A South Asian American Agenda?

Periodically, we’ve discussed whether there is any real solidarity amongst the different South Asian communities in North America. What do wealthy 2nd gen suburban doctors, for instance, really have in common politically with recent immigrants working as shopkeepers and taxi drivers in ethnic enclaves in the inner city? It’s a difficult question to answer, though that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to answer it.

A recent blog post by Dr. Anonymous at Pass the Roti drew my attention to an attempt to find a common agenda by a number of South Asian American Groups, including South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). The groups have come together to form the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to release a position paper, which attempts to assemble a political agenda that will find broad support amongst various constituencies who can all be described as “South Asian American.” The groups that have endorsed the document are pretty diverse — including a number of South Asian women’s groups, gay rights groups like Trikone, and progressive youth groups like SAYA and DRUM. Interestingly, one finds three Sikh advocacy groups endorsing the agenda (SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs), but not, as far as I can tell, any groups that are specifically oriented to advocacy for Hindus, Muslims, Jains, or Desi Christians. I’m curious about where that seeming imbalance comes from.

The full agenda (PDF) has nine categories, which Dr. Anonymous was kind enough to transcribe from PDF to HTML for us. I think most of us might agree with the first header (below) as a high priority in an election year, though I’ve been writing for Sepia Mutiny long enough to know that it’s almost never true that everyone agrees with anything:

Civic and Political Participation: Ensure full and equal participation for all in the civic and political process
• Promote naturalization and voting among South Asians
• Preserve voting rights of South Asians by eliminating voter intimidation and suppression
• Ensure limited English proficient citizens’ access to the right to vote
• Ensure that votes by all eligible voters count
• Eliminate xenophobic comments against South Asians and other communities of color in political discourse
• Increase political participation and civic engagement of South Asian community members

The only point here that seems questionable to me might be “Eliminate xenophobic comments against South Asians… in political discourse.” I’m not sure how that could ever be made to happen, so why put it on an agenda?

Some of the other headers might be more controversial/debatable for the readers of this blog, who, as we’ve seen, span the ideological spectrum — left, right, and center. For instance, the “economic justice” category might have some readers disagreeing:

Economic Justice: Promote economic justice and financial security for South Asians
• Support the right to collect a decent living wage with benefits
• Ensure work environments are free from exploitation and provide protections for labor trafficking survivors
• Support the rights of workers who seek to organize regardless of occupation or immigration status
• Provide protections for those affected by workplace discrimination
• Cease immigration enforcement at the workplace
• Ensure access to financial education and vocational training opportunities for immigrant and limited English proficient workers
• Ensure enforcement of tenants’ rights and fair housing policies
• Support affordable housing for immigrants
• Ensure access to fair and affordable credit for immigrants

I personally strongly support the points related to housing and tenants’ rights (many recent immigrants I’ve known live in quite poor conditions, and sometimes they are unaware that landlords have certain legal obligations to their tenants.). I’m less clear on the question of “immigration enforcement at the workplace,” because I think USCIS raids at factory, hotel, and restaurant could be defended along the lines of “well, it’s the law.”

I also personally strongly support the subheader on Gender Equity:

Gender Equity: Advance gender equity within the South Asian community
• Support programs aimed to address and prevent gender-based violence within the South Asian community
• Support programs that provide linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate services for South Asian domestic violence survivors
• Support policies that protect and empower immigrant domestic violence survivors
• Support immigration policies that protect and empower dependent visa holders
• Strengthen policies aimed to prevent all forms of trafficking and provide meaningful resources to survivors
• Develop policies aimed at curbing transnational abandonment of spouses
• Increase culturally and linguistically appropriate health services for South Asian women
• Promote programs and policies that foster the economic empowerment of South Asian women

And finally, one more SAALT NCSO agenda item I feel strongly about is reform of the immigration system:

Immigrant Rights: Promote immigrant rights and just reforms to the immigration system
• Ensure a just and humane approach to reforming the immigration system at the federal level
• Expedite immigration application background checks related to security-related delays
• Ensure the naturalization process is accessible to all eligible immigrants
• Ensure that the immigration system promotes the reunification of families
• Support immigration policies that protect the rights of immigrant workers
• Support immigration policies that protect and empower domestic violence survivors
• Support immigration policies that protect and empower all dependent visa holders
• Cease enforcement initiatives and national security measures that disproportionately affect immigrants and promote profiling
• Ensure that immigrants are not deported from the United States for minor violations of the law
• Cease sharing information among various law enforcement agencies for immigration purposes
• Oppose policies denying public services to non-citizens or permitting state and local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration law
• Ensure compliance of detention standards and provide alternatives to immigrant detention
• Strengthen due process protections within the immigration system
• Standardize the adjudication of asylum-related forms of relief

Ever since the immigration reform bills of the mid-1990s, stories about decent immigrants screwed over by technicalities and minor infractions have been unceasing. And the immigration process as a whole currently causes misery for millions upon millions of immigrants, including those that assiduously play by the rules. (I have blogged my complaints about the indecency of today’s immigration system often; but for starters, see this post… with its 341 comments!)

What do people think about the SAALT NCSO agenda as a whole? Any nitpicks, or major disagreements? (Read the whole list at PTR or here.)

172 thoughts on “A South Asian American Agenda?

  1. 100 · Kaka said

    What exactly do you find libertarian in the caste system?

    ur asking the wrong person prema. i’m a wheat skinned italian jew. can’t you tell by my name? lets grab some kimchi some time.

  2. Unless I’m mistaken over 70% of desi/south asians in the United States are born outside of the country.

    i think it’s well over.

  3. Cease immigration enforcement at the workplace

    why? If someone is an illegal immigrant – kick the bugger out.

    Dont advocate for policies that serve to dilute the “rule of Law”. Lobby to change the law – certainly. But to lobby against enforcement is outrageous.

  4. This concept of South Asia at least in the university campuses across North America is entirely bogus……….Muslim students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh wholeheartedly join the Muslim Students Association. Non Muslim Students from India, if they are in sufficient numbers, join to form the Indian Students Association. Indian Students of US Origin definitely do not want to be associated with the Indian Students Association patronized by students from India. To keep their identity separate they congregate to form the South Asian Students Association…….American born students of Indian Origin probably are ashamed to be associated with land of “snake charmers”, and that is why they want to identify themselves as South Asians. However other communities such as the Filipina , the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Iranians, etc join their respective associations irrespective of their country of origin. That is Vietnamese from Vietnam and Vietnamese from America together constitute and run the Vietnamese association. The same applies to the Chinese and other Asian communities.

    Interesting summation of the issue lucidly presented. But what about the caste and regional divisions among hindu indians abroad?

  5. Dont advocate for policies that serve to dilute the “rule of Law”.

    “rule of Law” is a logocentric linear concept which exists only to perpetuate the heteronormative white male patriarchy!

  6. Hi, many interesting comments here. In your lingo I would be a desi living in desh. I was goaded into response over confusions over identity some ABDs have very naturally as compared to the DBDs. I believe the Dharmic solution is very clear on this – if you were born and raised in America you are American, and your allegiances should lie unequivocally with the Matrubhumi. You should embrace American culture and serve in its armed forces, disassociating yourself with everything that is Indian and India. By not doing so you are doing injustice to your host country by diluting its republican charachter. I don’t know if thats how American society compromises on immigrant identity schisms, but you can no longer be Indian, because you were born in a Mleccha land as a Mleccha, beyond the Indus and the seas, and you better accept that. For the DBDs conversely India is the Matrubhumi and they must fanatically put its interests before trying to find convergence with the ABD community. Of course free choice overrides all these considerations, but I am given the dharmic view onlee.

  7. “For the DBDs conversely India is the Matrubhumi and they must fanatically put its interests before trying to find convergence with the ABD community. Of course free choice overrides all these considerations, but I am given the dharmic view onlee.”

    Ok…all the Krishna murthis in America and in India are probably rolling their eyes right now at this insanely vapid analysis of “Dharma”

  8. When FOBs and ABCDs get together in the US, which is the dominant culture every single time? I will allow you three guesses and you will get the right answer the first time. That’s the reason why Sepia Mutiny has no FOB blogger, not even a token one. So much for grandiose schemes of South Asian solidarity!

    The ABCD-centric world is so far away from the FOB-centric world. Your concerns are for people of your own kind and social mileau. The patronizing attitude towards FOBs doesn’t change.

    That is okay. My point here is that this myth of South Asia and a South Asian agenda is an ABCD creation that serves the ABCD purpose. What’s in it for us?

  9. but most people there wanted to come out against apartheid since it is, by definition, a violation of basic human rights.

    What! You are against apartheid?

  10. 109 · brownfob said

    When FOBs and ABCDs get together in the US, which is the dominant culture every single time? I will allow you three guesses and you will get the right answer the first time. That’s the reason why Sepia Mutiny has no FOB blogger, not even a token one. So much for grandiose schemes of South Asian solidarity! The ABCD-centric world is so far away from the FOB-centric world. Your concerns are for people of your own kind and social mileau. The patronizing attitude towards FOBs doesn’t change. That is okay. My point here is that this myth of South Asia and a South Asian agenda is an ABCD creation that serves the ABCD purpose. What’s in it for us?

    Well buddy I’m out of words to try to strike compromises. We have veered way off the topic which Amardeep originally informed us of and became a diatrabe between shades of the same color. Allright fine I’ll bite. Listen someday you are going to have children and if they are born in the US, will they not be the ABCDs you so hate and then your children will think of you as that backwards FOB.

    Think deeply about that last sentence. I’ll tell you why as I mentioned earlier. I am married to an FOB who I acknowledge is more secure in her “Indianess” then I am. Heck, I’m an old man compared to the others on this blog. I’m 40. But I’d rather be honest. I can remember when all the aunties and uncles used to say typical things about their kids back in the 80s and I would feel smug and mock their accent. Well just the other day my 10 year old son mocked my wife’s accent. I can’t tell you how infuriated I was. I made him apologize but then I realized I used to do the same thing. I felt superior because I had grown up here and felt I knew America and Americans better than those who hadn’t walked the walk sort of speak. The way you see America and the way I see America is different that’s all. I’m sure you’re experience in India is not at all what I feel when I visit once every 5 years. But overtime you will adapt to us and we will adapt to you. Personally you are not a token. Again nice to have other viewpoints.

    To get back on topic, I like the concept of SAALT but its manifesto does seem right out of La Raza as someone mentioned earlier. However the points about violence against women is correct, this needs to be addressed and concrete steps taken to eliminate it from our community (whichever country you are from in the subcontinent).

  11. That is okay. My point here is that this myth of South Asia and a South Asian agenda is an ABCD creation that serves the ABCD purpose. What’s in it for us?

    Green cards, citizenship, greater labor rights, a reduction in deportations, a reduction in the discrimination and/or bias you encounter whether on citizenship grounds or racial or language, etc. Benefits on areas of intersection (e.g. stopping domestic violence, promoting tolerance of homosexuality). But I agree there isn’t enough focus on issues that affect South Asia. For example, even as an ABD, I think there isn’t enough focus on U.S. foreign relations in the document and how they, for example, promote the nuclear standoff and militarism more generally in South Asia, among other things, or on international economic issues like allowing poorer countries (particularly the less powerful ones like Bangladesh or Nepal) enough policy autonomy to make their own decisions.

