Tag Archives: India

Did It Feel Like A Truck Hit You After Your Covid Vaccination?

If you think vaccination is an ordeal now, consider the 18th-century version. After having pus from a smallpox boil scratched into your arm, you would be subject to three weeks of fever, sweats, chills, bleeding and purging with dangerous medicines, accompanied by hymns, prayers and hell-fire sermons by dour preachers.

That was smallpox vaccination, back then. The process generally worked and was preferred to enduring “natural” smallpox, which killed around a third of those who got it. Patients were often grateful for trial-by-immunization — once it was over, anyway.

“Thus through the Mercy of God, I have been preserved through the Distemper of the Small Pox,” wrote one Peter Thatcher in 1764, after undergoing the process in a Boston inoculation hospital. “Many and heinous have been my sins, but I hope they will be washed away.”

Today, Americans are once again surprisingly willing, even eager, to suffer a little for the reward of immunity from a virus that has turned the world upside down.

Roughly half of those vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and in particular women, experience unpleasantness, from hot, sore arms to chills, headache, fever and exhaustion. Sometimes they boast about the symptoms. They often welcome them.

Suspicion about what was in the shots grew in the mind of Patricia Mandatori, an Argentine immigrant in Los Angeles, when she hardly felt the needle going in after her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a March appointment.

A day later, though, with satisfaction, she “felt like a truck hit me,” Mandatori said. “When I started to feel rotten I said, ‘Yay, I got the vaccination.’ I was happy. I felt relieved.”

While the symptoms show your immune system is responding to the vaccine in a way that will protect against disease, evidence from clinical trials showed that people with few or no symptoms were also protected. Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel bad, the experts say.

“This is the first vaccine in history where anyone has ever complained about not having symptoms,” said immunologist Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

To be sure, there is some evidence of stronger immune response in younger people — and in those who get sick when vaccinated. A small study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who reported systemic side effects such as fever, chills and headache may have had somewhat higher levels of antibodies. The large trial for Pfizer’s vaccine showed the same trend in younger patients.

But that doesn’t mean people who don’t react to the vaccine severely are less protected, said Dr. Joanna Schaenman, an expert on infectious diseases and the immunology of aging at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. While the symptoms of illness are undoubtedly part of the immune response, the immune response that counts is protection, she said. “That is preserved across age groups and likely to be independent of whether you had local or systemic side effects or not.”

The immune system responses that produce post-vaccination symptoms are thought to be triggered by proteins called toll-like receptors, which reside on certain immune cells. These receptors are less functional in older people, who are also likely to have chronic, low-grade activation of their immune systems that paradoxically mutes the more rapid response to a vaccine.

But other parts of their immune systems are responding more gradually to the vaccine by creating the specific types of cells needed to protect against the coronavirus. These are the so-called memory B cells, which make antibodies to attack the virus, and “killer T cells” that track and destroy virus-infected cells.

Many other vaccines, including those that prevent hepatitis B and bacterial pneumonia, are highly effective while having relatively mild side effect profiles, Schaenman noted.

Whether you have a strong reaction to the vaccine “is an interesting but, in a sense, not vital question,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The bottom line, he said: “Don’t worry about it.”

There was a time when doctors prescribed cod-liver oil and people thought medicine had to taste bad to be effective. People who get sick after covid vaccination “feel like we’ve had a tiny bit of suffering, we’ve girded our loins against the real thing,” said Schaenman (who had a slight fever). “When people don’t have the side effects, they feel they’ve been robbed” of the experience.

Still, side effects can be a hopeful sign, especially when they end, says McCarty Memorial Christian Church leader Eddie Anderson, who has led efforts to vaccinate Black churchgoers in Los Angeles. He helps them through the rocky period by reminding them of the joyful reunions with children and grandchildren that will be possible post-vaccination.

“I’m a Christian pastor,’’ he said. “I tell them, ‘If you make it through the pain and discomfort, healing is on the other side. You can be fully human again.”


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

image credit: getty images at KHN

Don’t Call The Police! What Will People Say?

In traditional South Asian families, women trapped in abusive situations don’t leave for fear of  societal scorn.

“What will people say?”

Our social structure, based on arranged marriages and multi-generational households, regard family as sacrosanct – staying intact is prioritized over individual wellbeing.

“Culturally in the AAPI community, …victims may be encouraged to stay in their situations for their families, for their communities, for the larger family,” said Monica Khant, at an April 23  EMS briefing on domestic violence (DV).

Khant worked for years with DV clients as an immigration lawyer before joining Asian Pacific Institute of Gender-based Violence (API-GBV) as its Executive Director.

“That was something I had seen first-hand, that leaving their situation might being shame or embarrassment to the family.”

So, victims stay to avoid disrupting family dynamics, losing status, financial security, or children, but mainly because they have very few alternatives.

But during the pandemic, quarantining at home with an abusive partner because of stay-at-home orders, has made a difficult situation even worse for DV survivors. In fact, studies by the NIH reported increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, stating thatdomestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.”

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men report experiencing some form of IPV each year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement agencies across the country are reporting an alarming upward trend in domestic violence.

By March 2020, compared to March 2019,  calls reporting DV increased by 18 % (San Antonio Police Department),  27% (Jefferson County Alabama) and 10% (New York City Police Department).

DV rates have spiked among women of color and immigrants who face additional structural and cultural challenges trying to access support from the government and community, even before the pandemic.

Narika, a 30-year-old, Fremont-based, domestic violence advocacy group with 90 % of South Asian clients connected to the Bay Area, reported a 3x  increase in DV calls since the pandemic began, while the API-GBV has found that 64% of Indian and Pakistani  women had reported intimate partner violence IPV.

Yet fewer survivors are calling for help despite being trapped at home in abusive situations. At API-GBV which recorded a 76% drop in calls and in people seeking shelters, Khant explained that survivors are unable to access phones or information on computers, so less calls are coming in for assistance.

You Can’t Tell the Police!

In South Asian communities, inaction and compliance by DV survivors has its roots in a patriarchal society which views DV as a taboo subject. Though we worship goddesses and powerful  female icons (Mother India, Kali), female stereotypes in secondary roles to men are equally revered (dutiful, submissive, wives like Parvati, Draupadi), and DV remains a systemic, pervasive  issue. Families are expected to stay intact. In fact, by raising awareness, Narika has been accused  of breaking up families and planting ideas in survivors to move out.

Bindu Fernandes, the Executive Director of Narika explained that survivors don’t want to ‘out’ their family.

Survivors who reach out will say,

 “I don’t want to cause any trouble, but if I die, I just want someone to know what’s happened,” and,  “I’m probably going to be pushed down some stairs so I want somebody to know that could happen,”, and unequivocally add,

BUT YOU CAN’T TELL THE POLICE.’

In many cases in South Asian community says Fernandes, this is the story.

Findings from an ATASK (Asian Family Violence Report: South Asian) survey in Boston supports her claim. In the survey, 44% percent of South Asians said they knew a woman who has been physically abused or injured by her partner. Yet 5% of male and female respondents said that a woman who is being abused should not tell anyone about the abuse. Even though they overwhelmingly endorsed battered women seeking help – from a friend 82%, the police (74%), a family member (66%), a shelter (50%) or a therapist (48%); in reality, very few women from their communities actually do.

Their dependency and  passivity, steeped in inflexible tradition, propels a vicious cycle of IPV and in-law violence.

Cultural norms and traditional roles force women to stay silent. Attitudes expressed in the ATASK focus group convey the insular mindset within South Asian families which prohibit survivors from coming forward and seeking help. Focus group members felt that the woman in a marriage becomes the property of her husband and no longer belongs to her parents. The group  felt that in-laws play a critical role in ‘family violence’ within South Asian families especially in cases of dowry disputes. A woman cannot turn to her own family for help once she is married and parents are not supposed to intervene in the daughter’s marriage. Sometimes parents don’t take divorced daughters back.

Survivors face challenges accessing assistance because of a complex mix of family dynamics, immigration status, cultural mores, lack of English proficiency and technology access, and financial dependence.

In the AAPI community, when survivors with limited English proficiency call law enforcement, said Khant, the officer may speak to the abusive partner who has the dominant English proficiency which enables them to control the narrative. The same language access issue applies when survivors who seek help from medical or hospital facilities need interpreters; having to rely on translation services adds time to getting the attention they need, so sometimes they just may not go. In Brooklyn for example, a nurse said it took over an hour to get a translator for a survivor who used a less mainstream Asian language.

