Tag Archives: Vandana Kumar

Letters to India Currents: 10/22/20

To The Editor,

I have seen how the Indian American Voters have gotten slightly disaffected by Harris/Biden/Jaipal Reddy/Ro Khanna/Ilhan Omar’s stances being perceived as though against India, especially on Kashmir and Modi administration.

In swing states, Indian votes will make a difference. I see a large number of politicians and policy wonks giving a perception of this anti-India stance (and mollycoddling of Separatism in Kashmir by Muslim fanatics supported by Pakistan and China).

Therefore I would request politicians that support Indian democracy and want peace and normalcy to return to the Indian subcontinent – especially Kashmir, please make a strong statement that supports India’s Modi’s efforts to call the 70-year-old bluff (explained below) and bring normalcy to the people of Kashmir, including for Muslims, by restoring Law and Order slowly.

To US Political Leaders and Policymakers:

Please give light to the treatment and plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee Srinagar due to the genocide/ethnic cleansing wrought on them by the Pakistani Army.

Mention the fact that a majority of the J&K population and area – Jammu residents and Ladakhis do support the Modi governments’ actions and gradual restoration of the rule of law.

Mention that after article 370, there are glimmers of hope in Kashmir and now the local population is asking the Indian government about constructing infrastructure instead of breaking away. As an example, read this article on India Currents: https://indiacurrents.com/after-370-glimmers-of-hope/

You could also talk about the torment (and smothering) of ordinary people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (which Pak cunningly calls Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit Baltistan under the hands of the Pakistani military, which does not easily allow free expression or a free Press. In addition, talk about how a large cross-section in these regions under Pakistan, wants to actually join India!

Additional points:
1) Don’t ignore the plight of the soldiers and their families who have lost their near & dear ones too.
2) There is a history of corruption and demagoguery by the Kashmiri politicians (Abdullahs and Mufti Mohammed Syeds, albeit along with central political parties) in rigging elections in 1989 and thus giving disaffected youth a cause to rebel – however unjustified.
3) Note the treachery of the Hurriyat leaders (local Kashmiri leaders), including Gilanis.
4) Please understand that J&K had acceded to India in 1947 and it is the Pakistani army that tried to wrest it away by force. Upon that, Article 370 and 35A were but temporary and stop-gap measures having no validity any longer and completely un-tenable for a state in a democratic country
5) Understand the abuses of these articles in Kashmir, with the politicians giving passports and citizenships to Uighurs as well as Rohingyas without any sanction from the Central Government.
6) Let people know about the amount of money and sops given by Indians to Kashmir, which was mis-used by the corrupt Kashmiri (local) politicians and administration before the abrogation of article 370.
8) Realize that the original Kashmiri Muslim (mostly a Shias/Sufis) will have much better human rights, security, and equality in a unified Kashmir than under Pakistan (Shias being persecuted in Pak), just as Kashmiris had between 1947 and 1989, before militancy.

I really hope you can educate your colleagues to avoid making a blanket “mother of all” statements supporting the plight of the Kashmiri Muslim alone, without understanding the complex history, nuances, and facts – especially the plight of the plurality of the J&K population (Pandits, Jammu residents and Ladakhis).

I hope your colleagues will be even more strident in castigating and thwarting the Pakistani military’s nefarious designs at damaging the Kashmiri psyche, peace, and economy by fueling Jihadist terrorism.

If you leaders are true to your words and really care for the average Kashmiri, you need to pass resolutions to stop funding and aiding the Pakistani military, impose sanctions on ISI and strengthen the Indian administration’s hand in making J&K a prosperous part of peaceful and democratic India.

Please help in the ongoing restoration of peace by making such statements for India’s efforts and pass this on to your colleagues’ policymakers.

Thank you,

Mayank Jain

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 10/14/20

To The Editor,

Thank you for your email and for including me in your community. I will address your general questions.

Yes, I am voting in 2020. I have always voted since I became a US citizen in 1981 and I am a registered voter in CA as an Independent. So, I have the right to choose my candidate not necessarily for a Political Party but across the party line. As an independent, I am restricted from Voting in the CA Primaries.

