Tag Archives: progress

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

After 370: Glimmers of Hope

Amrita Kar who was only four years when she became a refugee, now lives in Philadelphia and carries vivid memories of flying a kite with her sister and vignettes of her lost house. Ruchi Kolla from the Bay Area still remembers her childhood, the dolls she left behind in their mad flight in 1990 and nurtures a dream to take her children back to their home. Shakun Mallik, who lost her childhood home when her family was forced to leave Kashmir, now lives in Washington DC but wishes to go back. 

Since being forcefully evicted 30 years ago, the Kashmiri Hindu community has had to make a new life for itself. Today they can be found scattered in towns and cities all over India and the world. Thousands live in USA and Canada. While many years have elapsed, the pain for some is as raw today, as it was in those dark times three decades ago, when they witnessed their long time neighbors and friends turn on them.

For Kashmiri Hindus who have been exiled from their homes for decades, the one-year anniversary of the nullification of Article 370, is a poignantly political and personal milestone.

Women carry especially painful memories of those nights that echoed with slogans demanding Kashmiri Hindus leave the valley but leave their women behind. I caught up with three Kashmiri women who had been forced to leave their homes, now living in USA, to find out how the repeal of Article 370 has influenced their hopes for the future.

Last few remaining Hindu temples in Kashmir.

During their 30-year exile, Kashmiri Hindus have seen two generations of senior family members pass away with unfulfilled desires to return home. A new generation of kids has grown up cut off from their roots. Yet hope persists and got a fresh boost as they watched the Indian government finally abolish article 370 and take steps to redress some basic inequities.

The ladies interviewed were delighted at the change in J&K’s residency laws which are already showing results – just a few months in. With the grant of domicile certificates to long-time residents of the state, Dalits in Kashmir (also known as Valmikis) now have a chance to get access to better education and employment instead of being held as semi-bonded labor in janitorial jobs.

Homosexuality is not illegal anymore, removing a Damocles sword that hung over the LGBTQ community. They are also seeing Kashmiri citizens now finally protected by the many progressive laws that had been kept in abeyance by Article 370—everything from restrictions on child marriage and instant divorce to labor protections, affirmative action, and anti-corruption laws.

Part of the Kashmir Overseas Association’s executive team, Shakun and Amrita visited Kashmir in February 2020 and spent a week traveling through the state including Srinagar, Tulmul, Gulmarg and more. Shakun has been a regular visitor to the state since 2012, even when terrorism was rampant, because she felt that it was her right. It was, however, Amrita’s first time in Kashmir since she had fled. Growing up, Amrita had evinced little desire to visit her former home as a tourist – the memories would have been just too painful.

Shakun and Amrita in Kashmir Feb 2020.

“When I got out of the airport, I was really scared,” Amrita said. To make things worse, the women had chosen to visit right around the time the state was more than normally tense, observing the anniversary of both Afzal Guru’s execution and Burhan Wani’s death. Despite warnings, they pressed ahead. “While shops on the main thoroughfares were shuttered, life seemed normal on the smaller streets. Folks we talked to were tired of the turmoil they had lived through. There seemed to be a strong craving for peace-for more tourists and a chance to make a better living for their families.”

According to Shakun, “while it’s too soon to expect too much change, repealing Article 370 was important to integrating Kashmir more fully into India.  Really no place should have special rights purely due to religion to begin with, especially in a secular country,” she said.  “I feel the emotional pull of my homeland. I want to go back. I hope more steps are taken so I can feel safe 

ID card only valid till marriage for women in Kashmir.

“As women we now feel more empowered,” said Ruchi, celebrating the demise of the unequal laws that stripped Kashmiri women (but not men) of their rights to residency or property in the state if they married outside the community. “I have heard of girls who are struggling financially after divorce, but since they had married outside the community, they could not return to live or work in Kashmir, or even claim their parental property.” Kashmiri men, of course, were always allowed to marry as they pleased, without consequence.  

“As someone who has married a non-Kashmiri, abrogation of 370 impacts me very personally. It’s a restoration of my rights and my very identity,’’ added Ruchi. She is also heartened to see family members, who have found new jobs in the past year and now live and work in Kashmir.

Aside from positive changes on the ground, the repeal of Article 370 has led to structural change, giving a new lease of life and renewal to the dispossessed refugees who have languished in silence for 30 years. There is a glimmer of hope – it is now possible to envision a path to going back home.

