A house divided?

The SJ Mercury dissects the conflict between Indian American technocrats and religious/cultural leaders in the Bay Area. This may well be a microcosm of what we’ll soon see in other areas of the country where large Indian American communities exist:

When Dr. Romesh Japra was building his cardiology practice at Washington Hospital 25 years ago, Hindus wanted their own temple. Fremont’s then-mayor, the late Bill Ball, told the doctor the Seventh-day Adventists were moving out of their church. Japra wrote a personal check for $10,000 to cover part of the down payment and the Fremont Hindu temple was born. The first in the Bay Area, it became part of the bedrock for Silicon Valley’s Indo-American community.

Since the late 1970s, when Japra established himself as a leader in the Indo-American community, thousands have arrived from India, many armed with engineering degrees. The 2000 census revealed that 40 percent of all Bay Area high-tech workers were Asian, and many high-profile Silicon Valley companies were founded or co-founded by Indians.

Despite their land of common origin — which they remind outsiders is a complex mix of more than 1 billion people — the high-tech engineers and the Indo-Americans who preceded them are not united. Some old-timers say the technocrats care more about making money than about the grass-roots community. And to some highly skilled high-tech workers, Japra is a maharaja — Hindu prince — who reflects a past they came to America to escape.

The rift has played a part in preventing the community from realizing its shared goal: gaining political power.

“We have to stop backbiting,” said Mahesh Pakala, 40, a Fremont entrepreneur who is friends with both groups. “We’re killing ourselves. We have to think big. We have to get ourselves a politician.”

We’ve all observed this sort of thing before. It’s the classic old world mentality vs. new world mentality that we see in discussions with our parents. The technocrats have an organization that they claim to run like a “start-up” and the old-timers put on their yearly fair for networking and building community ties. In theory the former is run with business-like efficiency and thus can influence big time politics with money and connections. The latter relies on “who you know” and a turning-out-the-vote model.

“We’re struggling to get a political agenda,” said Yogi Chugh of Fremont, senior vice president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, a group that Japra used to head. “I just wish the leaders would get together. We won’t accomplish much if we do it alone. We need to work together and define a strategy for the next decade. Otherwise we’re going to be taken for granted.”

That agenda could emerge from an unprecedented conference of at least seven major Indian groups and about 50 congressional leaders June 29 in Washington, D.C. Physicians, hotel owners and business leaders are hashing out an agenda that will include core issues like speeding up family reunification visas, repealing portions of the Patriot Act, bettering U.S.-India relations, and pouring federal funding into math and science education.

Most important to many leaders is just being accepted in the mainstream.

“The community is searching for equality, a seat at the table,” said Triloki Pandy, an anthropology professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “Even though they have made a lot of money, they realize that to tell the story that `Yes, we have made it’ in the American context means that they have to somehow convert their economic will into political power.”

I worry a great deal about the attitudes expressed above. There seems to be a naive belief that there can be some sort of consensus among all Indian Americans as to what should be part of a political agenda. It should be easy to find issues of importance that all groups have in common but the ambition here seems to go further and believe that everyone is after the same ends. If reading SM has taught us anything it’s that there are both left of center and right of center South Asians on almost every issue. Some of the contingents above seem to believe that just getting brown folks elected is an end in itself. Off-center folks however will resist even that seemingly “basic” agenda item. The following quote is sure to rile some:

The community has made small political gains in the last year or two. Nationally, Bobby Jindal, a Republican from Louisiana elected last year, is now the only Indo-American congressman. There are six Indo-American state legislators throughout the country, and this year in Fremont, Anu Natarajan became the first Indo-American appointed to the city council. A smattering of Indo-Americans sit on Bay Area special districts and school boards.

15 thoughts on “A house divided?

  1. These fellas are fighting over new and old methods, meanwhile the president of the AIA(whom I know personally) regularly hangs out with Bush and got him to celebrate Diwali at the White house. And what’s this thing about temple building now? Every time I go to a Hindu temple (I’ve been to temples in Cincinnati, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, Virginia, New Jersey and Buffalo) the only thing you see there is uncles and aunties doing ha ha hee hee and networking and exchanging cards. Its a bloody sham. Hey…wtf? I should blog about this this seems like a good subject to rant about.

