Tag Archives: inclusive

Indian Americans – Inclusive in US, Intolerant in India?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States to join President Trump to address a gathering of over 50,000 Indian Americans is an opportunity to not only strengthen the ties between the oldest and the largest democracy, but also to pressure the Prime Minister to stand up to his promise of an inclusive and secular India.

To Prime Minister Modi’s credit, he has implemented developmental plans from space exploration to health insurance schemes at a rate unheard of in Indian politics. After a decade of unprecedented corruption and poor governance, Modi’s vision of India as a developed country has captured the dreams and imaginations of many.

But the economic strides comes with a cost: intolerance, bigotry and hate crimes.

Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and allies have made no secret of their vision of India as a Hindu country, contradicting India’s secular founding principles.

Just months after the B.J.P.’s rise, a Hindu right wing group induced over 3000 Christians to participate in mass conversion ceremony to Hinduism by a combination of intimidation and bribery. In a move unbecoming of the largest democracy, the B.J.P. endorsed sedition charges against students who had cheered for the Pakistani cricket team in an India-Pakistan cricket match.

This August, just a few months into his second term, Modi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the disputed state of Kashmir. Not by debate and deliberation, but by a security clampdown that left the residents of the Muslim-majority valley without internet, mobile and even healthcare services for weeks.

The rising intolerance is all too palpable on social media too.

The slightest hint of dissent is quickly silenced with raucous accusations of anti-nationalism.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousaf was trolled for tweeting her concerns about the ongoing crisis in the Valley affecting the education of school children. Hindu American Foundation, an American non-profit and ally of the Modi government lambasted Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for speaking out against curtailing civil liberties in Kashmir.

The similarities in the politics of Trump and Modi are hard to miss.

Both  are immigration and national security hardliners, ran for elections on populist policies, and frame any criticism of their policies as unpatriotic. Their majoritarian beliefs have galvanized the far right of their respective countries resulting in a wave of bigotry, intolerance and hate crimes.

Despite their similarities, it is ironic that the popularity of the two leaders are at polar opposites among the Indian diaspora.

As minorities in the US, we desis accept and enjoy the benefits of secularism, freedom of religious expression, and evangelizing (the Hare Krishna movement).

We vote for secular left wing policies in the US, and accuse Trump of instigating hate crimes  against Indian Americans, like the killing of an Indian engineer in 2017, by his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Yet, Indian Americans, the majority of whom are Indian-born Hindus, hypocritically champion the Hindu nationalist policies of Modi in India, the very policies that we are critical of in the American setting.

If we want an inclusive and tolerant America, we must start by cleaning our own backyard. We must insist that Prime Minister Modi create a secular, inclusive and multicultural India, much like the America we seek for ourselves.

Ashwin Murthy is a software engineer at LinkedIn and a freelance writer of Indian descent.

First Sari Parade Held in San Francisco

All photos: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

WomenNow organized a Sari Parade where over 600 participants walked down the streets of San Francisco, flaunting their culture and identity woven in five yards of grace.

The Sari Parade was held at the fifth annual Spring India Day Festival this June and this unique parade took place for the first time ever. Both events were free for all, resulting in an amalgamation of cultures tied together with dance and music. Lining the parade were stalls of food, clothes and jewelry similar to a street market in India.

The buzzing excitement of participants wearing Incredible India sashes, the dances along with live Dhol, and the colorful landscape of Union Square evoked emotions beyond a national pride. This truly was a showcase of India’s true colors and heritage.

Photo: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

The event was held in collaboration with Compassionate Chef, which works with the Tenderloin After School Program to help impoverished kids obtain the resources to become global citizens.

Notable guests in attendance included Mayor London Breed and the Consul General of India, Sanjay Panda.

Mayor London Breed gave an encouraging speech about how our different cultures and families bring us together, and how our different backgrounds are an important identity of the city of San Francisco.
A vast spectrum of participants from housewives, to models, Silicon Valley technology gurus, doctors, engineers, as well as representatives from every other professions were present. The vast spectrum of saris were showcased and every style of sari from traditional to modern, every type of drape, and every color were in attendance.
In the midst of the parade were demonstrations of how to drape a sari in various styles for everyone to learn more about what exactly a sari means to an Indian women.
The parade was sponsored by Incredible India! India’s official tourism agency, to showcase Indian tourism. Other sponsors include Zee TV, Rotimatic Singapore and Shasta India.