It’s also been a cathartic experience for the community. “I think many people who were forced out, had suppressed their pain and not shared their stories – even with their own children,” said Amrita.  “Speaking for myself, it was only after August 5, 2019, that for the first time, I heard my parents open up about their harrowing experiences at length. I cried. We talked at length with a psychiatrist who said it was a critical step to coping with our grief and loss.”

The future has hope. “I want to visit again. I want to live there. I want to maybe even die in Kashmir,” says Shakun.

Pushpita Prasad has a passion for storytelling and Indic causes. She lives and works in the Bay Area.

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

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

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

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

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

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

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

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

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

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

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

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

I’m unsure how to feel. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 370: A Way Forward for India and Pakistan

My memories go back to the year 1991 when I wrote an article in India Currents about the history of Kashmir and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits starting in January 1990, stirring controversy and raising criticism by some local Kashmiri Muslims, thus leading to a long healthy debate. At the end of this civil debate most of us ended up as friends, as we are today. Friends with some basic disagreements.

We knew all along that all the issues in the Kashmir Valley will be resolved if Article 370, which provides special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir is abolished. Now, discrimination based on demography has been eradicated. Kashmir has been integrated with India.

Kashmiri Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, are historically reported to be the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley. Their roots in Kashmir can be traced to that time when civilization began in the valley. Their history spreading over 5,000 years could be testified through several historical works, including the legendary ‘Nilamat Purana’.

Kashmir’s first imperial history began in 250 BC when Asoka reigned over the land. Nearly 1000 years later, Lalitaditya reigned (725-761) after conquering most of north India, Central Asia, and Tibet. The advent of Islam in Kashmir around 14th century brought a paradigm shift in socio-political and religious system.

Islam entered Kashmir nearly 700 years after its birth when Kashmir came into contact with the Muslim invaders. Islam had been spreading throughout the rest of India for 300 years.

 Force was used to convert the inhabitants of the valley. The population of Hindus in the valley continued to decrease and they became minorities in their own land where they were once in the majority. But somehow Kashmiri Pandits managed to preserve their religion, culture as well as traditions. Kashmiri Hindus have migrated several times from the valley due to this very Islamic fundamentalism. 

Kashmir’s history, after the arrival of Islam, sets the backdrop for the current conflict, which has been waging ever since India won its independence from Britain in 1947 and Pakistan became an independent Muslim state.

There have been seven exoduses of Pandits to this date. Unfortunately, the seventh one happened in 1989-90 in the age of democracy, liberalism, secularism and universal brotherhood.

Most of the Pandits were forced to flee from the valley owing to terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists. Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their culture, traditions, and religion. Above all, Kashmiri Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their existence. Thousands of them were killed in the valley during the gloomy  nineties and many lost their lives in exile due to post-exodus trauma. The trauma continues, especially among the elderly who will be in pain until they can return to their home. 

There are some sane voices among the  majority community of Kashmir who are truly secular and not “pseudo-secular”, who don’t support such Nizam-e-Mustafa movement but their numbers are very few. And their voices are curbed.

No culture can survive if it is uprooted from its place of origin. There is an eternal link between people and their land. The cultural heritage of Kashmir is an integral part of the vast Indian Hindu cultural fund as a whole. Since 1947 the land has become part of the Indian Union.

Religious minority groups flourish in India. It has the world’s second largest Muslim population (approximately 176 million or 14.4 percent of India’s population), and the world’s largest Sikh (1.9 percent) and Jain populations (0.4 percent). There are also substantial numbers of Christians (2.3 percent) and Buddhists (0.8 percent). Smaller communities of Jews and Zoroastrians have been living in India for over a millennia. India was founded on secular principles and as a home for multiple religious communities. On the other hand, Pakistan was and continues to be an exclusionary state intended only for Muslims, where the state has legalized and institutionalized discrimination against minorities. As a result, in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, minorities face much greater difficulties than minorities in India. 

It is important to note that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim population of 65% and a Hindu population of 30%. So, the Muslim population is not overwhelmingly high. It is in the Kashmir Valley that the Muslim population is 97%. Often, the people following the Kashmir problem are ignorant of these demographics. Wars have broken out between India and Pakistan three times since 1947. An alarming component of this conflict is not only the suffering of Kashmiris, who have been forced to endure the outbreaks and Pakistan’s attempts at stirring up ancient rivalries between Muslims and Hindus, but the fact that in 1990 and 2001-2002, the two countries threatened to use nuclear weapons over it.

