30 years ago. They were fortunate enough to have been able to stay. 

Over the past couple of weeks, the fault lines in the American immigration system have begun to show themselves. The Trump administration’s fickle policies have been of concern to international students, many from South Asian countries. One week, they’re banned from entry into the U.S. without enrollment in a live class, and the next they’re allowed again.  

 As my relative and I kept arguing, I realized the flaw in his thinking.

 He viewed immigration as a meritocracy. He worked meticulously, and he was rewarded with a visa. Those who didn’t get a visa simply didn’t try hard enough. 

The reality of legal Indian immigration is more complicated than my family member suggested, mired in government regulation. Immigration policy has allowed the state to use and exploit Indian immigrants by capitalizing on the community’s financial success but restricting future entries into this country. Today, Indians are the quickest growing undocumented population in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a 43% jump in the number of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. from India.

It’s a miscalculation of economics. Studies show that immigrants grow the economy, but are still being turned away. In order to address this issue, there must be a shift in American policymaking. 

In the latter half of the 1900s, a series of immigration policies opened the doors for more immigrants to enter and stay in the U.S., owing fully to the history of the civil rights movement. After the decades-long fight of black activists, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. During this period, there was mounting political pressure to abolish racial quotas and discriminatory policies in the U.S. federal system.

This long-standing work culminated in the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which abolished exclusions based on national origin. Following this, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 expanded visas for skilled workers, focusing on boosting immigrants with technical talent. Technology companies voraciously hired Indian workers, who had the requisite education and were cheaper than hiring locally. South Asian immigrants were able to get access to U.S. visas due to the historical organizing by our black brothers and sisters. 

Today, Indian-Americans are viewed as the “model minority.” This label affixed to Asian immigrants is born out of deeply anti-black sentiment. In lauding the “model minority,” the white establishment has created divisions among racial groups. Insidious parallels have been drawn between Asian immigrants and black folks in this country. Being the “model minority” implies that other minority groups have to follow suit, despite their systematic oppression and the lasting impacts of slavery. Indian Americans have reaped benefits at the expense of black folks. 

Our struggle should be viewed as a collective one, in solidarity with other groups of color rather than against them. 

While there is collective anger for the policies against international students, little is being discussed with regards to ICE’s human rights abuses. Migrant children are separated from their parents at the border. Immigrants are viewed as disposable because of their status. 

President Trump has now spun a narrative that immigrants harm the economy by stealing American jobs. The praises that Indian immigrants once received have now soured, mired by collectively mobilized hatred, stemming from misguided economic calculus. We are left in a grey area: Trump poses for pictures with Prime Minister Modi for Indian-American campaign donations while simultaneously denying entry for families of those same, coveted donors.

While America has capitalized on the financial success of this group, there are over 300,000 Indians still waiting for family-sponsored green cards. Today, it is much tougher for a highly educated Indian person to obtain an H1-B visa to move to the U.S. If my family wanted to leave India today, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it. 

Immigrants should no longer be viewed as use-and-throw seals in the leaking pipe of the American economy. Policy should not just favor immigrants when there is a gap in our labor force since there are more economic benefits to immigrants than just industry-specific work. 

The solution might answer my relative’s insensitive questions. We must make legal immigration easier for those seeking a better life in America. It is imperative to increase ceilings on visas to incorporate more than merely corporate-sponsored candidates. 

The key to this solution is consistency. Immigration quotas should not fluctuate drastically. We must welcome immigrants instead of adopting policies that disenfranchise them.  

While it might be easy to buy into rhetoric that immigrants take away from the opportunities of Americans, it is important to recognize that there is no roof on economic advancement. Immigrants, through entrepreneurship and population growth, actually create opportunity for all Americans. We cannot let powerful language guide bad policy. 

It’s our duty to understand why folks of color have made America great. It’s time to be open, with our minds and our borders.

Swathi Ramprasad is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.


Featured image by Jonathan McIntosh and license can be found here.

Where Do South Asians Stand on BLM?

Silence is the language of courage 

that lost its way home to the heart 

It’s the dialect of the unspoken things

that fester between our bones, it’s the dungeons 

of distraught eyes that have seen enough

to stop watching. 

But my tongue holds gardens that cannot fit 

between my teeth, and my words grow in 

places where injustice cannot. 

And the leaves that sprout from this throat

take the shape of a language that knows no chains, 

a language that refuses to disrespect the body 

that houses it.    

-Kanchan Naik      

There is a difference between shouting “Black Lives Matter” into the void and appreciating this statement for what it truly means. The former, which has been reappropriated in the latest wave of corporate desperation, brings its own layer of superficiality. But to accomplish the latter, there is a process of introspection involved. In order to initiate constructive change in the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, we have to analyze our own privilege as Asian and Indian Americans — a kind of scrutiny that goes beyond merely posting the infamous “black square” on Instagram or sending a heart emoji to our black friends. Racism against African Americans does not occur within a vacuum. As immigrants, we often paint systemic racism, the prison pipeline, and police brutality as a ‘black and white issue’. While every minority community is shaped by its unique experience with bigotry and oppression, there is an unspoken race hierarchy in our country — a hierarchy that we benefit from by maintaining our silence. 

