Tag Archives: Politics

Is Gender Parity in Politics a Distant Dream?

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

As another election season comes to an end in India, it leaves us with lingering doubts – introspection into what could have been avoided and needs to be mended. Aggressive campaigning amidst pandemic led to a rocketing spike of cases, an unexpected setback for the central ruling party.

But the fundamental and crucial issue that remains unnoticed is the staggering ratio between the number of male contenders to female contenders in the election. Have you ever pondered on the count? Well, it’s shocking to note that the count not even close!

This is an issue that is very much prevalent across the globe. In America, we saw the first woman win the vice-presidential election campaign only in the recent 2020 election. Prior to Kamala Harris, the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American vice president, only five women throughout history had made it to a major party’s primary debate stage.

According to the UN Gender statistics 2020, globally, only a quarter of seats in national parliaments are held by women. In local deliberative bodies, the count is hardly 37 percent. When it comes to the world’s government heads, only 6.7 percent are women. With the current rate of progress, the UN believes global gender parity can be achieved only after 2060. And even that looks dicey with the number of gender discrimination cases rising across the world.

Not just for women to come to the fore and hold the reigns of power, the journey of disparity goes a long way back, right from the procurement of the basic right to vote in elections. The odyssey of women’s suffrage is unimaginable considering the outrageous reasons cited for denying voting rights to women. Absurd denial reasons included women’s incompetence to understand politics and how they would neglect home and wreck families if allowed to venture into politics. 

It took more than 75 years of struggle, protests, and agony for women to obtain their basic right to vote. However, it’s surprising to observe the superpowers of today were not among the first on the list to embrace the change. New Zealand was the first country in the world to proclaim the right of women to vote in 1893. Followed by Australia, Finland, and Norway. It took yet another seven years for 28 other countries to join the wagon including the U.S, Germany, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries. For Asian countries, they had to wait until the end of World War II.

Unknown to many, few conservative nations withheld the rights until the start of the Twenty-First Century. Oman approved the rights in 1994 and UAE only in 2006. Saudi Arabia became the most recent country to grant women voting rights in 2015. Currently, Vatican City is the only country in the world to deny voting rights based on sex. 

2021 saw a welcoming dawn with Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, becoming the only country to have both a female president and prime minister. But still, the women leaders who have emerged from the shackles of patriarchy are only a handful, while many others are only in the game to honor family names or to be mere puppets in the hands of male supremacy. 

Through this video story, Tell-A-Story unfolds the historical women’s suffrage movement, the journey of the incredible women in power, current staggering gender economics and the need for miles to go, and millions to empower for a gender-neutral world!


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020


 

Rishi Kumar Recruits Student Interns for 2022 Election Campaign

The summer days go by slowly? Well, why don’t you join a summer internship program and find a fabulous leadership opportunity right where you live? You may even be teamed up with your schoolmates.

Get involved in a high-energy campaign by joining the Rishi Kumar for Congress Fellowship program. Submit your application today at RishiKumar.com/Fellowship to be invited to an interview.

With this internship, you will discover a unique empowerment opportunity: You will find plenty of opportunities to be promoted to a Team Lead, Associate Manager, Manager, Sr. Manager, Associate Director, and Director positions.  In the summer of 2020, this program was led by 14 directors, and 45 managers leading specific functional roles, mentoring, and leading interns from 29 states.  The Kumar for Congress team drove an unprecedented engagement with our neighbors, the likes of which our district had never seen before: 100,000 doors, a million phone calls made, called 86,000 seniors offering them help with groceries/medications, and the videos went viral with 1.25 million views. In the November 2020 election, Rishi fell short by 45,000 votes in challenging a 30-year veteran incumbent but did get more votes than any other challenger in the last 30 years.

Rishi’s motivation: Rishi brings a fearless political agenda and is on a mission to change the broken Washington culture by bringing a new brand of people-driven, not lobbyist-driven politics. Watch Rishi’s personal story here. Rishi won with the most votes in Saratoga’s 60-year election history on a people-centric platform and a track record of “Getting Things Done”.  We have had only 2 competitive congressional races in Silicon Valley. This is a unique opportunity that is not to be missed.

Joining the Fellowship Program would allow you to:

An opportunity to lead teams, and discover invaluable management skills.
– Win MVP awards, get recognition awards
– Get a personal letter of recommendation at the end of the program upon request
– Earn valuable political and leadership experience while working alongside dozens of your peers
– Run for the California Democratic Party Executive Board or for a delegate seat.
– Earn passes to the California Democratic State Convention and even meet Presidential candidates

This internship is mirrored after the fellowship program of President Obama’s winning re-election run in 2012. Last summer the Kumar for Congress team had students participating from Stanford University, Georgetown University, University of California (Berkeley), UCLA, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and many local high schools.

