Tag Archives: Kaavya Butaney

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

 

Sweet Sixteen In Quarantine

I turned sixteen a week ago. I spent my birthday in the sweltering yet comforting solitude of my bedroom trying to prevent my English teacher from finding out and avoiding awkward attempts by her to acknowledge it by making our class sing to me. I also tried a Zoom peer review with a friend.

It’s finals season for me. So no matter what, I will probably be doing homework through my birthday for the next couple of years, as it always falls right before finals. 

It was a busy birthday.  I was studying for the last trig test and the last chem quiz of the year, doing Spanish practice activities, and brainstorming less-than-dumb ways to actually finish my photography assignment.

But somehow this year, I felt more alone than ever. And I’m including the birthday when I cried in a bathroom at school because I was so embarrassed about a bad assignment (sixth-grade Kaavya was a weird kid!)

Two of my friends were sweet enough to drop by with gifts (a Tupperware of brownies and a bunch of snacks, bless their hearts), and I will love them forever for that. But I was still pretty much stuck at home all day.

Turning “sweet sixteen” in quarantine was not what I expected. 

At the very least, I hoped that I could go out with friends, even if we didn’t go all-out. Ideally,  that would be eating exorbitant amounts of ice cream with the monthly Baskin Robbins deal (a dollar per scoop is too much of a bargain to pass up) or drinking bubble tea in the late spring sunshine. We’d probably be pretending we weren’t stressed about finals either. That’s okay, though.

Admittedly, I shouldn’t complain. On my birthday, I was quarantined with my family of five, which helped alleviate the irritation of being stuck with one person for too long. And there was my favorite thing alive, Luna, my cousin’s dog, adorable, fluffy, and faster than any person I’ve met. 

But it just doesn’t feel like your birthday without seeing your friends.

The night before I turned 16, I watched both Mamma Mia movies with friends and they sang me happy birthday at midnight, which I loved.

The thing is, my birthday has never been my favorite day. I don’t like the awkwardness of happy birthday greetings and teachers trying to get my classes to sing to me. I do appreciate family and friends buying me books and being able to choose the cake.

But I don’t like getting older. I would’ve gladly stayed six years old, when I could read all day and get complimented for it. Today, being productive means ACT prep, schoolwork, debate, summer courses, and something else I’m probably still forgetting.

Or, I’d much rather be in the last couple months of being fourteen last year when I was riding high off the end of debate season, good test scores, and good mental health.

Quarantine has worsened that regret of getting older. The last three months have not felt like actual months, but just lapses in time that may or may not have happened. My birthday was just the frosting on the cake (cue groans about how bad this pun is).

I’m sixteen though. Not much can change that. Unless I get in some odd Benjamin Button situation or the time travel mishaps in Avengers: Endgame.

Age is just a number, I guess. Sixteen is only significant for being four squared.

There’s always next year. And the year after.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image Credit: Bikki, Pixabay

Image Credit: Wokandapix, Pixabay

What’s In A Voice

Music has been an essential part of my life since I was five years old. I don’t think there’s been a day in my life without singing.  When I’m sick or my voice croaks and squeaks, when it hurts, and even when I’m too busy to eat, music has always been there for me when I’ve needed it. When I’m listening to music or singing, everything feels right with the world.

That music has changed over the years. Much of my music comes from my parents, but my older brother affected my music taste the most. As a child, my parents would constantly stream Maroon 5 or Contemporary Bollywood on Pandora radio. As I got older, my brother got me to listen to Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, John Mayer, and Sam Smith. By ten or eleven I was making my own musical choices and when I was fourteen, my taste was completely separate from my family.

But, more than anything, the eleven years I’ve spent in choir has shaped my music forever. I obsessively seek melodic music. I find it hard to enjoy a song without a strong melody, unlike some of my friends who prefer guitar lines or layers.

Inevitably, my musical taste is tied to my choral experience, because the only way I actually learn music is by finding the melodies and harmonies that inhabit it

I’ve discovered that the music I enjoy now is rather different from the rest of my family. My parents cannot stand slow, sad songs – my favorite type of music!  It’s not as though I made a conscious decision to like sad songs, but I’ve come to realize that the strong, melodic tunes I love, are often sad ones.

Here why.  I believe a powerful melody can carry a sad theme without the pressure to have a catchy, poppy background. A simple setting can make a strong tune stand out.

