Tag Archives: #prejudice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Maulik Pancholy’s Book ‘Best At It’ Confronts Being a Gay Indian American In the Midwest

This delightful debut novel by award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy is the story of Rahul Kapoor, an awkward 12-year-old Indian American gay middle-grade boy coming into his own in a small town in Indiana. One of Time Out‘s “LGBTQ+ books for kids to read during Pride Month,” The Best at It has also garnered a coveted Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association.

Pancholy, based in Brooklyn, New York, has a career spanning hit television shows (30 Rock, Whitney), animated favorites (Phineas and Ferb, Sanjay and Craig), the Broadway stage, and films. He also served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and is the co-founder of the anti-bullying campaign Act to Change.  

As an LGBTQ kid, Pancholy never saw himself in the books he read. And so, while it’s a work of fiction, this is also a deeply personal book that reflects his own struggles, coming to terms with his LGBTQ identity, and the joy of discovering how to be the best at being oneself. Moreover, it’s a love letter to his grandparents. 

Home denotes everything that’s safe and comforting for Rahul. His world consists mostly of his 72-year-old wheelchair-bound grandfather, Bhai, who is full of life, and almost like an older brother to him, as well as his best friend, Chelsea. Like many young second-generation (‘ABCD’) children his age, Rahul is embarrassed by his ethnic identity and wants to belong with the cool (read ‘white’) kids in school. 

Telltale signs of his being somewhat different from the others begin to show up early on—when he’s terrified of dancing with a girl and can’t help staring at a boy. His bullying classmate, Brent Mason, constantly picks on him for being different – making jokes about his culture and asking him if he’s gay. And then there is also Justin Emery, another classmate who Rahul is secretly attracted to, and wants to emulate.

Amidst all this confusion, Rahul’s grandfather tells him that if he dedicates himself to something that he is good at and becomes the best at it, then nobody can stop him and stand in his way. After many trials and errors—football team tryouts (which he fails miserably at) and professional acting auditions (where he faces racial discrimination)—he finally discovers his true talent and joins his school’s Mathletes’ team. Ultimately, Rahul finds that being the best is about finding something you love and doing it until you get better at it. 

Pancholy lightheartedly touches upon several serious themes, such as ethnicity, inclusivity, bullying, and sexuality. There is also a reference to the 2015 film The Man Who Knew Infinity, based on the life of the famous Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who faced racism, bullying, and prejudice in the early 1900s—which he managed to overcome, and came out as a winner.

The book is also filled with lots of stereotypes that good-humoredly poke fun at the Indian community, such as nerdy Indian kids who get perfect scores on their math homework, Indian ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ hooked to Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, and all Indian grandfathers having a “Mr. Rogers-worthy supply of cardigans”. 

Towards the end of the book, rainbow colors mark the celebration of Holi at an international carnival of dance, music, art, and food with participation from people of various countries. The festival of colors commemorates the triumph of good over evil—“the chance to forgive people and repair relationships.” And so, an important takeaway from the book is: “Being different is what makes us fun.” 

Overall, reading this fun and the breezy book is a pleasurable experience, largely due to Pancholy’s playful and infectious writing that is filled with childlike energy and enthusiasm.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

“Often Our Communities Are Pitted Against Each Other” says Manjusha Kulkarni of A3PCON

A rash of hate incidents against Asian Americans is spreading like a virus since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On March 16, eight people were shot and killed at three Atlanta area spas amid growing fears nationwide of anti-Asian bias. Six of the victims were Asian women.

Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.

Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.

The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors)  amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”

At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.

“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,”  declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.

STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).

According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.

In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.

The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while  Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.

The effect on the Asian American community is significant, said Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, referring to a Harris poll that showed three-quarters (75%) of Asian Americans  increasingly fear discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.

“The surge in violence is creating an atmosphere of  tremendous fear,” noted Cynthia  Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-creator of Stop AAPI Hate.

Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.

Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.

Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.

“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.

Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’

“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.

AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.

“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”

So how is the nation addressing this issue?

“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.

A number of AAPI organizations, including  OCANational Council of Asian Pacific AmericansChinese for Affirmative Action, and Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, have joined forces to unanimously condemn anti-Asian hate crimes. Several civil rights advocacy groups – Chinese for Affirmative Action, SAALT, and A3PCON, offer in language links on their websites, to report hate incidents.

At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.

“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”

Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division.  “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”

Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Originally published February 24, 2021.

