Tag Archives: #injustice

Delhi and San Jose Have the Same Gray Skies

(Featured Image: Delhi, India 2019 Air Pollution (left), San Jose, CA 2020 Air Pollution (right))

Leaving the polluted, smog-filled skies of Delhi, my dad settled for the blue skies and greenery of South San Jose. “I would never live anywhere but California,” he says. 

30 years later, I stare at the smoke-filled skies in San Jose and worry about my parents and their friends. I think about how they should sell their property in light of the wildfires edging closer and closer to their home. A new wave of air pollution and insecurity caused by the climate crisis.

Dr. Anthony LeRoy Westerling, Professor of Management of Complex Systems, UC Merced, who has led climate assessment activities for the state of California, predicted the increasing frequency of wildfires. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 25th, he raised concerns about wildfires becoming a common event within the next 30 years. Santa Clara County, home to a large immigrant population – 39% Asian and 49% minority communities – is facing serious risks.

The loss of a home is the loss of the only generational wealth accumulated in this country and the dream of a better life for immigrant populations. I know it to be true for my quintessential Indian-American Family. If displaced, relocation is not simple. The security of a familial network does not necessarily exist and with COVID lurking, shelters are limited. 

The loss of wealth is layered when addressing air pollution. Proper healthcare for the adverse effects of the climate crisis becomes a necessity, but is it accessible and does it account for race?

My mom coughs and shuffles around the house, tired of being stuck at home. She hasn’t left the house in 2 weeks because of her Asthma, a condition that only took hold after years in America. Since COVID began, she hasn’t gotten the care required for her severe Asthma and has to be particularly cautious. Her quality of life has declined and I don’t want this for her long term. But she is not alone.

Communities of color are disproportionately affected by the double punch combo of health inequity and climate injustice reminds Dr. Robert Bullard, Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University. In a study done by the EPA in 2018, it was found that communities of color and, black communities specifically, were exposed to 1.5 times more air particulate matter and its accompanying burden than its counterpart white communities. Adults and children from these sectors were 5-10 times more likely to develop Asthma and potentially lose their life to it.  

“All communities are not created equal,” advocates Dr. Bullard, giving context to the policies that created the disparity. People of color are more likely to live in cities that are in violation of the Clean Air Act. Years of racial redlining and urban heat centers expose minority communities to a worse standard of living. The climate crisis will continue to grow the wealth gap due to governmental organizations like FEMA, that use cost-benefit analysis to allocate resources after a crisis. 

Air pollution and its relationship to health equity and economic stratification is a global phenomenon. I am reminded of that when I think of Delhi’s greying atmosphere. Air pollution so thick, sunlight can’t penetrate it. Hindustan Times reports in 2017 that chronic respiratory illness is one of the leading causes of death in India. It is a cause for concern when I see those same skies in San Jose, California. Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Rajendra Shende emphatically states, “The poor are the first line victims.” This statement has a resounding message that connects environmental injustice and inequity.

Dr. Bullard and Dr. Shende both confront the powers which create policies – people with influence and wealth. Those same people shirk their responsibility and tax those with fewer means. As the former director of the United Nations Environmental Program, Dr. Shenda is passionate about the concept of common but differentiated responsibility. “Those who consumed the most and polluted should pay for those who did not consume and did not pollute,” he says. 

In California, the Cap and Trade program is working to lower carbon emissions and places the burden on the companies that rely on carbon. As recently as September 24th, Gavin Newson set the goal to ban all gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Yet, none of these are effective without global consent. Much like when the Montreal Act worked to lower Ozone layer depletion effectively, saving Delhi and San Jose is a collective effort. A developed nation and a developing nation are in the same conundrum. Environmental injustice is within communities and across countries.

Eventually, my dad in San Jose breathes the same air as his brother in Delhi…

Rely on science and vote comprehensively!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant 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.

Featured Image of Delhi can be found here and license here.

Featured Image of San Jose shot by Jamie Shin. 

A Union of Sikh, Japanese, and Mexican Americans

Mainstream South Asian American diasporic fiction focuses mostly on the post-1965 generation of immigrants, beneficiaries of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished national origins quota and facilitated the arrival of highly skilled workers from India and other Asian countries to help the U.S.

Yet the history of immigration from India, China, and Japan to the U.S goes back much further to the early years of the twentieth century, at least, when many Indians, particularly Sikhs from the state of Punjab arrived in California to work in the logging and farming industries. Although historians like Karen Leonard and Ronald Takaki among others have documented this early history of Asian immigration, very few fiction writers have tapped into this rich history for their fictional explorations. Rishi Reddi breaks new ground by undertaking this ambitious project in Passage West.

The novel follows a group of Sikh men, particularly two friends Ram and Karak from 1914 to 1974. The novel begins with the death of Karak and Ram’s preparation of a eulogy which provides a narrative flashback into the life of his friend. The early part of the novel sets up the geographical landscape of Imperial Valley, California, where the two friends find themselves after stints in the British army, time in Hong Kong, and a brief experience in the logging industry in Oregon, for Ram.

Readers are gradually introduced to tumultuous events sweeping through the world, the growing farming community in the Imperial Valley consisting of Sikh and Japanese farmers, the restrictions to land ownership and citizenship rights, the inability for Sikh farmworkers to bring their families with them leading to the growth of bachelor communities, the growing racial hostility, and violence against Asians in the U.S, expressing itself in infamous incidents like Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship that carried passengers who were British subjects from India and who were denied landing rights in Vancouver, Canada, which was also a British colony and were forced to return to India.

Sikhs on board the “Komogata Maru” in English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 1914

We also notice the growth of revolutionary politics with the rising influence of the Ghadhar Party, which consisted of expatriate Indians who raised funds to support armed anti-colonial resistance against the British, going so far as to support Germany during World War 1. 

