Tag Archives: Global

A Challenging Yet Rewarding Journey For a Desi Jain in Zambia

(Featured Image: Nirav Shah with his family in Zambia, mid-Peace Corps service)

Nirav Shah is a man on a mission.

After his father passed away, 11-year-old Nirav and his mother left India and moved to Chicago. His mother wanted to live near two of her sisters, looking for a better life and a culture where she could raise her son more independently. 

Nirav went on to earn his undergraduate degree from California State University, Long Beach, with the assistance of financial aid. Having experienced the positive influence governmental assistance could be, he knew his path involved giving back and it led to his pursuit of a Master’s degree in Public Health at Benedictine University.

Nirav completed an internship in public health in Tanzania and Kenya, where he met some Peace Corps Volunteers and became interested in following their path. He served as a health Peace Corps member in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Once he returned, he found his way back to the Peace Corps as a member of their public affairs team. Nirav is keen on spreading the message of seva to his South Asian community.

What does it mean to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?

“It’s all about building bridges of peace and friendship, whether it’s with your neighbors, family, or friends in different countries. It’s about giving back and making sure that when we leave this place, we leave it better than it was,” he said. “During my internship, I recognized that my passion was in serving the global community in the public health sector. It was a turning point in my life. I wanted to use the talents I developed overseas to serve communities that needed them most.”

Nirav followed his passion and applied for the Peace Corps, eventually serving as a health Volunteer in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Over a period of three months, he learned Chinyanja, one of the local languages in the south-central African nation, with the help of trainers and his community. Nirav lived with a host family in the Eastern Province, working over a period of two years on health initiatives. 

Nirav’s place of service during the Peace Corps

During this time, he was a coordinator for the Stomp Out Malaria project, relaying preventive health messages to the community. He also implemented a USAID/CDC-led project called SmartCare, an electronic medical record system that provided individuals with a wallet-sized plastic card that gave medical facilities access to their medical history. The card helped ensure continuity and improved quality of care at critical times.

It wasn’t easy…

“The whole experience opened me up for challenges and helped me see the world through a different lens. For example, people in my community initially thought I was Muslim in Zambia because of my brown skin. I was able to explain that I was Indian-American and follow Jainism as my religion. Jains don’t eat eggs and meat, so my mother sent me care packages with spices, crackers, beans, and rice every three months or so. My Zambian family took good care of me, making meals with ingredients I gave them,” he said. 

With the cultural pressure of marriage mounting, Nirav began making wedding arrangements with his fiancé whilst in Zambia.

Nirav kept in touch with his fiancé during service through long-distance phone calls; he would bike to the city to recharge his internet service. About midpoint during his service, Nirav took a week off and joined his fiancé in Mumbai, India, where they were married. As Nirav’s service drew to a close, his wife, mother, and in-laws visited Zambia, and he took time off to go sightseeing in places like Cape Town, South Africa. 

He managed to appease cultural expectations and chase his goals. Despite the challenges, he was able to reconcile the two things.

Benefits of joining the Peace Corps…

After completing his service and returning to America, Nirav used his non-competitive eligibility (NCE) to gain employment as an adjudicating officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where he interviewed applicants seeking work permits and permanent residencies. Peace Corps Volunteers are granted NCE hiring status, which makes it easier for federal agencies to hire those who meet minimum qualifications for a specific position. Eventually, he returned to Peace Corps, this time as a federal employee.

“My passion to serve made me come back to Peace Corps. I love this agency, the mission, and the team I work with. I value the opportunity to inspire others to serve abroad, and to be a voice in the South Asian community for this awesome mission,” he said.

Nirav wants to get his global volunteerism message to a South Asian audience. His goal is to inspire South Asian U.S. citizens to explore nontraditional career paths and volunteer in areas they are passionate about.

“As an immigrant, I appreciated the opportunity to excel here in the U.S. and valued the opportunity to give back as a volunteer in a safe and secure environment,” he concluded.

If you would like to apply for the Peace Corps:

You must be 18 years and older to be eligible.

You must be a US Citizen.

Check out their application and website HERE!


Tamim Choudhury is a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps. Having volunteered as a guest lecturer at a rural school in Bangladesh, he knows the value of community building and has witnessed how Peace Corps Volunteers have made a grassroots development in South Asia.  

MAALicious: Love Your Artisan Jewelers

Those who love jewelry and the world around them, have something special to celebrate with this Valentine’s Day month.

Designed in New York City and made for the global Indian woman, Maalicious Jewelry was born two years ago out of a desire to empower women artisans in India. The brand aims to innovate and create quintessential jewelry with a rich dose of tradition. Its inspiration is Indian, tribal, and historic. All of its earrings are 24K gold-dipped. Some of its artists get over 50% of the proceedings from the jewelry, and a few of their earrings are made using sustainable material like clay.

Poonam Thimmaiah, Founder of Maalicious

Maalicious’ Founder, Poonam Thimmaiah, spent her childhood hopping across India as her father would get transferred every three years. Growing up in different states developed in her an aesthetic that’s appreciative of and deeply rooted in various Indian subcultures. “I have immense appreciation for Indian handicrafts, and have always dreamt of making products work with women artisans using dwindling art forms that were chic enough to cater to the urban crowd,” says Thimmaiah about the idea behind her handmade jewelry brand.

Born as a pet project, Maalicious was conceived at Poonam’s home in New York while mending a broken heart caused by a miscarriage in her 36th week of pregnancy. “As they say, adversity leads to opportunity, and delving into arts helped me during those dark times,” she recalls. This was combined with her longstanding desire to create and wear her own designs. 

Poonam partnered with differently-abled students studying jewelry in Mysore on her visit to India a few weeks later. She then worked with women artisans to integrate various Indian art forms into the jewelry. A lot of research, learning, sweat, and blood later, they have grown into what Maalicious is today. The brand has had some amazing moments in the last few years, including being featured in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, and more. Last year, they also showcased their jewelry at the New York Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week. This year, it has again been selected for the New York Fashion Week in February. 