Letters to the Editor: 2/25/2021

Dear India Currents,

On skin color…

I am not an apologist for the Indians’ penchant for fair skin. I merely want to say that different nations/ethnic groups have different criteria for beauty/handsomeness, mostly illogical.  Why is a taller man considered more handsome than a shorter one or a 36-24-36 an exquisite figure for a woman? 

Another thing to clarify: in India, unlike in Latin America or among African Americans, skin color is not indicative of racial parentage. Such prejudices hardly exist in India in the workplace, where your work is valued much more than your ‘beauty’.  The preference for fair brides is a throwback from an earlier era, when girls were married off in their early teens and arranged marriages were the overwhelming norm.  The girls were too young to be distinguished by their education and their physique and features had not stabilized yet – skin color was a more definitive characteristic.  This prejudice will slowly disappear as women become more educated and more assertive and have a lot more to show than their skin color.  But prejudices die hard.

Sincerely,

Partha Sircar

Concord, California


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 

Where Do South Asians Stand on BLM?

Silence is the language of courage 

that lost its way home to the heart 

It’s the dialect of the unspoken things

that fester between our bones, it’s the dungeons 

of distraught eyes that have seen enough

to stop watching. 

But my tongue holds gardens that cannot fit 

between my teeth, and my words grow in 

places where injustice cannot. 

And the leaves that sprout from this throat

take the shape of a language that knows no chains, 

a language that refuses to disrespect the body 

that houses it.    

-Kanchan Naik      

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

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

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

SAALT

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

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

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

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

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

—-

APIA Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

South Asians for America

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

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

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

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

—-

World Hindu Council of America

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

—-

VPHA

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

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

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

—-

Hindu American Foundation

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

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

HAF calls upon police departments across the country to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this on the HAF website

—-

Brooklyn Raga Massive

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

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

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


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

Featured Illus­tra­tion by @sapnasscribbles

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

Tooth and Claw, Knee on Neck

Mesmerized, my son and I watch the television screen. Somewhere in the vast plains of the Savannah, a leopard lies in ambush to capture his prey. In the dimming light of the late evening, his spotted coat blends in with the surroundings. Crouched low, he inches forward in stealth towards a herd of gazelles, who oblivious to the imminent danger, quench their thirst at the watering hole.

We lean forward in our seats as the leopard nears his quarry. Quiet, lithe, brutal hunger in his eyes, he prepares to pounce. Just then, a faint rustle alerts the herd. They take off. Gazelles of all ages. Terror in their hearts, swift in their stride, and with a deep desire to live. But can they outrun the leopard?

A fierce chase ensues as the savage beast bounds across my screen flying like the wind determined to kill. I feel my pulse quicken. Which one in the group will he target?

I watch helplessly as a calf, confused and frightened separates from the herd. Deftly, the leopard swoops in on his prey. The calf struggles, fights back but is pinned down in a moment. It is no match for the predator’s prowess. A quick bite on the calf’s neck ensures its life is slowly sucked away. Breath by breath. A tender life short-lived.

The leopard famished, victorious stands majestically with a paw on its vanquished kill. This poignant visual of the hunter and the hunted so reflective of Lord Tennyson’s sentiments in his words “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

I cannot help but feel the pain of the mother who has lost her fawn that night.

I hold my son close and I know all across our country mamas of color, young and old, hold on tightly to their sons as their television screens replay the merciless murder of George Floyd, pinned helplessly down by a white officer, his knee on the victim’s neck. Their hearts bleed as they watch the life ebb out of him breath by breath. The hunter and the hunted. Could it be their son next?

Indeed, nature is savage in her ways. The leopard kills to sustain, yet, what justification can the police officer offer for killing the vulnerable? Where do you go if the very ones you trust to protect you turn against you? Why was George Floyd killed?

This has to end.

Our country is hurting deeply as the disease of prejudice is preying upon us. Riots and vandalism may not be the solution but staying silent isn’t either. Mamas of the world, we need to unite and fight this together. We need to speak up now for those who cannot and as we awaken from the slumber of the lockdown and an epoch of indifference, each and every one of us needs to question and examine our own biases and beliefs so we can begin to heal together. We need to first believe and then inculcate the value in our children that every life is significant.

Vidya Murlidhar is an essayist and the author of the illustrated book, “The Adventures of Grandpa and Ray”. Her work has featured in Mothers Always Write, Grown and Flown, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Life Positive and other places. She is passionate about teaching kids and conducts online workshops from her home in Charlotte, NC. 


This post was previously featured as Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw and was one of the prize-winning entries in an online writing contest organized by FB group “Did You Read Today?”