Women who do not have valid immigration status or are on temporary status are not eligible for assistance, for example, even  Covid19 testing.

In the Bay Area, many immigrant women are dependents of H1B visa holders employed by  Silicon Valley’s tech sector. When the Trump administration revoked their EAD 4 work permits, they lost their right to work and experienced increasing abuse, domestic servitude, and  financial dependency.

Khant said that for AAPI community members who work in the service industry, the loss of jobs and lack of work increased financial dependency on abusive partner who is earning income, a key factor in DV survivors not being able to leave. Some of the immigrant DV survivors are ineligible for unemployment benefits because they don’t have valid work authorization permits and may not be allowed to apply for other benefits

Survivors who have lost jobs face eviction. According to the Census Bureau’s housing survey added Khant, 1 in 5 Asian renters reported that they were behind in rent payment as of September 2020. This forces DV survivors to stay with partners in violent and unsafe situations because they cannot afford to pay back rent. Narika said they issued $50,000 in cash assistance requests to survivors in the past year.

Transnational abandonment is the new manifestation of DV inflicted on immigrant women  already besieged by the pandemic and loss of EAD-4 work permits. Narika reports 2 to 3 cases of transnational abandonment a  week, where vulnerable immigrant women  are abandoned in their country of origin by their husbands. This phenomenon is particularly  prevalent within the SA community, in marriages where victims face domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, or financial exploitation. Once they are deliberately  removed from the US, these disposable women lose legal protections, rights to their homes, finances and even children. Narika reports an instance where a woman was dropped off at a  grocery store and never saw her husband again.

There is no accountability as courts do not prosecute perpetrators or accept cases  when victims are absent. Narika reports that abusers take advantage of differences in laws  governing marriage and assets between the US and the victim’s country of origin. Nor is help available through  VAWA which has few protections for abandoned victims who don’t reside in the US.

Where do we go next?

While there is a compelling need for broader language service access and more food pantry and housing relief, there’s a growing demand from South Asian families about addressing DV outside the traditional systems in place.

Khant’s work has involved observing existing laws (or a lack of laws and assistance in place during certain administrations), and recognizing the nuances in immigrant cases related to the legal system of DV. But first, she said, we need to acknowledge biases in responses to communities of color. In the land of opportunity with its many resources for DV survivors,  Khant suggested a new approach is necessary to address DV in the South Asian community.

Traditionally DV survivors have been encouraged to follow the traditional systems in place – law enforcement, justice system, filing a complaint and following through with the courts.

But the pandemic has made it difficult for families to seek help from law enforcement or the justice system, so many families would rather go a new route to find resolution. At Narika, Bindu Fernandes shares that restorative justice is one approach that could form a pathway to helping families heal.

“DV is a delicate subject because it involves intimate relationships, family secrets, and it’s a subject many of us are reluctant to raise either publicly or in private. It’s embarrassing, sometimes even shameful to talk about. But we also know that staying silent (about the topic),  won’t make it go away. Suffering in silence makes people give up….lose hope,” remarked Sandy Close, EMS Director, at the briefing.

Khant said her experience as  an immigration attorney shows that, “If divorce or leaving the abusive situation is not the first choice, it’s the choice survivors only take after many attempts at reconciliation.”

Using social services or less criminally endorsed systems, “may get better traction in AAPI community,” said Khant, and help families find a path to reconciliation.


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

NARIKA 1-800-215-7308 or 1-510-444-6048

MAITRI Toll Free Helpline: 1-888-862-4874

SAVE’s 24-hour crisis line at 510-794-6055

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

https://www.thehotline.org/wp-content/uploads/media/2020/09/The-Hotline-COVID-19-60-Day-Report.pdf

Links to SCC District Attorney’s Office Victim Service Unit brochures in multiple languages: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/publications/DistrictAttorneyBrochures/Pages/default.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in San Jose, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-SJ.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in Morgan Hill, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-MH.aspx

https://eastwindezine.com/mosf-vol-15-5-queer-and-black-asian-and-young-drama-del-rosario-tchoupitoulas-and-ocean-vuong/

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Letters to the Editor: Boost Your Immune Response to COVID

Dear India Currents,

It appears Covid-19 will be with us for a while, and so it makes sense that we prepare ourselves to fight off the virus as best as we can.

Several factors determine how sick one might get from Covid-19. Principal among the reasons appear to be: (1) Viral load carried by the transmitter, (2) Distance from the transmitter to the receiver, (3) Duration for which the receiver remains in the vicinity of the transmitter, and (4) Immunity of the receiver. This brief article focuses on the last x-factor in this list.

First, Yoshinori Ohsumi received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for showing how fasting is supportive of health and longevity. Researchers report that fasting activates autophagy, the process of cell recycle and renewal, which helps slow the aging process and has a positive impact on cell renewal. Along these lines, supplements such as vitamins D have also been reported to boost immune response.

At the fundamental level, scientists say that they have identified a set of genes that fight the Covid-19 infection. These genes are related to interferons, a group of signaling proteins made and released by the host cells in response to the presence of viruses. The researchers found that a weak interferon response to the infection results in some of the more severe cases of COVID-19. This understanding led researchers to search for the genes that are triggered by interferons, known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), which act to limit SARS-CoV-2 infection, and they identified eight such genes.

Against this background, medical researchers have found that meditation lengthens telomeres and slow aging. It is plausible that meditation may strengthen the interferon response, boosting immunity to Covid-19. By now, the medical benefits of meditation are widely documented.

Covid-19 being primarily a disease of the lungs, enhancing the functioning of the lungs should be supportive of higher immunity to the disease as well.

A 2014 report in Nature found that pranayam (breathing exercises) and meditation could help fight flu-like systems. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, The Healing Power of Breathing offered evidence of the medical benefits of proper breathing.

Maybe with the regular practice of pranayam and meditation, fewer people will be sickened by the dreaded disease, and those who do get sick, will not become as sick. Be sure to talk to your healthcare service provider before adopting these suggestions.

Sincerely,

Pradeep B. Deshpande & James P. Kowall


Pradeep B. Deshpande is Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at the University of Louisville, and President of Six Sigma and Advanced Controls, Inc.

James P. Kowall is an independent researcher based in suburban Eugene, Oregon. He is a retired physician certified in Neurology, Internal Medicine, and Sleep Disorder Medicine, and he additionally holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics.

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


 

Store Your Energy, Go Green & Save Money Says Campbell Scott

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Climate Reality activist Campbell Scott talks to DesiCollective about why Energy Storage is important for a sustainable economy.

When Texas lost power after two devastating winter storms  mid-February 2021, over 4 million homes and businesses lost power for several days. In Austin,  people were burning their furniture to cook food and to keep warm. 

 Campbell Scott says  this disaster was preventable. The  Texas electrical grid failed to keep up with the demand, and Texas repeatedly failed to protect its power grid against extreme weather.

What is the  science behind energy storage?

Can California halt the frequency of its rolling blackouts?

How do you store green energy when  the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine? Are there energy storage solutions?

And what can communities do to advocate for a greener future?

We asked Campbell for answers.

https://audioboom.com/posts/7863188-store-your-energy-go-green-save-money-says-campbell-scott

 

Climate Reality Activist, Campbell Scott

A Primer on Green Energy Storage by Campbell Scott

Energy Storage is Key to Green Energy

Why should we start using green energy rather than fossil fuels? 

Renewable, carbon-free electric power, generated by solar panels and wind turbines, is now cheaper than from any other source.  If we are to reach zero carbon-dioxide emission,  fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, must  be phased out. 

How do we store renewable energy when  sunshine and wind are intermittent sources: the sun sets every night or may be clouded over; the wind does not always blow.  

The solution is to store electrical energy when supply exceeds demand and to use that stored energy as demand increases.  It is just like “saving for a rainy day.”

Peak demand usually occurs in the evening as people get home from work, cook dinner and turn on other electric appliances.  Most generating stations providing on-demand power are typically natural gas powered “peaker plants.” So as electric utilities transition to renewable energy sources, it is necessary to provide a green backup power supply.

What are different ways to store energy?

Energy comes in many forms, and each can be stored in several ways.  

Wood, coal, oil and gas
These familiar fuels store chemical energy that is released when the fuel burns. It combines with oxygen to form, mostly, carbon dioxide and water.  Burning converts the chemical energy into heat, i.e., thermal energy, that we use to heat homes, cook food, heat water, power vehicles, generate electricity and run factories.  They are easy  to store in bunkers, railcars or tanks, and the fluids, oil and gas, can also be distributed in pipes.

