Tag Archives: Justice

MidPen Affordable Housing Site, Tyrella Gardens

Bay Area Affordable Housing Isn’t a Panacea. I Know, I Went Through the System.

“Hello, Srishti. You have time to help me?” I heard someone ask me in broken English.

I knew who it was. Like clockwork, she came to my office every day. Judy (56) was a Korean resident in the Mountain View low-income/affordable housing building, Tyrella Gardens, where I was working as a MidPen Family Services Coordinator.  

California housing prices have been on the rise. In May of 2021, the median home price in California was $818,260 with the SF Bay Area region clocking in at a 38.9% increase in the median home price since 2020 — the highest increase in the state. Now that the eviction moratorium has been extended for another three months and all low-income past-due back rent is in the process of being paid by the state, it’s time to take account of what actually happened in the last year. Were California’s policies efficacious? 

California housing policy is trending towards investment in affordable housing communities. Tina Rosales, a Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) based in Sacramento is pushing for equitable and fair housing. In a concerted effort with WCLP, Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing Now, believes in the divestment of government resources from private construction and into affordable housing and Land Trusts. 

Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens
Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens.

Judy is reliant on the resources provided by the low-income/affordable housing community. A divorced, immigrant, single mother, and a Section 8 recipient, she frequently has to navigate the Santa Clara County Social Services system. Judy would frantically come to me for rental assistance, legal help, tax education, resume building, job search help, all in an attempt to decipher the English legalese on official documents. 

When Judy would try to access resources in Santa Clara County, it would result in confusion, frustration, and even aggression from the county employees, I could empathize on both ends. Judy, lost in the language, would repeat herself and would struggle to answer the litany of personal questions asked. The county employees, overwhelmed with the number of calls received, just wanted to get through each client quickly. I saw the stark contrast in results when I would call on Judy’s behalf.

The pandemic was a chaotic trigger in my life and Judy’s. I quit my job at Midpen Housing in February of 2020 and the lockdown began soon after. My immediate worry was — would Judy be okay?

…Perhaps, I should’ve been apprehensive of my own housing situation. I was living with three roommates and out of the four, three of us were without consistent sources of income. We concluded that the responsible thing would be to break the lease. 

Our property management made it an arduous and expensive ordeal — it would cost me more to break the lease than it would be to stay. Either way, I didn’t have the funds. I never thought that I, a well-educated Indian American from the Bay Area, would be caught up in what felt like housing injustice. 

Ping! I received a Facebook message from Judy, who would still contact me for the help she needed.

April 12, 2020: “Hello. I will stay home April & May. Coronavirus. Do I need time off? Could you call me?”

Judy was concerned that about her job as an Amazon shopper at Whole Foods — a job that I had helped her get. 

Unclear of what to do with my own housing, I searched up “tenant rights for San Jose residents” on my phone as I logged onto Judy’s work portal on my computer to figure out how she would take time off and continue to pay her bills. 

Judy, a proactive woman, is a byproduct of circumstance. I know this because I know Judy — why she needs help, her backstory, how to communicate with her to get an informative response, her social security, her passwords, and her login credentials. But most importantly, our shared history as Asian immigrants helped us have productive, respectful conversations.

“You are so nice, Srishti. You always help,” she would say as she handed me fruits. She was grateful to be shown kindness, but I was only doing my job. 

For many months, I was at an impasse. I couldn’t decide if I could leave Tyrella Gardens. 

Internally struggling, I went back and forth between these questions: How would my absence make Judy feel? How would my coworkers fare without my help? Was the pay worth the hours I put in? Did I feel valued by MidPen Housing? Did I feel supported by MidPen Housing? Was the job sustainable?

I knew the residents disliked the turnover of people in my position. They told me stories of all the other Coordinators that had come before me. Those in my position felt like bad actors in a mythical story. I kept promising them I would stay. I didn’t want to be another notch in the series of transient people in their lives that seemed to care momentarily. I lugged this weight around with me – a responsibility to a community. 

It was a laborious job. I serviced the residents at two different housing locations, independently taught and developed the after-school program for kids (many of which had learning disabilities), created the high school program for teens, ran the farmer’s market, conducted countless engagement events, and more. To top it all off, a lot of my time was spent tediously cataloging my work on Salesforce for upper management, who seemed more concerned with the data-tracking tool than with their employees on the ground. 

The nature of the work required odd hours, but I was not a salaried employee and I couldn’t request overtime. I was reprimanded for wanting to do my job well. The job was slowly taking a toll on my body. I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel supported, I wasn’t paid well, and I was perpetually ill. 

And I began to notice a trend. Our group of around fifty Family Service Coordinators would meet once a month and one by one, I saw older coworkers exit the organization and new faces replace them. After 9 months, I was a replaced face too. At least 10 out of 50 employees were gone within the year — a 20% loss and a turnover rate that is high for any organization.

In June of 2021, I contacted the cohort of coworkers I began working at MidPen with: Jennifer Villasano (23), Kristi Seymour (24), Diana Lumbreras (25). The four of us had been onboarded together in August of 2019 and they were still at MidPen Housing when I left in February of 2020. I pondered, were they able to debunk my theory of the Coordinator position in affordable housing being an unsustainable job?

Villasano laughed and thought back to when she first joined MidPen, “It was my first job out of college…At first I thought, I get to give back to my community” and then she notes it became “hard to give more” partially because of the organization she was working for. 

She continued to work during the pandemic and was appalled by how MidPen did not value her safety. “Residents and co-workers wouldn’t wear masks during the pandemic and I didn’t want to be exposed [to COVID],” she continues, “One of the residents got COVID and because of some Act, management wouldn’t tell us who.” She felt this was a breach of her well-being since she had to continue to flyer at the housing facility and interact with all the residents. 

“No one was checking in on the coordinators. It was exhausting.”

Jennifer Villasano quit in July of 2020.

As to why she left, she decisively stated, “Instead of speaking up for us, [management] would ask us to do more. They wouldn’t support us….They need to do better.”

Kristi Seymour, a Guyanese woman, corroborates that, “Management wasn’t the best. Expectations weren’t met. That could, also, tie into the high turnover rate. If you don’t feel like your managers care about you…you’re not going to tell them anything and leave at the first chance.” Seymour felt slighted by the inconsistent nature of support provided and emphatically asserts, “I think its pay. I think it’s management. As the people actually delivering the services, you’re not getting paid enough for what you do…They expect a lot out of you — running after-school programs and delivering services to 40-50 units.”

Kristi Seymour quit in June of 2020.