For further info, please contact the campaign team at campaign@rishi2020.com

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


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


 

Machiavelli Mitch Akin to Jacobin Jayewardene

(Featured Image: Found on Twitter @ltthompso)

However much you dislike a player in the opposing team, when the blighter does a fiendish bend it like Beckham, at least for a moment we have to hit pause and tip our hat in recognition.

Technically not guilty but guilty – what a diabolical performance with a double-edged sword for the express intent to satisfy and maintain two conflicting groups:

  • Business folks, the source for election funding, desired stability and so wanted Trump to vanish
  • The virulent base was still loyal to Trump and wanted him acquitted

In a cunning, deflecting speech at the Senate, he flicked the fast-paced impeachment ball towards on-side, Biden’s new DoJ, to do the dirty work of making sure Trump becomes toast. 

Reminds me of a similar gambit once carried out in South Asian politics in the eighties.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister was being bombarded by global media for their cruelty against the separation movement by Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). J.R. Jayewardene, the veteran politician, invited the young newly elected Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, to Colombo for discussing and resolving this issue. The old crocodile convinces the well-meaning but inexperienced Rajiv to do the job together.

Thus, India sends in Indian Peace Keeping Force, a trained army battalion, and over a couple of years they too, through association, become villains in the eyes of LTTE. 

End result? At an election rally in southern India, a seventeen-year-old girl, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam of LTTE, garlanded the 47-year-old Rajiv Gandhi and kills him with her suicide bomb vest that carried 1.5 lbs of RDX. Jayewardhane went on to live till the ripe old age of 91.

Ok, ok, it is not ethical or honest behavior, but who said politics is all goody-goody. Politics is dirty and is merely the act of the possible, which puts all politicians in the region of umbra or penumbra, not black or white. Take Churchill, I adore him for tirelessly fighting to ensure democracy prevailed over fascism, but at the same time, I dislike him for opposing the Indian freedom movement.

Talking of democracy, here is how it really survived in 2020. 

Mike Podhorzer, a soft-spoken guy who worked only in the background, was the one to bring together the left-leaning labor union of AFL-CIO and the right-leaning Chamber of Commerce to start having weekly Zoom calls, from as early as 2019. Their mission was to bring the ship of democracy safely into harbor, without being hijacked by the pirates. They quietly achieved the following: 

  • Private money was channeled to influence local governments to pass laws ensuring voting by mail was a seamless process and enough time allowed to count all ballots
  • Invested in ads to shame the two Michigan certifying Republicans to follow the 250-year-old law to respect the will of the people, instead of falling for Trump’s offers to make them rich or bag cushy Ambassador postings
  • Made sure the extreme left did not hit the streets with protests and placards. Their absence on the streets upset the White House as they were banking on that and for skirmishes and violence to happen between the opposing protestors, in order for the President to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, under the guise of controlling civil unrest.

Yeah, it was a close call. It’s time now for the well-meaning Democrats to get off their “America is better than this” high horse and learn to sup with this crafty minority leader. In spite of all his skullduggery, the guy is at least lesser evil than his rabid comrades from TX and MO, right? After all, real governing is something that none of us get to see and it’s never about party policies, it’s always about people, a few good men behind the scenes is all it takes. Remember Reagan and Tip? However, our gentlemanly Schumer has to do one thing – after making deals and shaking hands with Mitch, he must count his fingers to make sure they are all there.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party?

Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party? Yes!

In a recent statement, GM pledged to stop selling Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles by 2035.  This is not much different than one of the merely aspirational goals set out in the green new deal put forth by AOC and others.  In other words, the so-called left-of-center Democrats are much closer to reality than they are given credit for.

On the other hand, we have 139 house republicans and 9 republican senators voting to overturn the 2020 election. This was after the failed insurrection attempt by the Trump mob.  In other words, 80% of the GOP representation in Washington is willing to overthrow democracy.  A significant majority of the registered republicans agree with this seditious position. As If sedition was not enough, the GOP is rich with Q-conspiracy followers and white supremacy groups to round out their core support. The principal policy position of this group is to hold onto power at all costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession are exasperating inherent inequality and preventing us from focusing on the climate crisis and crumbling infrastructure.  In this un-precedented environment of crisis and political chaos, the word centrist is meaningless. I hope the Biden Administration does the right thing and executes their plan to address these issues. They shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a common cause with the sedition caucus!

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.

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Should Biden Steer More Left Given the Vocal Voices In the Democratic Party? No!

The Democrats won the Presidency and also a narrow majority in both houses of Congress. However, this win is not a license to pursue an ultra-left wing agenda as AOC, Sanders, etc. are advocating for. Pursuing socialist policies will be a death knell to the party in future elections.

Ours remains a center-right country. The country itself was founded by immigrants who shunned communism and socialism to make land emphasize personal liberty and freedom. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were successful in part because they governed as moderates. Barack Obama did not pursue a Medicare for All socialist medicine but rather made insurance available to many more Americans at affordable rates. Neither Clinton nor Obama tried to make college free for all. Yes, Americans would support aid to low-income students of merit to attend college. But there would be outrage if colleges are made free for all.

President Biden and the Congressional Democrats would be wise to pursue a centrist agenda that will ensure their re-election and prosperity for the USA.

Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 


Have ideas for what our Forum columnists should debate? Send a note to editor@indiacurrents.com

Love: A Many Splendored Thing

(Featured Image: Debotri Dhar and her book, Love Is Not A Word)

“In literature, culture, history, metaphysics, politics, and their interstices, ideas about love abound,” writes Debotri Dhar who teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. The idea led her to thread together a book — Love Is Not a Word: The Culture and Politics of Desire — a unique collection consisting of twelve well-written essays by scholars, critics, storytellers, and journalists. The idea for the book first occurred to Dhar as a graduate student at Oxford University, and then again while teaching at Rutgers University in the US. It was while she was teaching at the University of Michigan that pieces of the book started finally falling in place. 

The anthology consists of serious yet engaging essays on love, its many definitions, moods, themes, and interpretations. Each chapter is a detailed account of a different aspect of love—tracing both its historical background and contemporary relevance—making it a deeply researched and truly comprehensive read.

In ancient epics, through the practice of the Swayamvara, women such as Sita and Draupadi would review a number of suitors and select one as her husband. And yet, India is known for its arranged marriages and patriarchal attitudes towards matrimony. Marriage is a kind of business in India — thus, giving rise to a lucrative industry of matchmakers, astrologers, horoscope readers, matrimonial advertising, and wedding planners. What’s interesting is that in the same country, Bollywood dreams of romance and love marriages also thrive. In such a context, the living mythology of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata influences modern lives as much as mobile phones and Netflix, writes Malashri Lal, a retired professor at the Department of English at the University of Delhi.

In contrast to the chaste Ram-Sita and Shiva-Parvati pairings in Indian mythology, there is the secret love couple, Radha and Krishna. Then there is Amrapali, the legendary dancer—the most seductive and powerful courtesan in Pataliputra. While writing in Amrapali’s first-person, academic and museum curator Alka Pande traces the history of the Kamasutra, considered the mother of all erotic writing in India. The essay is enlightening as it debunks the myth of this sexual-yogic manual, giving it a much higher status—that of a handbook to help live life to its fullest.

The city has time and again become the backdrop for many a love story. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, much of the tale is influenced by Verona’s streets, piazzas, balconies, and dance halls. Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Bordeaux-Montaigne University, Didier Coste writes a literary, cultural, and global exploration of love and the city through space and time. “Only the stereotypes of light romantic comedy can perpetuate indefinitely the wonders of bumping into each other on Times Square or the Champs Elysees, or fighting for a cab and ending up in bed together for the weekend,” he writes. 

The ghazal has always associated with love, and ideas of the beloved thrive in the ancient poetry of Urdu poetry’s famous exponent Mirza Ghalib. It is ironic then that in the present-day ideas of love, Jihad have negatively colored and taken over daily realities of interreligious love. Delhi-based print, television, and news media journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay traces the politics of love in the aftermath of various historical movements, such as the Partition, the Babri Masjid demolition, and the 9/11 attacks. “Love and Jihad per se are incompatible words,” he writes. 

While the tone of the in-depth essays in the book is mostly academic and scholarly, some are also personal. Through the larger debate around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Delhi-based author, Parvati Sharma writes about her personal experiences of being a young gay person in India. “When you love without the trappings that turn private ecstasy into social routine — marriage, family, children — when you insist on ‘living in’ or being flagrantly lesbian, when you harbor the kind of love that depends upon itself to survive, you do, of course, unsettle the world; and that is no bad thing at all,” writes Sharma.

Further, Christina Dhanaraj, a Christian Dalit woman, talks about her peculiar experiences in love as a Dalit woman. She argues that modern-day apps like Tinder only create an illusion of breaking barriers when it comes to caste and that it plays a huge role in one’s romantic relationship. It brings out the idea that love is, after all, a choice that one makes based on who we are and where we come from. “Loving and being loved, in all its glorified beauty, is a matter of privilege,” writes Dhanaraj. 