    You do, however, have a space to voice criticisms exactly like this yours. I strongly encourage you to get in touch with the coalition that put this agenda together and ask them the same question–they’re likely open to people from a diversity of social backgrounds.

  12. 105 · Kaka said

    Interesting summation of the issue lucidly presented. But what about the caste and regional divisions among hindu indians abroad?

    You should talk to a mandir/kovil administrator in Canada or the US to get a feel for it. A cousin of mine is, and I have some idea what it is like. Do your own heavy lifting, you will find it interesting. These “divisions” matter far, far less in India than they do in this part of the world. In India we grow up within silos and as we leave home for college, thence to work, we mingle and merge. The government sector and the colleges – especially in caste obsessed states such as Tamizh Nadu – do not let you forget who you are though. Some time in the late 1990s Pachaiappa’s College in Madras – a bastion of “self-respect” movement in the decades before appointed a new principal from an under-represented community – a brahmin, a professor in the college with a fine record of teaching and research. The thuggish elements in the union and their sponsors outside the college – all wedded to “rationalism” “self-respect” “social justice” first threatened the principal and a few days later broke into his office and thrashed him to within an inch of his life. The principal being the enlightened person he is, even after having to spend a month in the ICU, refused to identify his attackers.

  13. Whats interesting are the fairly active regional orgs (telugu, gujarati, marathi, konkani, punjabi etc.). the basic point is that there are many distinct indian cultures/languages and they would need to interact to form larger pan-indian groups, the FOB vs. ABD discussion is of marginal relevance. Whats the point of having pan-Indian groups that are mutually exclusive from the regional groups?

    Other than accent and knowledge about recent India (in living there) and no parental-backup (other than the recent trend of rich kids), what are the so-called differences between ABDs and FOBs? I do understand that the threshold to entry to the US in the 90s and beyond has been lowered and that rich Indian kids study in undergraduate schools here.

  14. My impression of this whole question is that we need to take a step back at things and consider how we are from a distance and at a different angle than up close and intensely defined.

    The activists who attach so much energy to ‘identity’ and ‘definition’ are a hardcore and a minority of any populace within Desis. So those who are always itching about Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Indian, Pakistani, South Asian, whatever, they are the kinds of people that have time on their hands, often with a messiah complex either large or small (taking it upon themselves to define the ‘identity’ for individuals they don’t know), and exercise themselves in the time consuming effort of delineating difference at a tribal level, emphasising difference, constructing borders and fences, and make a point of their activism to institutionalise these differences wherever possible.

    The rest of the Desi populace is too busy studying, working, raising families, planning holidays, doing everything else that normal people do, than to worry about such things.

    However, on an informal, grassroots level, there is an undeniable sensibility of shared experience, shared sensibility, a kinship between Desis of every different background. This is fluid, generous and intuitive. It lies beyond prejudice or favour. It’s why Sikhs and Sri Lankans, Brahmins and Bangladeshis, Trinidadian’s and Pakistanis, all hang out and read a blog like this. All varied, all different, but a certain, almost indefinable commonality keeps a vague unifying sense amongst people of brown descent in the diaspora.

    Trying to define and elevate this is impossible. It manifests itself in art, in friendships, in experiences. When it is politicised, it turns into a tribalism sometimes benign in effect, but often, sadly, malignant in flavour and outcome.

    Keep it informal is what I say.

  15. 99 · Suki Dillon said

    Unless I’m mistaken over 70% of desi/south asians in the United States are born outside of the country. It probably the same for all groups outside of white, black and native americans.

    111 · Desi_Like_You >> Listen someday you are going to have children and if they are born in the US, will they not be the ABCDs

    This makes me wonder whether the so called “true american born and raised desis” are always a minority and perpetually on the brink of extinction considering that rising education levels of south-asian immigrants delays marriageable age and hence kids, booming world economy means that south-asian immigrants are going to relocate back to india or somewhere else mid-career.

  16. Hi everyone,

    My name is Priya Murthy and I am the Policy Director at SAALT. SAALT is a coordinating member of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations which has produced A National Action Agenda. First, I wanted to thank Amardeep for posting about the action agenda. We are glad to see that it has generated so much discussion.

    To clarify, the purposes of presenting A National Action Agenda are to: raise awareness about the needs of South Asians in the U.S.; to insert issues affecting South Asians into local, state, and national dialogues; to guide future policy recommendations; to increase public understanding of the depth and scope of our community’s needs; and to enhance ongoing and future advocacy, organizing, and educational efforts.

    While many of the issues and recommendations may resonate with other immigrant communities, A National Action Agenda analyzes them as they uniquely affect the South Asian community. We encourage individuals to read A National Action Agenda in its entirety which provides statistics, examples, and concrete recommendations specific to South Asians. For example, within the civil rights and civil liberties section, it is noted that various federal government agencies have investigated over 750 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism, and arson against South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Arabs in the United States between 9/11 and March 2007. As a result, the action agenda offers concrete recommendations to policymakers to address this very important issue, such as enacting legislation at the state and national level that will effectively address these types of incidents and urging government agencies to increase outreach and Know Your Rights materials in South Asian languages for those affected by hate crimes.

