Tag Archives: Rishi Kumar

FIIDS Gala: Indian American Political Involvement

The Indian Diaspora, like other immigrant communities, lives in two cultures simultaneously. Its well being is affected by the political and economic situation in the USA, while its heart stays connected to India. They address issues affecting India through various organizations and forums. 

The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIISDS) is one such organization. FIISDS is dedicated to Policy Studies, Analysis, Advocacy and Awareness Related to India and Indian Diaspora.

The Silicon Valley chapter of FIISDS organized an event on Feb 22, 2020 to discuss the current policies, incidents, and decisions affecting Indians in India and the United States. The event was attended by Silicon Valley eminent entrepreneurs, community leaders, politicians, social workers, doctors, and engineers.

The event started with the panel discussion on ‘Indo American Political Involvement’. It was moderated by Vijay Rajvaidya, Managing Director of India Currents Inc.

The panelists were Raj Salwan (Councilmember city of Fremont), Rishi Kumar (Councilmember city of Saratoga and running for US Congress District 18), Ritesh Tandon (Running for US Congress District 17) and, Nisha Sharma (running for US Congress District 11). 

Raj Salwan emphasized the importance of Indian American to participate in local politics and get their issues highlighted through political involvement. 

Rishi Kumar, who has been an activist, felt that Indian American can raise their issues and get them resolved by participating in community related programs. 

Ritesh Tandon, who is running for US Congress from the US Congress district 17 stressed that Indian Americans need to unite and raise their voice as one community with America-first policy. 

Nisha Sharma pointed out that there is a vacuum in women leadership at the top, and it is the right time for them to come forward. 

The event was inaugurated by the well known physician and community leader Dr Romesh Japra. In his address, he expressed his desire to create a grand Hindu American coalition and get their issues raised at the highest level. Following Dr. Japra’s address, Dr. Jasubhai Patel, a patron of FIIDS, emphasized the need to work on strategic policy matters.

There were more speakers who held the attention of the audience.

Deepak Karanjkar very eloquently spoke about “Misinformation Campaigns & Need for Public Awareness” in the context of abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution and the Citizenship Amendment Act. He pointed out that the current government in India resolved the seventy years old Kashmir issue by abrogating Article 370, while previous governments were simply attempting to manage it. 

Rabbi Serena Eisenberg shared her experiences as Jewish leader for implementing the SAFE (Safety Awareness Friendship Empowerment) program to uplift the Jewish community in America. 

David Marshak felt that Pakistani organizations worldwide indulge in spreading misinformation about India and suggested that Indian diaspora should focus on countering the false negative.

The Keynote speaker of the evening Sree Iyer, a well-known political commentator, author, and founder of PGurus, discussed the vicious Campaign against CAA and the Role of Indians Americans. He mentioned that currently there are seven million Hindus living in the rural areas of Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan, a sizable Hindu population discriminated against and abused by the Pakistanis. They are facing humiliation on a daily basis by the majority community in Pakistan. Sree generously agreed to auction the copies of his popular book ‘WHO PAINTED MY MONEY WHITE’ at the event, with the proceedings donated to FIIDS.

FIIDS is a 501(C)(3) Tax Exempt Organization, and engages in Policy Studies, Analysis, and Awareness Related to India and Indian Diaspora. For further information, please visit www.fiids-us.org, or contact FIIDS at info@fiids-usa.org.


Ethnic Media Roundtable with Elected Officials

The Asian American population grew 72% between 2000 and 2015 (from 11.9 million to 20.4 million), the fastest growth for any major racial or ethnic group in the US; in California, 1 in 7 votes were cast by an Asian American. 

That is a powerful statistic.

Though Asian Americans have not been politically active historically, believing that their votes did not matter statistically, there are signs this may be changing. More political contenders are reaching out to ethnic communities they have overlooked because, by virtue of numbers, Asian Americans are a voting bloc with clout.

Five Californian elected officials participated in a Civic Leadership Forum on October 30, co-sponsored by India Currents and Ding Ding TV in Santa Clara, and shared their perspectives with ethnic media outlets that included Ethnic Media Services, VietPress USA, Mail Business Newspaper (Wall Street Journal in South Korea), Lion Television Channel 16.10, North California, GlinkNews, Tan Phuong Media, Voice of Chinese America, and design2market.

The officials included:

Vandana Kumar (Publisher, India Currents) and Diana Ding (CEO, Ding Ding TV) moderated the forum. The key takeaways were:

 How does the narrative in DC affect trust in government?

Ash Kalra commented that plummeting trust in our highest office “undermines trust in government” and impacts all communities, especially immigrants. After serving in the State government, Kansen Chu has decided to run for local office in the next election because he believes he can have a stronger impact in his community.  