But that doesn’t mean sad songs are the only thing I like. Once in awhile, I’ll listen to quick-moving, happy tunes like Harry Styles’s “Canyon Moon” or Panic! At the Disco’s “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” – they have strong melodies as well. 

At other times, there are songs I can listen to over and over again – mxmtoon’s “almost home” or Conan Gray’s “Heather” they just hit me hard.

But, in that musical search, I neglected one aspect of my childhood: Bollywood music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bollywood music. The background is intricate, the melodies are fun, and the storytelling is incredible. I just don’t know enough of it. 

Of the hundreds of Bollywood songs I’ve heard in my life, I only know “Subhanallah” from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani fully, mostly because of my mom, and that took me hours on end to learn.

I don’t speak Hindi so learning the lyrics took me almost an hour. I read through it at least fifteen times – it was difficult for me to understand. The melody wasn’t hard because Subhanallah is a simple song, but unlike many Western songs, each of its two verses had different melodies -I had to figure out how the verses changed- not easy!

Give me a song from Bach’s cantata and a piano and I can learn it within the hour. That process takes me half the time. I’ll listen to the song, play it on the piano, sing it through a couple of times, figure out the lyrics, then practice it. Twice. That’s it. 

I’m incredibly tuned into Western music, whether it’s choral pieces or theatre tunes or “contemporary” music. It’s expected, easier.

But Hindi songs are difficult. They live by a different set of rules. The language requires a unique technique, while the musical tones, the different runs, vocal flexes, and background, are often more complex than a Western song  (unless it’s background-driven). 

When singing has been defined by Western classical music like mine has, it’s very hard to switch mindsets.

For instance, when I’m singing a song I’ve sung a thousand times, I can mess with it however I want, but I’m almost always true to the style of the song. It’s twice as hard to do that with a Bollywood song. The intricacies are very different and I have to really think about the nuances of the song.

Sometimes that makes me feel like a traitor to my heritage. 

One time I was asked to sing at a neighbor’s Navaratri party. I sang in English. I could’ve sung in Italian, but that would have been weird. I was complimented on my singing afterward, but I know that everyone was disappointed that I hadn’t sung in Tamil or Hindi or any Indian language.

What do I do? I don’t regret singing Western classical. I love my choir and what it’s taught me. 

But, of course, music is about give-and-take. From my point of view, I have excellent Western training but I lost a good desi background. Can you have a perfect vocal technique for twentieth-century English music and for twenty-first-century Bollywood? It seems impossible!

But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. For a year my mom drove me to Palo Alto once a week for Carnatic music but I sucked at it. It was not my jam. Then again, it could’ve just been my petulant eight-year-old self.

Yet despite what my fears tell me, I’m not a traitor to my culture for not enjoying Carnatic music when I was eight. And yes, I do want to get better at singing Indian music, but ultimately, that’s not what matters.

 My younger brother likes dubstep music, I hate it. My dad loves the song “Take it Easy, Urvashi” and my mom detests it. But even then, my entire family will always listen to songs like Culture Club’s iconic “Karma Chameleon”.

The thing is, music is different to everyone.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Never Have I Ever Seen An Indian-American Teen Sitcom Like This!

When I saw the trailer for “Never Have I Ever” I was disappointed, annoyed, and consumed with secondhand embarrassment. How could they make a TV show about an Indian girl who was obsessed with losing her virginity, “popping her cherry”, “getting railed” or any of the provocative phrases that were used in the show?

Short answer: they didn’t.

“Never Have I Ever” is a new Netflix teen comedy show made by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher. It features an Indian-American teen Devi Vishwakumar, who wants to make a fresh start after a traumatic freshman year in which she experiences a three-month-long paralysis following her father’s death.

After the trailer, “Never Have I Ever” surprised me. Devi Vishwakumar, who is excellently played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, is relatable. She wasn’t your Indian stereotype, consumed just with her schooling, and obeying her parents. She is a three-dimensional character, with motive, pain, and emotions.

Devi is a firecracker. She is angry, she is resentful, she is competitive, she has a penchant for swearing and a habit of insulting people. In other words, that part of her personality – the overachieving yet angry nerd – was me in a nutshell.

Yet she was given substance beyond that. We are given a character who struggles through trauma, makes bad decisions, and she is not glorified for it. She is called out by her friends for being self-centered, a liar, and every mistake she makes. Devi is a character who feels real. While she takes from parts of the Indian stereotype, she is made into a three-dimensional character who I related to and it made me happy.

Initially, the element that did turn me off, the obsession with her virginity, was a little over-the-top. I felt as though Devi was being idiotic and foolhardy, trying to “pop her cherry” just for the sake of it, but the way the show tackles it is well-done. Every action of Devi’s is meant to happen. Whether she’s getting stupidly drunk at a party or insulting a college counselor, it makes sense in the context of her character. Devi’s character is built around her mistakes and her regrets, rather than her triumphs, and it makes the show move forward smoothly.

It’s why the show worked for me. In the beginning, I was skeptical, due to the supposed idiocy of the plotlines. As a high schooler, most of these things didn’t or couldn’t happen to me. But somehow these characters, all-too-human and none a true stereotype, carried the show so well.

Nalini, Devi’s mother, is the best example. She is a tough woman who is struggling through maintaining a dermatology practice, running a household, trying to be a mother, and also going through her grief. She is not your Indian stereotype. Yes, she is strict, but she is sassy, and Westernized. She’s not always likable, but she’s never truly the villain. The clash between Devi and her mother makes them both human. Nalini makes mistakes and she comes to terms with them. She grows as much as Devi does.

Another great example is my personal favorite character, Devi’s supposed rival, Ben Gross. Ben is a well-written character. His rivalry with Devi is hilarious and competitive yet he is also given his moments to shine, such as his own episode: “… been the loneliest boy in the world”. Ben is initially rude and callous, but he grows just as Devi does, side-by-side and he is revealed for the sensitive, sometimes a little dumb, sweet guy he is.

“Never Have I Ever” disappointed in some of its technicalities. Tamilians everywhere are pointing out the cringe-worthy reference to ‘thakkali sambar’ made by Devi’s dad. Let me break it down on behalf of my Tamilian mom. First, ‘tomato sambar’ isn’t a thing. Second, he mispronounces the Tamil word as ‘bald’, not as ‘tomato’. Since Tamil is used sparsely in the sitcom, this truly was annoying for Tamil viewers.

While I did enjoy Mindy Kaling’s storytelling overall, she seemed a bit out-of-touch with her audience.  For instance, San Fernando Valley in Southern California near Los Angeles is teeming with Indians. So Sherman Oaks High School must have its fair share of Indian American students. There’s simply no way that Devi could be the ‘only Indian’ in her school or class or even row. It did not make sense.

Yet, despite the minutiae that annoyed me, there are details that made me smile. 

Throughout the show, you see Nalini’s ‘vanki’ ring, a traditional ring of curved gold inset with stones. It made me pause the show and stare for a moment. My mother wears an almost identical ring.

Nalini isn’t overly religious, but she hates when books fall on the floor (because in Indian culture books are blessed and tossing them on the floor is a major offense). Their altar, placed in a corner of the house and decorated with photos and statuettes of Hindu gods, looks similar to my own. They make masala dosa (one of my favorite foods), and they call each other “kanna”, a Tamil term of affection that’s been used on me a couple of times.

As a half-Tamilian, these details resonated with me. But they hit home for my mother who enjoyed ‘Never Have I Ever’ a great deal. It is likely the first time in either of our lifetimes that there has been a three-dimensional Indian character on the American screen.

We are seeing Indian cultures, Indian characters as #1 on Netflix. We are seeing ourselves represented on the largest stage outside of India. And that is incredible.

What’s more – the show featured some top Bay Area talent – Richa Moorjani who plays Devi’s gorgeous cousin Kamala, dancer Jaya Kazi who choreographed the moves to Nagade Sang Dhol in the Ganesh puja scene and Rashmi Rustagi who plays an older Indian woman in Episode 1.

Rashmi Rustagi
Joya Kazi
Richa Moorjani

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately, I loved this show. Though it made me cringe from time to time (and what teen show doesn’t?), it made me feel seen. I know the rage Devi feels and I know the culture she shirks. This is a show that may not be made for my generation, and it may not be perfect, but it speaks to us. My generation lives with Indian culture and American culture, and we are the ones who are stereotyped as “just another overachieving Indian”. We are Devi, despite how much our personalities may differ. 

This show isn’t just for me, in California, cushioned by my South Asian friends and South Asian culture; it’s also for those in middle America who are scared of being seen in Indian clothes and afraid of eating Indian food at school. 