Overall, the book provides some insightful perspectives on various dimensions of love. We can’t wait for Volume 2! 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Two States of America

To borrow from the vast vocabulary of my favorite Democrat – shellacking – that’s what the Republican’s delivered to the Democrats. No, dethroning Trump was not a victory, it was merely a natural phenomenon like a volcano that ran out of lava. But folks, please don’t rest on your temporary laurels, for we know there is plenty of red livid magma, seventy-two million to be precise, that is still boiling within and can spurt again. In this brief respite, the need of the hour is a cooling President, and looks like what we have picked is the best bet from the pack we were dealt.

We, the marginal majority, have to wake up to the stark fact that nearly half of our countrymen really want the guy to continue to do/not do whatever the blighter was doing/not doing for the past four years. I know, I know, the normal human reaction is – What the hell?

To stay away from profanity let’s resort to Shakespeare to express the same sentiment.

O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.

Although Mark Antony laments in a different context, we can relate to the feeling of being let down en masse. How could they, Why are they, Can’t they see, similar-sounding questions keep reverberating at our dining tables. This tug-of-war has been going on for too long and the strands in our social fiber are tearing apart and hurting both sides. Need a full stop.

Honestly, I must confess there are some valid points that the Red party is fueled by and the Blue side is too pacific about. What our Master Conman did is make the right sounds like a Pied Piper and the meek and easily swayed crowd followed.

The man is gone but the void is still out there, unfulfilled – call it the elephant in the room. Terms like “We are better than this, E Pluribus Unum, Soul of the nation and other lofty tenets will not fly at this advanced stage of our malady. This is crunch time, we need to address it head-on and pay heed to our brethren. It’s like the Parable of the Lost Sheep but this time it’s a whole darn flock.

There is a story that emerged after the Holy Mosque in Mecca was occupied for a fortnight by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979, an incident that killed hundreds. It goes like this: to the total shock of the government officials, King Khalid invited to his palace the leaders behind the attack and he had only one question for them: What the heck do you want? Apparently, the Wahabi leaders complained the Saudis were losing their original values by embracing western culture and their own traditional way of life was becoming endangered. The King partially agreed and that’s how he started to implement stricter Shariah laws, so it goes.

Biden could do a diet version of King Khalid’s chess move by inviting to the White House all the so-called good people on the other side too and listen to them. Maybe bring Michael Moore as a mediator as some of his school buddies are White Militia and friendly with him. Must rope in AOC, Taliba, Omar, and their ilk, for them to hear firsthand the fears and demands of those on the other side of the fence. Being heard is half the remedy.

Speakers Common by Axel Mauruszat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Down the road, we should consider what the British have – Speakers Corner. Every Sunday morning at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park in London men and women from different persuasions show up with their soapboxes. Anyone can speak at any decibel, discharge their bile, vent their anger and grievances in reckless abandon. The English abuse Indians, the Indians scream about Pakis and vice versa, the Irish thrash the English, the Africans go after all of Europe, the Arabs shower epithets at the Israelis, and on and on goes the fireworks of unbridled cursing. By early afternoon they all then return to their humble abodes, spent and serene.

When I first experienced this phenomenon, fearfully worried violence would erupt any moment, I asked a British Bobby, who was carrying no firearms, why they even allow this. He answered wryly – had it since 1872, this is British democracy, my son. If we could import that from England and practice it in our parks we won’t need them rallies people rush to for release.

I think Albert Camus was the one who said the root cause of all evil is ignorance. There is an even worse strain, being misinformed. It’s amazing that over the years with technological advances we can say it will rain tomorrow at 10:00 AM and surely there will be a downpour. Also amazing is that over several centuries mankind’s basic qualities remain unchanged: lust for power, jealousy, desire for revenge, territorial ambitions, and then there is this tendency to blindly latch on like a leech to what we inherently like to hear. Why some watch FOX only or follow a certain Tweeter only: Muslims are bad for the safety of our country, Mexicans are all thugs, China should be punished and put out of business, Lock her up, Gays should be thrown out of the armed forces, tell your governors to open the economy and get your jobs back. This is like Manna from heaven for the multitudes as these are the exact simplistic solutions they talk in their living rooms. This is the biggest challenge with democracy – the majority of the electorate is naive and so can be led astray, like that colorfully dressed chap with a tweeting pipe from the Middle Ages.

It must be noted in passing that in Australia there is a grassroots movement to curtail the dominance of Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly – in some cities 100% of the newspapers are owned by the feller. Citizens are demanding they don’t want to be brainwashed like the Americans. Let’s try a metaphor here. Say we neglected our normally beautiful lawn for too long and now it has become infected with all kinds of weeds, some as dangerous as poison ivy. But thankfully we have Roundup that can kill them all and bring back the lush green grass back – green moola. 