Maalicious Jewelry

What sets Maalicious apart from others in the market is its goal of giving its customers beautiful, lasting jewelry while holding the values of quality, labor rights, and sustainability paramount. Maalicious is also making efforts to support women artisans and rejuvenate their traditional arts. Its goal is to provide talented women artisans with a platform to shine, thrive, and succeed. A women-only run firm, the brand has around six women artisans that it works with on a regular basis in India, and has also collaborated with a few others in Italy and Ukraine. Their long-term goal is to stand in solidarity with skilled women and build a platform where they can support each other. “We would love to give back more to marginalized women and help with their sustenance,” says Thimmaiah. 

Further, Maalicious uses responsibly sourced and sustainable materials in their products, such as terracotta clay or red baked earth, silk thread, and wood, which have been part of our culture for centuries. Its distinctiveness also stems from their need to innovate in this space. “Everything is handmade and so, imperfect but that’s what makes them unique,” says Thimmaiah. For instance, their Vintage earrings are made of terracotta clay and then hand-painted. Their customizable Alice earrings can be personalized with pictures from their customers. Further, most of Maalicious’ signature pieces have a story from India’s glorious past behind them.

One of Maalicious’ earrings is a tribute to a unique and fascinating community called the Drokpas, about 5,000 of whose members today survive in the high altitudes of Ladakh. Believed to be the oldest and purest human tribe, the Drokpas inhabit the cluster of seven villages located down the Indus River. They are known for their liberal views, elaborate jewelry, chiseled features, and beautiful gardens. The Amrita Sher-Gil piece is a tribute to the famous Indian painter known as the pioneer of modern Indian art. Often known as “India’s Frida Kahlo”, she painted many self portraits and captured the daily lives of Indian women in the 1930s, often revealing a sense of their loneliness. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

The Good and Bad of Living as an NRI

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Sitting beside a window in my house in West Singapore, as I stare thoughtlessly at the view of lush green trees and a verdant Bukit Timah hill, I see a family of yellow parrots playing around enjoying the tropical weather. When we moved to this house two years ago, they were a family of two. Now, they are three- mom, dad, and baby parrot. The sight of this lovely playful family makes me nostalgic, it makes me sad. It makes me miss my family back in India even more.

Where I come from, living in a foreign country is considered fashionable and glamorous. While I don’t deny the better lifestyle and surplus savings, the fact remains that living abroad comes with its own set of challenges. You can feel displaced and lonely. With a pandemic imposing travel restrictions, it can very easily cause anxiety, stress, and even depression.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the realities of living away from the Motherland are not necessarily that glamorous and fun as portrayed in popular culture. In Yash Chopra and Karan Johar movies, we see Indians abroad in big landed homes, driving fancy cars, and living a life of luxury. What is rarely depicted in pop culture is the other side of the coin. Living away from India can take a toll on you emotionally and psychologically. The lack of a robust community support system, similar traditions, and enthusiasm for festivals and important occasions can be very alienating and daunting. However, in many parts of the world, Indians have managed to build a community for themselves. 

House used for the Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham Set (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

It can take some adjustment and a lot of patience to “settle down”, especially if you are a new immigrant. One tip I can give to my readers planning on moving abroad soon is to seek help. Start looking at online forums and groups based out of the place where you are moving, connect with people, and be open to putting yourself out there. 

Having some connections and being open to new relationships always helps. But in your head, be prepared. Even something as small as different weather at a given point of time of the year can take some getting used to. For example, when I moved to Singapore, initially, it took me a while to adjust to summers round-the-year as I’d grown up enjoying four lovely seasons in India. 

The blind race to marry an NRI and its ugly consequences

For me, the struggles have been more on the psychological front caused by the displacement and lack of a sense of belonging. I have been lucky to have a supportive and loving husband and some great friends.

For some, unfortunately, the repercussions can be worse, even life-threatening. That is why, people, especially, women should think twice about how badly they want it and for what reasons. I know a lot of girls who specifically seek NRI husbands just for the sake of the coveted label of being foreign-settled. In this blind pursuit, sometimes, women end up marrying the wrong guy landing themselves in abusive families – sometimes they are subjected to mental torture, sometimes they are abandoned, and sometimes they even end up dead.

In a case that came to light in 2017, highly-educated and well-qualified Usha Parikh left her lucrative job in a top-drawer IT company in Ahmedabad to marry a US-based NRI engineer only to realize later that her husband was an unlettered ordinary mechanic and an alcoholic. In another case the same year, Rekha Shah, daughter of a silk-stocking Surat diamantaire, married a Singapore-based doctor and within three months, the 29-year-old pregnant woman was desperate to come back to India from the physical abuse she faced from her husband and in-laws for dowry. 

In the first seven months of 2017 alone, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs received over 300 SOS complaints from Indian women stuck abroad in fraudulent marriages. According to a 2020 report, there are over 30,000 ‘honeymoon brides’ in Punjab who have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage this year alone.

According to a 2018 article by Reicha Tanwar, Former Director of Women’s Studies at Kerala University, there has been a steady rise in cases of Indian women being deserted after marriage or tricked into fraudulent marriages by husbands and their families who are residents of a foreign country in the past ten years. She writes that between January 2015 to November 2017, the MEA received 3,328 such complaints. Most of the complainants were from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana followed by Gujarat. This year, amidst lockdowns and stay-at-home impositions worldwide, cases of domestic violence- both mental and physical- surged.

What’s worse is that these NRI husbands leverage the gaps in the laws and policies, and generally go untouched. Fraudulent NRI marriages are also cases of rape, torture, human trafficking, violence, and extortion. Between September 2009 to November 2011, around 800 cases have been registered in India’s National Commission for Women but not a single NRI husband was extradited back to India as of July last year. 

The problem lies in the implementation of Article 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code wherein cases of domestic violence, the presence of NRI husbands cannot be secured in Indian courts. There is no strong law to help bring them back and that is why most of them go untouched.