Sorry, I will not share who I am going to vote for. I will reserve my right to privacy. I consider the ‘Issues’ and the ‘Stands’ for each Presidential candidate and not necessarily for their personalities, although that is somewhat important for a President. Nevertheless, to me, I never bring it down to a personal level for anyone I come to know, not necessarily a political figure. Although most people do. It is the most convenient, shallow depth and an easy way to bring a person down and avoid personal responsibility.

I believe ‘ Actions’  are important because that is what makes the person not the looks or the talks. I judge a person by his or her actions over a period of time.  I also want to see the overall ‘situation’  of the country and decide on my vote.

It is not easy to have a perfect Democracy. Each person must understand its value and the value of the vote. It is not a matter of ONE issue but SEVERAL issues and how those are being dealt with.

Hope I didn’t offend you by my remarks.  I do have my First Amendment Rights and being in the publishing business, you might know about it very well.

Best wishes,

Sumedha Sengupta

Livermore, CA

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 10/06/20

Dear India Currents,

In the Red and Blue states and cities where we have our hotels, we are pledging to work with the cities local officials to create polling places for the 2020 general elections promoting community and civic engagements. Our employees will volunteer and help out as needed.

Like the years before, we are giving employees paid time off to vote, urging to uphold virtues of respect and dignity amid contentious election as we continue to push for social, racial justice, and equality.

In the 2016 General Elections, our 2 sons, Krish (10) & Aryan (9) joined us at the polls to vote, where me, my parents, and Neelam made our selections and our sons turned the dials and pressed the buttons communicating it to the government and election officials. It bought a big smile to the whole family when the official ballot was being printed to double confirm as we pressed the accept red-button.

As a first-generation American, voting has always been a big deal for me and I was feeling proud and patriotic. you know, I am an immigrant and built my professional life here in the United States. I owe much to this country, as I started from nothing to my education and the opportunity to build a company here to the safety to raise a beautiful family in an encouraging, inclusive, and diverse society. I feel a moral obligation to take a stand on social issues and spread enthusiasm. Turnout is just going to be critical in this election.

The Voting process instills positive lessons about responsibility, honor, equality, justice, patriotism, and leadership. Practicing good citizenship understanding and appreciating our responsibility for civic involvement being good stewards of the communities. Citizenship has taken roots in their kids in the form of 2 young voters who became engaged in the voting process, owning the responsibilities and privileges of American citizenship making them true patriots. Voting reinforces respect for people and it’s very important that kids inherit a great country and just not a great history. Take the young Voters of tomorrow to the polls today, as they will be empowered for the future. This is their chance to be part of history and emerging as PROUD Citizens who’d done a citizen’s noble work.

Voters are the future of this country and continue to practice kindness, compassion, and respect for others building bridges of love and respect. No matter how divided you might be, Voting is your right and shared experience, a process that everyone should feel proud about as United Americans. You can also choose to go out and volunteer at a local precinct of your preference to call on your friends and families to vote. You may even help them and talk through policies with them. Whatever you do, exercise your right to vote, help someone else do the same, and make a positive difference. more importantly, GO VOTE!

For us, the policy is non-partisan and designed to give employees, some of whom may be voting for the first time, the chance to make lasting changes and be part of the community and the American Dream. No American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen,

Voting matters even @ 85 in a wheelchair, with my father’s failing eyesight, Dad cast his vote and he made me read the names on the ballot and told us which one to mark for him. That was his purpose of action contributing his abilities and right to Vote, his voice to be heard making a positive impact. Living a value-centered life is highly rewarding and gratifying for our family.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels we all are just searching for pathways to connect and not to feel discouraged, not to feel pessimistic and not so powerless. Right now, the needs of our country, our community and citizens are right in front of our faces and we must not ignore it. Everyone is trying to tear us apart, but we need to heal now.