We all know it’s high time the country invested in revamping our infrastructure, but even more, screaming urgent at this juncture is the multitude of jobs that must be quickly regained. We need to get carpet-bombed with all forms of low-tech work opportunities – road construction, bridges, Wind Mills, Solar, or whatever, so that none of us have idle time for the misinforming devils to use our minds as their workshop. Even the most gullible ones at the extreme virulent end of the right-wing arc, when they are earning say 40K or 50K, will be stone deaf to any dog whistles. So, like the topless Cuba Gooding Jr. says in that Cruise movie: El Presidente, show me the money, the moni, the monii………..

To borrow my favorite Republican’s expression, “fervently we pray and fondly we hope” that Joe will deliver in good time.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Insider to Outsider: Reversing the Trend in Hindu Discourse

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

Late last month, days before the US presidential elections, a prominent media outlet published an article on Indian and Hindu-American politics. The piece, full of polemics, was an apparent attempt to promote the stocks of the Silicon Valley, CA, Democrat Ro Khanna. Besides singing paeans to Khanna, the article’s theme revolved around the terms Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism without much context and any nuanced exposition of those terms. The piece also attacked several Hindu groups and individuals alike for their advocacy.

The piece, written by an India-American journalist, drew strong reactions from the diaspora groups, including this tweet response from Saagar Enjeti, a fellow at Steamboat and Hudson Institute.

The piece in question, and the response to it, indicates a phenomenon, a turmoil of sorts, facing the Hindu community around the world. The dissonance stems from discord and disconnect between how the Hindu faith practitioners see themselves and how the media and academia dominated by Western scholarship present them. 

Hindu-Americans have also been fighting an on-going battle against the misrepresentation of Hinduism in American textbooks. Arvind Sharma, the Berks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University, in his paper “Dharma and the Academy: A Hindu Academic’s View” has taken up the issue of this turmoil that, according to him, “has come to be characterized by a sharp debate, which has also spilled over into journalism and the Internet.”

The turmoil Sharma talks about has been brewing for over a decade. It is part of the Hindu community’s ongoing awakening in post-colonial India that has gained considerable momentum since the election (and re-election) of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister. As the turmoil continues, Hindus have not only started resenting the misrepresentation of their culture, faith, texts, and traditions in media and academia, they have also begun to present vigorous disputations against those misrepresentations.  

To get to the root cause of misrepresentations, it is crucial to understand the modalities of exchanging information in the study of religions. Sharma presents a fourfold typology for such an exchange: insider to insider, outsider to outsider, outsider to insider, and insider to outsider. 

In pre-modern times, Sharma argues, most interactions in the realm of religious studies were from insider to insider. In the context of India, particularly during the colonial time, outsider to outsider became the primary mode of transmission for Hinduism. 

During colonial times, non-native Western scholars started sharing information about Hinduism with other non-native scholars (outsider to outsider). “The West, however, began to control the intellectual discourse in its colonies…and the insiders to these traditions began to be profoundly affected, even in their self-understanding of their own religious traditions, by Western accounts,” writes Sharma. This altering of the self-understanding was due to outsider to insider channel. The current tumult, however, is a byproduct of a vociferous attempt by the native Hindus to change the flow of information from inside to outside.

Sharma claims that with the Hindu-American community reaching a critical demographic mass in North America and India, its ‘response threshold’ has been breached. When a faith community crosses its response threshold, it becomes hard for outsiders to ignore the community’s response to misrepresentations. A response threshold is crossed, according to Erick Sharp (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987), “when it becomes possible for the believer to advance his or her own interpretation against that of the scholar.” 

Sharma observes that protests aren’t necessarily about the facts but the interpretation of the Hindu tradition by academia and media. Indian Intellectual Tradition has a long history of disputation among native scholars. For example, Nyaya realism has a tradition of argumentation with Buddhist phenomenalism at both epistemological and ontological levels. In the present context, however, it is crucial to make a distinction between academic/intellectual work and polemics. Upon examination, many Western presentations of the Hindu tradition may fall into one of the various kinds of Hinduphobic discourses

One of the fascinating concepts in quantum theory is the observer effect, which states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality. One can apply this notion of observer bias to the study of Hinduism by Western scholars. According to Sharma, this principle “provides a basis for examining the fear of the Hindus that Western scholars may be altering Hinduism in the very process of studying it, and the change thus brought about is not for the better.” 

The current effort by the Hindu faith community must be seen as an attempt to reclaim the agency in representing and defining Hinduism. At the very least, non-native agents cannot be the sole arbitrators of the native traditions.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

A Confession: Unbiased Bias

This is a confession.