Johnny Khamis was a Republican who became an Independent after the Trump Family Separation policy; he pointed out that true conservatives did not have a voice in the federal government “nobody trusts them because they have an R next to their name”.  

Chu and Kalra have created a Hate Crime select committee in Sacramento to combat hate crimes against immigrant communities and people of color that have increased since the last election. But, despite a growing culture promoting minority phobia, said Rishi Kumar, Silicon Valley remains a testament to the idea of a melting pot.

Ensuring ethnic communities get counted in Census 2020

“Everyone counts. It’s important to get that message out,” said Anna Song. She believes the Korean American community is one of the most siloed ethnic groups in America, and their lack of civic participation forces candidates with limited resources to dissect their ethnic data and reach out only to “high propensity voters”. So she would be more likely to canvass Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian- Americans, rather than Korean, said Song, simply because they show up at the polls more regularly. 

Kansen Chu  said that voter registration is critical. He hoped that a Korean woman running for office would generate interest in civic engagement in the Korean community. Chu emphasized the danger of an undercount leading to lost congressional seats and reduced federal funding for critical services (transportation, education and health care) for California. He also confirmed that the state has allocated the resources and budget necessary to ensure an accurate census.  

Getting Minority Voters to Vote

Johnny Khamis reaffirmed the importance of voting because he won by a single vote in his very first race, while Vandana Kumar called on elected officials to spend their marketing dollars on not just the mainstream media but also the smaller ethnic media outlets to urge minority communities to vote. 

Focusing on Local issues 

With wildfires raging across the state, Ash Kalra drew attention to the climate change crisis and the irresponsibility of allowing PG&E to operate as an investor-owned utility. “PG&E sees no reason to change its model, if the state keeps bailing them out,” he added, calling the influence of money in politics “detrimental to society.” Kalra believes the state government must make PG&E accountable and compensate those affected by the power shut offs. As for the housing crisis, Kalra blamed housing costs for keeping California’s poverty level high and opposition from builders and developers to market price housing initiatives.  

Are regulations throwing off the balance between innovation and human values for gig-economy workers in the Silicon Valley? 

A spirited debate rose between Ash Kalra and Johnny Khamis about the impact of regulations on California’s economy, with Kalra contending that “complete depletion of wages” rather than taxes and regulation, was responsible for stifling the fifth largest economy in the world; he asserted it was “harder for people to survive… because productivity, wealth and profits have gone up ..but wages have not”. 

Khamis argued that excessive regulation and taxing was responsible for some of the housing crisis, while complex environmental regulations were making it burdensome for builders to construct more affordable housing.  

Anna Song worried that Silicon Valley innovation has created a society of haves and have nots, with wealthy homeowners from companies like Uber outpacing Uber drivers economically. She sees this inequality also play out in the County Board of Education, with parents asking for Interdistrict transfers because we have “created a community where we cannot live where we work”.

Both Kalra and Khamis agreed that tax reform was vital. Kalra noted that the wealthy have a voice in the system which is why there are no increases in payroll, wealth or estate taxes because these are easier for corporations to support.   “We only tax the middle-income earners because that is easy to do,” said Khamis, so “we need different voices in the state legislature.”

Kalra also explained that the California law CB5 which did not include gig economy workers like Lyft & Uber in its exemptions, was not about stifling innovation but about respecting existing laws that other industries have to comply with to make the economy fair to all citizens.

“Everyone wants a free flowing economy and the only reason to throttle it would be to protect citizens,” said Rishi Kumar.

Should Facebook be a technology gatekeeper for political speech or for free speech?

There is general consensus that Facebook should be regulated if it’s violating norms when deciding “what we see, who sees it and how much they see it” based on their analytics and revenue generation model.  All speech should be protected said Kalra, with only exceptions for public safety because there could be consequences “if people don’t like what you say.”  

 Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal








Civic Leadership Forum for Youth

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.

Keynote Speaker: Rishi Kumar – Saratoga City Council member

Moderator: Vandana Kumar – Publisher, India Currents

For Saratoga Councilmember Rishi Kumar, his life is dedicated to helping Saratoga as well as the Silicon Valley grow and progress. As one of the keynote speakers at Ding Ding TV’s 3rd Civic Leadership Forum of 2018, Councilmember Kumar used his knowledge and experience as a community leader to inspire current students who are involved in similar activities at school (i.e. Interact Club of Silicon Valley, Hanlin Youth) so that they can bring that back to their clubs. He also emphasized certain concepts that are not only applicable to students but also working adults who hope to advance their business or things that they are passionate about. Such concepts includes not being afraid to take risks, utilizing one’s social networks/social media accounts, the importance of being able network and speaking in front of an audience. Councilman Kumar ended his speech by answering questions from students from the audience.