Know your rights and weigh your options

It is important for every adult woman to know their rights, weigh their options, and seriously consider if they want an NRI husband at the risk of not knowing enough and going in blind. Generally, there are some red flags and patterns that can help catch the trouble early in the process of meeting the families and the boy.

Are they in a hurry? Is the boy not around and will directly come over at the time of the wedding? Have you seen the legal documents like passports, visas, etc? Are you in touch with any relatives, friends, and foreign acquaintances of the groom’s side?

Living in a foreign land seems dreamy and glamorous but at what cost?

Women and their families must do their due diligence and think twice before entering into a union with a foreign-based boy. Having said that, I completely understand that there are many scenarios where the person is smooth and there are just no alarming signs ahead of the wedding and a woman can find herself in trouble after landing in a strange country.

At that point, it becomes crucial to know where and how to seek help. Reach out to the Indian embassy or High Commission in your country. Go to the Ministry of External Affairs website or Twitter handle and reach out to them. Reach out to government organizations like NARI or non-government organizations in your area.

Here are some relevant links for readers in California: 

I am saddened by the lack of family visits this past year amidst the pandemic and as we usher into the new year with uncertainties and bleak hope, I feel even worse. However, my struggles are nothing like these thousands of women who go abroad with dreams of starting a new family, a new life, and are faced with such atrocities. It is important for us all to remember that life is not about the material side of things but in the end, it is the people and the relationships that matter. If anything, this past year we have all learned the value of having loved ones in our lives. 

I wish and pray that the new year only brings happiness and health for all of us- in India and abroad. Happy, safe, and healthy 2021!


Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Gandhi’s Swadeshi & A Dream of Self-Sufficiency

Swadeshi in Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking is a moral value and a practice in socio-economics and intrinsically linked to svarāj (self-rule), satyāgraha (truth-force), ahimsa (non-injury), and sarvodaya (welfare for all). 

The British Government in India stood for the capitalists and big business in Britain, and this determined the commercial, industrial and financial policies, such as paying for British war efforts and dispersing her debts. So big Indian industry was not fostered, and instead, exploited India’s immense resources and labor markets.

Gandhi sensed that by patronizing indigenous industry, big and small, work could be made available to the unemployed masses, and thereby they would not be ruthlessly exploited. What was foremost on his mind was the stark poverty of the masses. Gandhi advocated the revival of cottage industry such as khadi, which became the symbol both of the rejection of foreign-manufactured goods and the embracing of indigenous industry in microscale forms, symbolized by the charkha.

In the 1930s, 73% of the population were dependent upon agriculture; other than being engaged in harnessing raw material for the factory mills in England; industrialization could not reach nor benefit the masses. There could be no svarāj unless a way was found to ameliorate the hardship and horrors of the masses. Gandhi’s vision was that of a free India where a mobilized peasantry in the rural area would resist the spread of industrial capitalism and, instead, were empowered toward their own means of production. 

The second divide was internal, namely, the growing urban-rural divide. Urban industrial schemes used the villagers for their cheap labor and raw material. Furthermore, the introduction of urban values, economy, and way of life in the villages led to the destruction of traditional forms of sustenance, way of life, and the values that go with it. Gandhi was keen to free the village economy these yokes. So the idea of progress and reform had to be circumscribed within the context of the rural environment and rural needs, not wants.   

Swadeshi became popular in India after the Partition of Bengal. As Sushila Nayar notes, ‘Gandhiji made a distinction between “political swadeshi” and “genuine Swadeshi”. Political Swadeshi meant an artificial barrier on the flow of goods from one place to another and imposed by political division of the world. It could not contribute to world peace.

Gandhiji felt the need for “genuine Swadeshi” – which meant denying ‘to ourselves the enjoyment of goods not manufactured with our approval and within our knowledge’. Only thus would human beings become fully sensitive to the social repercussions of their transactions, and pave the way for world peace. Gandhi’s appointed economist, the Columbia University-trained J C Kumarappa, called this the ‘economics of peace’ and led the All-India Village Industries Association established by the National Congress in 1934.

C F Andrews with Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, 1925. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The concept of swadeshi coupled with svarāj had a universal appeal outside India.

In the southern parts of America where the descendants of the slaves were searching for a scheme that would empower their industriousness in agriculture and crafting of small goods,  Booker T. Washington, a black social reformer, set up the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in regional Alabama; he learned from Gandhi’s emissary, C F Andrews, how the rural and unemployed work towards self-sustainability in Gandhi’s ashrams. Tuskegee deployed a similar scheme to cultivate skills such as carpentry, printing, brick making, agri-and-pharma culture, soil care, waste management, and home economics. This was an experiment in self-sustainability that drew wide attention across America; two American Presidents visited Tuskegee and helped raise endowments.

In more recent times, African nations such as Botswana and Swaziland have adopted the Swadeshi model.

While I was a Fulbright Scholar in India, I came to realize the realities and hardships of the rural workers who migrate to urban areas for work. They face many challenges, not least in the areas of food security, poverty, literacy, sanitation, health, and immune deficiencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted a large number of precarious and vulnerable families.  Many slum families have lost their livelihoods. Some are gradually trying to recover, and many are forced to sell vegetables or other eatables or take up whatever short-term daily wage labor they are able to garner; while others have returned to native villages and may return when the livelihood prospects improve.

Families who possess food grain storage are able to cope better; however, most have exhausted their grain reserves. Families without grain storage suffer badly during the lockdowns and depend on a supply of free food items from Government or civil society sources. These families run a high risk of facing food insecurity, undernutrition, and non-immunity against the rapid spread of COVID-19 in regional areas. 

It is obvious that tradition meets with difficulties when it attempts to negotiate the demands of a democratic, open, and pluralistic modernist society. A holistic and de-hierarchized model of life and the world, where duties, roles, and functions are stressed within an overarching order of right, is a better model when social and moral ideals –  such as freedom, justice, and equality –  are relativized to this larger order.