Diana Lumbreras, a Mexican-American woman, shares a similar narrative to mine: “MidPen was my first job where I was working with housing, it was interesting to see how it worked. It was about numbers. We didn’t have time to build relationships because we had to get stuff in.”

Lumbreras forged on during the pandemic. The lockdown exacerbated the pre-existing concerns that she had with MidPen. 

“Something that happened during the pandemic that actually bugged me was that, of course, mostly everyone at my [housing site] lost their jobs, so they were just at home. I was going door to door flyering with resources for food banks, assistance for rent, anything and everything that I could find [to help them]. When it came to documentation…[management] said that there was no way of documenting my work because it wasn’t something [they] had asked for.”

Diana Lumbreras quit in August of 2020.

“What am I doing here?” She asked herself before pulling the trigger to leave her job. “I was told that even if I did more, that there was no way of getting credit for that work…essentially saying, don’t even do [the work] if you can’t document it. That was the part that got me so upset because I was doing so much. I was printing out flyers in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and going door to door.”

The stories relayed to me by the Ghosts of Coordinators Past held a valuable nugget after all.

The Family Services Coordinator position entrenched within the affordable housing complex is integral to the health of the community it serves. Lumbreras poignantly reminds me of this when she tells me, “As an essential worker during the pandemic, I felt important because people were coming to me when they actually needed help.” That weight I was lugging around with me was part of Diana’s story too. In reality, this burden wasn’t ours to bear. The responsibility of the community should be accounted for in the system attempting to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. 

Family Service Coordinators are servicing low-income to median-income residents and, yet, they are well below the low-income threshold of $58,00 for housing in Santa Clara County themselves. Hourly pay at between $19-$20/hour, the average person working in affordable housing is making a yearly salary of a whopping $38,400 before taxes, and are most likely people of color. How can those expected to elevate the marginalized put their best foot forward when they are being marginalized themselves?

Affordable housing is the future of the Bay Area, thus, forthcoming policy must account for evidence-based case studies. Multiple narratives of young employees in affordable housing retiring from their position, and possibly careers in housing, is cause for concern. And, ultimately, the residents suffer.

I kept reaching out to Judy but would hear from her less and less. Embroiled in my own housing fiasco, the upkeep of our relationship was on the backburner.

On May 25, 2021, I received a message from Judy: “I stay in Korea. I can call around this time tomorrow.”

Once we spoke, she informed me that in September of 2020, her Section 8 rent had increased from approximately $120 to approximately $600. Unable to afford rent and scared of resuming work, Judy moved back home with her parents in Korea. She decided to wait out the pandemic in Korea but was hopeful she could come back to the US after the pandemic. No address on hand and no paperwork filed, Santa Clara Housing Authority (SCCHA) revoked Judy’s Section 8 housing when MidPen marked her an absentee renter. 

Since May of 2021, Judy and I have been, collectively, trying to access her SCCHA specialist to figure out how to move forward. Judy wants to resume residence in America but cannot do so without Section 8 housing. No one at the SCCHA offices has given us any clear answers and we get stuck in the rigamarole of being directed to different people. 

Affordable housing was effective for Judy when someone could guide her through the government regulations. Diana Lumbreras similarly posited, “I would put the resources out there, but the same people that lived in the housing were limited in the knowledge that they had to get the resources.” Judy’s back-rent can be paid by the state but in this particular case, that decision came too late. The system had failed Judy.

Though I was edged out of the apartment I was living in at the beginning of the pandemic, I finagled my way into a Below-Market-Rate apartment that was listed as an affordable housing unit in San Jose. I managed to pay off the previous landlord and save money at my new complex. Affordable housing isn’t perfect, however, it did lend itself perfectly to me. Judy and I had inequitable outcomes. 

Creating resources and delivering resources seem to be at odds with one another. While this story focuses on MidPen Housing, it is a rather overarching issue in Bay Area Housing.

Here are the asks:

  1. The base pay for resource coordinators needs to increase to a number that reflects their invaluable service to the community.
  2. There should be an increase in the employee retention rates at affordable housing sites.
  3. There should be more staff on-site to support one another.
  4. There should be more focus on relationship-building and less on the number of initiatives implemented.
  5. There should be a symbiotic relationship between resource coordinators and the county services staff.
  6. There should be a Union for workers in social services in the state.

We need to do better. We have to do better. Not just by creating accessible housing, but by creating sustainable networks of people that can ensure the diverse and equitable growth of our community in the Bay Area. 

*We reached out to MidPen Housing for comment. They did not respond to our request.


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.


 

Dr. Maya Nambisan providing Telehealth services to patients in India.

I’m Treating COVID Patients in India From California, But It’s Not Enough…

“Everyone in my family is sick, madam, our father has been having high fevers for several days. My wife sickened 5 days ago. She was pregnant and had to have an emergency c-section delivery…baby is in the NICU…now my brother has developed a cough. They were unable to be vaccinated ma’am, they went to the center but by the time they got there, all vaccines were gone…”

On the monitor, the man gulped visibly, obviously distraught. He was the first of several patients whom I would triage remotely – a volunteer effort led by non-resident Indian physicians to help with the COVID-19 surge currently ravaging India. I had already seen many patients with similar stories: recently symptomatic, terrified of having to seek care in overburdened hospitals, and frustrated with the inability to access the life-saving vaccines being administered in other countries.

As the newspaper headlines report on a daily basis, the toll of COVID-19 IS skyrocketing in India. Patients must “hospital shop” to find beds and oxygen. The situation is dire and could have been mitigated if the population had better access to vaccines. It is imperative to promote resource equity: pandemics cannot be managed by political agendas and microbes disregard both party lines and geographic boundaries. This is why I applaud the Biden administration’s decision to support a waiver on intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19 vaccines.  It is a critical first step towards ensuring sustainable access to vaccines, particularly in hard-hit countries like India and Brazil.

Over 80% of the more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed globally have gone to high-income countries, while low-income countries have received a paltry 0.3% of the supply.  Pharmaceutical companies, profiting from filling orders of wealthy countries first, have not made countries like Brazil and India a priority until now when their monopoly control on the vaccine was threatened by the possibility of an IP waiver. Yet, these are the countries where a resurgence could cause incredible upheaval and are the most vulnerable to the sequelae of this pandemic.