Sunil Tolani

Los Angeles, CA

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 9/29/20

This is with regard to the recent article published by Dr. Majmudar,

Normalcy after the Pandemic

The article is very timely and the attention it brings to mental health, particularly of children is heartening. Children, besides their vulnerability and being at an impressionable age, have paid the highest price. We would like to hear more about what can be done by parents and communities to help them. The article sheds light on many aspects, it is brief but dense.

Have we mastered our learned lessons or will our fickle memory sequester it in oblivion?” is the question put forth by the author Dr. Majmudar.

The tragedy and loss is a  great teacher. The lessons taught by it are of a lifetime– it could be bitter or sweet. It is Our choice, what we make of it. 

One big lesson, I hope that we all learnt during these testing times is – How few are our NEEDS and how much load of WANTS we have been carrying.

In our search for independence and self-reliance we had forgotten the eternal truth – life is possible only by codependence and cooperation.

The author has done well in reminding us of our role and responsibilities. And the gratitude we all owe to those on the front line.

“The course of our actions will let us see who we are and who we are not. ”

So well stated by the author and it forces us to give a hard look at ourselves, our actions/inactions.


Vimal Nikore

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 9/22/20

A response to the previous Letter to India Currents. 

Dear Vandana Kumar, 

Black Lives Matter, also relates to our own sordid chapter in the history of the Indian diaspora.  For those of us who arrived in the fifties, sixties and decades before, have experienced the white heat of racial discrimination, insults, and rejection like our black brothers and sisters.  The difference is that as a group we spread tentacles to connect with other brown folks for support, and pushed forward.  A friend, retired president and CEO of a silicon valley business, related his viewpoint as a matter of fact.  I saved enough, working as an engineer to buy the business and then broke the glass ceiling to reach the top.

Looking forward, most of us ended up in a better place as engineers, doctors lawyers, while giving our offsprings a head start.  African Americans, Natives Americans, and Hispanic Americans, unfortunately, suffered many more setbacks due to poor education, weak support systems, and outright discrimination. That is perhaps an oversimplification. It behooves us, however, to be sympathetic to those who are less fortunate.

If it helps, let us remind ourselves that only a generation or two ago, we were under a brutal colonial rule in India.  Most can trace their lineage to parents who fought, resisted, revolted, and gave birth to a nation called India.  I am proud to say, that my mother led Azaadi marches at the age of 15 in Bombay. For her work, she was awarded a handwoven Khadi blouse made by Kasturba. The progressive mindset is in our bloodstream.  Change for the better is natural. MLK said in his ‘I dream’ speech,  paraphrasing, I dream of the day when White, Black, Brown, will share and live together happily. Please continue to highlight progressive views, because that is the path of enlightenment, I trust the mission of India Currents.

– Satish Chohan

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 9/15/20

Dear Vandana Kumar,

I have been an avid reader of IC for several years. I have enjoyed your magazine and website until recently. Lately, your content has been disappointing, leaving me with a bitter taste. Every week I let it pass but felt like now I had to write to you.

I find your recent content very biased, leaning towards subjects of identity, race politics, and pushing only liberal agendas. you represent the Indian American community as if we all live in California and are trendy hipsters in a protest.

I was a teacher for many years and see the enthusiasm and future of young people, but I also see a lack of experience and understanding of life’s complexities. Even though your new writers like Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik are good writers, their understanding is very young. And you definitely do not feature different sides of issues.

I was very disappointed when in the first week of BLM protests IC came out with a solidarity message. You pushed and keep pushing similarities between the Black and Indian communities. Please get your facts rights!!

I believe in racial equality but I also believe in the success of the American dream. While the intentions were correct, this mass movement also has an extremist, communist bent that you have not reported, instead of glorifying them. Please read Khabar Magazine’s editorial by Parthir Parekh. In spite of a very democratic outlook, he addresses extremism in this movement and presents its perils like looting, threatening, violence, lack of tolerance, communism, and lack of diverse opinions.

As an Indian American who has worked hard had been rewarded with a good life in America, I do not want to side with your views! If this country was so bad, we would not have survived here and IC would not be in business.

As media, you should be a neutral place to exchange views, especially as a community online magazine. You or your staff can have personal views on this matter but should not promote them under the name of IC.

I understand with the election year things are hot but you are not a corporation unless you are funded by agencies asking you to present only leftist and racist points of view, in that case, you might be another sell-out.

I hope you can provide more balanced content. If not, I will sadly not be logging on anymore.


Neelima Sheth

Atlanta, Ga

P.S. Being an immigrant has more complexities than just race. It is not so one dimensional.

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. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Why Should Anyone Care About the Census, Radio Mirchi Asks US

“The government already knows everything about me!”

“I go to them for my driver’s license and passport.”

“They already know what the population is in each town. That’s why when driving from city to city, the population is already presented on the road sign when you enter the city limits.”

So, if the government already knows everything, “Why should anyone care about the census?”

Why indeed!

Leading community leaders tackled the half-truths, misconceptions, and confusion behind why the census matters little to some people, on an episode of Radio Mirchi with RJ Sudha that aired Thursday, May 29.

Radio Jockey Sudha was joined by Vandana Kumar, co-founder, and publisher of India Currents, and Aarti Kohli and Julia Marks of Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, to examine why some people disregard the census and what that means to the future of minority communities.

April 1 (Census Day) came and went and with that, many people have forgotten about the census. Though California leads the national self-response rate at over 60%, about 40% of households have yet to respond.

“We’re a little way behind compared to self-response rates from 2010,” said Julia Marks, pointing out that an inaccurate census count could seriously impact California.

But what exactly does that mean for California and its diverse communities?

RJ Sudha had questions from listeners for her guests to answer. In fact, she herself was surprised to discover in the discussion, that “it’s the law to participate in the process!”

India Currents publisher Vandana Kumar on Radio Mirchi

Vandana Kumar, who’s had her finger on the pulse of the  Asian Indian community for over 32 years, had a perspective on why some people share the viewpoint of an Uber driver who once told her, “The government already knows everything about me. I’m not going to do this – it’s a waste of time.”

“It’s not that people don’t know about the census,”  she said, “they just don’t see its relevance. How do you convince somebody like that?”

Conviction needs to be rooted in facts and it was clear from the questions that people were apprehensive about the census because they were misinformed about its intention and impact.

Both Aarti Kohli and Julia Marks set about reassuring listeners by clearing up doubts and confusion about the decennial in what Marks (a self-confessed census nerd) called ‘shareable soundbites’.

Building Community Power

The starting point should be “How do we use the census to build power in our community?” said Aarti Kohli, the Executive Director of Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and an experienced non-profit lawyer who works extensively with immigrants and undocumented. To her ,“The first basic step of building power is showing up and saying that I am here.”

Describing the census as “a fascinating and important structure in that is self-reporting,” Kohli reminded listeners that the census “starts with you. You are empowered to start with yourself.”

Out in the grocery stores and streets of Santa Clara for example, it is evident that the Asian Indian community is growing. Asian Indians communities have increased by 65000 people just in the last few years by some estimates.

But though “we might be visible to each other on the street,” said Kohli, “we won’t be recognized by the government and others until we fill out the census and that data is collected.”

“It’s worth remembering that populations are constantly changing in the Bay area,” added Marks, “it’s important to get it accurate.”

Get Your Fair Share
Both Kohli and Marks reiterated that the most important outcome of the constitutionally mandated census and the data it collects is to ensure that federal funds reach local communities in the right amounts.

“Responding to the census is a chance to make sure you’re getting your fair share for your family and your community,” explained Marks, referring to funding distribution for public schools that children attend, and government benefits, senior centers, medical and food programs that people use. “The message that resonates the most is that it helps you get your fair share!”

The other big piece is fair political representation. Data collected on the census determines how many congressional seats each state gets and how district boundaries are drawn. In order to have a representative government, said Marks, we need to know how many people live where so that the electoral system that adequately reflects those communities.

Key Points to Remember

  • It’s a short household-based survey that asks for basic demographic information
  • The nine questions cover gender, race and ethnicity, age, and date of birth
  • Start with the ID number that came by mail, but without it, you can still go online and or call the phone line to fill out the census
  • Include everyone in the household –roommates, cousins living with you, children, elderly relatives
  • For separate households under one roof, (e.g. rented out in-law units) each unit should submit separately or coordinate to complete one form together
  • In apartment building households getting separate mailing should file separately
  • If the mail does not deliver to multiple units then coordinate with your neighbors to complete forms.
  • College-age children coming home should be counted in the household but be prepared for a follow-up query from the Census to make sure your children have not been counted twice
  • Data asking citizenship and income details are not on the census form
  • Census responses are confidential and protected by law
  • The record states a penalty may be exacted from non-respondents but it’s unlikely to be enforced

Why Under Fives and Seniors are Missed Out in the Count

The undercount hurts the most vulnerable in the community. Children under 5 may be left out because they don’t count as adults or, in a joint custody situation between two households, one parent may assume the other parent has accounted for young children on the form

A key fact according to Marks, is that “More people are missed out in the census count because they were left off the form by the household they live in, than by a total failure of the households to respond at all.”

Kumar raised an issue culturally specific to the Indian community. How do you count green card holder parents who live between India and the US, or seniors who split their time between children in different states?

Marks confirmed that six months is the magic number for figuring out whether and where someone should be counted. “Having said that, if parents move frequently then the default date to use is wherever you were on April 1st.”

Reasons Why it’s a Challenge

Living in the new normal makes life challenging for people just trying to get through the day, all the guests agreed. At a time when people are grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and its economic impact, and civic unrest exploding across the nation, “ filling out a government form is not a priority.”

People with different immigration statuses – expired visas or work permits, and the undocumented, are worried about getting compromised or violating landlord rule, don’t get counted, said Kohli, who works as an advocate for these minorities. “They are part of our communities and have to be counted.”

But it is important to keep the message out there that the census is still ongoing, and people can and should still respond. At a time like this cautions Marks, “we need all these services really now more than ever – healthcare, housing support, food support, education – responding to the census will make sure that’s adequately funded for the next ten years.”

The Census Bureau is doing its part to reach out to underserved and undercounted communities by increasing its language options and expanding its outreach through local leaders and trusted sources.

“The Census Bureau has reached out in so many different ways” concluded Kumar who was tapped as a trusted messenger in recent Census initiatives to get the count-out in her community.
”How much more can they do to say we matter?”

Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

Letters to India Currents: 4/21/20

Dear India Currents,

To keep her self entertained my daughter draws a cartoon every day thinking about all the things that are happening around her now. Her goal, she said, is about putting a smile on someone’s face in this gloomy time. 

This is what she did yesterday, hope it puts a smile on your face as well as your readers’. I have a few more that have done rounds and people have sent lots and lots of positive comments on her details.


Dear Editor:

Please share only the positive feedback. It is already scary out there. I think it is time for some positive, upbeat information to build our immune system.

I stay positive, do not watch the news (except for PBS for half an hour a day), focus on prayers, meditation and keep my strong faith. I turn inward to draw as much strength as possible. It is not easy.


Vijaya Narasimhan

Letters to India Currents: 4/07/20

Dear India Currents, 

In these difficult times, many of us are busy worrying about and taking care of others. It is important to remember that first and foremost we also need to take good care of ourselves and to make the time for self-care and self-compassion. 

Respond to yourself in the same way you would respond to a close friend when he or she is in distress. Mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace yourself with kindness and care. Be warm and understanding toward yourself. Don’t ignore your own pain or beat yourself with self-criticism. Recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. Be gentle with yourself.

Together, we will come out at the other end of this tunnel, into the sunshine that is temporarily eclipsed.

Take good care,

Mukund Acharya



We follow your daily updates, good—keep it up.  WE ARE IN IT, WITH YOU, WITH OUR COMMUNITY.

It has been a scary and unsettling time for everyone, and we are our part in supporting our community. Providing medical and emergency personnel with FREE rooms and at  deeply discounted rates to keep our staffs humming along with positivity.

We are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices our hotel staffs, medical personnel, Social Workers  are making to save lives and stop the spread of the Coronavirus, Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this terrible disease.

Our teams ensure rooms are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and deeply touched by the support from the community.