This show is for all Indian-Americans who bridge the gap between cultures and deal with its inherent problems. This show is not a one-note story and nobody is close to perfect. The characters and their lives are imperfect, but it all comes together in one touching story. 

Just remember – don’t forget your tissues!

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Staying at Home while Staying in School

Two months ago when school was still in session, I often heard the sentence “I want to go home” repeated during classes that seemed to go on forever. Yet now that we are staying home while still in school, my schoolmates and I seem to have had a complete change of attitude.

Almost everyone I know misses school; mostly, we miss the ease of it.

Talking to my Women in STEM club every Monday at lunch, or my table group in English..

I miss that.

For most of us it was easy to take for granted the in-person teaching or the social interaction we automatically get.

But, hunkered down in my room in semi-solitary confinement at online school, everything is different. There’s no prepping for debate with my best friend at the library while heavily caffeinated and there’s no lunchtime squabbles about why the body is moist!

There are no friends, no people to see. It’s lonely.

COVID-19 has changed the way we learn.

Now, instead of going to 701 for Chem Honors, I just log into the Zoom call and hope for the best. I text a couple friends about how to solve a problem or finish the assignment, instead of being able to check classwork with my teacher. There’s no face-to-face interaction or no explanation even, of an oddly specific aspect of molality, which is a chemistry concept that is moles of solvent over kilograms of solute – it’s a concept I still don’t understand.

I’m discovering that going to online school is astoundingly different from going to school in person.

When Los Altos schools abruptly closed, we got caught off guard by a new learning environment to which we had to swiftly adapt. Old routines changed – while we have more flexibility in our tasks, accessibility to teachers and resources limit what we can deliver.

We learn differently in virtual school. It’s a fact.

There aren’t any teachers with whiteboards, visual cues and immediate answers to our questions. We have to learn without excellent in-person discussions about why transhumance exists or why Catalonia is trying to separate from Spain.

Instead of lectures, we learn by video and staggered teacher-student interaction. Tests, labs, activities, and teaching are formatted in ways that make complex ideas hard to grasp.

Can you truly comprehend how freezing points change without seeing it for yourself in the lab? It’s really difficult to apply concepts to things you can’t even see.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that learning is easier in the classroom – and not simply because teachers, classrooms and equipment are right there.

In traditional school, we can just go up to our teachers and ask a question or concern about a lesson. Communicating with them online can be quite challenging. Emails go unnoticed and it’s often hard to spot raised hands on Zoom.

If that is tough, what about students who don’t have access to WiFi or a computer at home or students who simply learn better when taught in-person?

Remote learning becomes an impossible task. It means some of us cannot do the work and fall behind for the rest of high school. It can be debilitating for some students who are off campus..

Quarantine has even interrupted activities outside the classroom. Los Altos High School athletics has entirely closed down though people are adapting to the situation in different ways.

“There hasn’t been a lack of athletics for me—as soon as the track season ended a lot of us started training for the cross country season in the fall right away,” said Los Altos sophomore Tomo Chiens, who runs track and cross country. “I’d imagine most athletes are staying in shape. Not exercising drives a lot of people crazy.”

Not going into school is doing that too.

But is it all bad?

I’m enjoying the flexibility that remote instruction offers since at my school activities don’t necessarily have to be done during class time. Now that the whole family is home all the time, I can break my day into manageable chunks and help around the house with cooking lunch or walking Luna, my cousin’s puppy that’s staying with us during the lockdown.

Some of my friends who are more productive at night work when they please, instead of sticking to the everyday school schedule; it helps them avoid the pile-on effect of schoolwork.

But interestingly, some students with social anxiety who are afraid to speak up in class are finding it easier to speak up online and learn without the physical presence of classmates.

And we teens are sleeping longer like we’re supposed to. The Sleep Foundation says teenagers naturally fall asleep late, and rising early to start school makes us act more robotic. Since teenagers function at different hours than adults, having a flexible schedule can actually make us feel better, and improve sleeping patterns.

Two months ago no one could have imagined the quarantined world we live in.  COVID-19  has granted our wish to stay home, but it’s got many of us wanting school the way it used to be.

Yet despite this mixed bag of what online school really is, it is a necessary evil. While we may miss some aspects of school, we do have to realize that if there is any hope of online school ever ending , we have to keep staying home.

So stay at home, kids, and also stay in school.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

 

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