The stereotypes surrounding Indian and Asian Americans do more than oversimplify our relationships and cultural practices. Rather, they are weaponized against marginalized and disenfranchised communities, and used as an excuse to vitiate their narratives. We are marketed as the so-called ‘model minority’, lauded by white supremacists for our complacence. Our socioeconomic status is cherrypicked to reinforce the flawed, one-sided American Dream. While the man who forced his knee against George Floyd’s neck was white, he is not the only one to blame for an innocent, unarmed black man’s death. Derek Chauvin was flanked by  Hmong-American Tou Thao, who made little to no effort to stop this egregious violation against human rights. Instead, he fielded complaints from an outraged audience with glacial indifference. The man who called the police against George Floyd was an Arab-American. Whether we like it or not, immigrants play an active role in shaping America’s race relations. To dismantle police brutality, we must address the issue from the inside-out. 

Here are some notable South Asian organizations that made the choice to speak up, and speak out against racism.  

SAALT

Exactly one week and two days ago, a white police officer held his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Three other police officers stood by, doing nothing to stop Floyd’s murder.

Since that day, people have taken to the streets in protest in over 350 cities in the U.S. demanding to live in a world where the police stop killing Black people with impunity. Instead of elected officials committing to this, we have seen them deploy militarized violence on protestors.

We’ve been heartened by the solidarity that so many in our communities have already expressed, like Rahul Dubey who sheltered at least 70 protesters in his home in DC and Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner in Minneapolis, who said “Let my building burn…Justice needs to be served.”

As South Asians, we have a duty to address and fight anti-Blackness on both systemic and interpersonal levels. If we don’t, we are complicit in the deaths of Black Americans.

We pulled together the following resources from powerful and vital organizations to help you find ways to stand up for Black lives right now and always. As we mobilize during this flashpoint, we must also commit to the long-term work.

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APIA Vote

In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Executive Director Christine Chen of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) issues the following statement: 

“We, and the broader Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community, must stand in proactive solidarity with black men, women, and children who continue to be oppressed and die by the forces and policies of systemic racism and discrimination. The recent anti-Asian attacks across the country spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AANHPI community to come together and fight for, and along with our brothers and sisters at this critical moment in history. We can no longer make any more excuses to stay silent against the injustices witnessed by the world in the last week.”

“I urge our community to ally themselves with the Black community and fight injustice. This includes making sure all of us are counted and our voices heard through the U.S. Census count. This means showing up to the polls and demanding change at the local, state, and national levels of government. Voting is a key way to institute reform and it is up to us to show up at not only presidential elections but also elections for your state representatives, district attorneys, judges, local board positions and governors.” 

“APIAVote will continue to educate our communities, fight for fair access to the polls, and get-out-the-vote. In order to continue our mission for inclusion and change, we must demand justice for the Black community and prove with our actions and our vote that black lives matter.”

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian American Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation. APIAVote envisions a world that is inclusive, fair, and collaborative, and where Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are self-determined, empowered, and engaged. See our website for more information at http://www.apiavote.org/ 

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

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South Asians for America

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

We encourage you to fill out the census, vote in your local elections this summer, and visit our website to learn about our endorsed candidates

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World Hindu Council of America

 World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), the oldest, and one of the most prominent Hindu organization in America has launched a grassroots initiative- Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA). HinduPACT USA aims to bring Hindu ethos and dharmic values of unity in diversity, plurality, compassion and, mutual respect amongst religions to policy and advocacy for human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and, interfaith dialog. HinduPACT USA will partner with community organizations, government officials, civil rights organizations and other organizations who share our values to achieve our vision. We will work with civil society organizations, mandirs, thought leaders and others to become a premier policy research & advocacy organization. HinduPACT will identify and influence issues of interest to Hindus at all levels, train Hindus for grassroots advocacy and create advocacy internship opportunities for Hindu youth. HinduLounge, VHPA’s weekly Facebook Live program on contemporary Hindu issues in America is the first HinduPACT USA project. Political candidates from across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, are being approached to ascertain if their positions are consistent with dharmic and American values. HinduPACT USA will not take any partisan political stand and will not endorse any candidate for political office. Over the course of next year, HinduPACT USA will formulate Hindu view on contemporary American issues such as school prayer, race relations, gun control, environmental awareness, abortion, gender equality, legalization of marijuana, immigration, sanctuary cities / states, without taking a partisan political stand on the issues. We welcome Hindus across the US to join us in this important initiative.

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VPHA

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), has issued the following statement on the killing of George Floyd. Commenting on the killing on police killing of George Floyd, Ajay Shah, Convener of HinduPACT USA and Executive Vice President of VHPA said:

We condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd. We stand for racial justice, equality, and civil rights. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” embodied in our Declaration of Independence should be our guiding spirit. Hindu ethos, as expressed by a Hindu poet eloquently says, “A true Vaishnava (Hindu) is the one who feels the pain of others.” Currently, as people of faith we feel the pain of injustice and the killing of George Floyd. We call for a national dialog on race relations. We fully endorse the right to peacefully protest injustice. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” However, we are unambiguously against riots and looting, and the attacks on those entrusted to protect us. Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT USA and Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA said:

The murder of George Floyd is a reminder that we must reinvigorate our pursuit for equity in our society. But those groups that are using this tragedy and the cover of the protests for looting businesses and resorting to violence, are doing a great injustice to the cause of civil rights. It is shocking to see Pakistani-American anarchist Urooj Rahman along with Colinford Mattis, pass along fire bombs to some protestors in an attempt to kill law enforcement officers and peaceful protestors in New York City. There is nothing more sinister than trying to use injustice towards Black lives, as a tool to further one’s geopolitical agenda. Today, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy of India was vandalized by some of these elements, masquerading as protesters. I urge Hindu Americans who form a big section of the ‘South Asian community’ to be cognizant of such mala fide efforts, and promote peace and healing in the communities they live in. HinduLounge, HinduPACT USA’s weekly Facebook Live program on Hindu American issues extensively covered the killing and the aftermath. The local VHPA chapters are working with the interfaith and community groups to work towards justice and equality. The Cincinnati, OH chapter of VHPA has signed the letter seeking justice by EquaSion and the Interfaith Community on the killing of George Floyd.

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Hindu American Foundation

US police must acknowledge and eliminate systemic racism, excessive use of force in their ranks

Washington, DC (June 1, 2020) — The Hindu American Foundation stands in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the horrific killing of George Floyd and calling out systemic racism and excessive violence against African Americans by our nation’s police.

HAF calls upon police departments across the country to:

  • Meaningfully address the twin problems of systemic racism and excessive, disproportionate use of force by officers in their ranks, working with local communities to end both;
  • Hold accountable officers with misconduct and excessive force complaints;
  • End the practice of militarized policing of peaceful protests;
  • Cease arresting and targeting journalists covering demonstrations.

We offer our sympathy and support to those families and communities struck by police violence.

We strongly condemn the actions of those, regardless of political ideology, using the cover of peaceful protests to cause destruction and further violence.

And we believe ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) are the most powerful tools for bringing about much needed change.

HAF is committed to doing its part and using our platform to bring about positive change. We’ve therefore joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and other leading civil rights organizations to ask Congress for ‘swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.’

And we will also be joining a taskforce organized by LCCHR Congress to ensure that any congressional action taken is aligned with our federal priorities on policing.

HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla issued the following statement on how we can move forward:

“As Americans, we must wrestle with two dissonant truths: that the founders of the United States created a nation philosophically promising freedom and equality for all people, and that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and the spilled blood of Native Americans. Throughout our history, other immigrant communities and people of color have also faced racism and xenophobia, but these two communities have born the brunt of a racism that is institutional and systemic.

The collective negative karma of our nation’s past and centuries of subjugation has yet to be resolved.

This is where Hinduism’s fundamental teaching — that we are all embodied souls — if assimilated by more and more people, promises transformation of our implicit biases and the way we treat one another. Recognition of our shared divinity renders color, caste, gender, sexual expression, ability, or creed irrelevant, and compels us to treat one another with dignity and mutual respect.

Systems and institutions need to be fixed. However, in fixing them they will only be as great as our mindset.”

Read this on the HAF website

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Brooklyn Raga Massive

We stand in solidarity with the Black community against a history of violence, oppression and discrimination. We stand together with those who peacefully protest to express their pain and anger over the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

The foundations that have been built by African Americans, especially in the fields of music, art, literature, pop culture, education, spirituality and social change have been cornerstrones of American society and the world at large. We recognize these invaluable contributions and the immediate need for fundamental change to our society. 

#TheShowMustBePaused is in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality from the boardroom to the boulevard. Tuesday, June 2nd is meant to intentionally disrupt the work week. It is a day to take beat for a honest, reflective, and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.


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 Break the Outbreak, the Editor-in-chief of The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Featured Illus­tra­tion by @sapnasscribbles

Quarantet Celebrates LGBTQIA Win in Supreme Court

A Supreme Court win marks a historic victory for the LGBTQ community. In a 6-3 decision made by both conservative and left-leaning Justices, federal law now defends all gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. As stated by Justice Neil Gorsuch, “There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.” The decision addresses decades of prejudice against the LGBTQ community within the workplace, and opens the door towards more civil rights for all sexual orientations. 

The fight for equality manifests in every aspect of our daily lives, including music. Composer, drummer, and dhol player Sunny Jain brought together a socially-distanced quartet in honor of Pride Month — a combination he likes to call a ‘Quarantet’. The composition is an intriguing blend of classical Indian and Western music, with instruments such as the mrudangam and dhol offset by Kathak rhythms. In his own words, Jain describes the RHYTHM AND PRIDE quarantet as “honoring Pride Month today & everyday, while also remaining committed to the rhythm of the streets & Black Lives Matter.” While recognizing the legacy of the LGBTQ movement through their spirited video, the group also plans to donate their proceeds towards organizations focused on racial equality, such as the Bail Project. This project represents the intersectionality between race and LGBTQ identities, and how these challenging times also permit us to celebrate both. 

Learn more about Jain’s music at his Instagram and Facebook.

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 editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak

I Went to Take Photos, I Left Empowered

It is a disheartening reality we live in where people won’t attend protests in their community due to misinformation. The reporting and headlines have highlighted the few instances of violence, instances that may have nothing to do with the protest itself. I was also very hesitant about going to the protests in my community. I saw news channels, YouTube videos, and articles all over the internet explaining how violent these protests are.

I wanted to take photos, so against my better judgment, I attended my first protest. Quickly I realized that protests can be very peaceful and that a majority of them are.

At the protest, I was astonished to see so many members of my community come together in solidarity to fight racial injustices in our nation. I had expected to see students, young adults, and the black people in my community show up to the protest, but to my surprise, I saw Indians and Asians in my community show up as allies as well. I have never seen these many Indians and Asians in my community actively speak out about the racial injustices within the black community. It was really empowering to see older members of my community come together in solidarity. 

My photo journey began as we marched around the city. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to capture. I took shots of people marching peacefully around our community and different protest signs.

Image taken by Ashwin Desai

One picture stood out to me as I went through my camera roll. It was of a speaker, carrying an Indian flag and advocating for Indians to help their black brothers and sisters. 

The theme of Indian allyship continued.

One speaker was a middle-aged, first-generation Indian man who helped black men and women out of the judicial system in Oakland. He talked about how the Indian community needs to be there for their black brothers and sisters because, without them, many immigrants wouldn’t be here today.

The Immigration Act of 1965, the law that allowed many of our own parents to come to the United States, was made possible because of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without black people fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights Movement, there would be no Asian-Americans in the United States.

He then spoke about the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the notion that since Asian-Americans are doing well in the United States, all minorities should be able to achieve the same level of success, perpetuating that racism does not exist. But as the name states, this is just a myth.

He concluded by talking about the biases within the Indian community. There is a stigma within the Indian community about dark-colored skin. Since the time that India was occupied by the British, Indians have continued to adopt the same beauty standards as the British, i.e lighter skin is more beautiful. Indians actively oppress and chastise those with darker skin. The problem still persists as many celebrities endorse skin bleaching products. This innate bias towards people with lighter complexions has caused a divide between Indians and black people, keeping Indians at an arm’s distance from black people – never allowing us to truly understand them or their struggles. 

At the end of his speech, he told us to self-reflect. He asked us, “What can you personally do, with what you have, to make a difference? What type of member do you want to be in this community?”

In this process of self-reflection, I knew that I couldn’t just attend this one protest to fight racial injustice. At that moment, I finally had a purpose for my photos. I can spread awareness about racial injustices by using my current photography platform, Desai Photography, and use it to show others how peaceful protests are and capture the Indian-Americans in my community who are doing their part in supporting the cause.

I will try to influence others that think protesting is inherently dangerous and change their minds, and I want to inspire other Indian-Americans in my community to be allies. I want to make a change and I can start by using my photography as a means to do so.

This is just the beginning…

Ashwin Desai is currently a Junior at Monta Vista High School. He has a passion for photography and business.  He also operates as a pro-bono marketing consultant for businesses suffering from COVID and is the marketing lead for a climate change newspaper called theincentive.

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

Tooth and Claw, Knee on Neck

Mesmerized, my son and I watch the television screen. Somewhere in the vast plains of the Savannah, a leopard lies in ambush to capture his prey. In the dimming light of the late evening, his spotted coat blends in with the surroundings. Crouched low, he inches forward in stealth towards a herd of gazelles, who oblivious to the imminent danger, quench their thirst at the watering hole.

We lean forward in our seats as the leopard nears his quarry. Quiet, lithe, brutal hunger in his eyes, he prepares to pounce. Just then, a faint rustle alerts the herd. They take off. Gazelles of all ages. Terror in their hearts, swift in their stride, and with a deep desire to live. But can they outrun the leopard?

A fierce chase ensues as the savage beast bounds across my screen flying like the wind determined to kill. I feel my pulse quicken. Which one in the group will he target?

I watch helplessly as a calf, confused and frightened separates from the herd. Deftly, the leopard swoops in on his prey. The calf struggles, fights back but is pinned down in a moment. It is no match for the predator’s prowess. A quick bite on the calf’s neck ensures its life is slowly sucked away. Breath by breath. A tender life short-lived.

The leopard famished, victorious stands majestically with a paw on its vanquished kill. This poignant visual of the hunter and the hunted so reflective of Lord Tennyson’s sentiments in his words “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

I cannot help but feel the pain of the mother who has lost her fawn that night.