Sunil Tolani

Letters to India Currents: 3/31/20

Dear Team Members, 

Your mail surely touched my heart, so simple and yet genuine.

It is a period of deep anxiety as we strictly follow the Government’s decision for all to stay indoors and maintain a fair distance from one another. Difficult perhaps for parents of young children and for several amongst us for whom a glimpse of the social world is an uncontrollable urge. But as the graph rises with  mounting casualties and still several others inflicted and convalescing, we should all take this call of Nature and tune in to its WILL: protect yourself and thereby protect nature.

Hoping good times will soon come by and the silver lining to this dark cloud will soon bring in happy sunshine.

In the meantime, thank you all for the cheerful introspection you give us.

A happy reader,

Nita (Dave) Jain, PGCTE, PhD

Hello India Currents,

Thank you for your media presence in these difficult times.  My wife and I are retired Indians, children off to their worlds and we feel blessed with good health so far and so good.  We are particularly proud of our community at large. 

Indian doctors, professionals and politicians are working in the best interest of America while holding on to our long tradition of ‘do no harm’.  

America gave us the opportunities to grow and we are now giving back in knowledge and resources we acquired. These coming months will challenge people from India.  We have unique opportunities to lift, support and lead in more creative ways that we ever imagined. 

In our small ways we are volunteering in public services in our community, and support of Sansthas like BK, Vedanta Society, Glides Church in San Francisco.  No bragging, but just a shout out for these organizations among many who are keeping their doors open despite the pandemic.  

Please continue to do what you are doing for the community and country at large.  With kind regards.

Satish and Surekha Chohan

Congressman Khanna Informs Local Media on What Keeps Congress Awake at Night

Congressman Ro Khanna spoke with the journalists from ethnic media on 12th November 2019. The teleconference, organized by Vandana Kumar, Publisher India Currents, came at a timely juncture when the nation and community is gearing up for the 2020 Presidential elections and it is time to take stock of what the nation has gained and lost in the last few years. Cyber security and Healthcare emerged as two issues that impact the community and are close to the heart of the Congress.

Cyber security, with routine data mining in the face of the fast changing social media landscape, was raised as a special concern. As Internet becomes a large part of our daily lives what is Congress doing in terms of legislation to address the issue of cyber crime? The Congressman addressed the press’ concerns and spoke of his request for the Internet Bill of Rights.

Congressman Ro Khanna (California’s 17th district) has introduced the Internet Bill of Rights, a proposal that includes the right to know about “all collection and uses of personal data by companies,” and to be notified “in a timely manner when a security breach or unauthorized access of personal data is discovered.” He aims to strengthen people’s ability to correct or delete personal data in a company’s control, and require companies to obtain consumer consent before collecting or sharing data with third parties. In the Congressman’s words the bill would require people to give their consent making it harder for the companies to collect data, a situation better than the one in China where people have very little protection.

The Congressman also felt blatant falsity should not be allowed. There is an obligation on the part of companies like Google and Facebook to check for an obvious disregard of the truth. If copyright violation can be checked then surely they can remove false information by following the same procedure. Perhaps, he said, we need an independent depoliticized government agency that can define the rules and draw the boundary of truth.

Though there is a desire to regulate social media before the 2020 election, what really keeps the Congress awake at night is the question of healthcare. Khanna is hoping the social media corporations will hopefully voluntarily self regulate if no legislation can be passed in time for the 2020 elections. However, Congress must and has been working hard on providing affordable healthcare.

It is the Congressman’s view that “more than almost anything else, our health has a tremendous impact on our day-to-day activities, state of mind, and overall well-being. Good health is foundational to everything else we do – our ability to take care of our families, be productive at work, and pursue our passions and hobbies”.

“We need basic care and low premiums,” said the Congressman.

Congressman Khanna would like the creation of a single-payer health care system, or Medicare for All and supports legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate for more reasonable drug prices. This type of legislation will allow Americans below the age of 65 to buy into Medicare. A result of this would be that community members could save money through reduced fees and premiums.