As Gandhi stressed, ‘Economics is untrue which disregards moral values. This extension of the law of nonviolence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values. I use the adjective moral as synonymous with spiritual.’ 

In the Gandhian model of economics:  exploitation is replaced by service; acquisitiveness by renunciation or minimalism; global by the local; and centralization by self-regulation. ‘The economic system, politically nonviolent and democratic, should be cooperative and constructive instead of [being] exclusive, competitive, and militant.’  Gandhi eschewed reliance on luxurious and superfluous goods and the entertainment fetishism that provides no moral or intellectual succor and does not help with the development of character.  This does not preclude public utilities on larger-scale plans nor centralized and capital-intensive public services for other needs, provided there is a measure of balance with small-scale, labor-intensive, decentralized, and village- or community-based service portals that provide for the diverse needs of human beings and animals in a protected ecological environment. 

There have been a few bold thinkers who have delved into moral and legal texts in order to distill ideas into what the Kolkata-based theorist S. K. Chakraborty has dubbed “Spiri-nomics” (shorthand for “spirituality” + “economics”). This is a timely scheme, making an impact on India’s management and business arenas. 

Milton Singer offered valuable insight. In looking for new spiritual incentives to help modernize India’s economy, he commented: In their indigenous ‘materialism,’ as well as in their philosophy of renunciation, interpreted by Gandhi as a discipline of action in the service of others, may reside the psychological and moral motive forces needed for a democratic and nonviolent industrial development of India. Gandhi sought to lay the basis for redistribution of wealth that would be consistent with a sacrificial moral order (ṛta/dharma) of the cosmos.

Where to with ātmanirbhar bhārat abhiyān? 

Today, India as a hub of outsourcing for foreign corporations holds some promises, but there are also issues. The new Indian entrepreneurship might not augur well for swadeshi; perhaps it may when redirected by the dynamic spirit of atmanirbhar abhiyān. But if the Gandhian principles and experience of Swadeshi are not followed it may end up rehearsing the old pattern of dominance in the race towards globalization, both economic and political.

Even as India’s global outreach brings its GDP growth rate close to 6.0 percent, there is a lack of adequate infrastructure for proper redistribution and utilization of state funds toward microsocial programs and empowerment for the precariously disadvantaged. The bureaucracy given to excessive red tape and middle-management, impacts on helpless farmers (who have been taking themselves to suicide), also on women farmers, or the powerless vegetable vendor in the local market. As the Berkeley economist, Pranab Bardhan, points out, this is India’s postcolonial tragedy, in contrast to China’s much better-organized infrastructure and distribution systems. 


Dr. Purushottama Bilimoria is a Research Fellow with the Center for Dharma Studies, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley; a visiting professor of the University of California; and a Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is co-Editor-in-Chief of ​Journal of Dharma Studies.

Padmavyuha: A Film Questioning Blind Faith

(Featured Image: Director, Raj Krishna, and crew on the set of Padmavyuha) 

The dedicated and outspoken religious studies Professor Shaki Ramdas is sitting in his university office one evening when he receives a mysterious phone call –  an unidentified voice tells him that a prominent journalist has gone missing, an obscure religious symbol left at the scene of disappearance. His interest piqued, Professor Ramdas follows up with the Detective on the case, Mark King, who at first is skeptical of Professor Ramdas but grows to trust him and value his inputs.

A still from the film, Padmavyuha.

Professor Ramdas works with Detective King and the unidentified voice on the telephone to decipher a series of religious puzzles, slowly uncovering a growing conspiracy designed to silence non-believers. But as the Professor digs in deeper, he finds himself descending the dark staircase of his own fractured psyche, beginning to question his own views on religion. As he deciphers the final puzzle and discovers the true villain, he will find his religious worldviews transformed – discovering a shocking, newfound purpose. 

After watching Padmavyuha and exchanging correspondence with the Director, Raj Krishna, I began to understand the importance of this film and am glad that it premiered at the International Indian Film Festival in Toronto on August 9, 2020 to a wide audience.

The purpose of this film is threefold:

  1. To introduce the central tenet of Hinduism: The dual concept of Jivatman which goes through several cycles of birth and rebirth to ultimately merge into Parmatman or the Divine source. This can be accomplished through careful observation of actions that are subject to the law of Karma.
  2. To unravel several myths about the origin, history, and core issues of Hinduism.
  3. To question the caste system. When was the “caste system”, which is linked to violent oppression by Hindus, created?

I was born a Hindu and raised in a household where my father, a highly compassionate soul was agnostic for a long time, and my mother was a staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman.  I grew up with a rich tapestry of Hindu culture, mythology, prayers, hymns, and am deeply rooted in my faith. We were taught to notice the atman in every living being and practice ahimsa or nonviolence.

India is a secular state and it was prevalent in my formative years and I think to some extent it is still a common practice for Indians of all faiths to visit temples and other places of worship including churches, mosques, and gurudwaras without restrictions. But recently there had been a rise in right-wing nationalistic sentiment in the West and it has percolated also to our motherland.

Raj Krishna implores the audience to examine the core values of their own faith and try to understand that “ negative” sentiments about faiths are intentionally tagged to many religions just to incite fear among the general population and to prevent them from living in harmony. 

The Director addresses the confusion created all over the world about the “civilizations from the East or the Orient.”  Who were the original Indians?

In fact recently, when Senator Harris accepted the Vice Presidential nomination for the United States of America, I received phone calls from educated Americans friends debating about the origin of the Indian race! Who are the original Indians? Did they come from the Middle East? Who were the Aryans and why did they create an intentional hierarchy amongst their citizens: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and other miscellaneous outcastes?

But it is important to recognize whose prerogative is being used to theorize about other races.

I was lost in the shades of grey existing between the two versions of the truth, finding it more and more difficult to classify the current events as good or bad. The more I studied, the more shocked and confused I found myself on the core issues; is religion good? What is its true history? Who is right – the political activists protesting against the religious right, or the religious right themselves, who claim to have done far more in the name of equality than anyone else?,” interrogates Raj Krishna.

