Tag Archives: political

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

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 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

Why This Republican Indian-American Veteran Turned Democrat

I immigrated to the United States of America in 1992. I was a young man, under 21 years old. Shortly after my arrival, I found myself working at TEXACO to earn money, not realizing that I had just then personified the American cliché of a brown man from India working at a gas station.

As my family became situated, I joined the United States Army Reserves. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I put my studies on hold and volunteered for active duty and was sent into the active war zone in Afghanistan. I wanted to do my duty, and fight back in the face of the massive terrorist attack that we had all experienced. This drive was inspired by Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, where he instructed me to do my duty, since action (karma) is superior to inaction.

I suppose you could say I was a staunch “Rush Limbaugh Republican”  from the moment I arrived in 1992. Looking back, I believe my Republican identity was due to the very fact that I was an immigrant: I came through the proper legal channels and had worked extremely hard for what I had. It felt natural to align with conservatives living in my community in Georgia.

After I moved to Arizona, I became active in my local Republican party and nearly ran for political office. At that time, I was virulently anti-illegal immigration, owned many guns, and supported all of America’s military engagements overseas. Even as I was deployed multiple times into combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had no second thoughts about any of my deployments. I completely trusted President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and did not see any reason to doubt any decisions they took to send me to fight other brown people.

I did not realize then, in the manner I do today, that throughout my deployments, I was in subconscious conflict with people who shared a culture that was quite similar to my own. They even resembled me physically much more than my white compatriots did. Though there were horrible people on the battlefield who would have readily killed me, my family, and other Americans if presented the opportunity, the majority of the people caught up in the conflict, had no such terrorist credentials.

I failed to realize after my deployments that I was suffering from combat-related Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) No amount of cost-benefit analysis could justify my involvement in these unjust U.S. led wars, which made my PTSD suffering even worse. My war buddies and I belong to a generation of war veterans who absolutely detest being “thanked” for their service. Most people who have not served in the military do not realize that this country’s Republican leadership at that time, in waging the war in Iraq, had subjected their own military forces and their families to absolute hell without a clear endgame in sight. 

I hadn’t realized that while fighting in barren combat zones, my erstwhile Republican utopia had had a tiny seed of reality planted in it for the first time. Fast forward a few years past both my daughters’ births, and I fully realized that I could no longer ignore reality in my search for arbitrary acceptance into American society. I could no longer afford the false belief and luxury of thinking that as a successful and well-off Indian American, I was “white enough” in a society that was getting more virulently anti-minority by the minute. Around the time President Obama’s second term in office ended, and Trump ripped apart Hillary Clinton’s dreams of a Presidency, I finally accepted my truth and became a Democrat.

As November approaches, I realize that as a Hindu, I must take action. Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita 3.8, “niyataṁ kuru karma tvaṁ karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ śharīra-yātrāpi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ” (action is better than inaction).  If I refuse to fight against the injustices I see, I will sin (pāpam). Lord Krishna says as much to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita, 2.33. It is for these reasons that blind acceptance of all the destructive and racist policies of the Trump administration, simply because he appears to have a friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Modi, is morally wrong for Hindus. Excusing the Trump administration’s criminal actions in Washington, D.C., or Portland, Oregon, or the deliberate separation and imprisonment of little kids in cages away from their parents at the border would make me a deserter of my Dharma. 

As Indians and Hindus, we must remember that it is the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who are fighting for the poor, the weak, the minorities, and for social equity and justice. Vice President Joe Biden is a man of conviction who has suffered unimaginable losses in his personal life, which in turn have honed him to be laser-focused (what we refer to as “एकाग्रता,” or concentration) on what he feels is vital for social good. Biden has been and always will be a friend to India. More importantly, he will support us immigrants who willingly chose to leave India behind and voluntarily became citizens of our new home, the U.S.

On this auspicious occasion of the 73rd Indian Independence Day, it would be a fitting tribute to our former home to stay true to our culture, our traditions, and our compassion for others. We represent India in the best light possible in our new home through our actions. I hope that you join me in voting for Joe Biden for President on November 3, 2020. 

In the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: “Take to the path of Dharma – the path of truth and justice. Don’t misuse your valor. Remain united. March forward in all humility, but fully awake to the situation you face, demanding your rights and firmness.”