By making the new areas of Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory, the constituent Assembly has been revoked.

Jammu and Kashmir were given special status under Article 370 of the constitution of India which gave it, its own constitution, and without the concurrence of the State Government, the laws passed by parliament would not have been applicable. The Constitution order of 1954 contained the articles and other provisions applicable to only Jammu and Kashmir State. It constituted a founding legal document, whereas article 35A protected the exclusive laws which are related to the prohibition of buying property by outsiders and women, losing their property rights if they married non-Kashmiris.

In short, Article 370 restricted the Indian Parliament’s legislative power over Jammu and Kashmir to defense, foreign affairs, and communications, allowing residents of Jammu and Kashmir to live under a separate set of laws and preventing them from enjoying the same rights as other Indian citizens. Similarly, Article 35A defined who were permanent residents of the state and determined who could buy property in the state and enjoy other special rights and privileges.

President of India’s order # 2019, C.O. 272 dated August 5, 2019, entails scrapping previous order # 1954 and adds the following to article # 367:

  1. Sadar-i-riyasat will now be Governor
  2. Constituent Assembly will now be referred to as Legislative Assembly of the State.

Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is now applicable in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, by which President’s rule surpasses the Governor’s rule, which can be imposed in these areas.

The Bifurcation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, giving Jammu and Kashmir the status of Union Territory and giving Ladakh the status of a Union Territory as well, has been welcome internationally.

Article 370 removal has made many positive changes for the areas of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh including no special powers exercised by Jammu and Kashmir, no dual citizenship, no separate constitution, reservations for minorities and  backward classes, no discrimination against the women of the Kashmir when they marry someone from outside of the state. All citizens of these areas will be considered equal, all provisions of the Indian constitution are now applicable in these areas and with Union territory status, the security is now the Center’s responsibility. By making the areas of Jammu & Kashmir and the area of Ladakh, two separate union territories the special status has been revoked.

These are  historic and momentous efforts that will enable the free flow and applicability of Indian constitution and all its laws into the region of Jammu and  Kashmir without any special considerations.

Not only has the Kashmir problem been solved but it also vindicates Kashmiris of all faiths (some of whom lost their lives due to turbulence and some, like Kashmiri Pandits, who had lost their roots ). Now is the time for healing as all Kashmiris come together as Indian nationals and work toward making Kashmir the valley of saints once again.

As a Union Territory, it will also improve the security situation with respect to cross border terrorism and bring peace, harmony and stability in Jammu-Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslims must understand that all manners of cultural markers over 2500 years of Kashmiri history (right from 500 BCE onwards) display unequivocally a Kashmir that was intensively integrated with the rest of India. In the face of this historical reality of Kashmir, Article 370 as an exclusionary means artificially separating Kashmir from the rest of the country was an anomaly that has now been removed.

It will be  recognized that the dynasty rulers in Kashmir have bungled up the state through corrupt practices.  The poor segment of society wants stability, security and employment, especially when unemployment rates are as high as 30 percent among the urban population.

The emphasis must be to promote Pluralism in the State so that all communities can live together as they did before Pakistani trained militants forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave. Intra-Kashmiri dialogue, exchanging programs of students, writers, artists to offer their strengths in all the regions will definitely help in reconnecting and reintegrating hearts and minds of the people. The opening up of the local economy to outside actors will be akin to India’s liberalization moment of 1991 when it opened up its economy and integrated with the outside world. As the legal impediments to the free movement of people and access to assets like land have been removed, the economic focus of the state can now be broadened beyond tourism and agriculture. Industrialization can slowly expand its prominence in the local economy. Thus, the elimination of the special status and more centrality of governance should beget higher availability of economic opportunities and wider avenues of growth for the people of  Kashmir. 

Regarding the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, my suggestion is that the matter be left for Kashmiri organizations in India to decide, based on their interaction with local Kashmiris and the Government of India. Our worldwide umbrella organization, All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) works with all other organizations in India. 

California based Jeevan Zutshi, is the Chairman of Kashmir Task Force, founding member of the California Chapter of Kashmiri Overseas Association and founding member and former Executive Director of Indo-American Kashmir Forum.