The emotional core of the novel resides in the compelling description of two forbidden love stories. Both Karak and Ram develop relationships with Mexican women who they meet in the farming community. In spite of the anti-miscegenation laws, religious and linguistic differences, Karak marries Rosa and starts a new family and life with her. Ram, on the other hand, is attracted to Rosa’s cousin Adela but feels torn by his loyalty to his wife, Padma, and the son born out of their brief union. Ram and Padma at the beginning of the novel are deeply in love with each other, but as vagaries of their lives and the cruel immigration laws unfold, their ties gradually attenuate.

The racist immigration system is rendered most visible in their harrowing separation. At a more public level, we see the passage of Alien Land laws that restrict land ownership by non-white races, forcing many farmers to become internal refugees looking for land in other states or underpaid employees of farming corporations.  Even more poignant is the depiction of Sikh and Japanese soldiers joining the U.S. Army in the First World War, being lured to this task by the promise of citizenship. Yet, in spite of their service, they are denied recognition and dignity for their brave service.  Reddi provides us glimpses of the losses faced in the trench warfare as well as the deadly attack of the Spanish influenza of 1918 which claims the life of Amarjeet’s best friend, the Japanese American Harry Moriyama.

The most brutal rendition of racism is offered in Reddi’s depiction of the sustained attempts by agricultural corporations to exploit the Sikh farmers, not having the right of land ownership, by cheating them of their harvests. This results in the climactic episode in the novel which leads to a murder, the near lynching of a Sikh man, and the long-term effects of this traumatic event in Ram’s ability to return to India.

Reddi’s novel is the product of sustained archival research. She has conducted interviews with descendants of Sikh Mexican families, as well as historical research on the harassment, racism, and violence that these early immigrants were subjected to. She seamlessly weaves historical characters and events in the rich tapestry of her novel. This novel dispels the monolithic model minority myth of South Asian Americans. It celebrates the working-class roots of early immigrants from India, the multiplicity of religions and faith traditions that these immigrants came from and united to fight against common injustices.

In addition, the novel highlights solidarities between various minority groups, not only the marriages between Mexicans and Sikhs, which is very different from the mostly endogamous marriage traditions of South Asian marriages but also the solidarities between Japanese Americans and Indian Americans. This is a novel that deserves serious scholarly attention and should be embraced by more courses in South Asian American literature and history. However, even though this novel is the product of intense scholarship, the research does not burden the writing. The novel flows effortlessly. It is deceptive in its elegance and simplicity and powerful in its empathetic portrayal of early South Asian Americans.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

I Went to Take Photos, I Left Empowered

It is a disheartening reality we live in where people won’t attend protests in their community due to misinformation. The reporting and headlines have highlighted the few instances of violence, instances that may have nothing to do with the protest itself. I was also very hesitant about going to the protests in my community. I saw news channels, YouTube videos, and articles all over the internet explaining how violent these protests are.

I wanted to take photos, so against my better judgment, I attended my first protest. Quickly I realized that protests can be very peaceful and that a majority of them are.

At the protest, I was astonished to see so many members of my community come together in solidarity to fight racial injustices in our nation. I had expected to see students, young adults, and the black people in my community show up to the protest, but to my surprise, I saw Indians and Asians in my community show up as allies as well. I have never seen these many Indians and Asians in my community actively speak out about the racial injustices within the black community. It was really empowering to see older members of my community come together in solidarity. 

My photo journey began as we marched around the city. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to capture. I took shots of people marching peacefully around our community and different protest signs.

Image taken by Ashwin Desai

One picture stood out to me as I went through my camera roll. It was of a speaker, carrying an Indian flag and advocating for Indians to help their black brothers and sisters. 

The theme of Indian allyship continued.

One speaker was a middle-aged, first-generation Indian man who helped black men and women out of the judicial system in Oakland. He talked about how the Indian community needs to be there for their black brothers and sisters because, without them, many immigrants wouldn’t be here today.

The Immigration Act of 1965, the law that allowed many of our own parents to come to the United States, was made possible because of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without black people fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights Movement, there would be no Asian-Americans in the United States.

He then spoke about the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the notion that since Asian-Americans are doing well in the United States, all minorities should be able to achieve the same level of success, perpetuating that racism does not exist. But as the name states, this is just a myth.

He concluded by talking about the biases within the Indian community. There is a stigma within the Indian community about dark-colored skin. Since the time that India was occupied by the British, Indians have continued to adopt the same beauty standards as the British, i.e lighter skin is more beautiful. Indians actively oppress and chastise those with darker skin. The problem still persists as many celebrities endorse skin bleaching products. This innate bias towards people with lighter complexions has caused a divide between Indians and black people, keeping Indians at an arm’s distance from black people – never allowing us to truly understand them or their struggles. 

At the end of his speech, he told us to self-reflect. He asked us, “What can you personally do, with what you have, to make a difference? What type of member do you want to be in this community?”

In this process of self-reflection, I knew that I couldn’t just attend this one protest to fight racial injustice. At that moment, I finally had a purpose for my photos. I can spread awareness about racial injustices by using my current photography platform, Desai Photography, and use it to show others how peaceful protests are and capture the Indian-Americans in my community who are doing their part in supporting the cause.

I will try to influence others that think protesting is inherently dangerous and change their minds, and I want to inspire other Indian-Americans in my community to be allies. I want to make a change and I can start by using my photography as a means to do so.

This is just the beginning…

Ashwin Desai is currently a Junior at Monta Vista High School. He has a passion for photography and business.  He also operates as a pro-bono marketing consultant for businesses suffering from COVID and is the marketing lead for a climate change newspaper called theincentive.