Electrochemical Storage
Batteries are the most convenient way to store energy from electricity. 

From the end of the 19th century, the most common battery was lead-acid.  Lead-acid batteries can deliver high electric current during discharge and so are still in use today to start cars and trucks with internal combustion engines.  In  the mid-20th century, they powered vehicles, such as milk-trucks, that travelled short distances with heavy loads.  But lead is one of the heaviest metals, making lead acid batteries unsuitable for long-range transport. Gasoline and diesel were dominant until the recent development of affordable lithium-ion batteries that power today’s electric vehicles (EVs).

When a battery is being charged, current is passed through it and changes the chemical composition of the material at each electrode.  When the charged battery is connected to an external circuit (a motor, a cell phone etc.), it delivers the energy used in charging back into that circuit.  Lithium-ion batteries offer a greater advantage because they are extremely lightweight and can be recharged.

Thermal energy
For centuries, people stored heat by “banking the fire” at night:  blazing evening fires were partially smothered with ashes at bedtime to keep the embers hot, while slowing down combustion overnight.  

Today storage space-heaters and water-heaters do the same thing. In the electrical era, we heat bricks or water overnight when electricity is less expensive and then use the stored heat during the day for hot water or to warm the house.

German and Danish companies are developing thermal storage for utility companies, by heating rocks, bricks, or concrete blocks to well above 1,000 deg. C during the day when solar energy is plentiful. At night, high pressure steam is generated to drive turbines.

Gravitational energy
Gravitational energy is the storage mechanism  used in pumped hydroelectricity.  When excess energy is available, water is pumped uphill from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir.  When electrical demand increases, the water is allowed to flow back downhill through turbines to generate electricity.  

At the O’Neil Forebay at the bottom of the San Luis Dam near Los Banos for example, the lower reservoir is also used to distribute water for other needs such as irrigation.  So, the lack of water availability may limit  electrical generation.  Also, this form of storage needs dams and there are not enough places suitable for building an upper reservoir. 

One solution is to ‘ invert’ the roles of upper and lower reservoirs. That means installing the lower reservoir deep underground, in old mines for example, and  building a shallow upper reservoir on the surface to create a large gravitational “head.”

Hydro plants are expensive. So, a Swiss-based start-up called Energy Vault, has developed a method to store gravitational energy, not with water, but with massive concrete blocks.  The unit uses a six-armed crane to raise and lower the blocks,  recapturing the energy used in raising to turn a generator during lowering.  The cost is much less than a hydro-plant and power can be ramped up in just a few seconds.

Hydrogen
Hydrogen, like oil and gas, can be stored in a container or distributed through pipes. It’s the lightest of all gases and burns in air/oxygen to produce only water.  

Hydrogen is colorless, but it has acquired several colorful labels depending on how it is produced.  Black or brown hydrogen is made from coal of different types and water, and has been used in industrial processes for two hundred years.  Nowadays natural gas and water are used  to produce grey hydrogen, as with coal, carbon dioxide is still a byproduct. If it is captured and stored underground you get blue hydrogen.  An abundant supply of cheap renewable energy makes it economically feasible to produce green hydrogen directly from water by electrolysis; the byproduct is oxygen which can be captured for industrial and medical use or safely released to the atmosphere.  

Ammonia
Ammonia is made by reacting hydrogen and nitrogen in a catalytic converter. Like propane, ammonia is easily liquified and stored under modest pressure. It’s used in many industrial processes such as fertilizer production, but it is also a fuel in its own right, burning under appropriate conditions in air to yield water and nitrogen.  

Both hydrogen and ammonia can also be used in fuel cells to generate electricity and thus to provide backup power for the grid, or to run motors in electric vehicles.  It seems increasingly likely that hydrogen, in some form, will play a major role in long-haul, heavy duty transportation: trucks, trains and shipping.  

Biofuel
Everything that grows under the sun is a potential biofuel, from algae and seaweed to crops and trees.  Even waste foliage from vegetables can be dried and burned.

Biofuels directly harness sunlight via photosynthesis, taking CO2 from the atmosphere.  However, in order to avoid soot and other pollution,  many schemes are being developed to process crops to yield more pure fuels, such as fermenting corn sugar to produce ethanol, or extracting oils from canola or soy.

Microbes and synthetic catalysts are being evaluated to “digest” various types of biomass to make better fuels, -the stretch goal being  jet-fuel.  Ideally,  biofuels will be used in facilities that capture CO2 and store it deep underground or use an industrial process that fixes it in a solid such as concrete. 

The future of our energy supply looks increasingly clean and bright, but we must urgently make full use of these new technologies in order to meet net-zero carbon-dioxide commitments in the coming decades.


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

 

 

Tips to Keep You and Your Family Safe In India

It’s been two years now since the world has been grappling with the novel coronavirus. Yes, the deadly Coronavirus disease of 2019 has trailed well into 2021. Causing global social and economic disruption, devastating millions of people, who are dealing with untimely bereavements, isolation, loss of income. Not to mention the onset of mental health issues. We are at the end of our tether!

Recently, the situation in India has become grim. In a vast country with an immense population, imposing restrictions like social distancing had taken a backseat. And that was a grave mistake.

You may think there isn’t much one can do to improve the situation in the world, but we can surely start by taking small steps to keep ourselves and our homes safe. Charity begins at home! And we all need to walk the talk. We need to change a few rudimentary things in our lifestyle and go back to our wise Indian cultural practices. 

There is no revolution we need to stir, all we need to do is change ourselves. The first thought that strikes us is how changing just ourselves is going to change 100 crore or one billion of us? Not only is it a laudable thought, but I am also convinced it is an achievable one. 

Since this is a difficult time of the pandemic, we will focus only on those lifestyle changes at our level which will make us safer at home.

Namaste greeting 

What do we do when we meet an outsider? A traditional namaste has been replaced by a handshake followed by a clumsy hug or maybe a peck on the cheek. Not to mention which cheek to go for first, creating some comedy-filled moments. Now the world acknowledges the value of folded hands—Namaste—which conveys all your feelings with poise and dignity. We should adopt it not because it symbolizes our civilization, but also because it’s the safest greeting in these difficult times.

Footwear outside

Traditionally, we (including visitors) left our footwear outside the house before entering. This isn’t the case anymore. We wear designer shoes with our designer couture. So, leaving our footwear outside is like being half-dressed. However, on our recent visits abroad, we noticed that it’s quite normal to leave your shoes outside and slip into slippers provided by the host or move about barefoot in a spic and span house. The logic behind being that the members of the family have to clean the house most times, and the parquet flooring doesn’t shine if dust falls on it. This has been picked up by the west from our culture. We should readopt this practice. Patent it perhaps? 

Definitely, during the pandemic, it is essential to keep all invasions of germs, dust, and filth out. In the years gone by, it was customary for guests or any member of the household to wash their hands and feet before entering the house. We must ensure that anyone entering should remove their shoes outside and then either wash/sanitize hands. Seems difficult! You’ll be surprised how easy it will be if you bring it into practice, strictly following the rule yourself first.

Use a spoon when eating snacks

Avoid using hands to eat snacks like bhujia, peanuts, roasted chanas, etc. Use a spoon or serve all the guests in individual bowls. The same goes for serving saunf, elaichi and chooran after a meal. For the same reason, I never take the complimentary sweet saunf that is presented in any eatery after a meal.

Wash hands

Always wash your hands before a meal even if you have not stepped out. Sometimes we unconsciously touch our eyes, mouth, or nose and if there’s an infection lurking about, nip it. This should be strictly followed in every household.

Use cutlery when eating at the dining table

Eating at the table is the norm. Most of us have lost the ability to sit cross-legged on the floor. In certain circles, it’s considered chic to use hands while eating. Which is fine, but let’s not forget that in the olden days we would sit on the floor and eat with our hands, but never touched another vessel other than our own thali, as someone else would serve us.

But now if you are using your hands, you touch the serving spoon to take another helping—in the process, soiling the spoon with your saliva. I feel Indian food like chapattis should also be rolled up and the vegetable or dal should be eaten with a spoon to minimize contact with one’s hands or else after serving yourselves once, the serving dishes should be removed from the table. It may sound rude but all dieticians say that to remain healthy, one must never go for a second helping. And this should be our mantra during these terrible times. 