    Again, we invite individuals to read the document in its entirety, which can be accessed here, to learn more about a range of issues affecting South Asians. We acknowledge that individuals may differ with some of the issues and recommendations included in the action agenda. However, we hope that the National Action Agenda is a step forward in identifying the cross-cutting issues affecting community members and will lead to productive dialogues around solutions. All the organizations in the National Coalition is committed to transparency and open dialogue with all community members. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the process that led to the development of A National Action Agenda, the organizations that have endorsed it, or the issues highlighted within it, by contacting the SAALT office at (301) 270-1855 or saalt@saalt.org.

    Priya Murthy, SAALT

  17. It is simple because, most South Asians do not want to be identified with the land of Snake Charmers, Women Burners, Casteists, Minority abusers, etc etc. That is why you have the charade of South Asian Music, even though the rigor and grammar of that music is distinctively Indian or based on the Indian meme; or South Asian Movies even though 99.9% of the movies are produced in India; South Asian religion, even though all the religions born in the Indian subcontinent have a common Indian meme of Karma & Dharma; or South Asian Dances, even though Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, etc are all inspired the very same Bharatas Natya Shastra; This charade of South Asia will go on for some more years. When the inevitable happens ( India’s rise) after some 50 years, then you will find all the South Asians wanting themselves to be identified as Indians. What these South Asians do not know is the exact history behind the origin of the word South Asia. Almost 4 decades ago when Kissinger realized that the pet American dream of treating India and Pakistan as equal equal failed, he hit upon a diabolical plan of denying India its history and heritage. His idea was to rename the subcontinent as South Asia, and he passed orders to that effect, and in due course time, all universities in the US had a South Asian department where they predominantly analyze South Asian problems such as, Casteism in India, Dowry burning in India, Treatment of Minorities in India, Dalit treatment ( as if American Natives, Aborigines etc are treated very well) etc. And that name has stuck very well going by the flourishing community of South Asians in America. One would never ever be able to find the word South Asia anywhere in the lexicons prior to 1971. And look how successful they have been in creating the wonderful community of South Asians from nowhere, from an entity that was always called Bharat (by Sanskritists)/Hindustan ( By common people)/ Al-Hind ( by the Arabs and other Middle Easterners), /the subcontinent ( by the British) . Yet, at the end of the day, one question remains unanswered, and that is why do all Asian communities, other than the ones belonging to the subcontinent, identify themselves in North America based on their pre-migration nationality, irrespective of their actual country of birth?

  18. Almost 4 decades ago when Kissinger realized that the pet American dream of treating India and Pakistan as equal equal failed, he hit upon a diabolical plan of denying India its history and heritage. His idea was to rename the subcontinent as South Asia, and he passed orders to that effect, and in due course time, all universities in the US had a South Asian department where they predominantly analyze South Asian problems such as, Casteism in India, Dowry burning in India, Treatment of Minorities in India, Dalit treatment ( as if American Natives, Aborigines etc are treated very well) etc.

    I always find it strangely reassuring to know that Hindu fanatics living in the West are more often than not every bit as lunatic, paranoid, conspiracy minded and mangled by a self-perpetuating victimhood complex as their Muslim fanatic counterparts, who make the mistake of shouting so loudly about it. It really brings a warm feeling to my soul. Now that really is ‘South Asian’ unity and commonality.

  19. ( To Pablo ) Sir please do not call me a Hindu Fanatic. I am an atheist. Please research to find out if there is an element of falsehood in what i have written. I write based on facts. Your post gives a very clear indication that you are trying to play equal equal game. I have not used the word Hindu or Muslim in any of my postings; nor am I a Hindu fanatic . I am not playing victimhood complex here. That India has been abused the most by the west is an accepted fact, and Indians naturally have to be cautious when dealing with the west; for a more clearer understanding of what happened during the 1971 war please read the Kissinger-Nixon-Chou debate about India. This is not my concoction please.

  20. 120 · Pablo: I always find it strangely reassuring to know that Hindu fanatics living in the West…

    It took one comment for someone to jump the gun and bring in the term “Hindu Fanatic”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is my belief that a lot more people here accord a certain respect to AIPAC (sometimes deservedly so) or even CAIR, that they would not to a Policy Forum that would concentrate on say “American-Hindu Relations.” My belief could be misplaced on this, but I would lay a bet on it that People-with-Ancestors-of-Indian-Origin (just being PC) would link such a policy forum to “those Hindutva VHP terrorists.”

    Now I’m not going to discuss the merits or have the time to discuss the demerits of the VHP, but there is this notion that anyone who does not adhere to the “egalitarian beliefs” and the “progressive merits” of a South Asian agenda is a Hindu Fanatic and hence should be discounted or referred to with sarcasm or such.

    I was jerked out of actually perusing the agenda (rather than glancing over it like I did the first time) and I still do not get this mythic notion of South Asia. Yes it is a “pan” whatever concept, but as a realist I do not see the divide on geographic or economic lines. I won’t buy into the Kissinger conspiracy theory, it is ridiculous to think of it that way and if India had truly remained Non-Alligned it would have never run into the problem of facing Kissinger’s Chanakya-neethi anyway.

    Now back to the Agenda…

  21. Anyone who thinks that Henry Kissinger initiated a conspiracy to create a university system of ‘South Asian Studies’ to chip away at the self esteem of ‘Indian identity’ by focussing on things like gender, caste, minorities (as though these are the only things South Asian faculties focus on!), is clearly deluded, paranoid, and a conspiracy theorising simpleton.

    ‘Hindu Fanatic’ comes into the equation because it is Hindu Nationalist fanatics, those who conflate Indian with fealty to Hindu nationalism, it is these people who have launched internet jihads against academics engaged in study they find hurts their sentiments, who by this exquisite logic of theirs, are actually part of a conspiracy (initiated by Kissinger no less!) to destroy them, who are at the heart of this paranoid, chippy, thin skinned paranoia.