Ruchir Bakshi is a U.S. Army combat veteran with deployments to locations in South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Ruchir has a MA degree in Management, and he is a highly experienced Instructional Systems Design professional and has worked on both unclassified and classified projects within the federal government. He is a national board member of South Asians for Biden.

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

I care so deeply and strongly for the minority communities in America. This is not a question of a singular time point but a story that transcends time and geographical location. I dedicated my life to the cause when I began to see how profoundly entrenched the problems were within our government. 

In just a few short months, compounded factors have exposed that network.

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

You will find that the same people can be grouped into the answer to many of those questions. 

Violence creates a response. I see that. I understand that. I am with that. When Trayvon Martin died unarmed, at the young age of 17 in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and I saw a path forward.

“I can’t breathe”, said Eric Garner as he was ruthlessly murdered by cops in 2014 – for what reason – possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

And so many more have died. Here were are today – #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, #JusticeForAhmaudArbery, #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.  

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

In 2016, I felt helpless when I was pulled over in Alabama and asked to step out of my vehicle and come to the back of my car to speak with a white officer. The person in the passenger seat had no view of me and was not allowed out of the car. I was cited for driving 5 miles below the speed limit but my stop had nothing to do with my driving and more to do with my skin color, a brown-skinned woman traveling with all her belongings on a road trip home to California. She must be an illegal immigrant.

I was let go but so many aren’t. I feel the injustice. I want to protest. But now I find myself asking the question, in the middle of a pandemic, is that the smartest move?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it seems that every person I know is engaged in the BLM movement – even the ones who have been apolitical till this point, the ones rapping the n-word without being part of the black community, and the ones who have shut me down for being too “political” for talking about these issues. 

I’m unsure how to feel. 

Is this a product of unrest or restlessness of being at home? 

Unfortunately, killings by police are not isolated to a few times a year. Mapping Police Violence is a great resource and presents a reality that is not surprising to me. Out of 365 days last year, there were only 27 days that the police did not kill someone – an indication of oversight in due process.

This is not a singular time point. We are not in this for instant gratification.

So we quickly share the information we see on social media, join the cause, spread awareness. We see something happening and we are quick to act, rightfully so. BUT then the next hashtag comes around and we forget the last one…

Social media activism can be beneficial, as we’ve seen with #MeToo and #BLM, but with #BlackOutTuesday, there was criticism, almost immediately. People began the day by posting black squares but soon after, black and brown activists were cautioning people to spread information rather than suppressing it by blacking out Instagram feeds. 

Even as an engaged, politically active person, I was confused about what stance to take. Eventually, I took down my post with a black square. I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which I will execute through my actions, spread of information, donations to groups, and dialogue with my family and friends. It doesn’t need to be on social media. 

What I AM seeing: people coalescing in a way like never before. 

Who cares if you were unaware before. I’m glad you’re part of the movement NOW. 

Social media doesn’t need to be performative. But it can remain informative. Take the time to reflect and find the best way for yourself to get involved. Keep in mind your social responsibility with the ongoing pandemic:

  1. Protest with a group of fewer than 6 people at your neighborhood street corner. Maintain social distance.
  2. If there is a curfew in your city, like the one in San Jose, go outside and walk around for 10 minutes after curfew (only if it is safe for you to do so).
  3. Start conversations with people you normally would not.
  4. If you don’t currently have money, the AdSense revenue from these following videos will be given to organizations working on black movements:
  5. If you have money, donate to these following organizations:
  6. Find local black organizations to support (here are some for my SJ community):
  7. Email your local representatives.
    • Email Mayor Sam Liccardo and Chief Police Garcia using this template.
    • Report what abuse you see here.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and could not have written this piece without the help of all the black and brown activists sharing valuable information. Most of the information within this article is compiled with the help of Ritika Kumar. Thank you to all the black and brown people committed to change! 

Unintentional “No Party Preference” Voters May Need To Re-Register With Preferred Part

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Voters who believe they mistakenly received a notice in the mail from the Registrar of Voters indicating their options for voting in the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary Election as a “No Party Preference” voter may need to re-register in their party of choice. 