The film, Padmavyuha implores the audience to pay attention to the projected ambiguity about the Hindu faith and not fall in the trap created by right-wing nationalists. It behooves every practitioner to carefully examine the good and bad of their own religion before following anything blindly.

To learn more about what Padmavyuha means and to gain a glimpse into the history and mysterious annotations of ancient Indian civilization, watch the movie for yourself. I recommend it! 

Catch a viewing at these following local film festivals:

Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFesthttps://svapfilmfest.eventive.org/films – October 2-10, 2020

Orlando Film Festivalhttps://orlandofilmfest.com/ – October 15-22, 2020

Indian Film Festival of Cincinnatihttps://iffcincy.eventive.org/films – Oct 15-Nov 1, 2020

Show Low – White Mountains Arizona Film Festivalhttps://filmfreeway.com/ShowLowFilmFestival – Oct 16-18, 2020

Oregon State International Film Festivalhttps://dasfilmfest.vhx.tv/products – October 19-25, 2020

Louisville’s International Festival of Filmhttps://louisvillefilmfestival.org/ – Nov 5-7, 2020


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Are We Going to Be Normal After This Pandemic?

The answer is NO if “normal” means “status quo ante” or going back to what we were before. The answer is neither disappointing nor a surprise.  It is absurd to expect something to stay standstill in an endlessly rotating planet called Earth which is somersaulting in an immeasurably vast universe. Our impatience, however, in waiting for the dreadful pandemic to end is indisputably natural. Sure enough, It will end because nothing lasts forever.  

So what will post-pandemic pictures unfold to our weary eyes?

We have to watch what follows with cautious optimism. Jumping off the hell is not synonymous with plunging in heaven. The spectrum of the post-pandemic period will be interspersed with new challenges testing our prophetic prudence. Have we mastered our learned lessons or will our fickle memory sequester it in oblivion? If we are intelligent enough, it will prepare us for the future. For the sake of brevity and expediency, let us settle our hopes and fears in two classes.

WHAT WE HOPE FOR:

We hope to have surmised that we are truly mortals who have learned that death does not always visit us in small and scattered incidents. It may as well raid us in a sweeping, devastating way and compel us to feel like helpless prey. As we dreadfully watched the steep rise in brutal mortality caused by the pandemic, science also told us that such catastrophes are not unprecedented.

We have been frequented by episodes of smallpox, polio, plague, cholera, Hong Kong and Spanish flu, and such disasters of diseases propounded by microbes. We feel like running deers chased by a terrifying tiger close behind. The pandemic we are facing is neither the first one nor the last one. A second pandemic could well be preparing itself, waiting for its opportune time. They may be unpredictable but chronologically sequenced with the passage of time.

We hopefully are better prepared each time, cautiously cognizant for the world. We have to communicate faster than the velocity of the worms and combat by a joint endeavor. This is the only way to curtail our mortality imminent upon a visit by unanticipated invaders. Pointing accusatory fingers at who started this microbial massacre will only amputate our aiding arms. United we stand, Divided we fall.

“Let us hang in together, or indeed each one of us will hang separately,” as most prophetically pronounced by Benjamin Franklin.

A bacterial war will be won only by sound teamwork unifying the whole world as a single team. By not learning this lesson this time, we made a serious mistake of creating Divided Countries of the World and paid an exorbitant price for it. History has a pattern of repeating itself unless we are vigilantly watching with a discerning eye.

What we hope not:

We hope not that this pernicious pandemic leaves any sequelae behind. Sequela is a medical term used for complications that emerge long after the disease disappears. This infection is new to us and therefore, we are not completely knowledgeable about the course it may run. We will have to combat all complications as they come. 

Not only the physical but also the psychological damage that the pandemic can leave behind may need to be faced factually. Our particular concern should be centered around our children who have painfully grown through a period of sustained trauma and deprivations.

I met a young man who passed his childhood in a war zone. Years later, he wakes up screaming at night when hearing an ambulance pass by. Children, in general, may be equipped with greater immunity against the disease but they are also more prone to retain a sustained memory of a mental trauma that they were exposed to. No math can predict the extent of the aftermath. It is essential to remember this aspect because children of today will be the deciding fate of tomorrow.

I am also concerned that too many stream sessions and loss of interpersonal interactions may lead us to subordinate the value of human touch and direct encounters. To deal with peoples’ images rather than people themselves can push us downstream fostering a phobia for live human interactions. Our emotional and physical closeness to each other is the very bulwark on which we sustain. Let us not be unmindful that we need each other to survive and thrive.

“Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing, “ said T.S. Elliot.

The social, economic, and emotional impact of this catastrophe should not be underestimated either. Depression, suicidal tendencies, self-effacing and destructive patterns of behavior, and horrors of hooliganism may surface much to our dismay.

Finally, we hope this tragedy does not drive us away from God. God may not protect our Temples and Churches but the secret of our love and happiness lies in God hidden in our hearts. We keep on hoping because Hope is nothing but the constancy of faith. Most faiths have accepted and established a parent-child relationship with God. The more we are disappointed, the more we turn to Him until we are hale and healed. The course of our actions will let us see who we are and who we are not. Our deepest compassion for the bereaved families should never fade.

Peace! Peace!! Peace!


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. 

How to Secure Your Startup Properly

It’s always hard to set up a new business. And it’s even harder to do so successfully in the middle of a pandemic. 

According to TechCrunch, in the current climate, 70 percent of Indian startups will face financial difficulties alongside the other issues inherent in launching a new venture. But India has one of the world’s most bustling startup ecosystems, a fact that gives an immense amount of hope to both the private and public sectors. 

Attending to cybersecurity is a key part of setting up any new business in 2020. Without the right tools and strategies in place, a startup is likelier to fall victim to cybercrime and suffer both financial and reputational losses.