Are napkins needed?

If we use cutlery, the use of napkins automatically becomes negligible. Westerners often kept the napkin as an adornment, hardly touching it to their mouth after a meal and almost never leaving a stain on it. Our Indian way of eating soils cloth napkins, rendering them useless for further use especially if they are light-colored. 

Some curry marks are difficult to obliterate. During the pandemic, one should use disposable paper napkins if required and completely withdraw the cloth ones. It has become a norm to keep a paper napkin along with a cloth one. Table etiquette demands that you do not even touch the starched white napkin. Use the disposable one leaving the cloth one unsoiled. During this time of infection, showing off table layout is not as important as keeping oneself safe, so do away with cloth napkins.

Limit the numbers you entertain 

Do not entertain more than 4-6 people (depending on the size of your living area) inside your house. As far as possible, entertain in the open—your lawn or balcony—but if indoors, ensure that at least everyone is seated 4-6 feet apart. Invariably, we maintain good social distance practices, and please forgo the photo! To fit everyone in one frame, we break the rule and invariably this is the time we talk/laugh the most in close proximity. A picture on Facebook is avoidable at this stage.

Abide and don’t complain

A lot of exploration and analysis goes into the matter before certain restrictions are imposed. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Abide. It is easy to protest or grumble. Do it only if you have something constructive to contribute. Wear a mask if required, a double mask if needed. Wear it the way it is meant to be worn, covering your nose and mouth. Don’t just wear it on your chin. You are not doing a favor to the authorities but a service to yourself and your self-preservation. 

After receiving the first shot of the vaccine, people thought they had won the battle and defeated the virus. Even after repeated announcements by health officials appealing to people to not drop their guard, you could see bazaars full of people, liquor shops overflowing with masses, large wedding celebrations, religious and political gatherings. The result was the surge of the second spike of Covid, far more dangerous than the first one.

Sneeze in your sleeve

Make small changes in your everyday habits, like sneezing into your sleeve.

Open doors with care

Open doors with your elbow, or while holding a sanitizer tissue or regular tissue.

Care in elevators

Carry toothpicks or tissues to press elevator buttons. These do not require a lot of space and can be easily disposed of, after use. 

Poonam Kirpal practicing prayanam in her home (Image provided by Author)
Poonam Kirpal practicing prayanam in her home (Image provided by Author)

Practice healthy habits

Starting the day with Prayanam or breathing exercises, some stretching, yoga or a brisk walk keeps you rejuvenated for the whole day. Pushing them off for later in the day can sometimes make it difficult to get to. Best to get done with them in the morning when you have more control over your time. These practices, especially yoga which originated in India 5,000 years ago, is becoming a la mode in the western world. 

A full night’s sleep is a must for a healthy body

In the days gone by, we rose with the twittering of the birds and retired at dusk like them. Several studies attribute issues like the risk of a recurrent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, leading to serious health issues including death to lack of sleep. During the pandemic, a lot of us were forced back into this tradition not out of choice but for the lack of opportunity to stay awake. With all theatres, restaurants, nightclubs, discos, pubs, and casinos shut, it was enforced confinement.

Once you get a good night’s sleep, you feel rested and calm in the day. It becomes addictive and besides your beauty sleep will keep your dark circles, puffy eyes, and headaches at bay. Soon you’ll be a slave to this miracle health mantra. Besides, it keeps stress levels low, thereby keeping immunity high. Something that’s a need of the hour these days!

Consume a lot of water

I remember as children gulping gallons and gallons of liquids, especially in the summer. There was always whey water (lassi), nimbu pani, bhel juice, aam panna, jal jeera and many colored drinks like kewra (yellow), khuskhus (green), rose (red), all made at home and roohafza, which we had with water or milk. Even if one had one drink of each, our daily hydration requirement was met. 

Over the years, these natural flavors got replaced by fizzy soda drinks like Coke and Pepsi, which have their own set of adverse effects on health. They were almost addictive and took over the entire beverage industry. Also, with the excessive use of air conditioning and intolerance of heat, people tend to stay indoors and the need for hydration reduces considerably. Just drinking water when the body doesn’t seem to need it seems silly and actually one forgets to drink water. It happens to me often and my kids keep reminding me to drink water.

Water plays a very important role in our body. It takes nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes bacteria from our bladder, aids in digestion, prevents constipation, normalizes blood pressure, and protects our joints and tissues. So many virtues by merely drinking a 5-6 glasses of water! Just worth it. Make it a habit, and in no time, your body will start demanding water.

Eat right to build immunity

Indian cuisine is possibly among the most nutritious and balanced. Every meal of dal, sabzi, rice/chapatti, curd, and green salad takes care of our nutritional needs like proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. Masalas and herbs like turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, carom (ajwain), mustard, asafoetida (hing) and use of ginger, coriander, green chilli, tomato, garlic, onion and desi ghee that go into preparing our normal everyday food add not only a lot of flavor but also boost immunity thanks to each spice’s medicinal value. Having said this, it’s always nice to experiment with something different every now and then. 

Eating out/ordering food at home should not be a norm but a diversion. Eat healthy, remain healthy. The fast food/junk food culture that we have adopted from the west makes life easy but sooner or later we will pay a price for it. 

See symptoms and act fast!

If you experience even bourgeoning Covid symptoms, do something about it immediately. Isolate and get tested. If you test positive, announce it in your community. There are people who can help if you share your predicament. Take active steps to deal with the situation. To protect yourself and your loved ones, maintain an uncompromising quarantine for 14 days. Put in all your energies to overcome your situation by doing the right things. Exercise to keep the oxygen level high and take paracetamol for keeping the temperature in control. If anything goes out of control, consult a doctor for further action. 

Watch your nutrition

Always, but especially during this time, take nourishing food. Often your sense of taste and smell is compromised thanks to the virus. As a result, food is unappetizing. This should not be an excuse not to eat. Do eat enough food to build immunity and get energy for the body to fight the virus.

Become as self-reliant as can be

I contacted the virus and was isolated for a fortnight. During this time, I was washing my own utensils, cleaning my bathroom, and washing my own clothes. After the first couple of days, I used to look forward to this monotonous routine. I realized my bathroom looked cleaner than before and my clothes washed by me had a sparkle that was previously missing. The whites looked whiter and the colored clothes got their gleam back. 

In those 15 days, I wanted to run through my entire wardrobe to bring back the luster into my drab clothes. It’s very easy to slip back into the complacency of throwing all the clothes into the washing machine or ignoring a few lapses in cleanliness. But I resolved to look into some matters actively and taking action personally once my quarantine was over. It gives you a feeling of empowerment and self-reliance. 

Ignore vaccine-related rumors

We have waited for the vaccine for a year, so why the vaccine hesitancy? Hearsay is misleading. Believe in scientists who provide research and scientific proofs in front of you. If required, certainly go for medication or any other medical intervention. But don’t solely rely on home remedies. 

Stay occupied

It is very important to keep yourself suitably occupied instead of only watching the news that can be misleading and anxiety-inducing. However, keep yourself updated on the current scenario through authentic news. You can divide your time doing things you enjoy. Read, catch a film on Netflix, hear music, meditate, or pursue spiritual/religious activities if it gives you peace. You can also get crafty – tatting, knitting, crochet, painting, writing or embroidering, have their therapeutic merits. 

Verify social media news

It’s critical to verify the news that you circulate within your friend’s circle via WhatsApp or any other media to avoid the spread of misinformation and falling prey to it.

Wash away!

Besides following a routine of washing personal effects, it should be a norm for everyone irrespective of whether you have contracted the virus or not to always wash your mask or handkerchief oneself. Mask sanitation should be personalized. Even children should be encouraged to do that.

Wear a mask all the time

Mask wearing at all times, even at home when you are together should be followed. Wear a double mask when stepping out of the house. 

Self-groom

Learn to groom yourself instead of depending on beauty salons for pedicures, manicures, massages, threading, head massages, facials, and haircuts.

Spend less time with gadgets & electronics

Instead nurture family bonds, revel in the sounds and beauty of nature around us. During this pandemic, a lot of people have lost their dear ones. One hopes one had spent better time with them. Don’t miss this opportunity to re-establish these bonds. Over the last year, a lot of people have posted pictures of their gardens, blossoms on trees, and the changing skies. I personally enjoy the sunrises and sunsets a lot more than ever before.

Model!

Instill a sense of discipline in your children and other family members by becoming a role model.

With that said. In a strange way, perhaps the pandemic came to heal the world and its people living on the planet through harsh but valuable lessons. Human beings have plundered the earth, abused nature, oppressed our natural resources, victimized wild and marine life, and overburdened the atmosphere with toxic pollutants. The losses that we have incurred are difficult to obliterate, the lessons we have learned are difficult to ignore. The values that we overlooked need to be reinstated. Let it be a lesson for a lifetime, and not disregard it once the crisis is over.

Let us be the change we want to see.


Poonam Kirpal is a Post Graduate in Child Development from Delhi University.  A freelance counselor, she has three books to her credit: ‘Fast Forward’, ‘Saccharine and a Lot of Spice’, ‘Amma’ and ‘Ma + Ma = Grandma’. You can read her blog at www.midlifeuphoria.blogspot.in


 

‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Immigrant Essential Workers’ Says Sen. Alex Padilla

When Sen. Alex Padilla took the California Senate seat left by V.P. Kamala Harris, the American immigrant story achieved two remarkable milestones.

Harris’ election to the vice presidency marked the unprecedented ascendancy of the first woman, Black and Asian, to a top political office, while Padilla became the first ever Latino to represent California in the United States senate.  After twenty seven years of fighting for immigrant rights, Alex Padilla is finally in a position to achieve the immigration reforms he has long pursued.

Senator Alex Padilla, CA

Padilla now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee and will have jurisdiction over key immigration issues.

In his new role Padilla has promised to restore humanity, dignity and respect to the immigration process, a commitment reflected in the new title he’s given to the immigration subcommittee. It will now be known as the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety.

At an ethnic media briefing on April 16th, Padilla was proud to announce ‘The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act‘ – the first bill he has introduced as a United States Senator to honor “immigrant essential workers with action”.

Padilla’s focus on immigration reform begins with a proposal to deliver a pathway to citizenship to frontline workers – a ‘long-overdue recognition’ that ‘they have earned, and they deserve.’

He described the Bill as legislation that “urges a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in critical infrastructure sectors such as health care, agriculture, construction, food, energy, emergency response, and care-giving.”

Padilla explained that during the COVID19 pandemic, frontline workers have been critical to keeping the country running and saving American lives, despite the risk of COVID19 to their health and that of their families. “They continue to show up to work every day.”

Essential workers put food on our tables, take care of our loved ones, clean the hospitals, restaurants, and offices. They ensure “that communities stay healthy, and that the economy continue to move,” added Padilla.

To him, COVID Relief not only means addressing the health impact of the pandemic. It also means rebuilding and stimulating an economic recovery that is “much more inclusive.”

Padilla’s home state of California has the highest concentration of immigrants (11 million) of any state in the US, but Padilla sees CA’s diversity “as a tremendous strength” and, that “the entire nation stands to benefit from thoughtful immigration reform.”

Immigration reform had stalled for decades, until the Trump administration declared war on immigrants with a slew of restrictive policies – setting limits on legal immigration and family-based immigration, building border walls, and enforcing child separation. Now immigration reform is also tasked with overturning the anti-immigration directives from the Trump era.

Padilla believes the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act will mark a ‘rather pivotal moment in the nation’s history’ when it’s in the best interest of the country to rebuild from the economic impact of the pandemic.

He reiterated his commitment to “bringing the urgency to immigration reform that this moment demands and millions of hard working immigrants have earned. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration policies and to respectfully uphold America’s legacy as a nation of immigrants.”

“The Bill will help boost our economic recovery and will benefit communities across the country.”

The vast majority of current and future workforce growth will be met by immigrants and the children of immigrants, said Padilla. He referred to a 2016 study by the Center for American Progress which found that undocumented workers contribute $4.7 trillion to the United States GDP, while undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in state and local taxes, and $12 billion in social security revenue every year.

Given their financial contributions,  “We can no longer ignore the 11 million plus people who have been living…’in the shadows’ in this country but working and paying taxes and contributing,” added Padilla.

They have earned their right to citizenship through their service and sacrifice, said Padilla, who together with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), sent a letter to President Biden, urging the inclusion of the Bill in next infrastructure package.

Padilla was optimistic about helping President Biden move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform package to congress and ‘making significant progress.”

“It is personal for me,” he said, drawing parallels between his immigrant parents and the service of essential workers. “These workers – they remind me of my own parents who worked jobs considered ‘essential today.”

A ‘proud son of immigrants,’ Padilla grew up in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where his parents raised three children in whom they instilled strong values of service to others, in their pursuit of the American dream.

Padilla came to public service following the example of his Mexican immigrant parents.

“It was through their activism and community organizing that in many ways led me to public service”, he remarked, describing how his family worked with neighbors to curb violence in heir neighborhood.

Padilla paid tribute to his parents – for 40 years  his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses. Their inspiring ‘journey and life experience’ is the backstory to Padilla’s fight for immigration rights from his time on Los Angeles City Council through to the California Senate and his  2015election  as secretary of state

“I firmly believe that we can’t simply rely on hardworking people to keep our nation afloat and keep our communities safe in times of  crisis and then turn our backs on them as soon as the pandemic is over. That would just be wrong.”

“I believe its time need to honor them and their work and their service with more than just our words”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Photo by Arron Choi on Unsplash

India's External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar

From Survival to Revival: Does India Have A Plan?

The world is watching India as it battles a debilitating second wave of Covid-19. How did the pandemic turn the tables on India? How did India go overnight from exporting vaccines to importing them? How will this lethal second wave affect India’s economic growth? What about the status of India’s relations with China? And what is the future for UK India relations following the recent Virtual Summit between Prime Ministers Modi and Boris Johnson?

These were just some of the burning questions that attendees from all over the world posted into the chatbox as India Inc. hosted another high-profile edition of its Global Dialogue Series with Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister.

In an exclusive and candid, hour-long discussion with our Chairman & CEO, Manoj Ladwa, Dr. Jaishankar tackled the tough questions facing India and the world today.

Here are some of the key take-aways:

  • On India’s Covid-19 crisis, Dr. Jaishankar stated, “That with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say we shouldn’t have allowed gatherings of any kind. But there are times when we need to pull up our socks and put the blame game aside.”
  • The Foreign Minister also praised India’s vaccine production, hailing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as a “truly international collaboration”.
  • Dr. Jaishankar admitted that the pandemic had laid bare serious shortcomings in India’s healthcare infrastructure while arguing that it had been under-invested for over 75 years. “This was one of the key reasons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi propagating the Ayushman Bharat initiative,” he countered.
  • India’s Vaccine Maitri program which garnered global recognition and praise has now come in for sharp criticism. Dr. Jaishankar, however, pointed out that “this step of friendship and goodwill from India has now manifested into global solidarity towards it, in its hour of need.”
  • On China, the Minister stated that he was open towards finding a resolution but cautioned that there must be de-escalation at the border. “We can’t have bloodshed on the border and expect good relations in other domains,” he said firmly.
  • The Minister also emphasized the need for more manufacturing security in India, both economically and as part of health security, calling Atmanirbhar Bharat a part of “national security.”
  • On India UK ties, Dr. Jaishankar commented that the “two countries are at an ‘inflection point’ in their relations.”
  • Movement of people has always been one of the core features in the India UK relationship. Towards this, the Minister highlighted the agreement he signed yesterday with the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel that “would encourage more Indian talent to come to the UK and make visa processes easier.”


Manoj Ladwa is the Founder & CEO of India Inc. Group.


 

I Walk With My ForeMothers When I Wear My Streedhan

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience

On Mother’s Day, as on all others, I was thinking of my mother and grandmother. Even though they are no more, they are very much present in my everyday life. This is partly thanks to the gold jewelry—a chain, a pair of small earrings, and bangles—that they bequeathed to me. These items matter to me not because of their (modest) monetary value but because of what they signify.

In Marathi, streedhan means “woman’s wealth” (stree=woman, dhan=wealth). The term means “woman’s capital” and, traditionally, it was endowed upon the bride at the time of her wedding. It was comprised of gold and jewelry, household items, and cash. This was the contribution that her birth family made towards helping her get settled in life. Sometimes, the groom’s family also made a contribution towards the streedhan.

This was a way to provide capital that would serve as insurance or investment. If the marriage did not last—early death of the husband was common—the helpless widow would not be entirely at the mercy of fate or her in-laws. Uneducated and unable to earn a living, she could sell the jewelry to pay for her children’s educations, or to buy a small home of her own.

I wear my gold chain, hoops, and bangles all the time—despite the fact that the pieces don’t match my American outfits. Over the decades lived in this adopted land, I have changed about as much as I want to, especially regarding attire. On the few occasions that I bow to the dictates of fashion and take these items of jewelry off, I sense emptiness. My wrists feel manly, my neck seems bare, and my face—unframed by two little hoops—looks as if it is sickly or in mourning. And so, I avoid taking them off; on the few occasions I do, I put them back on at the earliest opportunity.

I walk in this world with my foremothers holding my hand in the form of the jewelry that they wore throughout their lives.

Indian bride

But the chain, hoops, and bangles are not my literal streedhan. My womanly capital is my education. It is what makes me a critical thinker and a lifelong learner. It gives me self-confidence as well as emotional independence. My mother (and father) and grandmother (and grandfather) invested as much thought and energy into making this streedhan available to me as previous generations of parents might have to gather the gold that they bestowed on their young, about-to-be-married daughters. Having witnessed or suffered the havoc that resulted when women were un-empowered, my elders were determined to change course.

Despite my being female, I was excused from doing chores like cooking and cleaning. My elders set expectations of high educational achievement and applauded me when I achieved my potential. So convinced were they about the rightness of this that they did not allow themselves to worry about the consequences such as the challenge of balancing work and family. That would be my battle to fight—using the capacities with which I was being equipped.

They conveyed the reason for the focus on education in clear-eyed and empowering terms. Yes, it was so that I would be spared the hardships and indignities that women of earlier generations had suffered. But, with discipline, determination, and their encouragement it was achievable. All that mattered was making me the most empowered person I could be.

So, the streedhan that I will hand down to my children will be the jewelry that symbolizes a way of being in this world—the courage and sacrifices of our ancestors over outdated and crippling customs; their commitment to nurturing the children and to seek to flourish through unsparing hard work.

Last year I moved 3,000 miles—from the east coast to the East Bay. The pull was my deep desire to be present to my infant grandson. The push was the pandemic which made travel impossible for the foreseeable future.

As he awakens into consciousness and learns about the world around him, sundry items catch his eye. He tugs at my gold bangles and when I hand them to him, he touches and, invariably, puts them in his mouth. Sometimes I twirl them on the floor and they spin like dervishes. He watches enthralled.

The bangles that were worn by my mother and by her mother before her have become the beloved toys of their great-grandson/great-great-grandson. The distance—across five (!) generations and multiple continents—is being bridged through an outdated but repurposed tradition.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor. 

Image Tehzeeb Kazami Pixabay


 

Boom of E-commerce in India is a Postnatal Stage of American Booming

There are multiple reasons for the apparent e-commerce boom occurring worldwide. The rise in the use of mobile devices is effectively the biggest enabler. Buying and selling online is more flexible and passive, while secure payments add to the protection consumers expect. 

Since e-commerce became an indispensable part of the global retail structure, digitization has only helped in a substantial increase in its functioning. In 2019, an estimated 1.92 billion people used online portals for a combined e-retail sale of over $3.5 trillion worldwide. This number is steadily rising each year as more and more consumers embrace the digital movement. 

Speaking as an entrepreneur, there are multiple problems circulating the ecosystem which has significantly reduced the effectiveness and adoption of e-commerce in India. However, this poses the question of how, instead of when. 

As flexible businesses can readily adapt to technological changes, the same flexibility might not be easily seen in the consumers. A mutual transformation is necessary for e-commerce to be truly beneficial for all parties involved. For example, effectively adopting digitization for both parties is a must. For businesses, switching to more potent trends that boost customer satisfaction and allows greater reach and flexibility is the way forward. 

Unfortunately, the Indian consumer has been relatively slow in adapting to fundamental technological changes. This has a direct effect on businesses that find it difficult to engage and reach the otherwise huge consumer population in the country. 

Steadily, changing trends and mindsets have given rise to an industry that could reach its true potential in a short amount of time. However, as an essential segment of the global e-commerce ecosystem, India needs to step up and play the part it should in global business and become a beacon for other advancing countries to follow suit. 

The E-Commerce Boom in India

E-commerce in India has seen a massive rise in the past decade. This can be attributed majorly to the explosion in internet usage and in smartphone availability. Driven by the “Digital India” program, enhanced connectivity has allowed the Indian consumer to reach online retailers with ease. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought heightened levels of uncertainty which served in the accelerated adoption of digital and its practices. India is set to become a promising digital economy with its rapidly increasing consumer count and subsequent consumption, data affordability, newer products, and better financial prospects. 

According to Statista, the $84 billion industry is set to grow further and reach $200 billion by 2027. However, even as the fourth largest retail market in the world, Indian e-commerce is still largely unorganized. Comparing it to the US market, e-commerce there makes a total of $407 billion currently, which is expected to rise to $476 billion by 2027.

There are multiple reasons why India might seem to lag behind bigger economies, especially when it comes to the e-commerce sector. Absence, and downright neglect to use advanced technologies, and a reluctant consumer mindset offers obstructions when it comes to creating an accessible digital landscape. 

One of the major issues with adapting digital trends is the hesitation consumers feel while shopping online. Traditional shopping might seem more “secure”, while online shopping is still considered high-risk. 

However, increasing internet access and the ease of digital payments have brought the country to the cusp of transformation, while the widespread acceptance of digital has added to the overall growth of the e-commerce sector. With changing demographics and alterations in policies, India has presented a unique potential in growing within the landscape. Gathering significant momentum, the Indian e-commerce boom is leaving its cocoon phase.

E-commerce Challenges in India when compared to the United States.

The e-commerce market in the United States consists of established firms like Amazon and Walmart. Whereas Indian sites are still in competition for a good-enough chunk of the market. Since diversity amongst customers leads to diversity in demand, the emergence of a single company that caters to everyone might be a difficult proposition.

As more and more consumers join the changing trends, the need for e-commerce platforms that can potentially uphold their side of the bargain and allow customers to easily make the switch from physical to digital could help the Indian e-commerce industry see a huge rise. Sales during festive seasons have already displayed the potency of the Indian consumer market. However, this temporary boom during certain times of the year needs to be made permanent to allow the Indian e-commerce businesses to foster and grow out globally. 

Comparing e-commerce in the United States and the state of digitization in India, we can deduce that customer mindset plays an important role in the trends that play out. Since digitization is relatively new to the Indian consumer, finding the right technologies and businesses to rely on is not an easy task. The huge discrepancy in online sales in the US market as compared to India is noticeable and does not effectively make sense as a bigger population should result in a bigger consumer market. 

This can be attributed to the tendencies of customers to readily embrace digital. Whereas in India, the average consumer is still trapped by a lack of resources and the correct mindset to adopt digital. This, however, is changing rapidly and tier 2 and tier 3 cities in India have already started showing their potential as prospective customers of the digital age. 

When we talk about consumers, the role of tier 2 and tier 3 cities have become apparent. In the Indian e-commerce ecosystem, tier 2 and tier 3 cities have shown the maximum growth potential, even outpacing tier 1 cities. This could be attributed to multiple factors. The adoption of social e-commerce, better delivery times, availability of local products, and the rising digitization of the population have allowed businesses to gain a competitive edge in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. The Direct-to-Consumer or D2C approach has also provided an effective backdrop in allowing customers to develop a stronger connection to the brands as well. 

Talking about the growth of the e-commerce sector in India, there are still various challenges being faced on either end. Customer mindset, reachability, poor logistics, and supply chain practices are causing the wagon wheel to slow down. High cash on delivery orders also increases fraudulent transactions and leaves the sellers vulnerable to losses. 

While bigger, more advanced economies are stepping in to solve these issues, Indian businesses continue degrading practices to get those conversions. A nationwide reform is incredibly necessary to allow businesses to stay afloat while allowing customers to change with the tide. 

There are plenty of changes that are coming to the industry. However, trailing behind developed nations in terms of policies and operations might not prove to be the best for either businesses or consumers. 

The United States ranks as the second largest e-commerce market in the world. Despite appearing highly established, online shopping in the US only accounts for 8.9% of overall retail sales. While the Indian online market only accounts for 4% of total retail sales. Compare this to China’s economy, and it is valued at $1.15 trillion and accounts for 23.1% of all retail sales. 

While the total population of the United States is far less than India’s, internet penetration is far greater. Internet penetration in the US is at a strong 89%, around 290 million people, which allows consumers to actively surf the web for their shopping requirements. Meanwhile in India, only 34.4% of the population, around 450 million people, have access to high-speed internet, one of the primary reasons why the Indian consumer has not been familiarized with online shopping. 

How E-Commerce in India is Developing

The Indian online sector fails to match the growth of e-commerce in larger markets like China and the United States. Despite that, development has been rampant and as businesses and customers rebound from the effects of COVID-19, a rise in customers making use of online services has been acknowledged.

The growth of e-commerce in India will be inclusive – one that empowers both sellers as well as buyers. For the consumers, e-commerce will provide convenient access to a wide variety of products at transparent prices, and for sellers, it will provide easy access to a large customer base.

Indian e-commerce businesses have started venturing into multiple avenues to provide a more unique customer experience. Social commerce is on the rise with easy product discovery options and more customers relying on information from peers and communities. Video content has also provided businesses with a strategy to help allow customers to make a favorable buying decision.

Influencer marketing has seen a significant rise and has allowed new businesses to reach a huge population without getting tangled in traditional marketing trends. Engagement sees a high rise when it comes to influencer marketing while costing only a fraction of the actual cost of reaching such a big portion of consumers. 

Technology-enabled innovations like hyper-local logistics, digital payments, analytics-driven customer engagement, virtually assisted shopping, warehouse robotics, etc. will also propel the growth of the sector and take its Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) to $100-120 billion by 2025.

As Amazon launches its Amazon Smbhav program, its role in boosting the credibility of Atmanirbhar Bharat has allowed smaller businesses to unlock the potential in the e-commerce landscape. Amazon seeks to invest an incremental $1 Billion to digitize MSMEs to help them reach a significant part of the Indian consumer market. This initiative not only helps businesses but in turn increases Indian exports and brings additional jobs to the country. 

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, had this to say, “I predict the 21st century is going to be the Indian century” 

As India gets ready to leave an everlasting mark on the global business of e-commerce, a large ecosystem of startups and small businesses has already started innovating and accelerating India’s growth towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat. Amazon is looking to help these businesses reach their true potential by allowing them to scale their businesses by leveraging digitization and technology. 

Similarly, the initiative Spotlight North East is designed to boost the local economy, create new jobs, and help accelerate the growth and empowerment of women and the tribal communities across the North-East region of India. The program is set to benefit the artisans, weavers, and local businesses by helping them land the digital age and enabling them access to technology and consumers. 

Conclusion

We know that factors like higher income levels, better communication platforms, more smartphones, and intentional digitization has allowed e-commerce to prosper. However, the apparent e-commerce boom in India had been in the metamorphosis phase for the past decade. The fundamental issues which included low internet availability, disapproval of digitization, and neglect of services due to more trust in traditional marketplaces, have all been curbed with the right intent in place. 

Online platforms are easier, and much more stable than traditional marketplaces. Only now the general consumer is waking up to the fact which is going to allow the industry to witness explosive growth. The Indian e-commerce industry is moving on from its infancy and might be set to take on mega-markets like China and the US. This heightened increase will no doubt pose new threats and complications that would require start-ups and even older businesses to be more agile. If the upcoming venture is well-treated, Indian e-commerce might be set for an extraordinary upsurge. 


Vaibhav Lall is an engineer by education and an entrepreneur by choice. He is the founder of India’s largest online deal discovery platform – Khojdeal. Prior to jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, Vaibhav has experience working with corporate giants like Mindtree and Cognizant as a Digital Marketing Consultant. From consulting Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation to launching a startup, he has deployed astute digital strategies that can impact an organization’s growth curve in various stages.


 

A Twitter plea from journalist, Vinay Srivastava.

COVID Overtakes India: Indian Americans Struggle With How to Support Their Loved Ones

This article is being revised and updated with information & resources. Originally published on April 30, 2021.

The second wave of COVID in India has caused over 18 million people to be affected by the virus, most of whom are currently struggling to get beds in hospitals, or oxygen supply, or sustainable food. 

People have lost lives before they were even given a chance. Thursday, April 29th, an India Currents’ writer’s cousin (a doctor) posted an urgent request for a ventilator with a bed in Jabalpur. A day later, the bed was not needed because the man passed away. He was only 52. 

Indian Americans are far from their families, unable to provide physical support or be with their loved ones at their deathbed.

“I wish I could be with my family and help. It’s horrible having to hear of young sons having to organize the funerals of their fathers,” a reader in the Bay Area reports.

Students in India feel frustrated and hurt with the current situation: “I can’t believe I’m doing assignments and working when people around me are struggling to just stay alive!?” While their siblings, or grandparents, or parents, or friends are hospitalized and struggling, students are preparing for exams or finishing assignments.

At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on the COVID crisis in India, the host of KALW Dispatches, Sandip Roy stated that the anxiety India is facing is quite new and never felt to this extent before: “A friend of mine sent a message saying my wife lost her uncle yesterday in Kanpur and he died at the back of a taxi looking for a bed”. 

He called out the actions (or lack thereof) taken to improve the public healthcare infrastructure, adding that the privileged tend to live in a bubble but COVID has broken that bubble between the privileged and the poor. 

“It is wonderful that the world has been stepping up to help India in need…I would like to think that it is not just for the geopolitical need but also because it is the right thing to do.” 

The global measures, however, do not “excuse” the government from not being more ready for the second wave. 

Studies done by multiple universities are projecting a surge in cases over the next two weeks (May 9-22). 

PRIME MINISTER’S ACTION

In the beginning phases, India was at the forefront of a promising vaccinated future. Prime Minister Modi had even generously donated doses to other countries that needed it. But, this act was met with backlash as Indians pointed out his inadequate response to the pandemic by holding rallies that usually involved large gatherings. People took to Twitter to address the poor governance. Hashtags such as ResignModi trended for hours. 

The government changed its policies, finally understanding the weight of the crisis and reducing the cost of the doses, and pushing to vaccinate those who are 18 and older beginning May 1st. However, the pandemic in India needs global aid and support. 

THE GLOBAL RESPONSE 

Multiple countries like the UK, the USA, Russia, Italy, and Germany have sent oxygen concentrators and various medical supplies to aid the raging pandemic in India. However, the primary requirement to save lives is the vaccine, of which India does not have enough doses. The U.S especially has been heavily criticized for stockpiling vaccines and not using them. Just recently, it was found that the United States is sitting on millions of vaccine doses that are not being pushed for us. Due to backlash, President Joe Biden confirmed that the US would be sending vaccines to India. 

California has also shipped out oxygen supplies to India in response. In a statement regarding the response to the crisis in India, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “Everyone deserves quality medical treatment against this terrible disease, and California will answer the call and provide aid to the people of India who so desperately need it.” 

Sunatya COVID Fundraiser (Image from @ucdsunatya)

College students have set up fundraisers for COVID relief in India through clubs and other organizations. The UC Davis Bharatanatyam dance club Sunatya for example posted an explanation of the crisis in India with links for donation.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Even though we see different media outlets update the number of cases every day, it is important to remember that each case is an individual human, not a statistic on a report. 

In the past week, there has been a flurry of messages on WhatsApp with different people that have been offering home-cooked meals for families. 

Activists in India have been constantly checking various websites and dashboards online that update oxygen, medicine, and bed availability; calling the numbers and verifying the reliability of the supplies. 

Due to the high need for these supplies, the suppliers often almost immediately are exhausted of their resources and end up having no more to offer. One Hyderabadi local, Meghana Kudligi has been continuously doing this for a couple of days and now has steady contacts that get in touch with her in case of an update. She is a student in college, and all her Instagram stories have offered donation links, food availability, medical supplies, oxygen, and beds. This can be done by any of us. Sharing a link, finding a verified donation page, donating money…we aren’t helpless! 

RESOURCES

 

Local Organizations

Multiple Organizations such as Anubhuti, TYCIA, Mazdoor Kitchen, and many many more have set up donation links for medicine, oxygen, and food supplies. 