I have always considered myself an empathetic chap, fully able to understand other people’s points of view. And believed in their freedom to voice them, however radically different or downright stupid they may be, till Mr. Trump showed up. Took maybe a year or two for this thing to bloom by watching my designated TV Channels, till I got infected with this new bug of intolerance – if Chacko is a supporter of Trump, I don’t want to have anything to do with Chacko.

I practiced this for some time till out of the blue the unthinkable happened – some of the folks I deeply respected emerged as T-supporters. My policy of shunning T-people came to a screeching halt and I called for an emergency top brass internal review of this tricky matter. We met in our basement bar, Tomatin on-the-rocks, and me.

While deliberating on the why, how, how come, etc. an old Hindi song dropped by:

Ye, kyaa hua, Kaisay hua
Kab hua, Kyon hua

After a while, my innards started to get attacked by a gnawing doubt – maybe I am wrong. I mean, these are really good people, who genuinely help their fellow beings, and some of them I even try to emulate. How can they be right and I be wrong in a matter that is as clear as black and white. Purely accident, I mean the pun. Drove me to think maybe am missing something and so our session ended with no conclusive findings but decided to keep collecting more perspectives.

The revelation came during a weekend when my Mother-in-Law was visiting us. I was at the kitchen island in the company of the ladies, gingerly cutting ladies-finger lengthwise and overhearing the mother-daughter banter. My wife was asking her something about a ménage-a-trois involving Indra, Ahalya, and Gauthama and the clarification Amma was giving was too complicated for me to digest, but her rejoinder at the end of explaining was a no-brainer – “Anita, these stories in our epics are not just to enjoy their story value, these have lessons we can use in our lives.” My flickering mental tube light suddenly stood still, shining its full 100 Wattage.

I think it was a Zen Buddhist who said, When a man cutting wood gets enlightenment, he continues to cut wood. I continued to cut the green
vegetables but my mind was on Drona, Bhishma, and Karna. All noble characters and stayed so till the end, in the eyes of Vyasa. And this is in spite of staying on the dark side with the Kauravas, for whatever pre-existing conditions, to borrow the popular medical parlance. And we all look up to them as good souls.

That’s when I realized the embarrassing shift that had happened in my neurons over the past few years. Like in the Crusades period in Europe, I came to embrace the mantra “if you are not with me, you are against me.” I wonder what happened to my favorite Henry R. Luce’s journalistic principle, “I will write against my opponents, but I will willingly die fighting for their right to voice their opinion.”

My opinion about Mr. T remains the same and I will continue on the side of the Pandavas, fighting for the soul of the country. But the dismal thoughts I had about my near and dear supporting the wrong guy have been resolved and I feel relieved now, having circled back to my normal self – able to stand in the opposing teams camp and sympathize with them. When close friends and colleagues that I look up to are supporting Big T, they are merely taking a political stand. Me and those folks – we still share the same long term values, only our opinions differ and as we all know, by the grace of God, opinions are not unbreakable, they are always reversible.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Former Mayor Speaks Against Measure RR

The CEO and board of directors of Caltrain are doing a major “dis-service” to the residents of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties with Measure RR.

Their proposal to address and remedy the Caltrain loss of revenue problem is to place on the backs of the total population another tax initiative, while only a limited few will directly benefit if this measure passes.

One, the tax is regressive and negatively impacts the families with household incomes of $50,000 or less, which is more than two-thirds of families in these 3 counties, significantly harder than the families who are directly benefiting from this measure passing.

Remember Caltrain ridership, 80% of those individuals have a household income greater than $200,000.

Two, the measure is asking the public to commit to this tax for 30 years…..Caltrain, is dying, a dinosaur, even before the pandemic, ridership has been steadily decreasing….now after the pandemic, the world has changed….we work from home, our bay area’s companies will never return to employment levels pre-pandemic, and ridership will never approach yesterday’s numbers.  

The bottom line is, the board and CEO have failed their fiduciary responsibility……they should have foreseen this coming at least 5 years ago ……they did not and did nothing…now with their backs up against the wall, they offer a remedy that lacks any strategic thought, does not consider today’s technology direction, no consideration for the existing and future work patterns,  and chose to ignore the impact another tax has on the lowest wage earners, to name a few. One question I have is why no reduction in headcount, salary expense,  or their fully paid pensions and medical benefits?

We should not suck out of the public another $100,000 million annually,  taxes to provide a service for less than 1% of the population….let me remind you that 1% are the wealthy 1%……and again,  make this law for 30 years!  This board and CEO have not demonstrated they are worthy stewards the public can trust….and the measure has no allowance for independent oversight and reporting back to the public.

