Tag Archives: Election2020

A Moment Like No Other

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

On an October day, around the time I turned 59, I’m voting as if my life in my adoptive nation depends on it. At no point in my life in these United States have I felt more insecure or more irrelevant. I feel like the phalanx of coronavirus striving to live inside the body of America’s 45th President. It wants to stay but the environment is toxic.

The insecurity I feel has resounded around the globe in a year unlike any other in recent history: Pestilence, fires, death, fear, unemployment, grief and loneliness, all, in 2020 marked by miles of gravestones. For the privileged among us, this year was a reminder of how fortunate we were that we could work from the comfort of our homes. For each of us, at every rung of the US electorate, this year has been a watershed year proving why we must care a great deal about the people we elect to govern us.

I became eligible to vote in July 2011 upon becoming a naturalized citizen twenty-four years after I arrived in the United States. My husband and I delayed becoming citizens until citizenship became a practical need. We left one democracy for another in search of name and fame but we didn’t entirely commit to our adoptive country either. This lack of early investment in the place that had nurtured us became more apparent to me in January 2017 when America became Play-Doh in the hands of an immature, bigoted human. 

Reading author Vijay Prashad’s Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today made me reckon with some of my stances. While visiting his relatives in Northern California, Prashad observed how educated Indian-American professionals in their vast, comfortable homes did not care to be engaged in the political process in any serious way. He reasoned that it was because they had never had to fight for their survival. The fight for independence in India had been fought by the previous generation. In their adoptive nation, too, Prashad pointed out, it was the doggedness of the African American community that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Well before that, African Americans and other minorities had also fought for fairness in employment which led to their employment in companies engaged in work for World War II. 

The Indians who arrived here in the United States after 1965 were thus doubly privileged; we had benefited from our parents’ fight in our native shores and enjoyed the privilege of the black man’s fight in our adoptive country. The only real struggle faced by Indian-Americans, as we rose up the ranks of corporate America, was to secure our foothold in America’s meritocracy. During our climb up, successful Indian-Americans did not think to question why some segments of American society never crossed our path; we shrugged it off observing that some people did not work hard enough or were not smart enough. A 2017 Pew Research report showed how the household income of Indian-Americans ($100,000) was a lot higher than the median annual household income of households headed by Asian Americans ($73,060). While Indian-Americans and their families—4.5 million, according to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)—had done better, had we consistently sought to make America a better place for others? Hadn’t we become part of the systemic racism now endemic to our nation?

In late September, I was startled to read a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times. The paper was contrite about how, over its 140-year history, it had frequently been insensitive and racist in its coverage stating its support of Japanese internment, its denigration of Latinos as “marauders” and its tacit nod to white supremacy. It listed all the instances when it could have been fairer. One of the obvious ways was to hire people who represented, fairly, the demographics of the area it served. 

While reading it, I wondered about individual responsibility in nation-building. Indian-Americans had gloated over our successes never questioning why a cross-section of the American population suffered injustices even as we thrived. When my son was in high school in Saratoga, he wondered why there was only one African American kid in his graduating class. I was taken aback, too, but I didn’t really think about this any more than I needed to. Here was my moment to ponder and to question the demographics of my community. Thus I too was complicit. 

The time has come for successful immigrant communities like mine to admit that we rode on the coattails of others who fought for fair employment practices and equal rights that led, ultimately, to the immigration act of 1965. 2020 has offered us a rare glimpse into our common humanity. Let us commit to the common cause of building a fairer nation. Let us begin by voting for a qualified compassionate leader.


Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga, CA. She is the author of two books, Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father and I, and An English Made in India: How a Foreign Language Became Local.

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

I was listening to an excellent lecture on Aristotle and Socrates: How Does One Live The Good Life? From 36 Books That Changed The World (Chapter 8). I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. 

We are in the throes of another election season. A season necessarily filled with promises, policies, initiatives, and a fair amount of fluff.  There are no initiation courses for politicians. No training. No solid requirements or certifications to do the job. The various forms of media are especially active during this season, amplifying their candidate’s voice. 

There have been disturbing trends towards dictatorship in the past few years in our dear country. We have grown used to being lied to, we are more divided than ever before, and the versions of the truth fluctuate wildly depending on which network or newspaper reports it, it is increasingly hard to determine what the truth is. 