    Oooh wait. I must be part of the conspiracy too. Damn, I’ve given myself away.

  22. Now I’m not going to discuss the merits or have the time to discuss the demerits of the VHP, but there is this notion that anyone who does not adhere to the “egalitarian beliefs” and the “progressive merits” of a South Asian agenda is a Hindu Fanatic and hence should be discounted or referred to with sarcasm or such.

    True.

  23. To me the very concept of South Asia is to deny the “Indian” identity. American born students of Indian Origin probably are ashamed to be associated with land of “snake charmers”, and that is why they want to identify themselves as South Asians.

    Actually, not in the slightest! We ABDs use South Asia as a way of distinguishing ourselves from Native Americans in the eyes of other Americans.

    Also, as has been observed elsewhere, not all of us are the children of doctors, and not all of us are confused. But we’re underrepresented in ISAs because we’re off studying … or hanging out with mixed ethic groups like the Physics club or Science Fiction society. :D

  24. The college I went to had a large enough desi population such that there were separate organizations for Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, along with religious organizations for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and even Jains and Indian Christians. but for schools with much smaller desi population, (where forming such groups would be impossible),i would think that a South Asian organization would do the trick because the (mostly) ABD students can all relate to curry, Bollywood, and bhangra while still speaking in Amrikan English.

    i dont see this as being any different from the “Indian” culture prevalent among Indian youth today. feel free to jump on me if you disagree, but when i was in Bombay about a year ago, my cousins and their peers (late teens early twenties) were far more interested in Bollywood, cheesy Hindi pop,and picking up girls using English (apparently that works better than Hindi) than they were in ghazals or poetry or listening to the sitar.

    i think the pan subcontinental bond here in Amrika is not limited to ABDs. My parents feel more at home around Pakistanis than they do with non SAsians, which i’m assuming has to do with the common language.

  25. 123 · Pablo said

    ‘Hindu Fanatic’ comes into the equation because it is Hindu Nationalist fanatics, those who conflate Indian with fealty to Hindu nationalism, it is these people who have launched internet jihads against academics engaged in study they find hurts their sentiments, who by this exquisite logic of theirs, are actually part of a conspiracy (initiated by Kissinger no less!) to destroy them, who are at the heart of this paranoid, chippy, thin skinned paranoia.

    There is no concept of a jihad in Sanatana Dharma, nor is there a concept that is so inherently violent as the “lesser Jihad” in ANY religion. Such terms are not interchangeable.

    According to you, this monolithic Hindu l3g10ns 0f d0oM is true and mad haxx0rz all academics or “rational” scientists on the interwebz. Most of the people who are part of the actual “action” part that indulges in violence are probably illiterate except for Friday evening readings of Sarvarkar’s filth. But their sporadic activities get exclusive media coverage and self-righteous brow-beating from “True Indians”. Because it is a KNOWN, DOCUMENTED FACT that all other communities in India are peace-loving except the ones that have not embraced the South Asian Ummah.

    Since you want to flippant about it, please allow me to introduce myself – I’m part of the conspiracy that launches these internet battles…COINTEL?

    125 · Annp: Actually, not in the slightest! We ABDs use South Asia as a way of distinguishing ourselves from Native Americans in the eyes of other Americans.

    Well I don’t think there are many Native Americans who refer to themselves as “Indians”, even if they do that shouldn’t be the reason why it should be “their word”. If that is so, then shouldn’t Columbus be their forefather?

    This extremely accomodative attitude of letting go of the “divisive Indian-tag” and embracing the “South Asia” identity is as pretentious as Arundathi Roy’s next book (or any of her previous ones for that matter)

  26. When FOBs and ABCDs get together in the US, which is the dominant culture every single time? I will allow you three guesses and you will get the right answer the first time. That’s the reason why Sepia Mutiny has no FOB blogger, not even a token one. So much for grandiose schemes of South Asian solidarity!

    that is a good question. But then I dont read SM for the DBD point of view.

    As our esteemed SM bloggers have repeatedly stated – SM is an American blog. Draw your own conclusions.

  27. 118 · Priya Murthy said

    …against South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Arabs…

    Who are South Asians as against Muslims and Sikhs? There’s no SAALT in my city. That hasn’t prevented us from holding vigils and workshops at the local library. While your intention is admirable, please be aware that policy-makers, law enforcement, and legislators at every level in the US continue to work very hard on this issue. Your members could do more if you worked within your respective communities rather than convert this into a “South Asian” issue.

    And Priya, why this silence Establishment Clause related issues?

    Hindus Join Christians and Jews in Opposing Religious License Plate in South Carolina June 20, 2008 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)– The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) again affirmed its track record as a leading proponent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by filing suit in federal court in South Carolina yesterday. Joining several Christian and Jewish leaders, the Foundation sued South Carolina state officials over a new state-approved license plate that would feature the words, “I Believe,” with a prominent yellow Christian cross and a multicolored stained glass church window in the background. HAF’s co-plaintiffs include four South Carolina clergy – the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Summers, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Knight and the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones. The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state.

  28. 129 · jyotsana said

    There’s no SAALT in my city.

    The National Agenda that the SAALT rep linked is endorsed by several regional or smaller organizations…they do all say “South Asian” prominently though.

  29. Well I don’t think there are many Native Americans who refer to themselves as “Indians”,

    Huh? Of course they do.

    even if they do that shouldn’t be the reason why it should be “their word”. If that is so, then shouldn’t Columbus be their forefather?