Congressman Khanna also supports legislation to allow for the importation of drugs from nations that we trust. He was an original co-sponsor of legislation to allow for the importation of Canadian drugs.

“We must increase coverage, support small businesses, expand primary care, and provide lower premiums. Medicare for All is the next step toward addressing the high costs and inequalities in the current health care system,” said Congressman Ro Khanna. The congressman feels the states should be empowered to create their own solution if the federal government is unable to establish a single-payer system. We must guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege.

The telebriefing on “The Role of Silicon Valley in the 2020 Elections”, moderated by Vandana Kumar (Publisher, India Currents), gave Congressman Ro Khanna (California’s 17th district) an opportunity to share his perspectives as a key lawmaker representing the Silicon Valley. Sponsored by India Currents in partnership with Ethnic Media Services, it is part of the ‘Conversations with Candidates’ series initiated by India Currents to expand ethnic media news access to elected officials and presidential candidates.

Ritu Marwah is a citizen who would like to pay closer attention to the political issues that are bound to impact her life. She understands that an informed citizen is a safer citizen.

It’s All About Sita — a Conversation About Agency

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of Forest of Enchantment, was in conversation with Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents at Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park, California on November 5, 2019. The Forest of Enchantment is Divakaruni’s 19th book.

I last attended a reading by Divakaruni at Mills College, in the late 1990s. To my great surprise, she lit some incense and started playing Indian classical music to accompany her reading, saying this is how she writes. Which may well be the case, but it smacked a little of gimmickry. The South Asians who witnessed this responded with head-shaking and laughter in later discussions. The word “pandering” was used, if memory serves. So I wasn’t sure what to expect at Kepler’s. Would there be incense burning and classical music again, I wondered. To my relief, there wasn’t. (Saved by fire codes? Consideration for people’s allergies?)

Kumar spoke of Divakaruni’s book Arranged Marriage, which was published in 1995. When she read it, she felt the book was about her, and that people like her could be protagonists. “Our stories too are important, I thought,” Kumar said.

Divakaruni, in turn, commented on India Currents, which started in 1987 before today’s Internet searches were possible. It provided information on all the South Asian events in the area, which would otherwise have been difficult to find. She was honored when India Currents reviewed her book. In 1991, Divakaruni founded Maitri, an organization for South Asian women survivors of domestic violence. At the time, there was great resistance within the South Asian community in the Bay Area to acknowledge that such violence could occur within the so-called “model minority.” While several news outlets appeared supportive, nobody was willing to run the Maitri ads with the telephone number of the confidential phone helpline. There was quite a backlash, despite which India Currents carried the Maitri ad. Divakaruni thanked India Currents cofounder Arvind Kumar, who ran the ad for free.

Kumar introduced the Ramayana, referencing Rama’s standing as “Maryada Purushottam,” the ideal man. Divakaruni provided the basic overview of the story, much as the sage Narada does to Valmiki in the beginning of the Ramayana, urging him to tell the story of Rama. Sita, she said, is regarded as the ideal woman. Her research into this book let her to see Sita very differently. She feels the earlier tellings are patriarchal. During Diwali celebrations in Bengal where she grew up, a common blessing was “May you be like Sita.” This blessing did not make her happy.

Sita Has Agency: Vandana Kumar and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in conversation.

Expressing some understanding for Rama, she added that Rama has many modern counterparts, men whose public responsibilities overrides their private responsibilities to their wives. For example, Mahatma Gandhi privileged the nation over his family.

Divakaruni read two passages. The first was from the Prologue, on how Sita comes to write her story. Having written his Ramayana, Valmiki invites Sita to read it, and asks her what she thinks. (As writers tend to do, Divakaruni quipped.) On reading it, Sita says, this is not my story. You must write your own story, say Valmiki.

In a warm, friendly, informal manner, Divakaruni talked of the other women in the story and described Rama and Lakshmana’s act of cruelty towards Surpanakha, whose ears and nose they cut off. That seems to be “a bit of an overreaction,” she said to laughter from the audience. While men’s stories typically have one hero, women’s stories are interwoven; there’s more community.

The second passage she read was from the end of the Ramayana, where Sita is going to an ashram in the forest, for some “R and R” before her babies are born. She sees Lakshmana weeping as he escorts her there, and asks him why. As he responds, she learns of Rama’s betrayal.

This was a beautiful, moving passage, and it conveys Sita’s shock and sadness at Rama’s incomprehensible betrayal of her. The passage was very hard for Divakaruni to write, she said: she was weeping as she wrote it.

Divakaruni read many Ramayanas while researching her book. The Krittibasi Ramayana was her main source, because it was in Bengali, her mother tongue. Sita went from simple Mythila where there was one king and one queen with two daughters, to much more complicated Ayodhya, where the king had three main wives and hundreds of additional wives. Sita worked quietly, improving her mother-in-law’s standing without offending others. Her strength, according to Divakaruni, is that she had a lot of emotional intelligence. During her trial by fire, she tells Rama that he is victim-shaming her. It is in fact Sita’s agency that summons the fire.

 Kumar alluded to some “mind-blowing revelations” about Ravana and Sita, asking where that come from. Divakaruni replied that she didn’t want to give away that plot twist, but that it in fact came from the Adbhuta Ramayana, in which there was a story of how Sita came to Mythila.

Kumar commented on two of the other women, Urmila and Surpanakha… Kumar mentioned that the greatest retelling of the Ramayana which perhaps reached everyone on the subcontinent and beyond, was Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana which aired on television in 1987. So much so, that in Afghanistan, a wedding was paused when it was time for the show, a television was wheeled in, and after the show, the wedding continued!

On the relevance of this book in today’s world, Divakaruni said all epics are resonant throughout the world. Epics continue to be important and they have to be reinvented so people can identify with them. Sita is not a goddess, she is an avatar, which means she lives just like any other human being. During the second agni pariksha, or trial by fire, she refuses on the grounds that future generations of women will have to prove themselves if she does this.

During the audience Q and A, an audience member, Jaya, asked about the Lakshmana Rekha, where a man draws a line to contain woman. Divakaruni replied that the boundary is not in Valmiki’s Ramayana, it is in the Krittibasi Ramayana. Sita tries to balance one good versus another. She could stay within the circle and remain safe herself, but invoke curses on her family. Alternatively, she could step out of the circle to feed the mendicant, and potentially invite danger. There was no perfect choice, and she decided to step out of the circle.

Sonali, an undergraduate, said it’s worth examining the biases of people who interpret stories over time. How do you balance retelling versus sticking to the canon?

Divakaruni replied that it was not difficult. During her research, she saw that it had been retold in many ways.

Another audience member Anahita, a journalist, commented that she loves how subtly subversive Divakaruni’s women are.

Divakaruni commented that ten years ago, she wrote The Palace of Illusions about Draupadi, who would go headlong into problems. But that is not the only way to be strong. Divakaruni herself had to grow into how to attack a problem effectively. Sita does not go headlong into problems, but she does not give up; she figures out a way.

Modern politics came into the conversation as well: a woman compared Elizabeth Warren to a modern Sita. Divakaruni said there are many examples of women who approach problems with emotional intelligence.

The final question was from Vijay Rajvaidya, managing director of India Currents. He had studied Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas in school as a piece of literature. That didn’t prevent it from becoming the holiest of holy books, hundreds of years after it was written. He asked if Divakaruni was prepared for her book to gain that stature 300 years from now.

Divakaruni responded that she would leave that for the audience to decide. Tulsidas was a staunch devotee of Rama, and did not go into the controversy of the final chapter, the Uttara Kanda, and his book ended with Rama’s coronation.

Divakaruni signed copies of her book after the event, and graciously engaged in conversation with each of her readers. As I signed up for her newsletter, she glanced at my name and said “You’re Raji. If you like the book, write a review!” I was in a bit of a rush to get home to my daughter and father. But on the way home, I wished I had stopped for a few more seconds to converse with her in Bengali.

So here you go, Chitra, this one’s for you! Thank you for this moving Sita.

A more detailed version of this article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is excerpted here with permission.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.