Think of the impact these tax dollars could have on improving our school, housing, health care, youth employment training, and programs, etc.

Before I close, let me address the key selling point of this Measure…….”it will result in less traffic on our freeways”.  An empathic No, Caltrain’s impact on reducing traffic congestion is and will be very minimal, less than a 1% reduction may be achieved if this measure passes. It is expensive to ride and inconvenient, for the majority of us to even consider.

In closing, the proponents of this measure were also not transparent in the pre-work/surveys that they used to gauge the level of public support…they did not inform the public they were seeking approval of a measure that will be the law for the next 30 years.  Why place this tax on the backs of our children?

I hereby humbly request the board to have the moral compass to withdraw this request to the public.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Lawrence

Former Mayor, Foster City


Jim Lawrence is the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Expertus Inc. A change agent by definition, is active in his community, having served as Mayor of the city of Foster City, appointed to numerous county & Statewide boards and committees, and elected to the board of several nonprofit organizations. 

Featured image found here and license here.

Weltschmerz

As if flipping pages in a magazine, I riffle through the recent pages of my life quickly and without close attention. Now entering the eighth month of sheltering-in-place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I am tired of it all: tired of social isolation; tired of staying home, tired of reading charts and numbers documenting cases, deaths, and available ICU beds; tired of seeing how we are (or are not) measuring up to the rest of the world; tired of dissent between medical experts, scientists, and politicians; tired of a President who feeds us “really big” lies—“…children are almost immune to this disease…” or, “I tell you, it’s just going to go away…poof.”

And I am sad: sad for our economy; sad for those who have lost their livelihoods and their homes; sad for those who are hungry; sad for those who cannot continue the education they deserve; and sad for those who continue to work despite fear of becoming infected—those who take care of us, feed us, teach us. I am also sad for our vulnerable children and young people who are trying to grow up in this crazy time—toddlers neglected by parents who are working full time from home while doing their best to serve both employer and family. I am sad for teen-agers, bored by months of “lockdown” and social isolation, who are now finding escape in “wilding,” driving too fast, and eschewing masks, and sad for new college grads whose dreams have been dashed. I am sad kids who just want to play ball with their teams, perform with their orchestras, and follow their youthful passions. I am sad for people whose loved ones are dying alone in hospitals, and mothers who give birth, but cannot hold their newborn babies.

I feel sorry for celebrations missed, wedding plans dashed, funerals postponed, college days lost, and vacations that could have been. I feel bad that fear keeps us from doctors, dentists, and therapists, or from going to the grocery store, gym, barbershop, or manicurist. Life is too short, too dear, to put on hold. 

But most of all, I am sad for the lives lost, a multitude of deaths, both in our own backyards and around the world, lives that were snuffed out as quickly as blowing out a candle; some never had a chance to shine. As of today, 1.04 million lives around the world have been taken by the Coronavirus—210,00 in the United States and 102,685 in India.

The thought of continued social isolation, closed access, mask-wearing, illness, fear, and economic collapse is almost too much to bear. To add to this misery, our beautiful America is now on fire. There are currently (September 13, 2020) ninety-four—yes, ninety-four—large wildfires burning across several Western states. In California, most of the fires are due to a combination of drought conditions plus lightning strikes.

President Trump once again incorrectly blamed California for the fires. “…you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” he said, neither seeming to understand that lightning strikes caused a majority of the fires, nor that most of California’s forests and parks are federally managed. He went on to say, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them (California) pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”  It’s all just too much.

There is a German word, weltschmerz, that sums up what I am feeling. It is an amalgam of two words, world plus pain, and means weariness, sadness, frustration, and yearning caused by the reality of the world as it really is rather than the way it should, or could be. I am suffering from weltschmerz, not only due to this pandemic, not only due to the fires, but also due to the current state of our country where the difference between black and white has once again reared its ugly head, and where we can watch…from the comfort of our couches…black people pleading for their lives as they are being murdered or hunted down by our own policemen, and in turn policemen being gunned down by anti-police mobs. We see immigrants fleeing desperate situations being turned back from our borders, their families often separated. How can we ever forget children in cages? 

Then there is the state of the world, our poor, war-weary world, that we can also watch from the comfort of our couches, as it is being destroyed, as people are being killed and babies are dying, as refugee camps are growing. Not a pretty sight, our world right now.

Weltschmerz. A good word, a necessary word. I need a few days to wallow in the misery that now surrounds us, and to pray for better. I need to immerse myself in the sadness of our state, our country, our world. It is not my nature to put on a happy face non-stop for months on end. I need to mourn the losses all around me, and to help carry the weight of the world, if only metaphorically. It keeps me from crying and will help get me through the months ahead.