India is the second most affected region worldwide when it comes to cybercrime, so to give your new company the very best chance of succeeding, it stands to reason that your venture needs to significantly invest in a solid cybersecurity strategy, here’s how:

Create a culture of cybersecurity

Whether your business has 200 staff members or you’re operating with a team of 5, make sure that cybersecurity forms a key role in your company’s ethos. Creating a culture of cybersecurity means ensuring that everyone in the business is aware of the risks and knows that security is everyone’s job, not just the IT people’s.

Staff training can go a long way towards a solid cybersecurity culture. Bring in experts to train the team on procedures if possible.

Have the right tools for the job

Gone are the days when an antivirus was all the protection your computer needed. Now, in today’s dynamic and ever-changing digital world, the threats are far more advanced. Your company should seriously consider investing in the following tools at the very minimum:

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

You might think VPNs are primarily tools for privacy. But what a VPN does is create a private network, which in the process encrypts any data in transmission, keeping it safe from prying eyes. Installing a VPN in the office’s router means all devices, including any IoT-enabled tools, are protected.

Anti Malware & antivirus

Get both to ensure as much protection as possible from both the threats of old and the more modern threats such as drive-by malware downloads.

Email scanners

The changing face of phishing means that it’s not always easy to detect fraudulent emails or outreach attempts, especially when the attack is planned by seasoned hackers. To help avoid any nasties being unwittingly opened by staff, invest in email scanning software.

Check for vulnerabilities and make a breach plan

Although it’s not nice to consider, it’s always best to plan for the worst-case scenario. If a breach occurs, what is your company’s plan, who do you need to report the breach to, and how will the business inform affected clients? These are the questions your breach plan needs to cover.

To help avoid the nightmarish breach plan being enacted, try and get a cybersecurity expert to check over your systems and find any vulnerabilities. 

Founding a new business is tough, and it’s tougher still when faced with the spate of cyber threats on the horizon. But following the three actionable steps above gives your startup a greater chance of making it through and becoming a success.


Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe and free internet for all. He writes about his dream for free internet and unravels the horror behind big techs.

IP Law and Trade Policies Compete With Medical Needs

The role of Intellectual Property Law and Trade Policies in Innovation and the access to medicines and medical technologies compete against each other in the Corona impacted world.

COVID-19 has shaken the world and medical technological breakthroughs with new vaccines or drugs would be the only way to save mankind. A global health crisis always triggers concerns over patented medicines and treatments that may impede access to affordable healthcare. A global pandemic or a health crisis stimulates the need for better access to medicines, creating a gray area between the protection of ideas, investments, and access to medicines for the larger good of public health. 

The Emerging Issue     

Intellectual Property Rights awards exclusivity to the inventor or the owner to manufacture and sell their invention.  

Almost a decade ago when HIV/AIDS had become a global crisis, concerns of better access to medicines were raised. Developing nations had concerns with regard to the implementation of strong Intellectual Property regimes as it would have a negative effect on the efforts to improve public health, thereby making it difficult for governments to have policies for affordable healthcare.

The major problem in developing nations is that the prime population pays for their own drugs and state provisions are selective and constrained. Though the concept of state health insurance schemes is blooming, its effectiveness, to date, is questionable. 

A similar situation exists in the current scenario for COVID-19 where not only are the beds in each hospital limited, but extravagant costs have to be borne by patients.

In Tamil Nadu, India, private hospitals are charging a whopping amount of Rs 30,000 per day, even though government orders state otherwise, capping the charges at Rs 7500 for mildly asymptomatic patients and in case they have been admitted to Intensive Care Unit then the charges are capped at maximum Rs. 15,000 per day. Claims of unfair charges are popping up every day where hospitals are being accused of merely robbing patients.

Not only that, exploitative pricing has become a common predicament in most Asian Countries where hospitals are overcharging in COVID-19 rapid tests. The rapid test packages offered by hospitals have been differing from 500,000 rupiah to 5.7 million rupiah ($32 to $365). Exorbitant pricing remains an issue in the United States as well, where an individual faced a $1.1 million hospital bill.

Access to proper healthcare has already started becoming a concern with hospitals turning the major crisis into a money minting machine, even when there is no absolute drug or vaccine for the disease. The concern is, if every entity starts to look at this crisis as an opportunity, sustaining public policy will be a distant task for the government.

The Exclusivity of a Patent 

The key objective of the patent system is to reward exclusively to the innovator for an invention that is novel and has some industrially enhanced efficacy to it. The patented innovation could be a product or a process, as engraved in the TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Right) Agreement, 1995. The patentee creates a solution to a problem and as an incentive, an exclusive right is given to the owner, to produce and sell it, for 20 long years. The pharmaceutical industry is majorly dependent on the patent system to recover its research and development cost and to generate profits for future innovation.

The Competing Interest: Public Health

Compulsory licensing is an act where the government authorizes a third-party to use, make and sell a patent without the permission of the patentee or the owner, when the medicine is not available at a reasonable and affordable price or when it is not obtainable in a justified quantity. Compulsory Licensing and competition from generic or biosimilar products are general issues that threaten many patent holders. A competing interest is involved here, where on one side, there is a greater good of public interest where the ownership of technological innovation should be with the public, and on the other side, there is private ownership of patents fuelling further innovations. 

Biosimilar and generic drugs are sold at a cheaper price and are said to have a trade-distorting effect. However, the provision of consensual licensing instead of any legal compulsion might be a silver lining to this whole circumstance. The possibility stems from the current world scenario where corporate social responsibilities on Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) are an obligation and a single-minded pursuit of business is no more encouraged. This can definitely balance the competing interests of the right holders and the public interest at large. 

With the current COVID-19 scenario, the World Health Organization has accepted a proposal for patent pooling in order to collectively share the patent right, test data, and information required to create drugs and vaccines. It showcases an attempt towards navigating patent rights for all countries thereby making new innovations available to everyone.

