Religious Leaders Oppose Federal Marriage Amendment (U.S.)

By: on 7 Jun 2006

In good news relating to the failed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, I learned through the Al-Fatiha listserv of Clergy for Fairness, a broad coalition of religious leaders that launched an "Open Letter to the U.S. Senate from America's Clergy" on Monday.

Desi Power: Building Desi Voter Blocs?

By: on 7 Jun 2006

This week Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released results from the Election Day surveys they do in high-density Asian American neighborhoods every year. And every year, they remind us that a large chunk of the Asian American voting-eligible community is disenfranchised in one way or another (due to unnecessarily long queues, last minute polling station location changes, polling machine malfunction, lack of Asian language translators which limits accessibility, etc. etc.) I definitely witnessed these problems first hand when I volunteered as an election poll monitor/surveyor for the 2004 Presidential Election (boo Bush!) in a Bangladeshi/Pakistani neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY with Bangla-language surveys and my mildly broken Urdu/Hindi skills to verbally translate English surveys in tow. Really, it's all mildly depressing. With so many of our desi comrades who actively engage in the American system ineligible to vote due to their non-citizen or undocumented status or even because they're just plain under-18---you would hope that the few that are able to participate in the system, get to take advantage of the opportunity. But I'm sure you've all heard this type of ranting many times before. What really interested me about the results this year is the (very real) potential for building power (and voice) through building voting blocs. (Our friends at the League of Pissed Off Voters are EXCELLENT at this) And some savvy folks in the desi-American world have already caught onto this, South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY) (did ya catch my pun right there? ;) ) is very dear to my heart and has started some great intiatives at a national level focused on the 17-24 year old set.

Here are some highlights that really got me thinking from a local New Jersey paper:

EDISON, NJ — Asian American voters gave a huge plurality to Jun Choi in last November's Edison mayoral election, according to results of a survey released this week.

Choi got 97 percent of the Asian-American vote, according to the survey by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The Korean American won the Edison contest by a mere 273 votes over fellow Democrat William Stephens, who ran as an independent.

The figures were compiled from exit interviews conducted at two polling places in the township — at J.P. Stevens High School and at John Marshall School, both located in areas of the township that have a large Asian-American community.

 According to the survey, 100 percent of the South Asians who voted said they backed Choi. Of Chinese American voters, 87 percent said they backed Choi.

the other indians

By: on 6 Jun 2006

I have spent the past month watching this site grow from a tiny blogspot one to the big, rockin', phat-dripping, massive roti it is today. And I have to say that one of the best things about it is the 'diversity' (sorry, I know, someone's gotta come up with a better word that doesn't conjure up images of token kids group-hugging for a Kodak moment) of views on cultural issues.

But as an immigrant living in a country where the main discourse on race is one of bi-culturalism between Pakeha (Europeans) and Maori (indigenous people), I've recently been wondering why, as post-colonial people living in countries that have all been colonised, there seems to be a gulf between the -and here comes another dreaded d-bomb of an overused word- diaspora and indigenous people in the countries we live in (Maori, Inuits in Canada, Native Americans in the USA).

Right now in New Zealand there's a mainly-Pakeha backlash against Maori rights, similar to the current sentiment to affirmative action in the USA for Native Americans and African Americans. Even in Canada (hi brownfrown!), that nation held as a shining example of multiculturalism with its recognition of Quebecois and Inuit peoples, it seems there's a certain resentful comment about indigenous rights being passed around at dinner parties, or down at the ba-sorry I can't, I have to say pub, or just 'among friends' - "Enough is enough."

In New Zealand the latest instalment in the "Enough is enough" backlash is a disagreement over whether powhiri (Maori welcome ceremony, pronounced po-firr-ee) should be allowed in its traditional form on state occasions, or whether it should be changed to incorporate women, Europeans and other cultures.

What is in its details a small issue has now acquired the strength of a discourse on national identity and multiculturalism. Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party which was formed in 2004 to protect indigenous rights, says that changing powhiri is tantamount to the 'bastardisation of Maori culture.' Many Pakeha say that Maori should learn to respect other people and update their ways to suit today's values.

Maori culture has a patriarchal hierarchy which means many of its rituals are seen as sexist, while its male ideal of the warrior means that to others its customs promote violence. Anyone who has seen the All Blacks perform the haka will know that I'm talking about - anyone who hasn't they're our national rugby team and the haka is a war chant which most other teams seem to find hilarious as the All Blacks sticks their tongues out (called pukana) and slap their chests etc.

Anyways, for those who haven't been distracted by the thought of hot Polynesian men with rippling abs and short shorts (*cough* Saurav *cough*)...

What I want to ask people reading this post is:

To what extent (if any) should indigenous rights be respected? Should differentiated treatment allow customs and beliefs that are out of touch with contemporary values to be recognised and protected?

Or does integration for first nation peoples mean that they need to update their culture to recognise other ethnicities and cultures such as environemntalist, feminist and LGBT groups?

And furthermore, does this have anything to do with 'us' at all?

Partying, Drugs, Nepotism, & the BJP: The Fate of Rahul Mahajan

By: on 4 Jun 2006

Who's been keeping up with their Indian politics lately?

Well, for those of you not quite up with the times, let me give you a brief completely (in)complete update :)

Pramod Mahajan, a pretty prominent BJP politican and member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parlaiment) passed away about a month ago. Just last week his son, Rahul Mahajan (the ever dutiful Indian son), made his first appearance in the political realm.

Triggering speculation of his entry into active politics, late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan's son Rahul made an appearance at the venue of the party's National Executive meeting in New Delhi.

Twenty-six-year-old Rahul, who ran a television production house, has little experience at politics. Nevertheless he feels ready to follow in his father's footsteps.

"I am ready to undertake what ever task the party asks me to. I will fulfill my father's goals. I think it is the duty of every son to do that," said Rahul.

The BJP tried hard to put forward Rahul or his mother Rekha as the consensus candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat, which was once occupied by Pramod Mahajan. But the Congress played spoilsport. (29 May 2006)

Picture perfect nepotism? A little bit. But I love the twist this story takes.

Rahul Mahajan, who was admitted to Apollo Hospital here today for suspected poisoning, continues to be critical and has been put on life support system.

Rahul's condition is a "bit serious" but stable and the next 24 hours are critical for his health, Dr Nirmal Surya, his family physician, said at the hospital here. He claimed that Rahul did not show any symptom of drug overdose.

However, doctors are yet to ascertain the substance consumed by him at a late night party, attended by three unidentified persons, where his father's secretary Vivek Moitra was also present.

LGBT Parade x Desi Neighborhood = Lots Of Fun

By: on 3 Jun 2006

I want to share with those of you in or near New York a fantastic event coming up this weekend. As far as I know, it's the only event of its kind in the States (though since I rarely leave this city, you should take that claim with several shakers of salt).This Sunday, June 4, is the Queens, NY LGBT Pride Parade and streetfair, kicking off a month of fun. What makes this of particular interest for desis--straight and queer and others alike--is that the parade ends in a festival in Jackson Heights, the most well-known South Asian neighborhood in New York. It has Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Nepalis; North Subcontinent and South Indian; Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jains, and Muslims; Aunties and urban youth; stores and cars with blaring bhangra; paanwallahs; Bangla book and video stores; and a whole bunch of other stuff (like Sam and Raj...and Citibank :).

So that neighborhood gets flooded with LGBT people on Sunday. Fun ensues :)

In the past, my experiences at this event have included:

  • Arguing with a Log Cabin Republican who conceded "well at least you know your stuff";
  • Randomly going off on a rant to a friend of mine who was working on a city council campaign (sorry! I project!);
  • Kissing a boy in front of the three crazy fanatics who came to protest the street fair just to antogonize them;
  • Co-organizing a SALGA brunch directly after the parade to discuss the politics of SALGA marching in the India Day parade;
  • Meeting a gay man from a village in Bangladesh and hearing about his partner, his partner's violently homophobic father, a forced marriage, and a subsequent bizarre love/marriage triangle;
  • and buying my potentially soon-to-be Republican eight-year-old niece a charm necklace with the LGBT rainbow for her birthday.

And that's not even including the afterparties.

RFK Jr. Alleges Bush Stole Election (updated)

By: on 2 Jun 2006

Three-year 19-month old news about electoral irregularities usually makes my head nod the way it used to in class on occasion--pen doing a random walk down the page--but Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone is too comprehensive to ignore (sources: Ultrabrown and Portside). Including the 200+ footnotes, the piece comes in at over 14,000 words worth of detailed arguments and illustrations of alleged Republican efforts in the last Presidential election--particularly in Ohio--to throw the election to Bush. It is deep, it is dark, and it is above all worth reading.

Kennedy begins by drawing your attention to the discrepancy between the exit polls that predicted a Kerry victory and the certified election results in Ohio and other states that gave the government back to Bush. He then premises the rest of the piece on the notion that it's the election results that were wrong, using a variety of means ranging from the mundane and the clever to establish and bolster his point:

The finer points of Mango Consumption...

By: on 31 May 2006

The Mango

Inside knowledge always helps, so this reporter called upon Deepanjana Pal, a wine critic in Mumbai who is just as enthusiastic about mangoes. The most important lesson: How to eat a mango, presented in a three-part mime.

The Anti-Reservation Movement: "Rang De Basanti" Gone Way Wrong

By: on 30 May 2006

By now, I'm sure most readers have been informed of the hullabaloo over the pending bill in India to accord caste-based reservations in public institutions of higher education for those individuals designated "OBC," or "other backward castes." The most salient story that seems to be making its rounds in the corporate news media (at least as far as I'm able to catch it through Google) is this this is all just an ill-construed political ploy to gather political support from lower-caste individuals, who comprise a majority of the country. However, numbers alone don't always tell the whole story, and little has been said calling into question the privilege and ethics of those protesting the reservations, even as many deny their patients of medical services in order to insist that the quality of medical services should not be compromised.

A couple of useful stats and abbreviations:
* About a quarter of India's population is made up of SC's (Scheduled Castes; Dalits) and ST's (Scheduled Tribes). There is already a 22.5% quota in place for these groups.
* About 52% of Indians belong to the state-defined category of OBC. The bill proposed in April would establish a 27% quota for this group. This would bring the total caste-based quota up to 49.5%, which is the matter currently in dispute.

As I understand it, the rationale of those agitating against the reservation can be summed up in three key points: 1) Reservations would dilute the quality of education and consequently India's competence in the global economy; 2) Caste-based reservations are unfair because they might unjustly enrich an OBC who is wealthy and/or disadvantage an upper-caste who is poor; 3) Caste-based reservations erect caste consciousness and divisiveness (which was apparently otherwise obsolete). The people in this camp have received extensive and largely favorable coverage in the media, with their agitation often being held out as inspired by "Rang De Basanti," a Bollywood film released earlier this year which chronicles a youth uprising against image from zee newsgovernment corruption and oppression. With vigils, hunger strikes, effigies of "evil" political figures, posters and banners drawn in blood, and perhaps even some suicides, the movement is indeed quite something.

However, I would beg to differ with those who believe this movement is on the side of social justice. I know that here, according to some, my ABCD-hood will in one shot obliterate my right to an opinion on the matter. In my defense, while I certainly don't claim to have "outsider objectivity" or some other such rubbish, I do have some sound analytical thinking skills, and I think there are some fair parallels that can be made between affirmative action in the US and reservations in India. This point seemed most obvious when I caught the rhetoric in this article written by the insurmountably irritating Francois Gautier. Another reason I feel responsible for keeping myself informed on the issue and forming an opinion is that the diaspora definitely plays a role in how resources are allocated in India, for better or worse. I have already been seeing emails about Bay Area (California) efforts to support anti-reservation efforts, so this is really hitting home for me. For the remainder of the post, I am not commenting so much on the specific mechanics of the bill itself as I am regarding the concept of whether caste should be a factor taken into account in admissions decisions, and I believe that it absolutely must. Once we can at least get on the same idea about this matter, we can then debate the manner in which a fair and workable system can be established.

"Where Are The Weapons Of Mass Destruction?"

By: on 30 May 2006

It's Memorial Day in the United States today, the day when families and friends gather to have barbecues and policymakers gather to "honor our men and women in uniform." I prefer the former--veggie burgers, please.

With that in mind, I want to share an alternative take on the day with you put together by Def Jux artists The Perceptionists.

"On The Brink of Immigration Policy Regression"

By: on 27 May 2006

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law entitled their paper with those words to describe what's going on in Congress right now. I highly recommend you read it (pdf) to get a sense of what it means that the Senate passed an immigration bill yesterday. It was issued 5/15/06 while the Senate was still amending, so I wouldn't rely on it for every specific, but the broad brushstrokes are still there.

The CHRCL piece is very different from most of the press accounts you're going to read about "immigration reform," most of which focus on citizenship and green card provisions, English-only amendments, the alleged glories of bipartisan activity, and a number of other trendy issues. This document comes the closest to a comprehensive critique of the debate and the bill that I've seen, though it's not perfect.

The New York Times succinctly identified the two major forces at play in the current push to move the Hagel-Martinez Senate bill forward to a House-Senate conference committee, and eventually a new law: The Senate bill “addresses both the demands to stem the inflow of undocumented workers across the border with Mexico and the desire of American employers to have reliable access to low-wage work force.” The interests not on the table, and not any significant part of the Senate compromise, are the interest of the immigrant community in a broad and meaningful legalization process, the interest of unions and non-unionized workers in the protection of already vulnerable U.S. and foreign workers, or the interest of the country in a rational long-term immigration policy.

Translation: This is bad.
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