Weltschmerz.


Pauline Chand is a senior writer who enjoys sharing stories with her grandchildren.

Raising A Rennu: What Parents Should Know

Genius Kids founder Rennu Dhillon says our greatest fear after death is public speaking — unless we make some incremental changes in our education system while we’re alive. 

“Confidence is critical,” Dhillon says. “You have to learn how to take control of your life. Compassion, communication, eye contact — these are the kinds of soft skills that we as parents and teachers need to instill in our kids today.” 

Her personal odyssey — long before she became a Bay Area education mogul, Radio Zindagi talk show host, and community activist — is its own story of confidence and coming into one’s own. Dhillon grew up in a tightly-knit Kenyan suburb, much like our Bay Area cities littered with extracurricular activities and educational pursuits. 

“My mother, being the typical Indian mother that she was, enrolled me into practically everything from music, art, piano, and sports,” Dhillon says and laughs. “But my father, a medical practitioner and the local Deputy Mayor was very deep into politics. So one of the big things that he really wanted us, kids, to focus on was communication. They enrolled me into a drama school called the Little Theater Club at the age of three.” 

Dhillon’s childhood in Kenya marked the intersection of so many rapid changes, from an early wave of the feminist movement to political unrest in India following the death of Indira Gandhi. The young actress put pen to paper, drafting impassioned poems and letters for the local newspaper.  

“I was a very, very controversial figure in my town,” Dhillon says. “I mean, I was always expressing my views, especially when it came to women’s issues. And my dad didn’t even know half the time when I was writing to newspapers. It would only be when we would get anonymous phone calls at home threatening me about something that my dad would look at me and say, ‘did you write that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘yep.’ God, I caused so much drama at home.” 

Twenty years later, the outspoken Kenyan pre-teen, after completing her Pharmacy Degree in the United Kingdom, and Doctorate of Science,  launched into two very successful businesses of her own – a matrimonial dating agency and recruiting firm in the United States. She then ventured in Recruiting CEO’s for start up’s and went from hooking people and people to people and jobs. As a single mother navigating the labyrinthian American Dream, helping young men and women find love offered startling insight into the role of ‘soft skills’ within the South Asian American community.  

For Dhillon, the devil was in the details. From critiquing her client’s fashion choices to providing advice on eye contact and tone, she realized how the simplest features of personal interaction paved the way to success. Her experience as a dating coach and recruiter molded her vision when she opened up a Fremont-based daycare and accelerated learning center named Genius Kids. 

Unlike mainstream education programs, Genius Kids instills public speaking and collaborative skills in students from a young age. Founded in 2001, the organization quickly caught on among Bay Area parental circles. Dhillon’s effortless relationship with kids, paired with her knack of combining learning strategies with the latest technology, brought in more families than ever. 

“I think kids learn with smart and interactive technology,” Dhillon says. “We were actually one of the first preschools to ever introduce smart boards into the classrooms. Even the toddlers will come up on our stage, look at a screen, and point to the answer with their little fingers. These are our ways of teaching children. To stimulate students’ curiosity, I don’t want anyone memorizing stories in my classes. I want discussions. I want kids to tell me the story back in their own words — add their own flavor to The Three Little Pigs and use their own imagination. This is how we access a child’s voice and build on their confidence.” 

For the second time in her life, Dhillon embarked on a writing journey, this time penning a parenting book titled, Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. The book has different sections dedicated to Dhillon’s ‘Cs’ — compassion, conflict resolution, charisma, control — the different elements that shaped her experience in both teaching and parenting.

“There’s a need to simplify parenting into its basic ingredients,” Dhillon says. “It’s not something that always comes naturally — especially now that we have all these distractions. The world was very different for my great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents. Now, we’re living in a crazy world — completely insane. And if you don’t prepare your child to be able to face a world of the unknown, your child won’t have any control over their life. So I’m a huge one for books. I’m always on the search for new material and information because learning never stops.” 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time for Dhillon to release Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. As lockdown restrictions force schools to adapt to a virtual learning environment, every parent must challenge their preconceived notions about testing, college admissions, and academic life. And perhaps there may be no better writer to release this book than Dhillon herself. As a woman who ventured across borders, within new industries, and into the lives of hundreds of children, Dhillon seeks to embody the very experience she chronicles in her book — a journey into the precarious unknown, where learning and adapting is always essential. 

“Don’t underestimate your children,” Dhillon says. “Let them pursue and find their path. And most of all, listen to what they have to say.” 

Stay tuned for Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders, which releases on October 6th on Amazon! Click here for further details.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor for India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as the Executive Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak. Connect with Kanchan on Instagram: @kanchan_naik_