“The Unforeseen Impacts of Activism”

Note: I wrote this blog post this summer, after participating in a youth program run by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a DC-based advocacy organization focused on issues facing South Asian American communities. I know I haven’t been active on this blog lately, but I have some new content coming soon, I promise — especially now that my final exams for this quarter are now over.

This post later led to me being interviewed for this article on The Caravan: “How South Asian Americans Are Asserting Their Political Voice This Election”!

Anyway, here’s the post (originally published here):


Sitting in my university’s library last spring, I was procrastinating on studying for finals by browsing Facebook—something any college student can relate to. In between the endless feed of news articles and photos, one event caught my eye: a three-part discussion series, “South Asians for Black Lives.” The Facebook event listed some incredible speakers and activists who would be talking about important issues such as the model minority myth and colorism in South Asian communities, which both affect whether and how South Asians choose to stand in solidarity with Black communities (or not).

Although we had really wanted to attend the discussion series, logistically it wasn’t very feasible to do so. Talking with my friends who expressed an interest in the event, we decided if we couldn’t go to “South Asians for Black Lives”, we would bring “South Asians for Black Lives” to us. That is, we would basically copy that event and hold it on UChicago’s campus instead.

There were some important differences, though. Our university’s South Asian Students Association was robust, but focused more on cultural and social events, like the annual spring show and chai socials. When it came to programming related to social and political issues, there wasn’t a whole lot. My friends and I weren’t sure what kind of response we’d get from our campus community—would anyone even show up?—so we decided to make our event a one-day affair, instead of Northwestern’s three-part series. We reached out to professors, activists, and fellow students from the UChicago community and the greater Chicago area as well, and invited some really incredible, passionate speakers.

Finally, it was the day of the event. Although there were some minor hiccups, everything went quite smoothly. After a panel discussion with two activists and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, we moved into small group discussions led by members of UChicago’s Organization of Black Students and other student activists. Although the theme of our event was geared towards South Asian students, quite a few students from different Asian backgrounds attended, as well as students of other ethnicities. Afterwards, my friends and I were frankly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response we got from those who attended! Many of them expressed that they would love to see more events focusing on social and political issues relating to Asian-American communities on campus.

The success of our “South Asians for Black Lives” event inspired me to find out whether other South Asian students across the country had also been trying to hold social justice-related events, and what kind of success they were having. While looking online, I stumbled on SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute (YLI) webpage. YLI seemed like exactly what I was looking for: a group of young South Asian Americans who were passionate about social change. By the time I found out about YLI, it was just a day before the application deadline, but I managed to send my application in anyway (a couple hours late). Thankfully, I got in!

The YLI training in DC was eye-opening in a variety of ways. It seemed like every member of the cohort felt like their colleges’ South Asian student groups also didn’t focus that much on social and political issues as much as cultural events. The theme of this year’s YLI was Immigrant Justice, and after hearing about the different projects we were hoping to execute on our campuses, I was honestly in awe of everyone else. We learned about the current immigrant right issues facing our communities, we heard from activists and organizers, and we had some very honest and important conversations.

For me, one of the most meaningful moments of the YLI training was finding out that the project that originally inspired my friends and I—the “South Asians for Black Lives” event at Northwestern—was actually organized by a member of the 2015 YLI cohort, Sanjana Lakshmi! One could say this was just a coincidence; Sanjana’s event just happened to show up on my Facebook feed one afternoon. However, I think it was more than just a coincidence. It was proof that our efforts to have these important conversations in our communities can have a much greater impact than we could ever imagine. I’m sure that in the coming years, as each YLI cohort works to tackle a variety of social and political issues in their campus communities, their work will serve as inspiration to many more young South Asian Americans, just as it did for me.

“Hindu way to resist Hindutva”

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An environment in which even educated Hindus don’t know their Hinduism (in a critical and intellectual sense), even as the Hindu faith retains its pre-eminent sway over the masses, has become fertile ground for fanatical bigots.

As you can probably tell by now, I really don’t like Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). This article discusses how many religious/observant Hindus have been relatively silent when it comes to speaking out against Hindutva, and how that has serious consequences.


“Amidst the noisy debate on intolerance that marked the political discourse this year, one voice has been conspicuously absent — that of the Hindu obviously steeped in the tradition. Of course, a large number of Hindus, at least nominal Hindus, have spoken out against the growing climate of bigotry and chauvinism — Nayantara Sahgal, Kailash Satyarthi, P.M. Bhargava, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Raghuram Rajan, Admiral Ramdas and now the new Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, to name a few. However, none of them appears to be a tilak-sporting, shloka-chanting, bhajan-singing, puja-performing, pilgrimage-going, observant Hindu. Rather, they are exactly the sort of urban, secularised, English-speakers that the proponents of Hindutva scorn as “inauthentic” in terms of their Hindu roots.

Indeed, most of India’s liberal Hindus would confess that they are Hindu, if at all, mainly in a vaguely spiritual and philosophical sense and have little understanding of Hinduism’s history or scriptures and no truck with its many rituals, symbols and observances. Their liberal sentiments are rooted largely in their own cosmopolitan experience and, at best, a homegrown understanding of the Hindu tradition absorbed from the family milieu rather than anchored in the texts and tenets of Hinduism. Of course, the more eclectically read can trot out a supportive quotation or two from the Gita, but their plural and tolerant understanding of Hinduism is instinctive rather than intellectual.

Sadly, however, this well-meaning guff is simply not going to cut it. The misguided rants of the RSS, Sangh Parivar and the rest of the Hindutva brigade have to be delegitimised from deep within Hinduism — by wielding the texts, idioms, history and practices of the Hindu tradition, rather than the liberal and secular values of the European Enlightenment. Hindutva can only be countered by showing it up as “un-Hindu”.

This is easier said than done. No Hindu religious leader of any consequence — not one of the hordes of gurus and mahants supposedly immersed in the tradition and, therefore, able to authoritatively represent its core values — has spoken out against the rampant distortions of Hinduism that are currently being propagated. On the contrary, many have implicitly condoned or are explicitly riding the Hindutva bandwagon. Sadly, there is no Swami Vivekananda around to once again articulate an ecumenical vision for Hinduism — “a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”, as he memorably put it at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

What, then, are liberal Hindus to do?

Continue reading ““Hindu way to resist Hindutva””

Amit Chaudhuri: “Modi’s Hinduism”

This piece by Amit Chaudhuri, an acclaimed Indian author, provides an excellent look at the current political and social situation in India, and the consequences that the current rise in Hindu fundamentalism (aided by the ruling party, the BJP) may have on Hinduism as a whole. Here are two passages that stood out to me (emphasis mine):

“Despite the disgraceful legacies and realities of Hindu society, such as the caste system, there was once an open-ended confusion about the matter of what constitutes it as a religion. Hinduism had no central book, it was reiterated; you could be a Hindu even if you were an atheist or had never stepped into a temple; you could absorb the stories of Hindu mythology without believing in them literally.

This definition of Hinduism arose from an awareness in modern Hindus of the aspects privileged by other world religions, in response to which they seemed to have decided to make a case for Hinduism’s anomalousness, to turn the fact that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ religion into a kind of legitimacy… it made for an oddly Indian interpretation of religion, in which it served as a sort of figurative language, a non-assertive truth, and there was a strange, occasional overlap, for the Indian, between everyday living and religious experience.

Anyone who was once exposed to even a residue of that ethos will feel alienated by the BJP’s project of salvaging Hinduism from its provisionality, and making it a ‘proper’ religion. It’s doing this through minatory edicts and actions, and by eliminating grey areas. ‘Intolerance’ is the Indian press’s term for this regime of threats and violence towards beef-eaters, writers, ‘foreigners’ and ‘foreign’ organisations (like Greenpeace), and minorities; though, as Arundhati Roy pointed out recently, ‘“intolerance” is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings.’

The BJP insists on a form of Hinduism that is wholly new: it accords a deep respect to science and the verifiable, and is tone deaf to figurative language. Soon after it came to power, one BJP minister proclaimed that ancient Indians must have possessed the technology to build aeroplanes since the epics mention flying chariots. Modi then added that the elephant-headed god Ganesh was proof that plastic surgery existed in ancient India. Both remarks made people shake their heads and laugh, but all Modi was saying was that Hindu mythology as a domain of poetry, irreverence, humour and symbolism (‘Only an incredibly sophisticated culture could have produced a figure like Ganesh,’ Allen Ginsberg once said) made far less sense to him than the Renaissance and Enlightenment realism which, in a weirdly distorted form, has shaped the BJP as well as its secretive cultural-militant wing, the RSS.”

Continue reading “Amit Chaudhuri: “Modi’s Hinduism””