Just a simple search for ‘Media Bias Charts 2020’ is enough to drive home the point:

These problems have always been there. 2000 years ago, the world’s greatest democracy of the times, modern-day Italy, then the Roman Empire, witnessed turmoil that resulted in the decline of democracy. Things took a slower time to do so 2000 years ago, but with accelerated advances in technology linking us faster than ever to ‘breaking news’ and social media amplifiers for everyone, the waters have become noisier and murkier.

Several times in the past few years, I have gone back to reading a fine essay, The Baloney Detection Kit, written by eminent physicist, Carl Sagan. We have been living in a state of dubiety (The state or quality of being doubtful; uncertainty). 

The essay starts off by empathizing with the human condition. Why are we, as humans, willing to believe in things whether or not there is any sober evidence for it? 

It isn’t unheard of to believe in things supernatural, or falling for false advertising campaigns with exaggerated claims, or believing models wearing Doctor’s coats, or blindly believing religious zealots who spout hypotheses with confidence. As human beings, we have been doing this for centuries, and in most probability will continue to fall for some sort of questionable practices. 

As long as there are those who are willing to take advantage of the vulnerable with little or no consequence, these will persist.

While we enjoy the occasional myth or fib, it is important to know the difference. For an adult to attack Harry Potter for instilling witchcraft is worrisome for this very reason. As part of growing up, we want children to outgrow the myth of Santa Claus. Knowing to distinguish fantasies from reality is a necessary tool for survival. 

Which brings us to why we must have a version of Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit for us to use. 

It has been a saddening realization to find that Science has not been embraced when it is needed the most. I was reading a book on the greatest inventions of mankind in the past 2000 years. It is a book collating the answers from philosophers, researchers, and professors from various fields. One of the answers given was the framework of Science. I couldn’t agree more. The ability to think, weigh, design experiments with control and test groups, and sift empirical evidence has resulted in the very least at :

  • Saving millions of lives, that in previous generations, succumbed to the disease.
  • Figuring out how to feed a planet that grew from 1 billion to over 7 billion within a generation.

For those who would prefer a straight jump to the Baloney Detection Kit, here it is quoted from the essay:

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  • Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  • If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
  • Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  • Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable, are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

As we move towards an election season amidst the Covid outbreak, economic hardship, and so much more, I hope we can keep reminding ourselves of the Baloney Detection Kit and apply it for ourselves.


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.

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 bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

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.

Break-up or Divorce: The Case of Indian-American Voters

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The 2020 US presidential election is poised to be the watershed moment in Indian-American (IA) politics. The significance of this election lies in the stratification of IA votes. Once a solid Democratic voting block, IA voters have been progressively turning away from the Democratic Party. 

A recent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) survey suggests that as many as 28% of eligible IA voters will vote for the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. That is a 12 point increase from a paltry 16% in 2016 who voted for Trump. The data suggests just 66% of support for Joe Biden. Compared to this, nearly 84% of Indian-Americans had voted for Barack Obama. The AAPI data also suggests only 57% of eligible IA men will vote Democrat in the 2020 elections compared to 71% in 2016.

The numbers for the Trump supporters could be even higher. We all know that most surveys had grossly underestimated support for Trump in the 2016 elections. Most gave Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and the former First Lady, 90% (or more) chance of winning the election going late into the election night itself. Suffice to say, many Trump supporters did not openly profess their electoral preferences in the last election for fear of ridicule and public shaming. With intolerance and ‘cancel culture’ sweeping the American landscape, this fear has become a reality. Several stories of personal and professional harm have come up in both social and mainstream media. 

The change marks a tectonic shift in the voting preferences of IAs. There is a general sense of disenchantment and disillusionment against the Democratic Party. Many IAs are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s hard left turn and its support for Antifa and other radical violent groups. That process of disenchantment has been exacerbated by Democrats’ brazen Islamopandering. When the Indian Parliament made provisions for full constitutional integration of Jammu & Kashmir, and when it passed the Citizenship Amendment Act making special provisions for persecuted religious minorities in the theocratic Islamic states of the Indian subcontinent, some of the high profile Democrats launched a campaign against the government of PM Narendra Modi. One of those high profile Democrats includes the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

The real concern for the Indian-Americans isn’t necessarily the H-1B visas, nor is the overall Indo-US relationship which has already “overcome the hesitations of history” in the last decade or so. The Indian-Americans, however, are now genuinely concerned about their future and safety in the US. The left-dominated academia and media have created an extremely negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Caste, etc., has been raised – without much understanding and contextualization – to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths. 

Many Democrats, including Indian-American politicians, have actively indulged in enabling and perpetuating Hinduphobia in the US. For example, some of the most vicious Hinduphpobic attacks on a former presidential candidate and a practicing Hindu woman came from within the Democratic Party and its affiliates. That trend of attacking politicians with Hindu roots has continued unabated as we approach the election date.

Another reason for the shift in IA voting preferences is due to what is going on in India. Home of the oldest civilization, India is the sacred land that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes. The memory of this land is etched deep in the consciousness of the Indian diaspora across the globe. That sacred land is undergoing, what journalist-scholar and parliamentarian Dr. Swapan Dasgupta calls, a phase of ‘awakening’.

After hundreds of years of loot, plunder, subjugation, colonization, and experimentation with the leftist ideology, India is rediscovering its roots, its suppressed history, and trampled pride. As it recovers from the abject poverty due to colonial exploitation, India as the world’s fifth-largest economy is much more prosperous and confident now than when its British colonizers had left it in1947. The idea of India presented by the prejudiced Indologists on one hand and colonial (and colonized) “outsiders on the other, is being challenged. This challenge, however, is resisted by vested interest groups and many of them find support within the Democratic Party. 

The Republicans may not be much different from the Democrats but President Trump, on his part, has refused to get involved in India’s internal politics and has openly embraced and extremely popular PM Modi. As a result, more Indian-Americans are willing to give Trump a chance and are jettisoning the Democratic ship in droves. They made their presence felt in the defeat of an extremely anti-Hindu Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries and they are gearing up for the presidential election, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. They already see a template in the historic defeat of the Labour Party in last year’s UK parliamentary elections.

No matter how one looks at it, there are telltale signs all around of a strained relationship between the Democrats and the Indian-Americans. Whether there will be a short-term break-up or a permanent divorce from what some call an abusive relationship, only time will tell.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

A Project to Activate Indian American Voices in Swing States

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the opinions of the organization. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Desis United, a crowd-sourced, volunteer-led initiative dedicated to defeating Donald Trump and housed under the New American Voices Political Action Committee, announced today that it has produced and purchased political advertising on Indian-American news and entertainment television networks and various print and digital media properties. The mission of Desis United is to activate the swing voter demographic of Indian Americans through advertising that educates and galvanizes them to use their political voices.  Desis United plans to use sharp, culturally relevant messaging to get Indian Americans to vote for the Biden/Harris ticket, which better reflects their interests and values, and elect Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

Indian American registered voters now exceed 1.8 million nationally, with heavy concentrations of voters in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. In some of those states, the population of Indian Americans has increased significantly since 2016. Despite this, there has been a void in advertising in support of Democratic candidates, targeting this demographic.

Desis United seeks to address that void by targeting Indian American voters with television and digital advertising reminding voters of Trump’s dismal failures around COVID-19 and the economy, his hateful and corrupt behavior and character, his anti-immigrant policies (including restrictions on H1-B and student visas), and his inflammatory rhetoric that has led to heightened hate crimes and fear within the Indian American community.

Desis United has already begun to air its ads, “Whose Side Are You On,” and “Joe Biden and India: The Possibilities for our Future” produced by filmmaker and co-founder Ankush Jindal, on Willow TV during the network’s broadcast of Indian Premier League cricket matches that has heavy viewership in the Indian American diaspora. Desis United has also purchased television advertising on Sony TV’s properties, watched by tens of thousands of Indian Americans in the United States, as well as print ads in Indian American regional magazines in the swing states of Georgia and North Carolina that will run during the month of October.

While educating voters on Trump’s lies and disastrous policies, Desis United ads also demonstrate how Vice President Biden will be a responsible steward of the economy, foreign affairs, including the U.S. relationship with India, and national stability.  In addition, Desis United will educate Indian Americans about the life story of Senator Harris, who, if elected Vice President, will be the highest-ranking person of Indian origin ever to serve in this nation’s history.

 “We believe Desis United is a crucial and necessary intervention to support the effort to defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Desis United co-founder Sundeep Dhiman. “We are excited to deliver persuasive and provocative messaging to members of our community in a way that has never been done before—and that was, unfortunately, not done four years ago. Indian Americans may well be critical swing voters, with hundreds of thousands of the community living in key battleground states. We must all come together to ensure that Trump is fully defeated. The future of our community’s and our nation’s health, safety, and well-being is at stake.”

A volunteer advisory board composed of lawyers, content creators, marketing professionals, and small business owners will guide Desis United, which will be housed within the New American Voices PAC. Desis United intends to raise additional funds to produce and place scaled advertising and free viral content through the November election.


For more information, and to watch the first set of advertisements developed by Desis United, please visit www.desisunited.org.

In the Mighty Presence of Gandhi Ji

Every October 2nd, August 15th, January 26th, I fondly remember Gandhi Ji.

I was twelve – a young idealist with big dreams for my own life and a compelling desire to see India as a free and prosperous nation, free from the bondage of two hundred years of subjugation by the British.

Then in one of the rarest moments of my life, I had the good fortune to meet the most admired person in India, and the world –the Apostle of Peace and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The revered Father of India!

On massive, public grounds called the ‘Maidan’, a crowd of thousands had settled down on the ground.  All from far and near were there. I sat along with my sixty schoolmates and teachers, anxiously glancing in every direction to catch the first glimpse of this magnificent hero of mine. I was viewing over a sea of Muslim caps, Congress Party’s Nehru caps, turbans of every color, shape, and size. Occasionally, heads popped up here and there. A bunch of people would stand up abruptly, as if aware of an arrival.

Then, as if magically, there appeared a diminutive figure, sparsely clad in a white home-spun cotton ‘Khadi Dhoti’, tucked in between the legs, giving the appearance of a loincloth.  His narrow shoulders were wrapped around in a white, home-spun shawl.  I was immediately reminded of Gandhi’s image, sitting on the ground with folded legs, spinning cotton yarn at a Spinning Wheel.  He inspired Indians to be self-reliant, so as to be independent of the need to import cotton from the mills of Manchester, in Great Britain.  Gandhiji’s images had inspired me, as they had done millions of others.  I looked around at my friends.  We were all wearing white saris with blue borders – a fabric of five and a half yards of hand-spun cotton.  I was proud of myself.

As he got seated on a small, raised platform in the middle of the vast grounds, there was a hush, a deafening silence!  Could this be Gandhiji? The same towering figure, which had shaken the foundations of the British Empire?  Where was the augur who had incensed the Rulers to a fiery rage?  Could this slight, slender frame endure all the hardships of endless imprisonments – sleeping on cold, cemented floors; fasting endlessly to make a point, and subjugate the mighty master’s will?

Yet this was Mahatma Gandhi, whom I had heard again and again over the loudspeakers, who had endeared himself to me, as to millions of others!

He spoke. Stillness prevailed. From microphones all around, his every word rang loud and clear – entering my consciousness.  The echoes rolled from soul to soul.

As he spoke, I did not hear a lion’s roar.  Yet, this calmly persuasive, magnetic voice was energizing and compelling:

“Arise, my children, rise!

Rise to your soul’s call!

Rise in Freedom, every waking moment!

Remember. When India introduced Zero to the Science of Mathematics, the possibilities became infinite, unlimited, un-limiting!

One small zero – one individual at a time, small or big, can magnify the possibilities a thousand-fold. 

Each small voice, when joined by millions of your heroes, can reach across seven seas.

Do not underestimate the power of zero.  The power of even the smallest, the gentles of you.”

The crescendo of his tone and message rose from perceptibly calming to invigorating, to uplifting.  It was a magical moment; a mesmerizing experience! I was awed by the strength of Gandhiji’s convictions; the appeal of his persuasion across a wide spectrum of society.

“Follow you Dharma, your moral duty.

God’s truth demands Liberty and Justice for all.

We all are the children of one God.  We Hindus, and we Muslims invoke the one and the same God, whether we call Him Ram or we call Him Allah.