Moreover, there is a growing risk of prolonging the pandemic as the virus rages on unchecked. Science confirms that fact: the longer the virus is allowed to replicate in a population, the greater the possibility of mutation, which ultimately jeopardizes the health of every nation, resource-rich, or poor. History has also shown that since the original SARS epidemic in 2003, there have been dramatic leaps in the genetic variation of these viruses, which have increased transmissibility and virulence. The likelihood is that this pattern will continue into the next decade, creating more rapidly mutating and perhaps more lethal viruses, which is a threat to all humanity.  Expanding vaccine equity now will help to combat our current crisis and may even quell the incidence of new mutations in the future.

The U.S. announcement is a humanitarian, practical response to the global phenomenon of a rapidly mutating pandemic. It is a great first step. The hard work is yet to be done. The World Trade Organization must meet to hash out the specifics of the policy. Other nations will need to commit to the waiver in order to for the policy to be actionable. Simultaneously, there must be commitments to compel technology transfer and resource allocation to the countries that are suffering the most.  

My hope is that eventually these life-saving health care innovations will not be treated as the spoils of free-market competition and will be available to patients like my own without negotiation, wherever they are most needed.


Maya Nambisan is a physician in San Joaquin County. She is of Indian ancestry and still has many family members there.  She has an M.D. from the University of Illinois and an MPH from Yale School of Epidemiology & Public Health. She is currently volunteering her time with eglobaldoctors.com, an effort by nonresident physicians of Indian origin to help with the covid surge in India.


 

Kala Bagai Way: The First Street In the US Named After a Historic Indian American Woman

When Kalai Bagai first arrived in San Francisco on September 6th, 1915 with her husband Vaishno and three sons, local newspapers flocked to cover the story of the first Indian-American woman to enter the Bay Area. Fleeing British imperialism in her homeland, Bagai was exposed to the very casual racism and persecution she thought she had escaped. When her family purchased their first home, she remembered her neighbors attempting to stop them from moving in. 

Newspaper article from September 1915 issue of San Francisco Call & Post describing Kala Bagai’s arrival in the United States with her family. (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“All of our luggage and everything was loaded on the trucks,’ she said. “I told Mr. Bagai I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I don’t want to live in this house, because they might hurt my children, and I don’t want it. We paid for the house and they locked the doors? No!'”

Although one in the hundreds of immigrants searching for new lives in the United States, Kala Bagai was singled out for her Indian heritage by the masses — ridiculed for her nose ring and skin color. Bagai, like so many other activists of color, was stenciled into America’s history for her “otherness”, and for her struggle to take ownership of her cultural identity. 

The story of Kala Bagai is defined by risk — the risk to emigrate to the nascent United States with precarious citizenship laws, the risk to leave India without knowing a word of English, the risk to challenge this sense of “otherness” that permeated the public consciousness.

Though one of the first South Asians to find a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kala Bagai was aware that she would not be the last. As new Indian American families emigrated to her area, they were welcomed with a smile and a warm meal prepared by Bagai. She was endearingly named “Mother India” by Indian locals. By blurring the boundaries between California Americanisms and Desi customs, Bagai redefined this sense of “otherness” — she created a community out of the ambiguous and alienating identity that was given to her. 

Then the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case defined Indians as citizens of color, ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Still, in shock over his sudden denaturalization, Vaishno Bagai took his own life. The Bagais were left without citizenship, livelihood, or home. And it was at their lowest that Kala Bagai began to fight back. Despite the loss of her husband, she advocated fiercely for Indian American rights and found ways to support anti-colonialism movements in India. Kala Bagai put all three of her sons through college, taking great pride in supporting their higher education. Before passing away at 90 years in 1983, Bagai had hosted a number of Indian festivals, community halls, and theatres — events continued in her honor to this day.

Kala Bagai was ostracized for her “otherness”. Today, the Berkeley community is ready to celebrate her for it. With a thriving South Asian American community, Berkeley has spent the past couple of months trying to find a name for a 2-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue East. In the heart of Berkeley downtown, this street has the potential to recognize and uplift America’s rich South Asian American cultural community. Because in an unexpected, yet beautiful turn of events, the Bay Area community is ready to name this street Kala Bagai Way. Anirvan Chatterjee, a San Francisco Bay Area activist who helped organize community support for the name, discusses the implications of this historic naming process in an exclusive interview with India Currents. 

“Berkeley is a roughly 20% Asian American city, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the street names”, Chatterjee said. “I think Kala Bagai was a good fit because she was Asian American, a woman, an immigrant, a member of a minority faith, a survivor of local and federal racism. But she was more than her identity, or what was done to her family. She persisted through heartbreak, emerging as a critical California immigrant community-builder well into her forties. She demonstrated a model of quiet activism that sometimes doesn’t get recognized, but is so critical in our movements and communities.

In terms of her connection to Berkeley, her story shed light on the city’s difficult history around race and housing. It’s easier to honor someone who is a long-term resident, but more challenging—and interesting—to name a street after somebody who wanted to be a neighbor, but was kept out by community racism.” 

Turning a downtown Berkeley street into Kala Bagai Way was certainly an uphill battle. Chatterjee and other local activists worked with descendants of Kala Bagai to tell her story to the media and represent her legacy. They even created a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, so that Berkeley locals could educate themselves on her role in Indian American activism. Chatterjee attended the final meeting of the Berkeley naming advisory committee and noted a discrepancy in Berkeley’s representation and the area itself. Only 2 of the 9 members of the committee were people of color. And while this committee wanted to honor the city’s rich history, they realized that naming the street after Kala Bagai was defined, much like Bagai herself, by risk. 

Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)
Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“She wasn’t the safest possible choice, because her most relevant connection to Berkeley was the way she and her family were kept out,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street after her also means naming an uncomfortable past, and also serves as a reminder to defend all of today’s Kala Bagais, by resisting displacement and welcoming newcomers.”

While Kala Bagai Way is a victory for the Asian American community, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement without recognizing the current backdrop of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just three weeks ago, a man opened fire at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing six Asian American women. This is not an isolated atrocity, but rather one in the many crimes which suggest that America’s terrifying history of prejudice and xenophobia is far from over. Chatterjee thinks that in the wake of these hate crimes, naming this street after a South Asian American activist only grows more necessary. 

“Anti-Asian racism is often rooted in the stereotype of Asian Americans as eternal foreigners, generation after generation,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street isn’t just about community pride, but also about shifting that culture. Naming a downtown street after an Asian American activist who tried to move to Berkeley over a century ago is making a claim to belonging, and is a tiny part of much larger anti-racist movements.” 

While no one knows what the future holds in store for America’s immigrant communities, we hope that symbolic progress leads to constructive change. Indian Americans have played a major role in shaping today’s America, but they often don’t see themselves represented by the local or national leadership. Chatterjee believes that Kala Bagai Way is a foot in the door, and serves as a homage to the footsteps of Asian American activists before him. 