I hold my son close and I know all across our country mamas of color, young and old, hold on tightly to their sons as their television screens replay the merciless murder of George Floyd, pinned helplessly down by a white officer, his knee on the victim’s neck. Their hearts bleed as they watch the life ebb out of him breath by breath. The hunter and the hunted. Could it be their son next?

Indeed, nature is savage in her ways. The leopard kills to sustain, yet, what justification can the police officer offer for killing the vulnerable? Where do you go if the very ones you trust to protect you turn against you? Why was George Floyd killed?

This has to end.

Our country is hurting deeply as the disease of prejudice is preying upon us. Riots and vandalism may not be the solution but staying silent isn’t either. Mamas of the world, we need to unite and fight this together. We need to speak up now for those who cannot and as we awaken from the slumber of the lockdown and an epoch of indifference, each and every one of us needs to question and examine our own biases and beliefs so we can begin to heal together. We need to first believe and then inculcate the value in our children that every life is significant.

Vidya Murlidhar is an essayist and the author of the illustrated book, “The Adventures of Grandpa and Ray”. Her work has featured in Mothers Always Write, Grown and Flown, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Life Positive and other places. She is passionate about teaching kids and conducts online workshops from her home in Charlotte, NC. 


This post was previously featured as Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw and was one of the prize-winning entries in an online writing contest organized by FB group “Did You Read Today?”

Reckless Facebook Comments to Facing Trial

Megha Majumdar’s novel, A Burning, released on June 2 is a highly anticipated debut by an Indian American writer this year. Majumdar grew up in Kolkata, India, and then attended Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University where she pursued graduate studies in sociology. She is currently an editor with the online magazine Catapult.

I approached Majumdar’s novel with a bit of trepidation. Advance praise from acclaimed authors like Amitav Ghosh and Tommy Orange made me feel that perhaps my expectations had been primed to an unreasonable high which the experience of reading the book would not be able to fulfill.

However, this novel actually captured me from its opening pages and kept me in its spell till the end. Its appeal stems from its taut narrative structure resembling the plot of detective fiction or courtroom drama, albeit without the typical resolution of such popular genres. This novel’s purpose is not so much to uncover who committed a heinous act of terrorism but to expose the ways in which the Indian state has failed its most marginalized communities.

The novel unfolds through the point of view of its three major characters: Jivan a young Muslim woman who finds herself accused of terrorism on the basis of a thoughtless comment she writes on Facebook; Lovely, a member of the transgender Hijra community who takes English lessons from Jivan and aspires to become a film star; and PT Sir, a physical education teacher who was once a mentor for Jivan but who, in his quest for political power, quickly abandons any moral compunctions.

The two female characters’ narratives are offered in first person while PT Sir’s sections of the novel are rendered in the third person. This parallels the greater intimacy that readers are invited to forge with the two female characters.

In the very first chapter, we are informed through Jivan’s voice that a train has been torched at a station near her house. She sees the burning train but just rushes home to safety. In the shanty home that she occupies with her parents, she follows a Facebook thread on the train burning incident and writes the reckless comment accusing the police and the government of inaction towards the victims and equating them with terrorists. Her comment goes viral and soon she is accused of being friends with a well-known terrorist recruiter. She is arrested and becomes an inmate of a women’s prison. 

In the sections which follow in her voice, we hear of her family’s history of eviction from lands considered to be rich in minerals, the brutalization of her father by the police, the tenuous efforts to start a new life in Kolabagan driven by her searing ambition to step into the middle-class and rescue her parents from destitution. 

Like Jivan, Lovely, too, is struggling to enter middle-class, overcoming the obstacles of poverty and the ostracism she faces as a member of the transgender/intersex Hijra community.

While we have seen representations of Hijras in Indian fiction, Anjum in Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness being a notable example, Majumdar offers a fully developed and complex emotional life of Lovely. She faces constant humiliation but never loses faith in her ability as an actress. Yet, traditional expectations of patriarchal society prompt her to push away Azad, the love of her life, and drive him to a traditional marriage that will give him children, even though he had resisted the idea before.

PT Sir is already a member of the middle class, unlike the two other protagonists. But he aspires for more power and more of a sense of importance beyond the humble borders of a teacher’s life. His ambitions lead him to seek refuge in the culture of political sycophancy, paying obeisance to the nationalist party leader, carrying out petty acts of subterfuge, and gradually dispensing with the last vestiges of moral conscience.  

In depicting contemporary India under a neoliberal regime that on the one hand ushers in a consumerist urban culture, Majumdar is fearless in exposing its underbelly with its total disregard for the lives of the poor and the destitute, and the myriad ways in which the nation betrays them. To this, she adds an astute understanding of the role of social media platforms in exacerbating the dangers of disenfranchised citizens.

Everyone, including Jivan, can have a cellphone and a Facebook account, these platforms make her more vulnerable to becoming a target of social media outrage and scapegoating. Her impulsive comment on Facebook exposes her to being branded as a terrorist in the court of public opinion well before her actual trial. While social media provides Lovely the opportunity to disseminate her acting video and finally command the attention of a serious producer, it covertly censors her from expressing support for her friend Jivan, as the culture of fandom is fickle and aspiring stars have to carefully calibrate their personal and political comments to retain popularity. 