Patent Pooling is a framework where one or two patent holders enter into an agreement to share their innovation by means of licensing with each other or with a third party in order to provide fruitful technological solutions. Patent pooling can even help in the scenario where technology is not entirely developed and thereby lead to new innovations without any hindrance to access.

However, with the United States trying to quit the World Health Organization, a question emerges – ‘in case they do terminate their relationship, how is the patent pool going to function?’ We all know what happened to the International Trade Organization when the United States chose not to be a part of it and now with the changes in the current arrangement, the question emerges again. The world is approaching multilateralism and is finally able to compromise with nationalism in order to work in solidarity. 

Lahama Mazumdar is currently working as a Teaching Assistant in National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi and is a doctoral student at National Law University Odisha. 

Saath Do: The Positive Anthem We Need

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, it’s crucial to stay connected and stay positive. The world has experienced a spike in fear and post-isolation gloom, which makes digital entertainment all the more important during these difficult times. That’s precisely what India’s music industry is aiming for, with the release of a recent music video, ‘Saath Do’. 

This empowering song is the concoction of music director Bappa Lahiri, lyricist Sameer Anjaan, playback singer Shaan, and singer Anushradha Palakurthi. Against the backdrop of a soulful piano medley, Shaan and Anushradha Palakurthi sing about how we can emerge from an international pandemic by forging bonds with others and giving back to our communities. The very name of the song implies that we must give our support to coronavirus victims and communities in need. Zee Music describes the song’s purpose as a request to join hands and face common challenges, chin-up, with faith and in unity. For daylight is only a few steps away. Saath Do!” 

While the lyrics alone are powerful, the music video truly packs a punch. This video features footage from all over the world, from Indian gurdwaras to the coasts of Europe to homes in China. Rather than emphasize the dangers of the coronavirus, the video illustrates the best of humanity that has emerged amid this outbreak. One clip provides a glimpse of law enforcement aiding a homeless man on the street. Another heartwarming segment presents a young man in a mask feeding a goat. “Saath Do” exudes nothing but positivity and hope for the future. The footage from different parts of the world is a small reminder that love knows no boundaries nor borders, and we are not alone in fighting this virus. 

This isn’t the end of the road for ‘Saath Do’, however. Rather, its producers hope to reach a wider audience. When asked about his plans with the song, Bappa Lahiri mentioned, “ “Despite being stationed in different countries, we have all come together for the track. Now, I will request celebrities to feature in the video.” Although there has been no official update on celebrity involvement with this song, we can only imagine that celebrities will give their ‘saath’ in making ‘Saath Do’ the upbeat anthem we all need.

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Indian Girls Are Making Masks Global

COVID-19 isn’t a test of whether we can fend for ourselves. Rather, it’s the story of those who choose to fight for the rest of us. And that’s precisely what a hundred young girls from Uttarakhand, India are trying to do — but they need your support. 

Since the coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency in January, countless medical facilities have struggled to accommodate the growing need for surgical masks. Hoarding, misinformation, and price gouging have all contributed to the scarcity of masks in hospitals. And while masks should be a priority for all members of society, it’s absolutely critical for medical professionals and sanitation workers, who are directly exposed to infected patients on a daily basis for hours at end. A single mask could break a chain of infections and hospitalizations before it even begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, masks have proven to filter out COVID-19 particles, thus protecting you from those infected but also allowing victims of the coronavirus to avoid infecting others. These girls know what’s at stake. 

That’s why Uttarakhand’s students, with the support of the non-profit organization Educate Girls Globally, have pledged to sew fabric masks and distribute them among communities in need. With nothing but their grit and their sewing machines, they have already brought a nascent change to their locale by providing a nearby hospital as well as the Uttarakhand Police Department with more than one thousand cloth masks. And that was all in a month’s work!

It was after a representative from Educate Girls Globally reached out to me that I realized the need more resources, attention, and support from the rest of the world. At a time when healthcare professionals are being forced to reuse existing masks, it’s crucial to encourage public movements that make more masks available. With the help of Educate Girls Globally, we started a GoFundMe account in hopes of scaling this endeavor to the international level. 

These funds will allow the girls to purchase additional materials, as well as transport these masks to healthcare facilities. More than twenty hospitals in the United States desperately need masks  — both  homemade and surgical — to protect caregivers, hospital visitors, and volunteers

These empowered young girls from Uttarakhand want to raise $25,000 to distribute more than 50,000 high-quality fabric masks to hospitals in the United States. They tell a story of perseverance amid immense adversity and fear. 

With your small financial contribution, we can give this story the ending it deserves.

To donate, click here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

The Greying Population of India Hit with COVID-19

While parents left behind in India are terrified of COVID-19, their NRI children are impatient in a distant land to return back to them. We are worried about our loved ones staying far away. Recently, NRIs settled in US, UK, France, dealt with the rapid transmission of COVID-19. The nightmare of a rapid influx of positive COVID-19 cases among potential foreign returnees is petrifying and we must be wary for the most vulnerable populations in India.

In India, the number of working-age populations suffering from COVID-19 is substantial because of its large middle-aged populace, yet the elderly are just as likely of getting the infection, resulting in fatality; this is due to weaker immunity systems, presence of comorbidities, and slower recoveries from diseases.

A handful of research supports that 60+ people with pre-existing comorbidities like chronic lung, liver, kidney diseases, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and those dependent on immunosuppressive drugs have a higher chance of COVID-19 infection than the rest.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of COVID-19 associated deaths are among more than 65 years’ age group, with increased deaths in elderly males. Thereby, it becomes a challenge to fight the disease for India where the number of the elderly population is close to the combined population of UK and Italy.

The Health Ministry opined in April that “8.61% cases are between 0-20 years, 41.88% cases are between 21 to 40 years, 32.82% cases are between 41 to 60 years and 16.69% cases above 60 years“. Simple statistics from the current population structure can establish the vulnerability of the greying population- about 8% of Indian population above 60 years’ accounts 17 % of COVID 19 patients; while about 62% Indians 20-60 years have approximately 73% COVID-19 cases. Hence, the elderly is at no less risk than the middle-aged to this novel disease.

India has a propounding 140 million (UN projection, 2020) 60+ population. Majority of the districts across India have 7-10% percent elderly. While, many districts of Southern states – Maharashtra, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Punjab – have more than a 10% elderly population (Fig1: a). Based on 2011 Census, our map indicates that many districts of Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have a high proportion of 60+ elderly who are disabled (seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, and mental illness; Fig1: b). Districts with a higher proportion of elderly, especially disabled elderly, require special focus and regular monitoring in the framework of tackling pandemic.

Elderly Population in India, 2011.

(a) Proportion of 60+ elderly; (b) Proportion of 60+ elderly disable

 

Impacts on the elderly are layered. World Health Organization (WHO) has identified mental health as an integral part of overall health in correspondence with physiological, behavioral, and psychological wellbeing of older adults. Gerontological studies have established the association of inadequate social wellbeing and poor elderly health.

Proportion of Elderly Living Alone and The Prevalence of Different Diseases Per 1000

StateLiving AloneMental IllnessDepressive symptomsHypertensionDiabetesAsthma
Assam386.9020.80656.20252.8059.0080.10
Karnataka343.10117.40592.90237.90141.6072.10
Maharashtra341.505.40557.00179.0090.60110.10
Rajasthan378.306.10452.00142.9042.0078.60
Uttar Pradesh316.0028.20552.00133.6028.80100.50
West Bengal350.004.10567.30245.1067.3064.30
India341.0026.80554.30181.6065.7089.80

 

 

  Source: Calculated from WHO-SAGE 2007 Data

The long lockdown in India is vital to avoid burdening the healthcare system and to suppress the chain of transmission of infection. It is mandatory to take “extra care” of the elderly because social distancing may lead to depression, anxiety, and mental illness, especially among the elderly who are living alone and/or are disabled. The vulnerability of the elderly with less social support can escalate in instances of accessing medical support, transportation, banking, food access, etc.

Income, medical security, and social support are major challenges during and beyond the lockdown period. Although, the central government has announced some financial-welfare schemes and guidelines/instructions in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the helplessness of the aged needs special consideration.

During this tough time, it is necessary for the government, stakeholders, social welfare organizations, and communities to stand in solidarity to provide the essential supplies (groceries, vegetables- fruits and medicines) to the elderly at their doorstep. We need to take precautionary steps to avoid infecting the older adults by sanitizing and frequently cleaning their belongings like, clothes, spectacles, canes, walkers, beds, toilets, chappals, etc. and encouraging them to get engaged in possible physical activities/works within the home.

In order to bolster our elderly loved ones, we need to assist them through social and mental connectivity. The void of connectedness can be minimized through phone, online calls, messages, or encouraging them to interact with friends/neighbors keeping a safe distance.  We all should stay connected with the aged while staying away to keep the world positive.


Subhojit Shaw is a doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, India (IIPS, Mumbai). His academic quest revolves around population aging, child health, and environmental health.

Aparajita Chattopadhyay with her two decades of teaching and research experience, has contributed well in the fields of public health, gender issues, aging, environment-development, and nutrition. She is a faculty of the International Institute for Population Sciences.

All views expressed are personal.

An International Student’s Concerns

COVD-19 has caused worldwide concerns in the higher education space, especially in the middle of the ongoing decline in the number of international students studying at American universities. They are losing billions of dollars as reported in the March 2020 report of ‘NAFSA: Association of International Educators.’ There has been discussion on how it has impacted schools, colleges, next admission cycle, financial funding, how teachers are told to teach online. Most of the universities have moved to online teaching.

Some, like Boston University, are considering the possible postponement of their Fall 2020 semester, which will again put International students at higher risk because if they are not enrolled for a specific number of credits during a semester, they will not meet the visa regulations, initiating possible deportation proceedings against them. However, these are not the only challenges international students are going through, there are many more things we need to think about as we move forward. 

Take financial insecurity. Many of my American friends don’t know that International students are only allowed to work on campus for a limited number of hours to support themselves financially. These hours are further reduced during the summer semester for international students. Due to this unprecedented situation, international students are worried about how they will earn their livelihood and pay their bills with campuses closed. 

Traveling is extremely expensive at this point. Canada, India, and many European countries are on complete lockdown. International travel is expensive, and that is why international students choose to go annually or biannually.

Someone I know can afford tuition fees, but they depend entirely on their on-campus cafe’s job to pay bills. In these extremely uncertain times, the educational institutions are doing their best to offer most of their classes online, providing free food, supplies, and virtual support, but this is a temporary solution. International students have sustained the economy of American Universities and though international students may not be citizens or permanent citizens, they pay similar kinds of taxes on their income; another contribution to the US economy that has been impacted.

I have been worried about my friends and family. I am not at home to take care of my parents, and to seek solace, I have been talking to other international students. I realized that I am not alone, we are all stressed. One lost their family member, a few have economic challenges, my friend’s elderly parents are alone without any help. We do not know if traveling is safe, from both, an immigration and health point of view. 

Many students have invested their hard-earned resources for a dream to earn their degrees from America. University of Chicago’s Business Professor and Economist Anil Kashyap and Jean-Pierre Danthine at the Paris School of Economics are predicting a massive recession that will likely hit the job market shortly, which would be again detrimental for international students trying to find a job. Graduate students who are joining US schools from Fall 2020 also see an uncertain future because after they graduate in two or five years, depending upon what degree they are pursuing, may not have a stable economy waiting to welcome them. 

This situation is of global concern and everyone should take steps that are guided by morality and compassion. The American economy has benefited immensely from the contribution of immigrants. Far from home, they don’t have much direct physical support, unlike most other students, and everyone should come forward with a different approach to meet our challenges.

Saurabh Anand is an international Ph.D. student and a Graduate School Research Assistantship Block Grant (GSRA) fellow in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. A version of this article was first published in Duluth News Tribune.