“Our histories are important, both because they’re ours, and also because they connect to larger stories,” Chatterjee says. “We’re walking a path paved by the activism of other communities, like Black activists taking on the honoring of the Confederacy, or Native American activists taking on racist sports teams. The point isn’t just to change the names, but to address what the names represent.”

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor Kala Bagai for all her contributions to our Indian American communities in California.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 


 

In the Mighty Presence of Gandhi Ji

Every October 2nd, August 15th, January 26th, I fondly remember Gandhi Ji.

I was twelve – a young idealist with big dreams for my own life and a compelling desire to see India as a free and prosperous nation, free from the bondage of two hundred years of subjugation by the British.

Then in one of the rarest moments of my life, I had the good fortune to meet the most admired person in India, and the world –the Apostle of Peace and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The revered Father of India!

On massive, public grounds called the ‘Maidan’, a crowd of thousands had settled down on the ground.  All from far and near were there. I sat along with my sixty schoolmates and teachers, anxiously glancing in every direction to catch the first glimpse of this magnificent hero of mine. I was viewing over a sea of Muslim caps, Congress Party’s Nehru caps, turbans of every color, shape, and size. Occasionally, heads popped up here and there. A bunch of people would stand up abruptly, as if aware of an arrival.

Then, as if magically, there appeared a diminutive figure, sparsely clad in a white home-spun cotton ‘Khadi Dhoti’, tucked in between the legs, giving the appearance of a loincloth.  His narrow shoulders were wrapped around in a white, home-spun shawl.  I was immediately reminded of Gandhi’s image, sitting on the ground with folded legs, spinning cotton yarn at a Spinning Wheel.  He inspired Indians to be self-reliant, so as to be independent of the need to import cotton from the mills of Manchester, in Great Britain.  Gandhiji’s images had inspired me, as they had done millions of others.  I looked around at my friends.  We were all wearing white saris with blue borders – a fabric of five and a half yards of hand-spun cotton.  I was proud of myself.

As he got seated on a small, raised platform in the middle of the vast grounds, there was a hush, a deafening silence!  Could this be Gandhiji? The same towering figure, which had shaken the foundations of the British Empire?  Where was the augur who had incensed the Rulers to a fiery rage?  Could this slight, slender frame endure all the hardships of endless imprisonments – sleeping on cold, cemented floors; fasting endlessly to make a point, and subjugate the mighty master’s will?

Yet this was Mahatma Gandhi, whom I had heard again and again over the loudspeakers, who had endeared himself to me, as to millions of others!

He spoke. Stillness prevailed. From microphones all around, his every word rang loud and clear – entering my consciousness.  The echoes rolled from soul to soul.

As he spoke, I did not hear a lion’s roar.  Yet, this calmly persuasive, magnetic voice was energizing and compelling:

“Arise, my children, rise!

Rise to your soul’s call!

Rise in Freedom, every waking moment!

Remember. When India introduced Zero to the Science of Mathematics, the possibilities became infinite, unlimited, un-limiting!

One small zero – one individual at a time, small or big, can magnify the possibilities a thousand-fold. 

Each small voice, when joined by millions of your heroes, can reach across seven seas.

Do not underestimate the power of zero.  The power of even the smallest, the gentles of you.”

The crescendo of his tone and message rose from perceptibly calming to invigorating, to uplifting.  It was a magical moment; a mesmerizing experience! I was awed by the strength of Gandhiji’s convictions; the appeal of his persuasion across a wide spectrum of society.

“Follow you Dharma, your moral duty.

God’s truth demands Liberty and Justice for all.

We all are the children of one God.  We Hindus, and we Muslims invoke the one and the same God, whether we call Him Ram or we call Him Allah.

We, all Indians, deserve the right to be in charge of our own destiny.”

Gandhiji’s inspiring, invigorating word liberated the downcast souls and challenged the masses.  Even the faint-hearted, the indifferent felt an enthusiasm to take up the cause.

“There are times when you have to obey.

A call which is the highest of all, that is the voice of conscience.

Even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear,

And even more, separation from friends,

From family, from the state to which you may belong,

From all that you have held as dear as life itself.

For this obedience is the law of our being.”

A fine mix of elation and enthusiasm hung in the air.  I was witnessing a rare moment in eternity, a moment bigger than life, infinitely bigger than myself!

Gandhi Ji’s message rings just as true today.

On becoming citizens of the United States of America, by birth or adoption, we have pledged to uphold the principle of ‘Inalienable rights of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All’. In expressing our voice by casting our vote to elect the President and Congress, we fulfill our civic duty. Follow our Dharma. Our decisions on societal issues have an impact on our lives. They give direction to the destiny of the Nation too.

Remember, your one powerful vote has the power to change the course of history! 


Usha Dhupa has lived extended periods of her life in Africa, India, England, and America.  Her rich experiences over eight decades give us a panoramic view of her life. Find the rest of this story in her recently published book ‘Child of Two Worlds‘.

Reimagined Communities: Safety For All

(Featured Image: Srishti Prabha at the September 23, 2020 protest at San Jose City Hall)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Imagine you were sleeping in your house and you heard someone break-in. Would you protect yourself and your family?

Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, fired his gun in self-defense, in accordance with Kentucky gun laws, which permits the shooting of someone trespassing on your territory. He was immediately arrested with an attempted murder charge and his partner was fatally shot. 

The three white Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, roamed free after the incident. Last week, September 23, 2020, they were cleared of the first-degree murder charge, with only one officer receiving a lighter indictment for wanton endangerment

A protest was in order. In a case so clear, how could these men be let off with a slap on the wrist? I took to the streets of San Jose to show my support for the injustice inflicted upon Breonna Taylor’s memory and her family.

A bright and beautiful black woman, who served her community as an EMT, was taken in her sleep.

“Black women matter!,” we chanted as a group at SJ City Hall. A group much smaller than what I had seen earlier this year. 

Michael German, Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security | former Special Agent, FBI

The protest cycle, gaining and losing traction, is not a new one, neither is the information it is disseminating. Michael German, a Fellow from the Brennan Center for Justice and former Special Agent for the FBI, spoke about the pattern of white supremacy and far-right militant behavior repeating in 1990, 2006, 2015 at the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 5th.

“White supremacy and far-right violence in the US is a problem that…is poorly understood, partly because the federal government deprioritizes it and the state and local governments don’t want to pick up the slack,” informed German. A consistent issue and a potential threat since the 90s, the ideology of white supremacy cannot be dismantled unless it is understood. 