    That’s not the point. It’s simply a matter of clearing up a persistent source of misunderstanding.

    And what has Columbus got to do with anything?

    This extremely accomodative attitude of letting go of the “divisive Indian-tag” and embracing the “South Asia” identity is as pretentious as Arundathi Roy’s next book (or any of her previous ones for that matter)

    Well, or put another way, it is a way of rendering yourself visible in a larger culture where you have been invisible. And it gives you the option of being inclusive, even if that option is most often honored in the breach. Sri Lankans and Bangaldeshis and Pakistanis are welcome.

    I guess it is a bad thing if you think you are somehow less-authentically Indian because you say you are South Asian instead of Indian. But what use is that anyway for ABDs? Even those of us whose families hail from India have adopted this Indian identity instead of being Bengali, Punjabi or whatever. (And I’m Sindhi, so my claim to being Indian is even weaker … I’m not Pakistani because I’m Hindu, but if I’m Indian it is based upon maps drawn by the British Empire … ) It’s all arbitrary.

  30. 116 · Pablo said

    The rest of the Desi populace is too busy studying, working, raising families, planning holidays, doing everything else that normal people do, than to worry about such things.

    Ahh yes, the desi sheeple

  31. 131 · Annp

    Well I don’t think there are many Native Americans who refer to themselves as “Indians”,

    Huh? Of course they do.

    No they don’t

    even if they do that shouldn’t be the reason why it should be “their word”. If that is so, then shouldn’t Columbus be their forefather?

    That’s not the point. It’s simply a matter of clearing up a persistent source of misunderstanding. And what has Columbus got to do with anything? The Indus river and the people in its vicinity have existed for, I’d say a reasonably longer time than when Native Americans were Christened into Indians. Correct me if I’m being too liberal in my estimates though. Christopher Columbus trying to find a westward route to India and finding land and naming the people he met there as Indians…Does that make it sufficiently clear as to what Columbus had to do with Native Americans being Indians?

    I guess it is a bad thing if you think you are somehow less-authentically Indian because you say you are South Asian instead of Indian. But what use is that anyway for ABDs? Even those of us whose families hail from India have adopted this Indian identity instead of being Bengali, Punjabi or whatever. (And I’m Sindhi, so my claim to being Indian is even weaker … I’m not Pakistani because I’m Hindu, but if I’m Indian it is based upon maps drawn by the British Empire … ) It’s all arbitrary.

    I do not have a problem with anyone calling themlselves South Asian or Indian or Harrappan or Dravidian or whatever. I think it is an infringement on your personal freedoms if anyone tells you or even makes you feel what you should call yourself. The problem comes when Policy is formed under these non-existant entities. Forming a policy forum that talks about “South Asia” will essentially undermine any LEGITIMATE causes that any other REAL (Hindu-American, Indian, Kashmiri Pandits) will have, in political, monetary, credibility and many other avenues. But then again, ethnic-cleansing isn’t really all-that unless everyone at these South Asian tea-parties will agree it is one.

  32. 133 · RahulD said

    Well I don’t think there are many Native Americans who refer to themselves as “Indians”, Huh? Of course they do. No they don’t

    I’ll qualify what I said, after looking up more sources, I will give you that there are Native Americans who prefer American-Indian to Native-American…

    However, I find it so absurd that you would want Indians to forgo the claim to the word. I’m strongly for assimilation, I do not like hyphenating identities, but forcing the concept that people should be South Asian rather than Indian, so that another group MUCH less in numbers and having a far shorter history of association with a (mis)label…would not be confused…Wow

    And the people undermining your cause are all the pesky, Hindutva Jihadi Nazi, deodaignorant, heawy accented, South Asian separatists – you should work for the New Yorker

  33. Does that make it sufficiently clear as to what Columbus had to do with Native Americans being Indians?

    No.

    I’ll qualify what I said, after looking up more sources, I will give you that there are Native Americans who prefer American-Indian to Native-American…

    Thank you. It is controversial within their community of course, but I’d say they have as much claim to the name “Indian” by now as they would like to have. It has been a little over half a millennium since Columbus’s clerical error.

    However, I find it so absurd that you would want Indians to forgo the claim to the word.

    Well I’m glad you find that absurd, because I never said anything of the kind.

    I said using the term South Asian is a convenience. It is useful. It helps us communicate to and with Americans of other ethnicities. It has nothing to do with being ashamed of our Indian-ness or any of that snake-handling nonsense. (BTW, to my mind, snake handlers are white Appalachian Pentacostal Christians! :D )

    I’m strongly for assimilation, I do not like hyphenating identities, but forcing the concept that people should be South Asian rather than Indian, so that another group MUCH less in numbers and having a far shorter history of association with a (mis)label…would not be confused…Wow

    I assume you are not an ABD.

    In the US, the simple confusion around the word “Indian” renders our community invisible when speaking with the majority culture here for the excellent reason that American-Indians have a much longer history in this part of the world than we do. Anyone who grew up here had the experience of explaining over and over, “No, no, no … Indian from INDIA.”

    If you are creating any kind of political coalition that purports to work within the US, it helps to be pragmatic about such things.

    Of course you think that’s a dubious activity anyway.

    The problem comes when Policy is formed under these non-existant entities. Forming a policy forum that talks about “South Asia” will essentially undermine any LEGITIMATE causes that any other REAL (Hindu-American, Indian, Kashmiri Pandits) will have, in political, monetary, credibility and many other avenues.