We, all Indians, deserve the right to be in charge of our own destiny.”

Gandhiji’s inspiring, invigorating word liberated the downcast souls and challenged the masses.  Even the faint-hearted, the indifferent felt an enthusiasm to take up the cause.

“There are times when you have to obey.

A call which is the highest of all, that is the voice of conscience.

Even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear,

And even more, separation from friends,

From family, from the state to which you may belong,

From all that you have held as dear as life itself.

For this obedience is the law of our being.”

A fine mix of elation and enthusiasm hung in the air.  I was witnessing a rare moment in eternity, a moment bigger than life, infinitely bigger than myself!

Gandhi Ji’s message rings just as true today.

On becoming citizens of the United States of America, by birth or adoption, we have pledged to uphold the principle of ‘Inalienable rights of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All’. In expressing our voice by casting our vote to elect the President and Congress, we fulfill our civic duty. Follow our Dharma. Our decisions on societal issues have an impact on our lives. They give direction to the destiny of the Nation too.

Remember, your one powerful vote has the power to change the course of history! 


Usha Dhupa has lived extended periods of her life in Africa, India, England, and America.  Her rich experiences over eight decades give us a panoramic view of her life. Find the rest of this story in her recently published book ‘Child of Two Worlds‘.

The Road to November 3rd

Is California ready for Election2020? 

The spread of Covid 19 changed the rules for Californians heading to the polls in November. Vote by mail, historically a common practice for registered voters in California, has steadily grown in popularity, but the pandemic is forcing a dramatic surge in absentee voting. In the March primaries, almost 72% of ballots  were cast by mail even before the full impact of the Covid pandemic hit the state.

After pledging to switch to all-mail elections to protect Californians from coronavirus health risks with in-person voting, Gov. Gavin Newsom is readying the Golden State for an influx of mail-in voting.

In early May he ordered all counties to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter for the November election, noting that “No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote.”

The directive was immediately challenged by in court by conservative groups who argued this was “an unlawful attempt to supersede and replace California election law.” Newsom cleared that hurdle in June when he signed Assembly Bill 860  into law with bipartisan support from the State Assembly, effectively giving every Californian voter the option to vote safely from their home.

Yet, even as California moves ahead with its mail-out ballot plans, the process is under scrutiny from constituents concerned about voting safeguards, and under attack from President Trump who has claimed that mail-in voting “will lead to massive fraud and abuse.”

Alex Padilla, CA Secretary of State

However, voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the country, countered Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer, cautioning people from voting twice because “ its breaking state and federal law.”

At a national briefing on September 9 hosted by Ethnic Media Services, he explained how California was getting ready for Election Day.

“We want to make sure that elections are both accessible and secure. But given the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to make sure that the voting experience is one that is safe, and protects the health of both voters and election workers.”

California has countered misinformation and disinformation over the last four years to secure its voting infrastructure, voter databases, balloting systems, and to protect against cyber threats. “California leads the nation when it comes to security,” said Padilla.

The goal this election year is to ensure transparency and accountability in the electoral process and grow confidence in vote by mail, said Padilla, who has worked with state election officials in all 58 counties, voting rights advocates, and other stakeholders, to make sure the electoral process rolls out smoothly.

California has over 21 thousand registered voters and the largest and most diverse electorate, with voters from all “types and backgrounds, language preferences, and cultural experiences… so it’s our job to make sure that we’re communicating in the many formats, in the many ways that are respectful but also effective, for eligible voters to know what their options are,” stated Padilla.

Vote By Mail

Election officials want to ensure voter access and safety in the midst of the pandemic, so decades-long practices like vote by mail have guided their approach. New enhancements include sending every active registered voter a mail-in ballot by early October. Ballots will go out to citizens abroad by October 5, while military  voters will be sent ballots 45 days before the election.

California will count ballots postmarked by election day and received 17 days following the election. Voters can mail or deliver their ballots to a dropbox or polling station, and sign up to ‘Where’s My Ballot?’ to track their ballot and receive status alerts by SMS, email or voice.

To protect the integrity of vote by mail, California offers distinguishing features that guard against fake ballots – prepaid postage, election specific watermarks and unique barcodes on official envelopes, and scanning to ensure that each voter didn’t vote elsewhere. “Protocols in place to prevent against double voting,” said Padilla, are designed to make the system more trustworthy.

All ballots need to be signed and county officials will compare signatures on ballots to the ones on file to ensure the identity of the voter; ballots get rejected if signatures are mismatched or missing. Despite stringent security measures, the California Voter Foundation (CVF) reported that 1.7 percent of California vote-by-mail ballots get rejected on average, especially among young and newly registered voters. CVF’s president Kim Alexander noted that while vote by mail protects people during the coronavirus pandemic “it shifts responsibility for getting it right from poll workers to voters. Late return and envelope signatures missing or not sufficiently matching voters’ signatures on file are the leading reasons why some ballots are rejected.”

In an appeal to Padilla’s office, the ACLU and several other voter advocacy groups have suggested modifications to signature verification, arguing that “exact matches are not necessary to confirm a valid signature” and “similar characteristics between a signature being compared and any signature on file are sufficient to determine a signature is valid.”

In these instances, explained Padilla, the county is required to contact voters to give them the opportunity to fix the error so their votes can be counted.

In-person voting will be available to voters who may have accessibility issues, need language assistance, replacement ballots, curbside voting or who want to participate in same day registration. Voting locations will follow public health regulations for PPE, sanitation and social distancing, though voting venues have moved to larger arenas like the Dodgers Stadium, Chase Center and the Oakland Coliseum, which are better equipped for social distancing.

The next few weeks will focus on voter registration, voter access, educating the public about voting options and anticipated changes in the run up to November said Padilla. Eligible voters will be encouraged to register (the deadline is October 19), and all registered voters must verify their status or update their voter registration to be current, though same day registration is only available in person.

On the road to Election Day make a plan on how and when to vote, recommends Padilla, and vote early because every vote counts.

For more information go to Vote By Mail.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image credit: Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash
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The Virus Is Hurting Your Vote

Will your vote be counted as we move to mail-in-voting this election year? The odds may not be in your favor.

The advent of COVID-19 has disrupted an already contentious US election cycle and precipitated conditions that could derail the voting process in Election 2020.

“Sizable shares of the population may not be able to vote safely in 2020,” said Dr. Nathaniel Persilly, a Stanford University law professor and political scientist, at a media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 21. The pandemic is forcing a massive shift in the way people cast their vote in the next few months as local jurisdictions reshape voting processes that could vary significantly across the country, a changeover that could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Without the political will to steer the electorate in a new normal balloting system, the pandemic will determine who votes and how they vote,” cautioned Dr. Persilly, who runs the Healthy Elections Project at Stanford.

By March it was clear that the pandemic was going to severely impact the election.  Tens of millions of people accustomed to voting by mail or at a polling station would need to move to a new voting system different than it has been historically. Changing how 50 to 60 million people vote in the midst of a relentless pandemic and a dysfunctional voting process could cause a crisis in American democracy, that particularly affects minorities and communities of color, said experts at the briefing.

L-R: Andrea Miller, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Terry Ao Minnis, Dr. Nathaniel Persilly

Will the American electorate be able to safely cast their vote in the next general election? Panelists agreed that conflicting factors make that outcome uncertain. Retrofitting the voting process is complicated by the lack of money and time needed for that transition, noted Dr. Persilly, because “we have three months not three years to deal with it.”

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to address election challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is not nearly enough said Dr. Persilly, calling it “a fraction – ten percent – of what is needed to pull off this election.”  In addition, the decentralization of the US electoral infrastructure has placed critical decisions about voting in the hands of over ten thousand local jurisdictions  and produced a fractured voting system.

It will be a challenging task to implement a pandemic-proof election when election officials are constrained by the absence of a national election strategy, inadequate funding, a postal service under duress and a record shortage of poll workers.

Power the Polls are reporting that voting facilities need 250,000 new poll workers to work the election. Most poll workers are over 60 and at risk due to the coronavirus. A new generation of poll workers is long overdue, remarked Dr. Persilly, suggesting the recruitment of a new workforce aged 18-20, adept at using technology and digital voting equipment, and who should receive ‘hazard pay’ of $300 a day to work the voting frontlines in the midst of a raging pandemic.

The  Pandemic Affects Voters of Color

A major concern during the pandemic is the threat to voter access for communities of color who represent a rising proportion of voters in both the 2020 presidential elections and in many swing states. The immigrant vote experienced “big jumps in voter tun out between 2014 and 2018,”  said Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data, noting that 28% of registered, foreign born voters are Asian Americans.

But experts say the logistics of moving to mail-in voting during the pandemic will threaten voter access  in communities of color.

“If they held an election tomorrow, 1.3 million voters will not be able to vote,” said Andrea Miller of Reclaim Our Vote. Certain states could exploit the pandemic to enforce voter suppression and voter intimidation strategies and prevent voters of color from casting their ballot. Miller confirmed that a concerted effort to block certain demographics from voting “is most definitely planned.”

Of 245 million age-eligible voters in the US, “48 million are unregistered or inactive,” explained Miller, referring to people once on the active voter list but who lost the right to cast a legal ballot. In southern and western states which maintain voter rolls, voters can be removed (deemed inactive/moved to the ‘inactive list’ and then to ‘unregistered’ status), for not having voted in a specific number of federal elections.

Source: Andrea Miller, Reclaim Our Vote Campaign  (NGP-VAN)

Currently 16.6 million community of color voters have been dropped from the voter rolls for Election 2020, said Miller, condemning the “severe bait and switch’ tactics used to manipulate and suppress unsuspecting voters.

People believe when they initially register to vote that its ‘forever’  explained Miller. The registration process does not make it clear they will be removed from voter rolls if they miss voting in certain election cycles. Recipients often miss the fine print on postcards reminding them to reconfirm their registered voter status – a requirement that “ought to be in big red letters on front of the postcard,” stated Miller.

Often it’s too late for ‘unregistered ‘voters on election day. Voter suppression states tend to have strict photo ID requirements and do not offer same day registration or automatic registration to ‘inactive;’ voters. In Texas, voters can be “unregistered’ for not renewing voter registration after two years.  “Texas makes no bones about this,” said Miller. “If you do not vote consistently, after two federal elections, they will begin the process of removal from voter rolls.”

Historically, vote by mail has been a ‘white process.’ Communities of color moving to mail in votes could have their ballots challenged if a signature does not match the one on file or is missing altogether.  Votes are less likely to be counted if their authenticity is challenged warned Dr. Persilly, urging voters to verify mail-in ballots at drop off voting facilities. “ A signature could derail your vote.”

Voters with limited English proficiency find the voting process daunting, added Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that three in four Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home and find the language in voting materials too complex to understand.

Ao Minnis reminded participants that the Voting Rights Act (Section 203) gives members of a language minority group the right to language assistance in the form of native language ballots, translator written materials, and multilingual poll workers.  Section 208 mandates that they can choose a friend or relative to assist with the voting process. But many voters are unaware of their voting rights.

AAJC has developed in-language translated materials to explain how Asian Americans can exercise their right to vote and run a hotline (888 API Vote or 888 2374 8683) in English and 8 Asian languages that includes Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

An Election Like No Other

Despite a rise in voter turnout, data from an ongoing AAPI survey shows both political parties have paid scant attention to the AAPI community. Director Ramakrishnan reported that 56% of respondents said they had no contact from the Democratic party or from Republicans (59 %). Targeted voter messaging is key to voter engagement and participation, said Ramakrishnan, emphasizing the need for ‘visually appealing outreach material’ that is demographically representative and culturally relevant.

Messaging via multiple touchpoints – door-door, phone calls, mailings or trusted messengers – should alleviate fears about COVID exposure and reinforce that drop off voting is safe, urged Ramakrishnan. Voter messaging must also counter misconceptions about fraud and explain tracking and verification processes. Failure to do so could reduce turnout and people will refrain from voting by mail, warned Ramakrishnan. In 2018, districts flipped in key congressional elections which have significant AAPI population “so really there should be  more outreach to immigrants,” he added.

The Asian American electorate is energized but “our community has yet to maximize our voting power,” said Ao Minnis.

In an election year like no other, more than voting rights are at stake for communities of color. If the pandemic determines who gets to vote and how in Election 2020, it will fundamentally change the practice of democratic elections and reshape the face of the American electorate.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Images: Healthy Elections Project; Ethnic Media Services