  2. Is the author trying to make a mountain out of a molehill? The real issue in the story seems to be a gap between Dr. Japra and the community, not between the older generation and the younger generation. Don’t get me wrong – there will always be a gap between generations, but is it so serious?

    Unfortunately, Dr. Japra comes off as the villain in the story. I truly wonder if it’s warranted?

    PS: I found it slightly humorous that the author mentioned his 16,800 sq ft home (“the largest in Alameda county”) shortly after repeating others’ allegations that he is an arrogant leader.

    Maybe someone who lives in the Bay Area can tell us if the article was accurate…

  3. If reading SM has taught us anything it’s that there are both left of center and right of center South Asians on almost every issue. Some of the contingents above seem to believe that just getting brown folks elected is an end in itself. Off-center folks however will resist even that seemingly “basic” agenda item. The following quote is sure to rile some

    Well, some people don’t understand that identity politics has limits and needs to be flexible and address other things besides group membership. They should read Thomas Frank or Lisa Duggan or talk to people who don’t share their politics, but they probably won’t. If I were cynical, I might think it has something to do with their being either foolish or power-hungry.

    For example, as a Bangali and somewhat progressive, I would almost never align myself with a group or space that conflated Indian and desi.

  4. As a proud ex-Fremontian, I’m glad SM posted this. I’ve been to Fremont Hindu Temple on countless occasions (it still has stained glass windows from the old church), and in contrast to ananghbai’s observations in other ciies, FHT for the most part consists of pious Desis who pray quietly for a few minutes, put a few dollars into the donation box, and leave soon after.

    Although I’ve met both old-school and new-wave Indians in my city, from my experience I have to say that the Fremont Desi community is predominantly the latter. Consequently, we’re underrepresented in local politics and the community. It’s just like the article says: well-off Indians see no reason to participate in such things. For example, back in my high-school years I never saw an Indian parent show up at a PTSA meeting. Indian parents (mine included) would avoid getting involved in any way, unless of course Rintu’s Chemistry AP grade slipped down to a B+.

    While Indians in Fremont need to be more active in the community, I think that this participation has to be at an individual level. I’m wholeheartedly against the doctrine of identity politics because it makes the racist assumption that all of us brown folks are the same. I personally could care less about issues like “bettering U.S.-India relations”, which Dr. Japra’s old organization is putting such emphasis on.

  5. This idea of all “desis” or “brown people” sharing the same values and beliefs worries me too. Up here in Canada and particularly around the suburbs off Toronto there are a lot of minority candidates running for MP (Member of Parliament-National) or MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament-Provincial) positions and I find many people voting for a particular person because they are Indian or Punjabi.

    I have no issues with supporting “one of our own” but I do take issue with the fact that certain party leaders nominate representatives based on the ethnic makeup of certain ridings (so basically as a way to get votes). This manipulation of voters is old news, but it is so very dear to my heart.

    I see this a lot with my generation now (late teens-early twenties) who are for the most part apathetic when it comes to politics but will “vote for the brown person” just so they can “rep” without taking the time to find out what the platform of that candidate or party is.

  6. Don’t be so worried, people. If identity politics is not your thing, then you don’t have to attend that conference or support it in writing and in conversation. I’m glad desis are uniting to make political waves….or ripples at the least. I’m sure the numerous groups to be represented are filled with heterogeneous elements, and that they’ll come up with a common policy.

    Lets not be uber-deconstructionalist….despite differences, there can be basic consensus along racial lines, just like such consensus can exist along economic class lines, religious lines, etc. Its not fair to demote ethnic affiliations as somehow an illegitimate basis for political change. Sure there will be diverging viewpoints. Does that mean the conversation must end? Or does it mean that the conversation was just beginning?

    Damn that was some corny isht…but you get my point.

  7. Lets not be uber-deconstructionalist….despite differences, there can be basic consensus along racial lines, just like such consensus can exist along economic class lines, religious lines, etc. Its not fair to demote ethnic affiliations as somehow an illegitimate basis for political change. Sure there will be diverging viewpoints. Does that mean the conversation must end? Or does it mean that the conversation was just beginning?

    v, I appreciate what you’re saying and I don’t think ethnic affiliations are always illegitimate, but I think it depends on what form they take. A Bangladeshi masjid or cultural association with members scattered across the outerboroughs of New York might be really different (I don’t know know enough about them) from the Jindal-supporter described above or some particularly nasty things I’ve seen people do professionally that were justified on the basis of identity politics. I’m also pretty cynical when people get all up in arms when their sensibilities as a desi get offended in pretty surface-level ways, but don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything else.

  8. I’m also pretty cynical when people get all up in arms when their sensibilities as a desi get offended in pretty surface-level ways, but don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything else.

    Props Saurav, extremely well put. Fremontian desis (and I’m sure Desis in other communites as well) have the problem of being concerned only about themselves and not giving back to the community as a whole; I don’t see organizing politically to promote only Desi affairs to be much of an improvement over the way things currently are.

  9. I agree that the Desi temples are now more of a social-gathering envioronment where one has to ‘pay respect’ to the original ‘sponsorers’ (usually rich Desi doctors or businessmen) in addition to the Gods.

    Not to mention all the politics and North vs. South Indian camps that are at loggerheads with each other on each and every trivial adiminstrative and religious issue.

    Desi’s will never be united – not in India, not anywhere else in the world.

  10. despite differences, there can be basic consensus along racial lines

    Heil vurdlife!!!

  11. Why do we keep using the term desi in this context ? Would a Pakistani immigrant ( a bona fide desi) really support Jindal because Jindals represents him ? In fact he might vote against Jindal just because Jindal is of an Indian ancestry.

  12. I’m also pretty cynical when people get all up in arms when their sensibilities as a desi get offended in pretty surface-level ways, but don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything else.

    Agree 100%. Its always the ones who give token support to a cause (that invariably benefits them in the short term) that is a problem. Happens in so many other contexts too, like for instance many Hispanics and Blacks who opposed racial profiling pre-2001 but are for it post-2001. I’m just hoping this convention is made up of people who are truly interested in addressing issues in the long run, and more importantly, putting up the money to support it.

  13. It is important for ALL Indo Americans interested in political visibility and in getting Indo American candidates elected to any public office, to participate in “Fridays In Fremont”. This is a group of Indo Americans who meet every Friday night in Fremont at the Chaat Cafe (corner of Fremont and Mowry). 9 PM every Friday.

    For further details please call Kim Singh at 650 346 5998, Chinmoya at 510 676 1995 Yogi Chugh at 650 619 1789


    Dear Mr. Jogi Chug of Fremont as spokesperson of FIA/Dr. Romesh Japra, AS GOOD FRIEND AND WELL-WISHER BOTH OF YOU:

    Why and How should Indo Americans consider Dr, Japra our leader if Dr,. Japra is not handing over the management of Fremont Hindu Temple (Vedic Dharma Samaj) to its devotees (30,000 devotees FOR GENERAL ELECTIONS AFTER AMENDING THE FRAUDULENT AND ILLEGAL AMENDMENT OF THE YEAR 1984 ON INSTIGATION OF DR. ROMESH JAPRA), which Dr. Japra took over by coercion, fraud, and illegally, See, Depositions of Dr. Romesh Japra, Gokul Gupta, Dr. Ramanand Prasad, Rajinder Sharma, Dr. Dharam Pal Salwan in Case number RG07-318802 pending in Superior Court of California, in Appeal pending in First Appellate Court, Division 2, between Dhir v. Gupta et al. (30000 devotees), please give your opinion as friend of our leader Dr. Japra if he is elected than ruling the Fremont Hindu Tempe by his money, political power, manpower?

    Hindu’s are deprived from self government in Fremont Hindu Temple, are you agree or disagree? Dr. Japra and his team, still Dr. Japra is our leader, shameful, when Dr. Japra does not allow public meeting in Fremont Hindu Temple?

    How, read the following and give your comments to Mr. Chug to convey devotees message to Dr. Japra to suggest him best way if to to resign from Fremont Hindu Temple and if to hand over its management to its devotees for election as they may wish, if you don;t afraid from his political, money, muscle power, and other plans?

    Dr. Brij Mohan Dhir 3519 Ridgemont Terrace, Fremont, CA 94536 Cell: 510-290-9836, Email: dhirvs. guptarg07318802@gmail.com Date: AUGUST 4, 2009


    PUBLIC MEETING WAS NOT ALLOWED BY DR. ROMESH JAPRA AS NO BODY WAS ALLOWED TO SPEAK FROM PODIUM OF VEDIC DHARMA SAMAJ–FREMONT HINDU TEMPLE REGARDING BOARD OF TRUSTEES ULTRA VIRE RESOLUTION TO CONTRIBUTE $10000 TO FEDERATION OF INDIA ASSOCIATION FROM ASSETS OF FREMONT HINDU TEMPLE (3676 DELAWARE STREET, FREMONT, CA 94538; PHONE: 510-659-5508) SINCE DR. JAPRA AND HIS PUPPET TEAM RUN THE AFFAIRS OF FREMONT HINDU TEMPLE SINCE THE YEAR 1984 WITH FRAUD AND ILLEGALITY AS DEPOSED IN PLEADINGS AND DEPOSITIONS IN CASE NUMBER RG07-318802, SUPERIOR COURT, COUNTY OF ALAMEDA Public Meeting was not allowed as called for, but no body was allowed to speak by Dr. Japra, after Asutosh Maharaj and other programs were over or even on raising my thirty minutes hand to speak when other devotees asked to let me speak and allow them to speak, from podium regarding board of trustees’ ultra vires resolution, as declared by Dr. Romesh Japra and his absent team; however, I distributed the attached email, 500 members of public condemned the resolution of $10000 given to Federation of India Association.

    The public meeting was commenced at 1:30 P.M., when Dr. Japra took the microphone from Mrs. Lila Mathur; however, she declared Dr. Japra is our co-chair. From the meeting, Dr. Chadha, Keshav Chopra, Chug, Dr. Prasad, Dr. Salwan, Rajinder Sharma, Mr. Khanna, among others were absent. In the meeting, Mr. Ram Malik, Mr. Bhogibhai, Parekh, Mr. Dalal, Anita, Mr. Mathur, and Mr. Verma were present. The public meeting gathering, probably, was more than 500 devotees.

    However, before the public meeting I asked Ms. Anita Kapoor, a temple administrator, to let me review the resolutions of my holding membership last year 2008 and the above resolution of $10000 given to Federation of India Association, Anita told me no books, papers, documents, or minutes of board of trustees and mangement board are kept in the temple office for public review, she is employee, and Mr. Lalit Mathur is the secretary of temple or talk to Dr. Japra or Dr. Chadha, she is not the right person to talk to for such demands. Dr. Chadha, Chairman, Dr. Japra, Co-chair, any one authorized, please let me review and copy these resolutions, so that, a writ of mandate may be filed against the culprits who exceeded or abused their powers given under the articles and fraudulent and illegal bylaws, and Corporation Code as raised in pending litigation in case number RG07318802, Superior Court, Alameda County and Appeal case number A123567 in First Appellate Court Division 2.

    I attempted to explain, how Dr. Japra exceeded his powers by violating article IV of Articles of Incorporation because religious organizations money can not be used for non-religious purposes and personal purposes, it needs public comments not arbitrary, coercive, illegal, and unfair resolutions, because Dr. Japra is fraudulently and illegally managing the affairs of Vedic Dharma Samaj–Fremont Hindu Temple, since the year 1984 because no devotee respect his position as chair or co-chair except the handful Punjabis; however, other Indian Community afraid from Dr. Japra as he is politician, rich-man, powerful, and have support from these Pubjabis as Dr. Salwan, Dr. Ramanand, Rajinder Sharma, even Ram Malik, Keshav Chopra, Nidhi Bhatnagar, Anita Kapoor, Mr. Chug, Mr. Bhatia, even Anil Yadav, among others afraid from Dr. Japra and his political and police links. Only two persons, one Mr. Aswani of Ashutosh Maharaj and One person from devotees asked me to keep silent, but other about 498 devotees want to listen me and they asked Dr. Japra to allow me to speak as I had been stopped from Speaking, even Mrs. Lila Mathur interrupted, when I asked her don’t interrupt. In the facts and circumstances, I again request Dr. Japra, Joint Body, and the General Body, and community at large, to persuade Dr. Japra and other level of fraudulent and illegal management to cancel this resolution of distributing $10000 to Federation of India Association from the assets of Vedic Dharma Samaj as contrary and in contravention of: violates the article IV A of Articles of Incorporation, which provides: ” This corporation is organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes within the meaning of section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and article VI provides “the property of this corporation is irrevocably dedicated to religious purposes and no part of the net income or assets of this corporation shall be ever inure to the benefit of any director, officer or member thereof to the benefit of any private person . . . . ” the above resolution also violates section 4 (4) of Fraudulent and illegal amended bylaws of 1984, which provides “the board of trustees shall exercise the powers of the organization, control its property and conduct its affairs except as provided by law or bylaws of the corporation; however, section 4 (3) (iv) provides “expenses approvals of all expenses items in excess of $ 5000 . . .” shall be responsibility of Board of Trustees, Section 4 (3). This altra vires the powers given to the corporation under section 501 (c) (3) of IRC, which needs action not only by the judges of the courts, but by President Obama, attorney general, IRS, and the community at general as evidenced from correspondence distributed in the temple and to me by mail (shown from attachments). However, section 3, sub-section (1) of illegal amended 1984 bylaws provides “responsibilities, members of the Joint Board will perform any and all duties imposed on them collectively or individually by law, by articles of incorporation of this corporation or by these bylaws . . . ,” and sub-section (7) provides “Conflicts, in case of conflicts at various levels of management the decision of the Joint Board will be final and binding . . . ,” and sub-section (8) provides “the Joint Board may censure or remove from office any member of the Managing Body, Chairperson or Co-chairperson of the Board of Trustees at any time by at least two third voting majority, and section 4, subsection 7 (iv) and subsection (8) (v) provides that the chairman and co-chairman will ensure that minutes of all meetings of Board of Trustees and Management Board (Joint Board) are recorded and duly documented for review by members of the community.

    I don’t understand, why Dr. Japra is talking from public podium that he gave $10000 in the year 1983 and help to build this temple, when no one was there to do such things, where I responded from public that you owned the temple since 1984; however, other devotees were there like Dr. Hari Puri, who was made run away by you since 1984, and others like Dr. Ramanand, Mr. Bhatia, and Rajinder Sharma are still fighting your fraudulent and illegal management of affairs of Temple. If Dr. Japra you have good friends like Dr. Chadha, Malik, Keshav Chopra, Mr. Chug, Dr. Salwan, I ask them give you moral counsel than unethical counseling of Mr. Sperber, who should wait for complaint in the California State Bar, collectively and individually by devotees. I ask you to amend the laws according to the desire of devotees and Dr. Japra contest the election to win, I assure you that you will win if work with the ideal of equal justice to all and fairness, because Dr. Japra and your puppet team have to forget that they can rule the temple because I have heard devotees saying how long Dr. Japra is going to run the temple with meanness, coercion, money power, illegally, with fraud, one day his vessels of sins will fill because Almight Lord will do justice, so let me see your penance or Lord’s punishment in which form if from Civil Jury, Grand Jury, Judges, Public, or Lord Himself, but I will pray forgiveness to Dr. Japra as he worked Temple with whatever, personal gains in guise of public work.

    Thanks Parbrahm Shri Krshna to enlighten Dr. Chadha, Dr. Japra, and other reverenced members of my community who ran, runs, and will run Vedic Dharma Samaj, so that, I may see them in new era of Vedic Dharma Samaj–Fremont Hindu Dharma, without litigating in writ of mandate after permission of Presiding Judge as ordered by Judge Brick, despite my present pending litigation in Superior Court and Appellate Court above.



  15. A seven member delegation led by Dr. Romesh Japra as NRI of Punjab may met Sardar Prakash Singh Badal on August 28, 2009 as reported on August 8, 2009 in the Times of India, Newsonline, by Shruti Setia Chhabra, involving about Rs 25,000 crores ($250 Million) investment on Nuclear Plant in Punjab raised the public interest issues because Dr. Romesh Japra, as chair or co-chair of Vedic Dharma Samaj-Fremont Hindu Temple, California, together with his cohorts, is frivolously litigating (defending) the complaint of Dr.Dhir since the year 2007 (as raised because of Litigation of Lord Ganesh of 2005 against Lost Coast Brewery for Caricaturing Him in California Superior Court, Contra Costa County), regarding coercive, fraudulent, and illegal took over of the temple management, which was filed based on fraudulent and illegal amendment of the year 1984 as the evidence is produced by Dr. Ramanand Prasad, Rajinder Sharma, Dr. Dharam Pal Salwan about million dollars fraud in the temple finance by Gupta on support of Dr. Japra, for remedies to determine the election process, since 1984 void, new amendment in the bylaws after dissolving the governing body and electing the new governing body (Board of Directors), however, the case was dismissed because Dr. Dhir was not member of the temple, but after dismissal Dr. Dhir’s membership was hold by illegal governing body (Joint Board-Board of Trustees and Management Board), but Dr. Dhir filed the appeal in First Appellate Court, Division 2, San Francisco, appeal number A123567 and challenged the dismissal, pursuant to this challenge the matter is kept for hearing on 02/04/2010 in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, case number RG07-318802. Dr. Japra’s Attorney Mr Sperber with unethical advice guided Dr. Japra to commence elections from 2006 to commit fraud, crime and perjury, among others.

    In addition, Dr. Japra took $10,000 of Temple to Federation of India Association (FIA), despite the objections raised by the devotees in the public meeting, which was not allowed by Dr. Japra when the resolution was passed by the common directors of Tempe and FIA. Not only $10,000 taken away to FIA from religious to non religious Corporations, forcibly, contrary to articles and bylaws and California Laws, but Dr. Ramandand Prasad, Rajinder Sharma pleaded and deposed in deposition filed in the court that Dr. Japra’s took over the management of temple by coercion, fraud and illegality in the year 1984 by amending bylaws; however, Dr. Dharam Pal Salwan deposed and pleaded that Dr. Japra supported Gupta in million dollars expenses on construction etc.

    These facts raises the issues how Dr. Japra can be trusted a N-Plant project of Rs 25000 Crores as NRI investment if the money is raised from NRI’s.

    Should the Governments of United States of America, India and Punjab, United Kingdom, among other countries investigate these matters as preventive measures before the public may be mislead and misrepresented in to huge investments (Rs 25,000 crores–$250 million) as Dr. Japra leader of seven persons delegation can not be trusted or credited based on his above bad faith dealings in Temple etc. because Dr. Japra coveted not only individual rights but public rights as he did not resign from Temple Management to show his bona fide on the contrary he covets more these rights as politician and influence person in the government system including courts, powerful person, rich person, friend and foe circles, etc?

    You may have comments, please give them, million thanks if given to public authorities.

    I suffered because of Dr. Romesh Japra because Dr. Prasad, Dr. Salwan, and Sharma, our attorney Mark Cohen, Ram Malik�who, announced me in public an evil in the parking lots of Temple, Keshav Chopra, Nidhi Bhatnagar, even Ms. Anu Natrajan, Vice Mayor of Fremont, among others, run away from the right path of fight for public justice, as if I wasted my time for public cause, money, studies, mental and physical energy, but gained in spiritualism. God bless Dr. Japra because I never consider him or any one my friend or enemy because of public cause. Jai (Hail) America Jai (Hail) Hind Jai (Hail) Punjab!!!

    Brij Mohan Dhir, J.D., LL.B., LL.M., S.J.D. Student 3519 Ridgemont Terrace, Fremont, CA 94536 Cell: 510-290-9836 Email: dhirvs.guptarg07318802@gmail.com

    Note: After reading the attached article, Mr. Madan Mohindra of IntagCorp.com, having Email: mmohindra@intagcorp.com, called me not as reporter or else; however, he opposed Dr. Japra’s lead because of his suspicions and the issues in litigation as it raises issues of his public trust and creditability as NRI $250 Million is involved is taken granted as in Temples, among other Senior’s of Fremont Sikh Temple as they discussed, where Mr. Tony commented that N-Plant is not brick manufacturing plant, where Dr. Japra can do it, please forward your comments on these issues to respective public authorities, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, President Obama, FBI, CBI, Punjab Police for preventive measures etc.

    See, http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-311928?ref=feeds%2Fhighestrated