The Registrar of Voters’ Office began receiving numerous calls and emails in response to a postcard sent to voters registered as “No Party Preference,” or NPP. Some voters who received the postcard questioned whether it was authentic or sent in error because they did not recall registering as NPP. 

After reviewing the issue, the Registrar of Voters is confident that the postcard was sent to the correct voters but believes that some voters may have unknowingly had their party registration changed to No Party Preference as a result of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

The Registrar of Voters does not know how many voters may have had their party preference changed in this manner, but since the postcard was mailed, the office estimates it has been contacted by approximately 300 voters who may have been impacted. 

Voters who believe that they may be impacted are encouraged to re-register to vote to make sure that their records are updated before the March primary. “We want to assure our voters that the notice was genuine,” said Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey. “If they received this postcard, they need to take action to request a crossover ballot or re-register with their preferred party.” 

After the 2018 statewide rollout of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, some voters may have inadvertently had their party registration changed. This issue occurred if voters skipped the party preference question, which caused their party to default to No Party Preference, even if they had previously been registered with a qualified political party. As well, shortly following the launch of the live connection into the statewide voter registration database, the DMV discovered that they had data conversion issues with the transfer of information. Such registration updates can occur while completing or updating a driver’s license, ID card, or change of address transaction by mail or at the DMV. 

Board of Supervisors: Mike Wasserman, Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese, Susan Ellenberg, S. Joseph Simitian County Executive: Jeffrey V. Smith 

Voters wishing to check their registration status may do so online under the “Register to Vote” tab at www.sccvote.org. Re-registration may be completed online at registertovote.ca.gov. Regular registration for the March primary ends February 18, 2020. After that, voters may register or re- register at the Registrar of Voters’ Office or any Vote Center and cast a Conditional Voter Registration Provisional Ballot; however, the process is streamlined if registration occurs before the February 18 deadline. 

Nearly 300,000 Santa Clara County voters are registered as No Party Preference, and their primary election ballots do not include candidates for President. The postcards mailed last week, which are required by the California Elections Code, outlined what steps are needed to cast a crossover vote in the presidential contest for American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties. The Green, Peace & Freedom, and Republican parties opted to not allow crossover voting. NPP voters who wish to cast a ballot in the presidential primary for any of those parties must re-register with that party. 

Early voting at the Registrar of Voters’ Office will begin on February 3; Vote Centers will open beginning February 22. These new Vote Centers are a central part of the new Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) being introduced to Santa Clara County voters in 2020. Under VCA, every voter receives a Vote by Mail ballot along with more days and more ways to cast their ballot at the Vote Centers. 

Completing the postcard or voting a crossover ballot does not change a voter’s registered party affiliation. Voters who complete this postcard will continue to be registered as No Party Preference and will have an opportunity to request a crossover ballot in each future presidential primary election. All requests for new ballots to be mailed must be received not later than February 25, 2020. 

For more information, contact the Registrar of Voters’ Office at (408) 299-VOTE (8683) or toll-free at (866) 430-VOTE (8683), or visit sccvote.org. Voters may also visit the California Secretary of State’s website for further information on NPP voting here

“NO PARTY PREFERENCE” VOTING FOR A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE While all voters can vote in the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary Election, voting for a presidential candidate is dependent on political party registration status. 

If you are registered with a political party: 

You can vote for a candidate running for president in that party. 

These parties ALLOW a “No Party Preference” voter to cast a crossover vote in the Presidential Primary Election: 

  • American Independent 
  • Democratic 
  • Libertarian 

These parties do NOT ALLOW a “No Party Preference” voter to cast a crossover vote in the Presidential Primary Election: 

“No Party Preference” voter to cast a crossover vote in the Presidential Primary Election: 

  • Green 
  • Green 
  • Peace & Freedom 

You were sent a postcard to select a party ballot. By filling out the postcard, you will receive your party preference ballot by mail for this election only and your registered party will not change. You can also select the party ballot at the Registrar of Voters’ Office or at any Vote Center in Santa Clara County. 

  • Republican 

If you want to participate in the Presidential Primary Election for these parties you must re-register in that party. Registration deadline is February 18, 2020. After that date, voters can still re-register but they will cast a Conditional Ballot that needs to be reviewed before it is counted. 

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