Why do I bring up white supremacy in relation to Breonna Taylor? It’s this simple. 

The initial act of entering unannounced and shooting an unarmed black woman comes from the fear of her Blackness. The potential cover-up of her murder and the subsequent ruling in favor of the three white cops is the influence and power accrued from fear and oppression of colored communities. 

Data presents a clear distribution. For every 100,000 people, 2306 black people are incarcerated to the 450 white people. A number five times higher. 

There is always some ambiguity in a case or the possibility of nitpicking a story. Here is the question that should be asked…

Did the warrant put out related to a drug offense that was MAYBE loosely linked to the use of Breonna Taylor’s house require an unwarranted attack? 

The fact remains that black people are disproportionately exposed to such encounters or convicted of crimes. Why is that?

Brennan Center for Justice finds that “structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system.” And these systemic inequities are exacerbated and can lead to implicit bias when the law enforcement interacts with the public.

In any ordinary job, negligence would lead to the loss of a job, at the very least. Even insider trading has a consequence. And killing an innocent person has little to no repercussion? 

“Crime in the United States has been a highly politicized issue,” Michael German very succinctly states. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove did not do their job. A job where their first and foremost duty was to provide safety to the community they served, to the people they served, to Breonna Taylor. 

A study by The Sentencing Project provides some historical basis for the drivers of this disparity. They find three recurrent explanations from a multistudy analysis: policy and practice, the role of implicit bias and stereotyping in decision-making, and structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and National Executive Director of Mothers in Charge Inc.

The structural disadvantage for communities of color permeates through and beyond policing. Societal thought and implicit bias are part of the quotidian. Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight and her nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, work to understand the violence in their communities. Johnson-Speight didn’t need to be part of the criminal justice system to live through the injustices faced in her community. As a mother who lost her adult son to gun violence, she poignantly said, “You don’t really have a clue, if you haven’t walked in those shoes.” 

During the briefing, she mentions case after case where there is video evidence that speaks contrary to the police narrative. She uses Breonna Taylor’s murder to highlight the multitude of ways that powerful people use untruths to support the violence inflicted in her communities. 

“She has never had any criminal history but to save the face of the corrupt police officers…to get them off [for murder]…they create these untrue stories. These are the kinds of things that have been happening in communities of color for years.”  

What needs to happen for these narratives to be revised? Where do we start?

Raj Jayadev, CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-bug

No one understands this better than community activist and CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, Raj Jayadev. “Communities have been sacrificed in the name of safety”, advocates Jayadev and very quickly makes the adverse correlation between safety and policing. The premise of law and order has been synonymous with policing, surveillance, prosecution, and incarceration, yet,  evidence proves those two are antithetical. 

Jayadev’s organization runs out of San Jose, a rather progressive city with a low crime rate. Despite this, he points out that San Jose has a relatively high rate of death caused by police violence. White supremacy is not limited to one particular space, it is national. We are all having the same political discourse. 

Jayadev probes, “How do we reimagine safety, safety for all, if law and order isn’t the mechanism to get there?” 

“Defund The Police” reads my sign that I hold up to passing cars at City Hall. I hear a call, “What is her name?!” The group responds, “Breonna Taylor!”

In unison we chant, “Black Lives Matter” to anyone who is willing to hear us. 

Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. Defund The Police.

The words are different but the message is one. We are hoping and praying for a reimagined world in which safety means communities of color are part of the whole. A world where safety means equal access to mental health services, education, livable wages, rehabilitation, halfway homes, housing, and social services geared towards the benefit of all. 

Deprogramming what we know is difficult and will take time. Together we can reimagine…


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.

What I Admire About RBG

Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed to complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020 but Justice Ginsburg will be alive in the annals of American law. She paved the way for American women, one case at a time.

Ginsberg co-founded the Women’s Right Law Reporter, a pioneering law journal at Rutgers where she taught. She advocated as a volunteer attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Union. In the mid 1970s she argued half a dozen gender discrimination cases before the high court winning all but one. Ginsberg was appointed as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Her appointment as the second woman on the US Supreme court in 1993 (guided by Hilary Clinton) was one of the best undertakings by President Bill Clinton.  

The Supreme Court justice who gave an unbiased ear to every argument had a famous quote: Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf!

From the vast ocean of evidence, she created her life. She is a beacon of hope for every woman and is a true American hero. She changed history through her landmark cases and built precedence by methodically arguing for gender equality based on the Fourteenth Amendment. 

And now, every woman can claim equal access to education, equal pay, equal military allowance, access contraception, take maternity leave, cut a man’s hair, buy a drink, administer an estate, serve on the jury, and get equal social security benefits. The list is formidable and speaks of her equally intimidating stance on these issues! She wiped close to 200 laws that discriminated against women off the books. She believed that “women would have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

The personality traits I admire of hers:

  • A brilliant mind always at work
  • A rational minimalist
  • Her slow deliberate speech 
  • Measured sentences spoken with thought
  • Total dedication to work 
  • Her commitment to get the law right
  • Steel trap of a memory and ability to recall every word
  • Profound personal dignity 
  • An innate sense of justice
  • Her “ cool” connection with the Millenials as the “notorious” RBG”
  • Her crusade on gender equality
  • Her sense of humor “Ginsburned”!
  • Her warmth towards her staff, colleagues, friends
  • Her determination to remain healthy despite  multiple cancers
  • She showed up to work every day and handled her full load
  • She was a crusader for gender equality 
  • Her zeal to work with her trainer

When I look upon the black and white photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a two-year-old, I can tell that she will be one of the most influential women of this century. I think the best costume for girls this Halloween and for years to come will be RGB in her black robes and white beaded collar!

The death of Justice Ginsburg at this tumultuous time is a phenomenal loss to America. There never will be another like her. Her death leaves a great political void. Chief Justice John Roberts no longer holds the controlling vote in cases cleaved right in the middle of liberal-conservative lines. RGB ruminated on this and her last fervent wish was, “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

It behooves the people of the United States to make their views heard before the election and uphold her wish! There are too many transformative cases like Obamacare that lay precariously in the hands of the new Supreme Court. Our “notorious” RBG was curious, laborious, and glorious in her life. Let’s work hard to honor this courageous Supreme Court Judge.