    Well, legitimacy depends on what your issues are. If this were about building coalitions on an international basis, I’d be inclined to agree with you. I assumed from the policies they discussed here that this group is about building power is in terms of US politics only. I may have misunderstood them. And if you are building a political coalition within the US, then you need to take local considerations into account.

  34. Sir/Madam, cut the vitriol and try to first understand where we come from.

    ” using the term South Asian is a convenience. It is useful. “

    Likewise, using the term Indian is useful. To us.

    ” Anyone who grew up here had the experience of explaining over and over, “No, no, no … Indian from INDIA.”

    So ? Its not the end of the world. I am Indian. From India. If somebody confuses that with an American-Indian, I tell them not to. But to deny myself my identity because somebody else is confused, I mean, why should I ? Am I living my life or somebody else’s life ? For that matter, I too may confuse say Irish from Scot and I’m sure they will explain the difference, not just roll over and drop dead, or worse, pretend they’re all English and it doesn’t really matter.

    “it helps to be pragmatic about such things”

    See, that’s the whole problem right there. I am who I am. I will not bend over and drop my pants because it helps to be pragmatic. If you want, you bend over. I won’t. See for ABD’s, the big issue is to just get on with your life here in USA, so if South-Asian serves the purpose, you just roll with it. For DBDs, we’ve just now left India. We don’t see returning to India just yet. At the same time, we don’t see ourselves living here in the US forever. I mean, eventually we’ll have to choose. But not just yet. Not yet. Most DBD’s are in a pre-commitment stage, so we’re not going to drop our Indian identity and say South Asian just because you want us to be pragmatic. Right now, we have the flexibility to stay Indian and yet partake of some of the wealth of USA, so we’re doing that. The immigration visas give us that much flexibility. They give us the permission to be an Indian, from India, and not call ourself South Asian, and still work for an American company. So we’re using that permission. The day they put a gun to our head and make us say South Asian, we’ll think about it. Right now they haven’t put that gun. I don’t see why SM or SAALT or SAJA should put that gun. I mean, you aren’t our mai-baap. You aren’t putting food on my table. Then just because you say South Asian for your convenience, why do you expect me also to say it? I won’t. Its not convenient to me. So I won’t say it. First try to understand that.

  35. 104 · melbourne desi said

    Cease immigration enforcement at the workplace
    why? If someone is an illegal immigrant – kick the bugger out. Dont advocate for policies that serve to dilute the “rule of Law”. Lobby to change the law – certainly. But to lobby against enforcement is outrageous.

    I agree. REPEAL THE LAW OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND NOW!

  36. These “divisions” matter far, far less in India than they do in this part of the world………The government sector and the colleges – especially in caste obsessed states such as Tamizh Nadu – do not let you forget who you are though. Some time in the late 1990s Pachaiappa’s College in Madras – a bastion of “self-respect” movement in the decades before appointed a new principal from an under-represented community – a brahmin, a professor in the college with a fine record of teaching and research. The thuggish elements in the union and their sponsors outside the college – all wedded to “rationalism” “self-respect” “social justice” first threatened the principal and a few days later broke into his office and thrashed him to within an inch of his life.

    You must have a serious problem thinking rationally jyotsana, cause you just contradicted yourself.

    People are raped, abused and even killed based on casteism on a regular basis in India and you have the nerve to lie that caste divisions “matter far, far less in India than they do in this part of the world”.

  37. “rule of Law” is a logocentric linear concept which exists only to perpetuate the heteronormative white male patriarchy!”

    Sometimes you’re pure camp razib, but I’ll play along. Laws and rules were/are velly, velly important in India land too. There are no rule like brown rules as anyone traumatized by its bureaucracy can attest.

  38. 132 · Harbeer said

    Ahh yes, the desi sheeple…

    Yeah…the smart people and sheeple – the kind that have a job, health insurance and can afford to fly out to New Zealand for a six week vacation in times like these. The best rejoinder to the Karma of Brown Folk type of smear jobs is to go out and show that you are a smart sheep who makes good money while the pretentious sorts are scrounging around in scrap heaps.

  39. 138 · Kaka said

    You must have a serious problem thinking rationally jyotsana, cause you just contradicted yourself.

    Haha – Prema=Kaka=Ignoramus – You have a serious problem thinking, reading, writing.

  40. 131 · Annp said

    Even those of us whose families hail from India have adopted this Indian identity instead of being Bengali, Punjabi or whatever. (And I’m Sindhi, so my claim to being *Indian* is even weaker … I’m not Pakistani because I’m Hindu, but if I’m Indian it is based upon maps drawn by the British Empire … ) It’s all arbitrary

    I think that may be true for immigrant parents for 60-70s of the Nehru-Indira era “nationalisation/Congress party monopoly” era where India was a much stronger sell than the individual identities of regions and states. Post Indira, the emphasis on federalism, multi-party rule, decenteralization with greater powers and autonomy to states and booming local economies in certain regions has led to stronger expression and identification of sub-indentites amongst Indians which they carry over to America when they emigrate. 80-90 desi parents are probably going to be less pan-Indian and more regional in thinking. They may be “Indian” in relation to globalization and booming Indian economy but with respect to socio-cultural values, family affairs they may be more regional and resist the pan-Indian straitjacketing.

  41. Interestingly, one finds three Sikh advocacy groups endorsing the agenda (SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs), but not, as far as I can tell, any groups that are specifically oriented to advocacy for Hindus, Muslims, Jains, or Desi Christians. I’m curious about where that seeming imbalance comes from.

    Amardeep, I really don’t know of any major organizations (in the US) that are oriented towards advocacy for South Asian Muslims; almost all “Muslim” organizations that I am aware of tend to also have a large contingent of members that are not desi. Perhaps this might explain why they haven’t yet signed on to the agenda. For that matter, I don’t really know of too many advocacy groups oriented towards South Asian Christians either.

  42. Re 31:

    The Bangladeshis believe that Mukti Bahini rose up and defeated all the West Pakistani oppressors through sheer strength of will and superior military tactics, by themselves. India had “military observers” and the bloody telegram never happened.

    Why, thank you, RahulD, for speaking on our behalf and letting everyone know what we Bangladeshis believe. How did we ever get along for so long without having you as our spokesperson?

    Seriously though, most Bangladeshis appreciate and are grateful for India’s contributions to our Independence War — which includes the Indian troops who fought on our behalf, the training and arming of the Mukti Bahini, hosting the government-in-exile, and taking care of our refugees. However, most of us are not naive enough to imagine that there weren’t issues of realpolitik involved, or that this was done solely out of a sense of altruism. That we might air or discuss these issues should not be taken as somehow failing to appreciate India’s support. Or did you believe all of Bush’s “justifications” for invading Iraq?

    Moreover, we lost many people in that war, both civilians and Muktijoddhas (freedom fighters). There are very few Bangladeshis of my generation who did not lose a relative or an acquaintance in 1971. The fact that we tend to dwell on who we lost, and are justly proud of their contributions, perhaps at the expense of singing daily paeans of praise to our ally, should also not be taken as somehow denigrating India’s contributions.

  43. I find it interesting that many of the comments on this thread make out identity as somehow being something unitary. Personally, I seem to have overlapping sets of identities — for instance, I am, among other things, Bangladeshi, Bengali, and also South Asian. There’s a shared language, a shared literature, a shared cuisine and a shared ethnicity that I have in common with the people of West Bengal — a commonality that I can only define as Bengali. There’s also my identity as a Bangladeshi — one I share with say, the Saotals, Chakmas, Monipuris, and Bengalis who inhabit Bangladesh. True, certain aspects of my identities are exclusive; for instance, being a Bangladeshi precludes me from being say, an Indian, a Pakistani, or a Sri Lankan, but I do share certain certain commonalities with them, one which falls under the rubric of South Asian or desi — and I don’t see why I can’t also identify myself as such. It does not, after all, in anyway denigrate or diminish my other identities.

  44. or instance, being a Bangladeshi precludes me from being say, an Indian, a Pakistani, or a Sri Lankan,

    it precludes national identity, but what about cultural-civilizational-historical? this is a fine issue of language, but i think the analogy to what happened in brownland would be if every nation but spain and germany became part of a european super-state. all of a sudden there would be euorpeans, spaniards and germans. some germans by ethnicity would also live in europe, those who resided in switzerland and austria, for example. but would spaniards and citizens of the german nation-state not be europeans after the emergence of the european super-state?

    to most DBDs these are not abstract questions i think. to someone like me they kind of are, and that’s one reason i don’t blow a gasket when people refer to me as “indian.” the hiving off of pakistani & bangladeshi identity from an indian one is a feature of the last 3 generations, not a historically invariant one.

  45. Shaad and Razib both make good points, at 146 and 147, and make them well.

    I liked the Spain-Germany-Europe analogy. It’s not just that the Pakistani and Bangladeshi identities – as national identities – are just 3 generations old. The future, perhaps less than 3 generations from now, may see a return to a civilizational entity called ‘India’, a geographical super-state called, perhaps, the ‘South Asian Union’, along with any number of sub-national identities – both geographic, as ‘Bangladeshi’, and linguistic – as ‘Bengali’, or ethno-linguistic – as ‘Gorkha’ or perhaps ‘Chakma’.

    Shaad’s point about not viewing ‘South Asian’ as an identity which supercedes and subsumes other identities is right on. You are South Asian, but you can also be many other things.

    Finally, it must be conceded that ‘South Asia’ as a term probably did arise in the Pentagon, but during WW-2, not with Kissinger. That’s fine, when a term indicates something sensible, you grasp it. Later, if events move so that the term becomes less meaningful than simply saying ‘India’, then you can do that too. But that India won’t refer to today’s nation-state. The British had no use for the term ‘South Asia’, since the whole region was ‘India’ in their imagination. But South Asia, (like South-east Asia, which was ‘Indochine’ to the French) made a lot of sense when there came to be many nation-states sharing that geographic space.

    In the earlier decades of the 20th Century, you will find the phrase ‘North-east Asia’ to refer to Korea, Eastern Siberia, Mongolia, Northern Japan, and Manchuria. But eventually, the unifying geographic elements in the phrase dropped off in importance, and the phrase moved out of circulation, while economic, national and subnational issues foregrounded themselves, so it’s back to being ‘Korea’,'Siberia’, ‘Japan’ etc.

  46. 140 · jyotsana said

    Yeah…the smart people and sheeple – the kind that have a job, health insurance and can afford to fly out to New Zealand for a six week vacation in times like these. The best rejoinder to the Karma of Brown Folk type of smear jobs is to go out and show that you are a smart sheep who makes good money while the pretentious sorts are scrounging around in scrap heaps.

    Good for you, my friend, but you’re getting pretty defensive over a silly joke–might be time for another vacation.

    Was it Che Guevara who said “I’d rather die on my feet than live in gridlock commuting to/from the suburbs?” To each her own. I like what Lao Tzu has to say about vacationing.

    New Zealand, eh? Interesting choice. ;-)

  47. That’s fine, when a term indicates something sensible, you grasp it.

    were “hindus” self-conscious “hindus” as a religion (as opposed to just being another word for indian) before muslims declared them as such?