An All-Inclusive Prom

Flowers adorned the Foothill Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall as the sun began to set. Girls and boys of all ages and abilities were dressed in their finest, the sound of their laughter uniting everyone. Graced with flower crowns and boutineers, these kids were ready to partake in a trademark high school tradition: InFUSE’s first annual all-inclusive prom! 

InFUSE, a nonprofit organization, is the brainchild of a group of friends, namely Mrs. Selvi Pragasam, Mrs. Lavanya Gopal, and their respective families, who want to create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse children and young adults. Since April 2017, InFUSE has been providing personalized educational pathways and activities for the neurodiverse community via an afterschool program in order to uncover each student’s unique strengths and abilities. InFUSE also offers bhajan classes and a peer interaction dance program. Founders Mrs. Selvi and Mrs. Lavanya are also passionate about empowering the next generation with the tools they need to make an impact on their community. 

As a volunteer at InFUSE, I am supposed to be teaching the students, but on many days, I feel like I am the one getting taught by all of the inspiring students. As humans, we are so quick to claim that we are stressed or something is too hard and that our efforts are futile, but spending just a few minutes with our friends at InFUSE is enough to show us what true persistence is and how to live life to its fullest. InFUSE truly has its doors open for everybody, embodying the saying – stronger together. 

InFUSE’s First All-inclusive prom 

The attendees of the all-inclusive prom having a dance party
The attendees of the all-inclusive prom having a dance party

As a junior in high school, I had attended prom with my friends a couple of months prior to the all-inclusive prom (held on May 18th 2019). It was there that I realized that although prom is considered a rite-of-passage for high schoolers, there are many who cannot experience this event. For many neurodiverse students, loud music, lights, and a crowded atmosphere can make prom an anxiety-inducing experience When talking to the parents of InFUSE students, many voiced similar concerns regarding their high school’s prom. In order to provide a solution to this problem in our community, along with Mrs. Selvi, Mrs. Lavanya, and volunteer Nithika Karthikeyan, I led efforts to coordinate an all-inclusive prom catering to both the neurotypical and neurodiversity communities in the Bay Area. 

Held at Foothill Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall, the prom had a theme of an enchanted forest while all kids came dressed as their favorite princes and princesses. There was a photobooth, talent show, and  a parade for the attendees to show off their outfits. Parents pitched in to provide a scrumptious, multicultural potluck while a local band, Gifted Connections played the night away. Paintings by the students of InFUSE were showcased in an art display as well. The goal of this event was to recreate the trademark high school tradition of prom in a way where kids of all ages and abilities could participate and have fun. 

Mrs. Haritha, a mother of one of the kids who attended InFUSE’s prom, stated, “Thanks so much Selvi, Lavanya, and the other volunteers for a fantastic event. Namit did not even know what a prom is. He got to experience it yesterday. Thank you so much for filling so many kids’ hearts with happiness.” 

Vaibhav Gopal, Mrs. Lavanya Gopal’s son and a highschool senior from the neurodiverse community, said, “The InFuse prom was a great and lovely event. People of all ages could come and enjoy the entertainment and delicious food. It made me feel that I belonged to the group and I enjoyed the enchanted evening.” 

InFUSE is located at 2847 S.White Rd. Suite #209, San Jose, CA 95148. You can contact us infuseteam.org or by calling 1(669)223-1644. Middle schoolers and high schoolers interested in volunteering can contact us directly. 

Simrithaa Karunakaran is a rising senior at Evergreen Valley High School. Along with being an avid volunteer at InFUSE, she runs a nonprofit organization (Hand-In-Hand Art), which provides art lessons to the neurodiverse community. In her free time, Simrithaa can be found with her nose buried in a book, enjoying a good movie, or traveling with her family.
If readers want to get involved, they visit InFUSE’s website at: https://www.infuseteam.org