Social media is depicted as a source of power and currency, all other institutions of a democratic society seem to be crumbling. The media, the police, the justice system are all shown to be mired in corruption. In an era of beef lynchings, attacks on journalists, police brutality on students in various universities, and scapegoating of individuals as anti-national, there is an uncanny correspondence between the fictional and the real events.

Currently, mass protests against police brutality on minorities in the U.S instigate a fight for global criminal justice reform and support for Black Lives; this novel and its concerns resonate with dreams of justice by oppressed people across continents.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


A Burning: by Megha Majumdar. Knopf, June, 2020.

In Solidarity…

India Currents stands in solidarity with the Black community. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of those who have sworn to uphold the safety of our communities, brutally remind us of the racial injustices that exist in our society. We demand action against hate and racism. 

For our Black brothers and sisters: You are not alone. Know that South Asians owe a deep debt of gratitude to you. Our very presence in this country has been made possible by your leadership in the Civil Rights movement. 

I quote from our archives:

Why would a Hindu monk speak out against anti-Black racism? Why would a gay African American civil rights leader repeatedly face arrest fighting for India’s independence? South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. Our histories are deeply intertwined, even if our communities don’t always know it. – from Black & Desi: A Shared History. 

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. “

We stand with you to build a community that offers “liberty and justice for all”. Black Lives Matter.

Vandana Kumar, Publisher
India Currents Team

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

I care so deeply and strongly for the minority communities in America. This is not a question of a singular time point but a story that transcends time and geographical location. I dedicated my life to the cause when I began to see how profoundly entrenched the problems were within our government. 

In just a few short months, compounded factors have exposed that network.

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

You will find that the same people can be grouped into the answer to many of those questions. 

Violence creates a response. I see that. I understand that. I am with that. When Trayvon Martin died unarmed, at the young age of 17 in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and I saw a path forward.

“I can’t breathe”, said Eric Garner as he was ruthlessly murdered by cops in 2014 – for what reason – possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

And so many more have died. Here were are today – #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, #JusticeForAhmaudArbery, #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.  

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

In 2016, I felt helpless when I was pulled over in Alabama and asked to step out of my vehicle and come to the back of my car to speak with a white officer. The person in the passenger seat had no view of me and was not allowed out of the car. I was cited for driving 5 miles below the speed limit but my stop had nothing to do with my driving and more to do with my skin color, a brown-skinned woman traveling with all her belongings on a road trip home to California. She must be an illegal immigrant.

I was let go but so many aren’t. I feel the injustice. I want to protest. But now I find myself asking the question, in the middle of a pandemic, is that the smartest move?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it seems that every person I know is engaged in the BLM movement – even the ones who have been apolitical till this point, the ones rapping the n-word without being part of the black community, and the ones who have shut me down for being too “political” for talking about these issues. 

I’m unsure how to feel. 

Is this a product of unrest or restlessness of being at home? 

Unfortunately, killings by police are not isolated to a few times a year. Mapping Police Violence is a great resource and presents a reality that is not surprising to me. Out of 365 days last year, there were only 27 days that the police did not kill someone – an indication of oversight in due process.

This is not a singular time point. We are not in this for instant gratification.

So we quickly share the information we see on social media, join the cause, spread awareness. We see something happening and we are quick to act, rightfully so. BUT then the next hashtag comes around and we forget the last one…

Social media activism can be beneficial, as we’ve seen with #MeToo and #BLM, but with #BlackOutTuesday, there was criticism, almost immediately. People began the day by posting black squares but soon after, black and brown activists were cautioning people to spread information rather than suppressing it by blacking out Instagram feeds. 

Even as an engaged, politically active person, I was confused about what stance to take. Eventually, I took down my post with a black square. I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which I will execute through my actions, spread of information, donations to groups, and dialogue with my family and friends. It doesn’t need to be on social media. 

What I AM seeing: people coalescing in a way like never before. 

Who cares if you were unaware before. I’m glad you’re part of the movement NOW. 

Social media doesn’t need to be performative. But it can remain informative. Take the time to reflect and find the best way for yourself to get involved. Keep in mind your social responsibility with the ongoing pandemic:

  1. Protest with a group of fewer than 6 people at your neighborhood street corner. Maintain social distance.
  2. If there is a curfew in your city, like the one in San Jose, go outside and walk around for 10 minutes after curfew (only if it is safe for you to do so).
  3. Start conversations with people you normally would not.
  4. If you don’t currently have money, the AdSense revenue from these following videos will be given to organizations working on black movements:
  5. If you have money, donate to these following organizations:
  6. Find local black organizations to support (here are some for my SJ community):
  7. Email your local representatives.
    • Email Mayor Sam Liccardo and Chief Police Garcia using this template.
    • Report what abuse you see here.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and could not have written this piece without the help of all the black and brown activists sharing valuable information. Most of the information within this article is compiled with the help of Ritika Kumar. Thank you to all the black and brown people committed to change! 

Black and Desi: A Shared History

On January 28, 1900, Swami Vivekananda looked out at the white audience at the Universalist Church in Pasadena, California, and spoke out against anti-Black racism. “As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the whole of Islam receives him as a brother with open arms, without making any distinction, which no other religion does … In this country, I have never yet seen a church where the white man and the negro can kneel side by side to pray.

Half a century later, a young Black man sat down inside the British Embassy in Washington, DC, and refused to move. African American pacifist Bayard Rustin became director of the Free India Committee in 1945, working to end British rule in India. But it wasn’t enough to just talk, so Rustin began leading sit-in protests at the British Embassy, repeatedly getting arrested as he worked to help free India, two decades before he went on to organize the 1963 March on Washington, site of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

Why would a Hindu monk speak out against anti-Black racism? Why would a gay African American civil rights leader repeatedly face arrest fighting for India’s independence? South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. Our histories are deeply intertwined, even if our communities don’t always know it.

I don’t know if Vivekananda was scared to condemn American anti-Black racism. But I heard fear, or at least a great discomfort, when I talked to a young Desi activist speaking out against anti-Black racism. She wasn’t scared of engaging in civil disobedience, but the thought of talking to her parents left her speechless. “When I act in solidarity with Black people in this movement, I want to call my parents into the struggle,” she explained. “After an action, when Ma calls and asks if I’ve eaten and if my health is well and how is school, I want to tell her everything … Instead, I say, ‘My health is good, Ma.’ And it breaks my heart.”

South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. If we knew our shared history, would it make the conversations easier?

The Black Bengalis of Harlem: 1880s-1940s

Growing up in California, many of my South Asian friends were instructed by their parents that they weren’t allowed to marry someone African American—racism cloaked as “tradition.” But over the last several years, historian Vivek Bald has uncovered a history we were never told: when we were new to the United States, we were welcomed by African American communities, to intermarry, and built rich mixed lives together.

Between the 1880s and 1940s, two waves of South Asian men came to the United States, marrying and building new lives in African American, Creole, and Puerto Rican communities. Bald traced the story of these men and their lives in a strange new country in his groundbreaking book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America.

The first wave of these immigrants came to the United States from the Hooghly district of Bengal between the 1880s and 1910s. They worked as peddlers across the East Coast and the South, selling embroidered silks and “Oriental” goods from Bengal. These dark-skinned Muslim immigrants found homes in communities of color, with many settling in New Orleans. Bald found records of about two dozen South Asian men in New Orleans who married African American and Creole women.

Moksad and Elizabeth Ali married in 1895 and had six sons and a daughter. In 1900, they were living in a joint family in New Orleans’ Third Ward: Moksad, Elizabeth, their children, Elizabeth’s sister, and brother-in-law, and her 80-year-old grandmother, a freed slave from Virginia. The Alis later moved to Mississippi, and by the 1920s, the next generation of Alis had moved to New York’s Harlem neighborhood, where a new Black Bengali community was about to form.

From World War I to the 1940s, the second wave of working-class Bengali ex-seamen was finding their way to New York, often settling in Harlem, the heart of African American New York. Vivek Bald, an intrepid history detective, scoured New York City marriage records to uncover the stories of Harlem Bengalis marrying African American and Puerto Rican women.

The community eventually spread outside Harlem, but the Bengali men, their wives, and their mixed-race families would continue to come together to celebrate Eid-al-fitr, and host an annual summer celebration bringing together hundreds of members of the scattered community.

Dreaming of Freedom, Standing Up for Civil Rights: 1920s-1947

From the 1920s onward, Indian and African American freedom fighters started recognizing the links between their struggles against colonial rule and racist oppression. Gerald Horne, Sudarshan Kapur, and others have written extensively about this history, often focusing on African American scholar and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois, who corresponded with Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Lala Lajpat Rai, and others.

By 1942, Horace Cayton, Jr. would write “it may seem odd to hear India discussed in pool rooms in South State Street in Chicago, but India and the possibility of the Indians obtaining their freedom from England by any means has captured the imagination of the American Negro.” The NAACP, the prominent African American civil rights group, passed a resolution supporting Indian autonomy that same year, with accompanying statements from major African American artist-activists like Paul Robeson, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes.

African American poet Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote eloquently about the shared struggle of Indians and African Americans. “It just does not make sense,” he wrote, “for the Allied leaders of the Western world to make beautiful speeches about freedom and liberty and democracy with India still in chains and Negroes still jim-crowed.”

One of Langston Hughes’ several poems about Indian liberation, “How About It, Dixie” connected Indian political prisoners and African American victims of racist police brutality. It reads, in part:

“Show me that you mean / Democracy please— / Cause from Bombay to Georgia / I’m beat to my knees / You can’t lock up Nehru / Club Roland Hayes /  Then make fine speeches / About Freedom’s way.”

Jawaharlal Nehru was devoted to solidarity with African America, connecting both with friends like Paul Robeson, and through intermediaries like Cedric Grover. After India gained independence, solidarity was complicated by the need to maintain good relations with a white-led American government. However, in a secret memo to the first Indian ambassadors to the U.S. and China, Nehru remained clear about India’s position: “our sympathies are entirely with the Negroes.”

How African Americans Created South Asian America: 1950-1960s

We are in the United States today because African American activists organized, bled, and died to overturn the racist laws keeping us out. American laws long restricted immigration from South Asia. While several thousand South Asians had journeyed to the United States by the early 20th century, the Immigration Act of 1917 explicitly barred our immigration. Three decades later, the 1946 Luce-Cellar Act loosened the restrictions—but allowed in only one hundred Indian immigrants per year.

From the 1950s onward, new waves of African American activists took on the policies upholding American racism. Civil rights activists organized in the face of social pressure, mob violence, police brutality, and domestic terror. In Mississippi, NAACP activist Medgar Evers was shot and killed in his home. In Alabama, four little girls were killed when their church was firebombed. In South Carolina, three students were shot and killed by Highway Patrol officers on a college campus. In Tennessee, Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he stood in support of local African American union workers. The list goes on.

Some early South Asian immigrants participated in the civil rights movement. For example, in his book Colored Cosmopolitanism, historian Nico Slate describes how in the mid-1960s, two professors in Jackson, Mississippi stood with their African American students to help desegregate the city in the mid-1960s. Hamid Kizilbash (from Pakistan) and Savithri Chattopadhyay (from India), both faculty members at Tougaloo College, challenged racial segregation and terror, taking advantage of their ambiguous racial status. (In one instance, a white mob stopped attacking a bloody Kizilbash after a priest yelled “he’s not Negro, he is Indian.”)

The civil rights movement won one of its biggest victories with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, which created South Asian America as we know it today. This law ended the racist restrictive immigration quotas, allowing us to become one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, with over 3.5 million South Asians in the United States today.

While the burden of the civil rights movement was carried largely by African Americans, perhaps no group has benefited as much from African American activism as Indian (and particularly upper-caste Hindu) Americans. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, the median Indian American household income is over two and a half times higher than that of African Americans, in part because of immigration policies favoring the selective import of skilled foreign workers like my father.

I grew up in the United States, and never questioned my right to be here. But my wife Barnali Ghosh came to the United States as a graduate student; and stayed on as an H-1B worker. Learning history made a deep impression on her. “I realized that my presence in this country, and the existence of our Desi community, was possible only because African American activists helped overturn anti-Indian immigration laws. How do we repay the deep debt that we owe?”

South Asians for Black Lives: 2014-

Seventy years ago, Bayard Rustin, a gay African American civil rights activist, repeatedly engaged in civil disobedience to support Indian independence. Across the country, South Asians are starting to repay the debt, at a time when African American activists are asking other communities for their support as they organize against racism and police brutality.

In Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was fatally shot, South Asians whose businesses were impacted by protests stood with their African American neighbors and often saw their neighbors stand up for them. Ferguson resident Anil Gopal, president of the St. Louis Asian Indian Business Association, described to India Abroad how “Black people came to help the (Indian) community … Some of them even kept vigil outside the store as long as they could, to protect the stores.”

In New York City, the DRUM (Desis Rising Up And Moving) South Asian Organizing Center brought together over a hundred community members to discuss race and policing in light of the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, before starting a march against racism and for immigrant rights.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, South Asians organizing with #Asians4BlackLives have been engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience against institutions responsible for killing African Americans.

Across the country, South Asian Americans are divided about how we understand our relationship to African Americans; many community members have never given much thought to the topic. The Queer South Asian National Network developed a free curriculum on confronting anti-Blackness in South Asian communities, which is being used for 1–2 hour workshops in New York City, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and beyond. Little by little, some community members are choosing to repay the debt, continuing the century-long tradition of solidarity.

Growing up, I learned a version of our community’s history where we desis worked hard, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, never connecting with other communities of color.

But for over a century, South Asians and African Americans have lived entangled lives—Black-Bengali marriages, Vivekananda speaking out against anti-Black racism, satyagraha in the civil rights movement, Indian Muslims offering Black Muslims a more global perspective, Dalit activists learning about Black Power, long histories of individual friendships, and African American activists who first fought for our independence, and then helped end the barriers to our immigration.

Knowing our history leaves us with a choice. Behind closed doors, I’ve heard some of us openly express anti-Black racism; perhaps this is linked to casteism or colorism, or maybe we’re mimicking what we see and hear around us. Will we ignore our history and give in to some of our worst instincts? Many community members are choosing a different path, celebrating our shared histories, and helping add a new chapter to one of our best and oldest traditions.

Anirvan Chatterjee is a community historian. He’s one of the curators of the award-winning Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, and the author of the Secret History of South Asian and African American Solidarity


First published on the 1st of June, 2015.