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

South Asian Seniors Get Educated on Black Lives

Growing up as a South Asian girl, society, media and even family had always ingrained in me that light was beautiful. Days in the sun would always be followed by the dreaded moment of evaluating how much I had tanned and then a series of home remedies, skin lightening products like fair and lovely, and even milk baths. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that this experience, one shared by many South Asians, has a name: Colorism

This summer, as our country reeled from the Black Lives Matter movement, I started to think about anti-blackness or colorism in my own community. Inspired and motivated by national activists, I sought to take action in a way that felt authentic to myself. Drawing on my experiences as President of the Palo Alto Youth Council and Co-founder of a Real Talk, where I facilitate conversations between people with different political perspectives, I knew I wanted to start an intergenerational discussion about the role of the South Asian community in the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I reached out to the Bay Area Indian Community Center to take over their weekly Thursday morning virtual yoga class for seniors to lead a seminar on Black Lives Matter. 

Coming into the seminar, I worried about what the response would be to my presentation. Talking about skin color with South Asians has always seemed taboo to me. I knew that starting this conversation would be uncomfortable, especially with individuals much older than me, but also a critical step in the culture shift around beauty and race that needs to happen in our community.

I started off the seminar with a presentation on Black Lives Matter, explaining the parts of the movement, especially on social media, that many seniors lacked information on. I next moved into a lesson about the connection between the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and Indian independence movements, highlighting the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Martin Luther King Junior. Finally, after presenting some statistics about the booming business of skin-lightening products, the dowry system, and colorism, I opened the floor up to discussion, and to say the least, I was blown away.

My initial fears of silence and anger quickly dissipated as seniors started to share their own experiences. They spoke passionately about housing discrimination they had faced in America, personal insecurities about their skin color, and the beauty standards associated with marriage. I also received pushback – some uncles and aunties highlighted my own lack of knowledge growing up in America and argued that this was just how the system worked. However, overall, the conversation ended on a hopeful note, as seniors reflected on the power of the younger generation to start shifting old beauty standards to reflect our community’s core values of good character, equality, and justice. 

As communities across the country fight for racial justice, I believe we, the South Asian community, not only have an opportunity, but rather a responsibility to look within at how we perpetuate racism. This means educating ourselves, showing up as allies to support other people of color, but also having uncomfortable, even taboo, conversations about race. My call to action for you as a reader is to start and lead these conversations with your parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. That is how we will begin to shift our culture.

Check out the Seminar below!


Divya Ganesan is a senior at Castilleja High School in Palo Alto, CA. She is passionate about connecting different cultures, ages, and political perspectives through leadership, collaboration, and technology.

Imperial County: Infecting the Hand That Feeds You

Shrouded by divisive thought and taunts, no issue remains non-partisan. Blame is placed on political parties, denying accountability on either end. 

“This entire country was not prepared to deal with a pandemic. The political divisions, the lack of political will to address and invest in the inequities that have been long characterized, for many years, by academics..and experts have gone ignored”

Community activist, Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc., comes into the July 10th Ethnic Media Services briefing full throttle. His frustrations are apparent as he speaks about the disenfranchised Latinx population in Imperial County. 

Imperial County is currently the hot spot of COVID-19 in California. Imperial is 88% Latinx, many undocumented, with a heavy hand in California’s agricultural production. Imperial County is the 10th largest food producer in the state, with their yield being domestically exported to Hawaii and California and internationally exported to Japan, Mexico, South Korea, China and Canada

The county has 2,835 cases per 100,000 people versus 491 cases per 100,000 statewide and only two hospitals bearing the brunt of this massacre.

Yes, a massacre. Of the same people who are working to provide us food and other essential services. Latinx families are being confronted with the nightmare of the pandemic. The worst America has to offer – which is nothing at all. 

Letters and calls to action were sent to growers, contractors, and packing facilities when the pandemic began. “All those letters and calls went unheeded,” says Armando Elenes of the United Farm Workers, “they continued their operations as normal.” 

Stock Photo (not representative of Imperial County)

Employers are not communicating with their predominantly Spanish speaking populations and choosing to forego the use of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. H2A workers or temporary agricultural workers, are having to carpool together, work together, and live together and are unable to take sick leave when they develop symptoms. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in infection and mortality. 

Employers have absolved themselves of any responsibility, taking advantage of the desperate situation their low-wage workers are in and in poor taste, victim-blaming those that have contracted COVID. 

CDC has provided data that suggests cases of COVID increased in Latinx communities while all other demographics showed a decrease. Using this data, Edward Flores and Ana Padilla of the UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center have found positive links between low wage work and COVID positivity.

They further defined and found a positive link between a term called worker distress and COVID positivity. Worker distress is characterized by wage (above or below the state average) and the size of the household. In Imperial County, 38.5% of workers have high worker distress. Correlations between worker distress and industry were made. High worker distress was seen in food service, transportation, farm work, warehouse work, and retail. 

A matter far removed from political factions, we turn to inward reflection. It is our habits, practices, and behaviors that have led to the exploitation of an entire population.

Reduced food cost, low wage outsourced labor work, privatized healthcare, inaccessible housing, exported food for profit…

Luis Olmedo said it best at the beginning, we have ignored all the signs for our own convenience. But the turn around for a profit has come back to infect us all. As the infection spreads in Imperial County, the risk of infection domestically and globally increases. 

An advocate from IV Equity & Justice Coalition, Luis Flores, states that “county backing for accountability is needed.” As a resident of Imperial Valley, Flores is able to address the needs of the residents and convey them at the county-state level. He and his coalition are hoping for economic stability, public health structures, clear mechanisms for accountability, mitigating housing precarity (city-level eviction moratorium), accessibility to equity, and data to support the narrative they see. 

A huge thank you to all the activists that are on the ground advocating for minority rights and educating community journalists! Consider donating to United Farm Workers or Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc. and aid their efforts to gain traction for the marginalized Latinx communities in California.

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.

Where Do South Asians Stand on BLM?

Silence is the language of courage 

that lost its way home to the heart 

It’s the dialect of the unspoken things

that fester between our bones, it’s the dungeons 

of distraught eyes that have seen enough

to stop watching. 

But my tongue holds gardens that cannot fit 

between my teeth, and my words grow in 

places where injustice cannot. 

And the leaves that sprout from this throat

take the shape of a language that knows no chains, 

a language that refuses to disrespect the body 

that houses it.    

-Kanchan Naik      

There is a difference between shouting “Black Lives Matter” into the void and appreciating this statement for what it truly means. The former, which has been reappropriated in the latest wave of corporate desperation, brings its own layer of superficiality. But to accomplish the latter, there is a process of introspection involved. In order to initiate constructive change in the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, we have to analyze our own privilege as Asian and Indian Americans — a kind of scrutiny that goes beyond merely posting the infamous “black square” on Instagram or sending a heart emoji to our black friends. Racism against African Americans does not occur within a vacuum. As immigrants, we often paint systemic racism, the prison pipeline, and police brutality as a ‘black and white issue’. While every minority community is shaped by its unique experience with bigotry and oppression, there is an unspoken race hierarchy in our country — a hierarchy that we benefit from by maintaining our silence. 

The stereotypes surrounding Indian and Asian Americans do more than oversimplify our relationships and cultural practices. Rather, they are weaponized against marginalized and disenfranchised communities, and used as an excuse to vitiate their narratives. We are marketed as the so-called ‘model minority’, lauded by white supremacists for our complacence. Our socioeconomic status is cherrypicked to reinforce the flawed, one-sided American Dream. While the man who forced his knee against George Floyd’s neck was white, he is not the only one to blame for an innocent, unarmed black man’s death. Derek Chauvin was flanked by  Hmong-American Tou Thao, who made little to no effort to stop this egregious violation against human rights. Instead, he fielded complaints from an outraged audience with glacial indifference. The man who called the police against George Floyd was an Arab-American. Whether we like it or not, immigrants play an active role in shaping America’s race relations. To dismantle police brutality, we must address the issue from the inside-out. 

Here are some notable South Asian organizations that made the choice to speak up, and speak out against racism.  

SAALT

Exactly one week and two days ago, a white police officer held his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Three other police officers stood by, doing nothing to stop Floyd’s murder.

Since that day, people have taken to the streets in protest in over 350 cities in the U.S. demanding to live in a world where the police stop killing Black people with impunity. Instead of elected officials committing to this, we have seen them deploy militarized violence on protestors.

We’ve been heartened by the solidarity that so many in our communities have already expressed, like Rahul Dubey who sheltered at least 70 protesters in his home in DC and Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner in Minneapolis, who said “Let my building burn…Justice needs to be served.”

As South Asians, we have a duty to address and fight anti-Blackness on both systemic and interpersonal levels. If we don’t, we are complicit in the deaths of Black Americans.

We pulled together the following resources from powerful and vital organizations to help you find ways to stand up for Black lives right now and always. As we mobilize during this flashpoint, we must also commit to the long-term work.

—-

APIA Vote

In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Executive Director Christine Chen of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) issues the following statement: 

“We, and the broader Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community, must stand in proactive solidarity with black men, women, and children who continue to be oppressed and die by the forces and policies of systemic racism and discrimination. The recent anti-Asian attacks across the country spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AANHPI community to come together and fight for, and along with our brothers and sisters at this critical moment in history. We can no longer make any more excuses to stay silent against the injustices witnessed by the world in the last week.”

“I urge our community to ally themselves with the Black community and fight injustice. This includes making sure all of us are counted and our voices heard through the U.S. Census count. This means showing up to the polls and demanding change at the local, state, and national levels of government. Voting is a key way to institute reform and it is up to us to show up at not only presidential elections but also elections for your state representatives, district attorneys, judges, local board positions and governors.” 

“APIAVote will continue to educate our communities, fight for fair access to the polls, and get-out-the-vote. In order to continue our mission for inclusion and change, we must demand justice for the Black community and prove with our actions and our vote that black lives matter.”

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian American Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation. APIAVote envisions a world that is inclusive, fair, and collaborative, and where Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are self-determined, empowered, and engaged. See our website for more information at http://www.apiavote.org/ 

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

—-

South Asians for America

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

We encourage you to fill out the census, vote in your local elections this summer, and visit our website to learn about our endorsed candidates

—-

World Hindu Council of America

 World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), the oldest, and one of the most prominent Hindu organization in America has launched a grassroots initiative- Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA). HinduPACT USA aims to bring Hindu ethos and dharmic values of unity in diversity, plurality, compassion and, mutual respect amongst religions to policy and advocacy for human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and, interfaith dialog. HinduPACT USA will partner with community organizations, government officials, civil rights organizations and other organizations who share our values to achieve our vision. We will work with civil society organizations, mandirs, thought leaders and others to become a premier policy research & advocacy organization. HinduPACT will identify and influence issues of interest to Hindus at all levels, train Hindus for grassroots advocacy and create advocacy internship opportunities for Hindu youth. HinduLounge, VHPA’s weekly Facebook Live program on contemporary Hindu issues in America is the first HinduPACT USA project. Political candidates from across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, are being approached to ascertain if their positions are consistent with dharmic and American values. HinduPACT USA will not take any partisan political stand and will not endorse any candidate for political office. Over the course of next year, HinduPACT USA will formulate Hindu view on contemporary American issues such as school prayer, race relations, gun control, environmental awareness, abortion, gender equality, legalization of marijuana, immigration, sanctuary cities / states, without taking a partisan political stand on the issues. We welcome Hindus across the US to join us in this important initiative.

—-

VPHA

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), has issued the following statement on the killing of George Floyd. Commenting on the killing on police killing of George Floyd, Ajay Shah, Convener of HinduPACT USA and Executive Vice President of VHPA said:

We condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd. We stand for racial justice, equality, and civil rights. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” embodied in our Declaration of Independence should be our guiding spirit. Hindu ethos, as expressed by a Hindu poet eloquently says, “A true Vaishnava (Hindu) is the one who feels the pain of others.” Currently, as people of faith we feel the pain of injustice and the killing of George Floyd. We call for a national dialog on race relations. We fully endorse the right to peacefully protest injustice. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” However, we are unambiguously against riots and looting, and the attacks on those entrusted to protect us. Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT USA and Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA said:

The murder of George Floyd is a reminder that we must reinvigorate our pursuit for equity in our society. But those groups that are using this tragedy and the cover of the protests for looting businesses and resorting to violence, are doing a great injustice to the cause of civil rights. It is shocking to see Pakistani-American anarchist Urooj Rahman along with Colinford Mattis, pass along fire bombs to some protestors in an attempt to kill law enforcement officers and peaceful protestors in New York City. There is nothing more sinister than trying to use injustice towards Black lives, as a tool to further one’s geopolitical agenda. Today, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy of India was vandalized by some of these elements, masquerading as protesters. I urge Hindu Americans who form a big section of the ‘South Asian community’ to be cognizant of such mala fide efforts, and promote peace and healing in the communities they live in. HinduLounge, HinduPACT USA’s weekly Facebook Live program on Hindu American issues extensively covered the killing and the aftermath. The local VHPA chapters are working with the interfaith and community groups to work towards justice and equality. The Cincinnati, OH chapter of VHPA has signed the letter seeking justice by EquaSion and the Interfaith Community on the killing of George Floyd.

—-

Hindu American Foundation

US police must acknowledge and eliminate systemic racism, excessive use of force in their ranks

Washington, DC (June 1, 2020) — The Hindu American Foundation stands in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the horrific killing of George Floyd and calling out systemic racism and excessive violence against African Americans by our nation’s police.

HAF calls upon police departments across the country to:

  • Meaningfully address the twin problems of systemic racism and excessive, disproportionate use of force by officers in their ranks, working with local communities to end both;
  • Hold accountable officers with misconduct and excessive force complaints;
  • End the practice of militarized policing of peaceful protests;
  • Cease arresting and targeting journalists covering demonstrations.

We offer our sympathy and support to those families and communities struck by police violence.

We strongly condemn the actions of those, regardless of political ideology, using the cover of peaceful protests to cause destruction and further violence.

And we believe ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) are the most powerful tools for bringing about much needed change.

HAF is committed to doing its part and using our platform to bring about positive change. We’ve therefore joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and other leading civil rights organizations to ask Congress for ‘swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.’

And we will also be joining a taskforce organized by LCCHR Congress to ensure that any congressional action taken is aligned with our federal priorities on policing.

HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla issued the following statement on how we can move forward:

“As Americans, we must wrestle with two dissonant truths: that the founders of the United States created a nation philosophically promising freedom and equality for all people, and that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and the spilled blood of Native Americans. Throughout our history, other immigrant communities and people of color have also faced racism and xenophobia, but these two communities have born the brunt of a racism that is institutional and systemic.

The collective negative karma of our nation’s past and centuries of subjugation has yet to be resolved.

This is where Hinduism’s fundamental teaching — that we are all embodied souls — if assimilated by more and more people, promises transformation of our implicit biases and the way we treat one another. Recognition of our shared divinity renders color, caste, gender, sexual expression, ability, or creed irrelevant, and compels us to treat one another with dignity and mutual respect.

Systems and institutions need to be fixed. However, in fixing them they will only be as great as our mindset.”

Read this on the HAF website

—-

Brooklyn Raga Massive

We stand in solidarity with the Black community against a history of violence, oppression and discrimination. We stand together with those who peacefully protest to express their pain and anger over the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

The foundations that have been built by African Americans, especially in the fields of music, art, literature, pop culture, education, spirituality and social change have been cornerstrones of American society and the world at large. We recognize these invaluable contributions and the immediate need for fundamental change to our society. 

#TheShowMustBePaused is in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality from the boardroom to the boulevard. Tuesday, June 2nd is meant to intentionally disrupt the work week. It is a day to take beat for a honest, reflective, and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.


Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for Break the Outbreak, the Editor-in-chief of The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Featured Illus­tra­tion by @sapnasscribbles

Wheelies of Justice

WAZIR. Director: Bejoy Nambiar. Players: Amitabh Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar, Aditi Rao Hydari, John Abraham, Manav Kaul, Neil Nitin Mukesh. Hindi with Eng. sub-tit. Theatrical release (Reliance)

Ever since it’s advent in India more than 1,500 years ago, chess has evolved as a powerful tool for testing one’s discipline to anticipate the opponent’s moves. The symbolism of chess pieces—each with its own highly precise movements that can only be overcome by the next hierarchical piece—is a teasing play on power and cunningness. For their part, scenarists have woven chess strategy and chess pieces into elaborate plot lines since ancient times. In Nambiar’s well-made and thought-provoking terrorist conspiracy riddle Wazir, a real life chess match is afoot and the wrong outcome may well invite total mayhem.wazir

Set mostly in Delhi, the name of the game is male bonding as a most unlikely pair of virtual single men find common ground while poring over a chessboard. One guy is anti-terrorist cop Daanish (Akhtar), who is taking time off as he recovers from the recent death of his young daughter. The other is the wheelchair-bound retired teacher and chess expert Pandit Omkar Dhar (Bachchan), who is, coincidentally, also mourning the loss of his daughter. Over a game of chess—Daanish is learning the game from the retired expert—both men find common threads to their stories. Not only did both men’s daughters know each other but they also had the same friends and frequented some of the same places. Could this be sheer coincidence?

Daanish has bankable insider connections; chief amongst those is superintendent S.P. (Abraham) whose team is chasing down the same bomb conspirators while assuring the safety of rising political star Minister Qureshi (Manav). Pandit, on the other hand, provides a sounding board for Daanish not only to get him back to work but also possibly help him reconcile with his estranged wife Ruhana (Hydari). Pandit may be wheelchair bound. His mind, however, appears to be doing figurative wheelies.

The clever script by Abhijat Joshi and Vidhu Vinod Chopra (who also produces) creates a mood of distrust early on. Because there is death—and death at a young age at that—at the root of what appears to be driving both Daanish and Pandit, the script can’t help but offer a sympathetic eye towards the two fathers. It’s the others characters we gotta worry about. For added uncertainty, there is the diabolical, mysterious Wazir (Mukesh), a ruthless, shadowy assassin linked to the bombing conspiracy that, out of the blue, zeroes in on making nocturnal rounds of Pandit’s house in a very scary way.

Ever since Chopra roped in Akhtar and Bachchan together in Lakshya (2004), he had been toying with the Wazir storyline with Akhtar and Bachchan. That casting pays off. Akhtar, who put on weight for the command-in-lead role here, and Bachchan, in his wheelchair-bound scholarly best, offer an unusual stamp of male bonding against a background of chaos. As the distant estranged spouse, Hydari does a decent turn and while Abraham’s role is limited, Mukesh’s knife-wielding night prowler is downright creepy.

On an eclectic soundtrack, with many lyricist and music directors making contributions, the standout tunes are Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghosal in Shantanu Moitra’s “Tere Bin,” a heartfelt lilt to a loved one and also Ankit Tiwari’s “Tu Mere Paas,” about loss, which the singer also provided the music for. For added measure, try Bachchan’s rich baritone anchoring “Khel Khel Mein.” This song’s ominous lyrics and sizable thematic appeal rounds off a good score.

Nambiar, who earlier made the note-worthy three-in-one David (2013) featuring Mukesh as a lead, has a trick or two up his sleeve here. As Daanish and his team shuttle between Delhi and Kashmir, where Minister Qureshi is giving a speech and also exactly where the cryptic Wazir threatened violence, the mission may necessarily need to change from a race to protect a VIP to a frantic effort to restore public safety. The big reveal at the end—and mind you, it may pop a surprise—is a twist that departs from Hindi movie conventions on several different and satisfying levels. Take notice!

EQ: B+

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.