Compiled resources: bit.ly/MutualAidIndia

More locally verified donation organizations by Meghana Kudligihttps://www.instagram.com/p/COQNpjDA9rI/?igshid=1f7x04yh8nioz

Yuva covid relief resources: https://www.instagram.com/weareyuvaa/guide/covid-relief-resources-pan-india/18074855854262944/?igshid=kjcjq6qi9okf

Indian American Projects Funding COVID Crisis in India

A group of photographers from the Indian Diaspora raising money for India’s Covid Crisis  – 100% of Profits Donated: https://shamiana.darkroom.tech/#

Indiaspora’s campaign for aid to India: https://www.chalogive.org/

Community Partners International (CPI) sending oxygen to India for ventilators:

Deshpande Foundation is collaborating with CPI to have a FedEx plane ready for delivery on May 8, 2021.  It will be loaded up with 3,400 oxygen concentrators and a few more million N-95 masks to balance the load and have it land in Mumbai by May 10th.  TATA Memorial Center will use these units in their own hospitals, as well as dispatch them to other hospitals.  The government of India will not be charging any customs duty.  It costs $1,500 to buy a unit.  Please donate funds to buy one or more units to save lives in India.  You can send the funds to

  • Bank Name: Wells Fargo Bank, NA
  • Bank Address: 2144 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA 94704
  • Account Name: Community Partners International
  • Account Number: 6455450715
  • ABA / Routing Number: 121000248
  • Address: 580 California Street, 16th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Tax ID 94-3375666

Rotary Club of Silicon Valley for Global Impact:

This campaign is a plea to raise funds to procure Oxygen Concentrators in larger quantities to meet the huge demand and help millions impacted. With the supply chain in place, the IAHV team can get these machines imported in 4 to 5 days. An Oxygen Concentrator cost is approximately $800 per unit. IAHV may also use these funds for other critical equipment such as Ventilators, Beds, etc., depending on how the situation evolves further.

***

In a time of anger and pain, the hope for better guides us. We can be the change we seek. It is important to remember that while pain and fear are spreading, there are also people on the ground working to deliver resources. Let’s take our emotional energy and invest it in the people doing the work.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

India Currents' Publisher, Vandana Kumar with her mother in India (Image by Vandana Kumar)

Coming Back From India? Follow These Santa Clara County Guidelines

Indian Americans have been traveling to and from India in this time of crisis to spend time with ailing parents and family members. Our Publisher, Vandana Kumar, left San Jose to visit her aging mother in Jamshedpur 3 weeks ago, whom she had not seen in 2 years. Unknowingly, she ended up experiencing peak COVID chaos in India which culminated in a lockdown. Perhaps a bittersweet reminder of why she made the trip in the first place – to spend quality alone time with her mother.

“Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible,” She comments with poignancy in her article about traveling to India in April 2021.

Luckily, Santa Clara County has information and resources to support community members impacted by the crisis. The County offers the following guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the entire community’s health, and provide support and resources to those who have traveled recently.

Although the US government is restricting travel from India as of May 4, 2021, this guidance applies to those who have recently arrived from India and any travelers who are exempt from the travel restriction.

Recommendations for Travelers Arriving from India:

All unvaccinated travelers should immediately quarantine for 10 days:

The County strongly urges unvaccinated travelers returning from India to immediately quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Santa Clara County, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health. Travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms throughout the quarantine period. Visit www.sccstayhome.org to learn more.

The quarantining traveler(s) should remain separate from people they did not travel with, meaning that the arriving traveler(s) should stay in a separate room within a home or stay in a hotel.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in India should quarantine for 10 days:

The recommendation to quarantine applies despite vaccination, given the extremely high rates of COVID-19 and incomplete information about vaccines currently deployed in India.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in the US do not need to quarantine:

For travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three vaccines with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), the recommendation to quarantine does not apply.

All travelers should get a COVID-19 Test 3-5 Days After Arrival in the US:

All arriving travelers should test on day 3, 4, or 5 after arriving in the US, even if vaccinated.

The County offers many options for free testing, including drive-through testing. Visit www.sccfreetest.org to learn more and find a location. Testing does not require insurance.

If a Traveler test positive, they should isolate:

If an arriving traveler tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate to protect others from getting infected. This means that the person who tested positive should stay home, separate themselves from others in the home (i.e., in a separate room), not allow visitors, not use public transportation, and not prepare or serve food for others.

The County offers resources, including motel placements and assistance with food, for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves without help. Visit www.sccstayhome.org  or call (408) 808-7770.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

We Can’t Go Back Once Climate Change Hits A Tipping Point, Warns Climate Reality Activist Bill DeVincenzi

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

What happens when ice caps melt, forests die, the permafrost thaws and microbes multiply?

Climate Reality Activists Bill DeVincenzi and Erin Zimmerman join DesiCollective to clear up some misconceptions  about the pace of climate change. Scientists warn that we are in 6th extinction and that some of these changes are irreversible. Humans only have a ten year window to reverse the chain reaction of ‘feedback loops’ that are escalating the climate change crisis. The world is at a tipping point which can put us over the top to runaway climate change.

 

A Short Primer on Feedback Loops with Bill DeVincenzi & Erin Zimmerman

Climate Reality Leader Bill DeVincenzi

What’s A Feedback Loop?

A feedback loop is defined as a certain set of circumstances that can become self-perpetuating. They are present in everything from machines, and economics, to biological processes. They can be both positive and negative; however, in the case of climate change the consequences would be bad. Very bad.

Why Feedback Loops are Bad

Feedback loops are important to consider when trying to halt the climate crisis. And while entire books can, and have, been written about them, here’s a short primer on why climate action is essential now, and not at some point in the future.

When Earth Loses Its Best Reflector, that’s The Albedo Effect

You wouldn’t think the earth’s reflectively matters but it does. The Albedo effect, or loss of earth’s reflectivity is probably one of the most dangerous, and little known feedback loops. While much of the sunlight that hits the Earth is absorbed, some is reflected into space. You’ve probably experienced the Albedo effect if you have gone skiing or visited the high mountains in the winter. Snow and ice reflect around 85% of the sunlight that hits it and keeps the planet from getting too warm. But the volume of ice around the world has decreased by 75% in the last 40 years. According to scientists, we could lose Arctic sea ice completely by the end of this century. The ocean absorbs about 90% of the sunlight that hits it. So, we are replacing the best reflector, sea ice, with the worst absorber, open ocean. If you add in the loss of snow and ice on land as well, this adds up to approximately 40% loss of reflectivity. More heat absorbed means a warmer planet and results in even more ice melt and the cycle repeats itself.

Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman

Permafrost Melt Releases Methane – It’s Wrapping Earth in a Warm, Toxic Blanket

Thousands of years ago, an icy cover in the North froze billions of tons of biological material to create Permafrost.  When permafrost melts, the biological materials thaw and then decompose, releasing the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane. GHG’s are like a blanket that covers the Earth, keeping it warm. As the blanket gets thicker (more GHG’s), the planet gets warmer. Today, permafrost keeps twice as much CO2 in the ground as there is CO2 in the atmosphere right now. If this CO2 is released, the consequences could be devastating. It’s vicious cycle. As global temperatures rise, the permafrost thaws, which increases greenhouse gasses and more warming. The cycle then repeats itself. The carbon dioxide is bad enough, but the Methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The Jet Stream’s Deadly Loop De Loop

The Jet Stream ironically, is an actual loop of air current. It circles high above the earth around the Northern hemisphere between the colder north and the warmer south. The temperature differential between the two keeps the jet stream in place; however, the temperature in the North is increasing 2 to 3 times as fast as the temperature in the South. This is pushing the jet stream South; the further South it wanders, the more it picks heat from the South to carry North. This reinforces the cycle and causes wild and unpredictable changes in weather, from extreme cold spells in the South (ice storms inTexas!) to hotter days in the Arctic (or 100.4F in Siberia!). Dry areas become drier, and wet places get wetter.

Stand Up to The Folly of Fossil Fuels

As you have probably noticed, all the feedback loops start with fossil fuel emissions. If we reduce fossil fuel emissions, stop deforestation, and re-green the Earth, we can prevent or start to reverse these feedback loops.

Advocate for Climate Action or Elect Leaders Who Will

The single most important thing we can do is elect leaders who will move us in the right direction. We must vote in political leadership that will take on this problem and collaborate with other countries around the world. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on our local legislators to support the administration in the effort.

Regardless, the planet will continue to exist just fine, albeit a lot warmer, like in the time of the dinosaurs. We humans may not exist, nor would many of the species that now exist with us. So, we can sit back and let global warming wipe us out. Or we can act now to save ourselves and our fellow species. We have total control over this.

Let’s make it happen!


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash