Tag Archives: India

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 A traditional namaste has been replaced by a handshake followed by a clumsy hug or maybe a peck on the cheek.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

In Santa Clara County, Nearly 67% Of Residents 16 + Have Had A Vaccine Shot

The Number of Californians With at Least One Covid Vaccine Dose Continues to Rise.

More than 75% of California’s seniors have had at least one dose, which makes epidemiologists hopeful that other age groups will follow suit

Demand for covid vaccines is slowing across most of California, but as traffic at vaccination sites eases, the vaccination rates across the state are showing wide disparities.

In Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, nearly 67% of residents 16 and older have had at least one dose as of Wednesday, compared with about 43% in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles. Statewide, about 58% of eligible residents have received at least one dose.

The differences reflect regional trends in vaccine hesitancy and resistance that researchers have been tracking for months, said Dean Bonner, associate survey director at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank.

In a PPIC survey released Wednesday, only 5% of respondents in the San Francisco Bay Area and 6% of those in Los Angeles said they wouldn’t be getting vaccinated. But that share is 19% in the Inland Empire and 20% in the Central Valley.

“More urban areas might be hitting a wall, but their number of shots given is higher,” said Bonner. “The rural areas might be hitting a wall maybe even before, but their shots given isn’t quite as high.”

Infectious disease experts estimate that anywhere from 50% to 85% of the populationwould need to get vaccinated to put a damper on the spread of the virus. But overall state numbers may mask pockets of unvaccinated Californians, concentrated inland, that will prevent these regions from achieving “herd immunity,” the point at which the unvaccinated are protected by the vaccinated. Epidemiologists worry that the virus may continue to circulate in these communities, threatening everyone.

The regional differences could be attributed, at least in part, to political opposition to the vaccine, said Bonner, as about 22% of Republicans and 17% of independents in the survey said they wouldn’t be getting the vaccine, compared with 3% of Democrats.

But officials and epidemiologists see some encouraging signs that the state has yet to hit a wall of vaccine refusal. “As a strongly blue state, one would expect that California is less likely than red states to hit a relatively low ceiling of vaccination, assuming that the access is good and the messaging is strong,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine.

As of Wednesday, 77% of seniors in California, and 68% of those ages 50 to 64, had received at least one dose of covid vaccine, according to a KHN analysis. These large percentages reflect the early vaccine eligibility of these age groups and are a hopeful sign considering how difficult it was to get a shot in the beginning of the year, said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an assistant professor at the University of California-San Diego specializing in infectious diseases and public health.

“I’m very hopeful that addressing access would pick up at least another 10-15% before we need to really start addressing myths and hesitancy issues,” she said.

The state could see a new jump in vaccinations as workplaces, schools and event organizers begin to require the shots, Wachter said. For example, the University of California and California State University systems announced April 22 that their 1 million-plus students and staff members will be required to get vaccinated against covid once the shots are formally licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, likely to occur this summer.

Still, the red-blue political distinction on vaccination is meaningful within California as well as nationally. Despite depressed vaccine demand across the board, counties that lean conservative have lower rates of vaccinations.

In true-blue Los Angeles, 4.5 million first covid vaccine doses have been administered, meaning that about 55% of eligible Angelenos have gotten at least one shot.

But first-dose appointments at county-run sites were down at least 50% last week, said public health director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday. The county has opened several sites where people can walk in and get vaccinated without an appointment, but these walk-ins don’t make up for all of the unfilled spots.

Last week probably marked the first time the county did not administer 95% of the doses distributed to it, she said.

In San Diego and Orange counties, meanwhile, vaccination appointments are going unfilled or taking days to get booked up.

About 20% of appointments in Orange County started going unclaimed on April 25 and the slack has persisted, said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, deputy health officer.

However, based on survey data from last winter indicating that about 58% of Orange County residents plan to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the county is still expecting more residents to seek out appointments. As of Sunday, about 49% of residents had received at least one dose.

In San Diego, officials expect all appointments to be filled despite the slowdown, said county spokesperson Michael Workman. About 54% of eligible residents had received at least one dose as of Wednesday.

In San Bernardino, the slowdown started in late March, said county spokesperson David Wert. Only 42% of county residents had gotten at least one dose as of Monday.

Across the state, officials are unclear on the extent to which hesitancy or lack of access to a vaccine are responsible for the slowdown.

Campaigns to educate, convince and reach out to people have started to pick up throughout the country, including targeted messaging for conservatives. Ten GOP doctors in Congress recently issued an ad urging their constituents to get vaccinated.

Santa Clara is shifting most county-run sites to enable walk-ins and expanding evening and weekend hours to make it easier for working people to get a shot. San Diego and San Bernardino are also allowing walk-ins.

Other counties are returning unused doses to the state to be redistributed, a bounty from which Los Angeles County has benefited, according to Barbara Ferrer, director of the county public health department. Representatives from Blue Shield and the California Department of Public Health would not say which counties are sending doses back.

California’s good pandemic news, which has enabled counties to reopen many businesses, is one of the challenges to getting less-than-enthusiastic people in for their shots right now, said Wachter of UCSF.

As of Thursday, California has one of the lowest case rates in the U.S. at 31.3 cases per 100,000 and a covid-test positivity rate of 1.3%.

“My hope is that a strong communication campaign, perhaps coupled with some degree of vaccine requirements, will get some people to jump off the fence,” Wachter said.


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

Image: County of Santa Clara Public Health Department

To book your appointment go to https://covid19.sccgov.org/covid-19-vaccine-information

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


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


 

Oxygen Cylinders being sent to India (Image from the Office of Gavin Newsom)

California Governor Gavin Newsom Sends Aid to India

Governor Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that California will send lifesaving oxygen equipment to India as that country faces a devastating and fast-spreading surge of COVID-19 cases.

“When communities across the world need help, California steps up. As we surpass 28 million vaccinations and continue to see the lowest positivity rates in the country, we must meet this moment with compassion by aiding those that are hardest hit by this pandemic,” said Governor Newsom. “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.”

Specifically, California will send the following supplies:

• 275 Oxygen Concentrators. Concentrates the oxygen from a gas supply by selectively removing nitrogen to supply an oxygen-enriched product gas stream. These units are capable of producing 10 liters per minute of oxygen supplied directly to patients via a mask.
• 440 Oxygen Cylinders. These are large metal cylinders designed to store oxygen that are used for both hospital and at-home use.
• 240 Oxygen Regulators. The high-flow oxygen regulators for H tanks are used to adjust and control the rate of oxygen flow. These devices provide for greater efficiency in the rate at which oxygen is delivered to patients.
• 210 Pulse Oximeters. Small sensors generally clipped to the finger, toe or ear lobe that measure the oxygen saturation within an individual’s blood to determine whether they are getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream.
• 1 Deployable Oxygen Concentrator Systems (DOCS). Capable of producing 120 liters per minute of oxygen and is generally used to fill large cylinders.

The distribution of these lifesaving supplies is being coordinated through the U.S. Agency for International Development and will be provided directly to health care providers and front-line workers. India reported nearly 350,000 new cases on Sunday, the largest single-day total of cases ever recorded by a single country. California’s contributions come as part of a wider effort by the United States to fight the spread of COVID-19 in India. On Sunday, the Biden Administration pledged to provide more medical aid to the country, including raw materials for vaccine production, test kits, ventilators, and PPE. The supplies being sent to India are now being tested, packed and prepared for shipment at state warehouse facilities and are expected to be flown out as soon as tomorrow.

California is in a position to distribute these lifesaving supplies because of the early, aggressive actions that Governor Newsom to combat COVID-19, which has resulted in the lowest positivity rates in the entire country and more than 28 million vaccines already having been administered in California. Even while providing these needed supplies to India, California still maintains a robust state stockpile to rapidly respond to any additional outbreaks that may occur within the state. Previously, Governor Newsom loaned ventilators to Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and Delaware and also sent millions of items of PPE to neighboring states along the West Coast.


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.


 

CA Small Business Relief Applications Open April 28 2021

The sixth and final round of the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program opens April 28-May 4, 2021. The program is funded by the State of California and administered by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).

The California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program (the “Program”) provides micro grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to eligible small manufacturers impacted by COVID-19.

The state has designated Lendistry, a CDFI and CDE small business lender, to act as the intermediary for the Program to disburse the grant funds. While application for previous rounds have closed, Round 6 is right around the corner.

The upcoming round of California’s small business COVID relief program is open to new applicants.

Eligible applicants include currently waitlisted small businesses and/or nonprofits not selected in Rounds 1, 2, 3, or 5 who will automatically move into Round 6. They do not need to re-apply.

New applicants that meet eligibility criteria can apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Businesses are eligible based on their annual revenue as documented in their most recent tax return. Owners of multiple businesses, franchises, locations, etc., will be considered for only one grant and are required to apply for the business with the highest revenue.

What criteria must a small business or small nonprofit satisfy to be eligible to receive a grant award?

To be eligible to receive a grant award, a small business or small nonprofit :

1. Must meet the definition of an “eligible small business”. An “eligible small business” means (i) a “small business” (sole proprietor, independent contractor, 1099 work, and or registered “for-profit” business entity (e.g., C-corporation, S-corporation, limited liability company, partnership) that has yearly gross revenue of $2.5 million or less (but at least $1,000 in yearly gross revenue) based on most recently filed tax return) or (ii) a “small nonprofit” (registered 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6) nonprofit entity having yearly gross revenue of $2.5 million or less (but at least $1,000 in yearly gross revenue) based on most recently filed Form 990)

2. Active businesses or nonprofits operating since at least June 1, 2019

3. Businesses must currently be operating or have a clear plan to reopen once the State of California permits re-opening of the business

4. Business must be impacted by COVID-19 and the health and safety restrictions such as business interruptions or business closures incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

5. Business must be able to provide organizing documents including 2019 tax returns or Form 990s, copy of official filing with the California Secretary of State, if applicable, or local municipality for the business such as one of the following: Articles of Incorporation, Certificate of Organization, Fictitious Name of Registration or Government-Issued Business License

6. Business must be able to provide acceptable form of government-issued photo ID

7. Applicants with multiple business entities, franchises, locations, etc. are not eligible for multiple grants and are only allowed to apply once using their eligible small business with the highest revenue.

How will grant recipients be determined? 

Grants will be prioritized, to the extent permissible under state and federal equal protection laws, in accordance with the following criteria:

1. Geographic distribution based on COVID-19 health and safety restrictions following California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and county status and the Regional Stay at Home Order.

2. Industry sectors most impacted by the pandemic, including, but not limited to, those identified as in the North American Industry Classification System codes beginning with:

61 – Educational Services

71 – Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation

72 – Accommodation and Food Services

315 – Apparel Manufacturing

448 – Clothing and Clothing Accessory Stores

451 – Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores

485 – Transit and Ground Passenger Transportation

487 – Scenic and Sightseeing Transportation

512 – Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries

812 – Personal and Laundry Services

5111 – Newspaper, Periodical, Book and Directory Publishers

 

3. Nonprofit mission services most impacted by the pandemic, including, but not limited to, emergency food provisions, emergency housing stability, childcare, and workforce development.

4. Disadvantaged communities tracked by socioeconomic indicators that may include, but are not limited to, low to moderate income, poverty rates, unemployment, educational attainment, and other disadvantageous factors that limit access to capital and other resources.

Grants to eligible nonprofit cultural institutions will be prioritized on documented percentage revenue declines based on a reporting period comparing Q2 and Q3 of 2020 versus Q2 and Q3 of 2019.

Who is ineligible to apply?

1. Businesses without a physical location in California

2. Nonprofit businesses not registered as either a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6)

3. Government entities (other than Native American tribes) or elected official offices

4. Businesses primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities (regardless of whether such entities qualify as a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6))

5. Passive businesses, investment companies and investors who file a Schedule E on their personal tax returns

6. Churches and other religious institutions (regardless of whether such entities qualify as a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6))

7. Financial businesses primarily engaged in the business of lending, such as banks, finance companies and factoring companies

8. Businesses engaged in any activity that is illegal under federal, state or local law

9. Businesses of a prurient sexual nature, including businesses which present live performances of a prurient sexual nature and businesses which derive directly or indirectly more than de minimis gross revenue through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature

10. Businesses engaged in any socially undesirable activity or activity that may be considered predatory in nature such as rent-to-own businesses and check cashing businesses

11. Businesses that restrict patronage for any reason other than capacity

12. Speculative businesses

13. Businesses of which any owner of greater than 10% of the equity interest in it (i) has within the prior three-years been convicted of or had a civil judgment rendered against such owner, or has had commenced any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment), for commission of fraud or a criminal offense in connection with obtaining, attempting to obtain, or performing a public (federal, state or local) transaction or contract under a public transaction; violation of federal or state antitrust or procurement statutes or commission of embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, making false statements, or receiving stolen property, or (ii) is presently indicted for or otherwise criminally or civilly charged by a government entity, (federal, state or local) with commission of any of the offenses enumerated in subparagraph (i) above

14. “Affiliated” companies (as such term is defined in 13 C.F.R. § 121.103)

 

Documentation needed includes: 

1.  Application Certification: Signed certification used to certify your business

2.  Business Financial Information: Most recent tax return filed (2019), Copy of official filing with the California Secretary of State.

3. Government Issued Photo ID such as a Driver’s License or Passport

Lendistry is the sole entity designated as the Intermediary of the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program (the “Program”). This site (careliefgrant.com) and the other websites available on or through this site (the “Designated Sites”) are the only approved websites designated for the administration of the Program. Any other website purporting to administer or otherwise act as an Intermediary in connection with the Program may be fraudulent. As such, you should exercise extreme caution and avoid providing any information (personal or otherwise) in connection with the Program on or through any website other than the Designated Sites. Further, neither Lendistry nor any of its partners will charge any fees to apply for a relief grant under the Program and we recommend that you avoid any third-parties purporting to charge fees for you to apply.

Questions? The program’s call center is open 7am-7pm. 1-888-612-4370

To learn more: https://careliefgrant.com/webinars/


Ritu Marwah is an award winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash