Indians in America
Los Angeles, Dec. 16, 2011
Immigrants from India started coming to the United States of America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most of them worked at menial jobs, lived in appalling conditions and in crumbling structures. Except a few, all were single, could not marry an American, nor bring a spouse from India. For forty five years, they lived in the shadows of American society. After a long struggle, in 1946, they got the right to US citizenship. Thereafter, they could buy property, get a job commensurate with their qualifications, marry a person of their choice, and were free to travel and visit India, the country of their birth. They had lived for years in a free country but without freedom.
The first part of this article describes the hardships, hostility, humiliation and bigotry the early settlers encountered and their sacrifices, perseverance and tenacity that defied all odds, while they managed a sustained campaign for political rights in the country of their domicile and hope, the United States of America. The second part describes the migration, settlement and assimilation of immigrants who came after the grant of citizenship rights and the liberalization of US Immigration laws. They comprised of professionals, high-tech workers, students and sponsored relatives. Several made laudable contributions in various ways to the country they have adopted as their home and also contributed significantly to the resurgence of India.
Part 1 - Beginning of Indian Immigration
In 1897, Queen Victoria of England and the Empress of India, included a Sikh regiment from the Indian Army in her diamond jubilee celebrations. On the return journey, the soldiers were sent back to India via Canada. Most of these soldiers were originally farmers and were fascinated with the potential for farming opportunities. They dreamed of returning to Canada after retirement. And some of them did return. India and Canada were both part of the British Empire and Canada became the destination of choice for many emigrants from India. Emigration from India to the USA started as a trickle while many came from Canada from the porous borders with America.
On April 5, 1899, four Punjabis who had worked in the British Royal Artillery in Hong Kong, landed in San Francisco and were allowed to stay in the United States by the US Immigration Service. The grant of permission for them was an encouraging signal for others to follow those four pioneers.
There was an abundance of jobs in the lumber industry in Pacific states of Washington and Oregon and ample available land to farm throughout the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial valleys of California. On hearing about the economic opportunities in America, many more Punjabis headed towards this far away land. The new immigrants found jobs which the white workers would not do, usually menial jobs in factories, lumber mills, railroad construction, farms, etc. They were needy workers who accepted low wages, poor working conditions and very often traveled from place to place in search of work. The employers preferred Indians to the whites for their willingness to do any and all kinds of work. As the number of Indian workers increased within a span of few years, they started facing discrimination and hostility, in the same manner as the other Asians who had come before.
The Indians in the United States and Canada, for lack of US or Canadian citizens’ understanding of religious or ethnic diversity, were commonly called “Hindus” (“Hindoos”) irrespective of the faith of those Indians. The overwhelming majority of the arrivals from India were Sikhs who preserved their religious beliefs and practices by keeping their beard, long hair on their head and wore turban to cover them. They were easily distinguishable from other immigrant groups, but unfortunately, they were called “Rag heads”, a derogatory term used for the “Hindus” at that time.
Indian workers were either unmarried or had come without spouses, hoping to save some money and return. They were paid low wages and could afford to live only in the poor squalid part of the town or in shanty structures provided by the lumber mills or farm owners. They lived frugally, subsisted on income that was prohibitive for locals to survive on. Several shared crowded lodging to save money to pay off their debt or meet family obligations back in India. Their lifestyle and living evoked hatred and contempt from the Americans.
Indians legally admitted to the United States from 1899-1907 numbered only 1967. The total number of Indians in the country, however, was larger as many Indians had come directly from Canada through the porous border between the US and Canada. But, concentration of Indians in a few small communities in the Pacific Coast states, particularly those with turbans, drew high level of visibility of their presence and provoked hostility from the Asiatic Exclusion League which carried propaganda against the “The Tide of Turbans” and “Hindu Invasion of America”.
Indians Expelled from Bellingham
Bellingham is located 85 miles north of Seattle in the state of Washington, 20 miles south of the Canadian border and had lumber and shingle mills. The owners needed a reliable supply of cheap manual labor and the new immigrants – the unskilled “Hindu” workers – met that demand. In 1907, the mills employed about 250 Indian contract workers who accepted jobs which white laborers had refused to do. They were more productive and readily performed work which could be in violation of labor laws for fear of employer retaliation.
The unskilled white laboring men feared that competition from Hindu workers would displace them from their jobs and bring wages down. The union leaders wanted to maintain higher wage levels for their members and agitated bitterly against the employment of Indians. The union leaders approached the mill owners but failed to convince them to fire the Indian workers and discontinue their hiring. Some politicians perpetually starved for campaign money and union endorsement, willingly and openly backed the union demand.
The festering hostility of the union leaders and pent-up frustrations of the white laborers manifested in violence against Indians who had the least social or political power or protection in the city of Bellingham or even in the country. On Labor Day, September 2nd, 1907, more than a thousand union members and others paraded through the town to demonstrate their unity and show their strength. There were incidences of beating of several Hindus which nearly resulted in a general disturbance. The union warned the mill owners that no Indians should be employed in the lumber mills or anywhere in Bellingham after Labor Day.
On the evening of September 4, 1907, a mob of 400-500 white men, predominantly members of the Asian Exclusion League, attacked Hindu dwellings, smashed windows and pulled the Indians from their beds. The rioters went on a rampage from mill to mill, finding as many Indian workers as they could while others ransacked the homes of the Hindus, stole their money, jewelry, bank passbooks and other valuables. They eventually rounded up about two hundred Indian workers, brandishing clubs triumphantly, and herded them to the City Hall basement where the Hindus stayed during the night for their alleged safety. The purpose of the racial attack was to “scare them so badly that they will not crowd white labor out of the mills.”
The nightmares of fright, brutality and vindictiveness forced majority of the traumatized Indian workers to leave Bellingham in search of safe haven. Some Hindu workers stayed nervously for one extra day in deadly fear of their lives just to draw their pay and get their checks cashed. Several departing Hindus expressed their disappointment for they had heard of America as a good place for laboring men, yet they were paid no better wages and became victims of violence and lawlessness in the presence of law enforcement officials.
Indians were British subjects but the British ambassador did not care to ask the American government for compensation for injuries or loss of property of the Indian workers. Since the media reported about the riots worldwide, the British Consul in Seattle visited Bellingham but did not care to meet or sympathize with the Indian nationals who suffered at the worst racial attack against them in America.
Some of the Indian mill workers went to Everett which is another town located sixty miles south of Bellingham, to work in the sawmills there. Two months later, on November 5th, 1907, over five hundred armed men attacked and beat the Indians robbed them and destroyed their belongings. The result was similar to the incidents that occurred in Bellingham.
Similar assaults also took place in some cities in California, such as Marysville, Live Oak, and other communities where the immigrants had settled. The Asiatic Exclusion League and the labor unions used violence and riots, apparently as an effective method of excluding the “Hindu” workers from jobs and residential communities.
The race riots had a devastating impact on the Indian community in the Pacific Coast. Indians had come in search of a chance for a better life for themselves and their families and worked even at menial jobs. They could never have anticipated that America – considered the best among civil societies – had people full of meanness, malice and ill-will against different looking people.
Attempt to End British Colonial Rule in India – Gadar Movement
Higher education in American universities was a powerful magnet for young people even during that time. America provided them opportunity to “earn and learn” and so Indian students were attracted to seek admission in the US universities. However, several students upon graduation were not able to get jobs commensurate with their qualifications. The unfair and discriminatory practices were against the very ideals of liberty and freedom they had experienced in their university environment. The Indian students attributed the racial prejudice and discrimination to their being nationals of a subjugated country and thus wanted India to be free from the British slavery. They started fostering feelings of patriotism and nationalism among their fellow Indian immigrants.
Many Indians, students in particular, articulated nationalist feelings and started advocating freedom for their motherland, India from the British serfdom. They formed organizations to collectively assert their birthright to independence for India and explored ways and means to attain self-rule. Taraknath Das, a student, started publishing a magazine Free Hindustan in 1907 in Seattle, advocating armed rebellion against the British rule as a means for achieving independence. He also established the East India Association in 1911; G. D. Kumar started a Punjabi paper Swadesh Sewak in Vancouver. Har Dyal started Bande Mataram in 1909 for communicating his revolutionary ideas to the students and the Punjabi settlers who were already facing racial prejudice and discrimination.
Har Dyal who had come from England after relinquishing his scholarship and studies at Oxford University was identified with nationalist activities in the United States. He had been a faculty member at Stanford University for about two years. He inspired many students studying at the University of California at Berkeley and channelized the pro-Indian, anti-British sentiment of the students for independence of India. Two of his many student followers, Katar Singh Sarabha and Vishnu Govind Pingle later on played very prominent roles in the Gadar movement. Dyal’s fervor for India’s freedom spread beyond the university campuses to Punjabi farmers and laborers who had already been victim of racial attacks, discrimination and repression from the host community. A meeting of some patriotic and enlightened Indians was called on April 23, 1913, in Astoria, Oregon, where Har Dyal, Bhai Parmanand and others passionately spoke for throwing the British out of India and securing liberation by all means at their disposal. It was at this meeting that Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast was formed with a major objective to liberate India with the force of arms from British colonialism, just as Americans had done more than a century ago, and help establish a free and independent India with equal rights for all. Sohan Singh Bhakna, a lumber mill worker in Oregon, was elected President, Har Dayal, as General Secretary. Har Dayal provided leadership for the newly formed association and was the central figure and the force behind the new organization.
Punjabis had come to the United States with the highest of expectations but they were disillusioned when they faced hostility, humiliation and racial prejudice from the American people. When the Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast was formed, they whole-heartedly supported its objectives of ridding India of the colonial rule, enthusiastically became its members and willingly and liberally helped financially.
The association, headquartered in San Francisco, launched a magazine appropriately titled as Gadar for free distribution to promote the aims, objectives and activities of the organization. Gadar literally means revolt or mutiny and its contents were aimed at exposing the British imperialism. It carried articles on the conditions of the people of India under British rule and also on problems of racial attacks and discrimination against Indians in the United States. Through the magazine, the Indian people were called upon to unite and rise up against the British rule and throw them out of India. The activities of the association were intense and incessant. The Gadar magazine became very popular and over a short period of time, the association itself became known as the Gadar Party.
Gadar was published in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, and in some other languages. The magazine contents expressed community’s pent-up anger and suppressed feelings and exhorted like minded people to join the association for the overthrow of the British monarchy. Within a short period of time, the magazine became sought-after periodical for revolutionary and patriotic ideas. The magazine and similar publications were sent to the Indian revolutionaries in India, Europe, Canada, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Egypt, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Even if one copy reached India or a fellow revolutionary anywhere, multiple copies were reproduced for circulation. The visible effects of the Gadar publications started to manifest in India and abroad.
The Gadar movement became the symbol of political consciousness of the overseas Indians. Many committed volunteers opened branches of the Gadar party in other countries and worked tirelessly to promote the objectives of the party. They had imbibed the fire and zeal of revolutionaries and were motivated to fight for freedom for their motherland. The influence of the movement was so powerful that when called upon, over 6000 overseas Indians returned to India to fight for India’s freedom.
The British government got alarmed at the popularity of the Gadar movement and free accessibility and availability of the ‘seditious’ literature. They used every means to stop its circulation, particularly in India. They also tried to suppress the Gadar movement and had hired agents to penetrate the Gadar party and watch their activities. The British were convinced that removal of Har Dyal would bring an end to the revolutionary movement. At the behest of the British, the American government arrested Har Dyal in March, 1914, but later released him on bail. Har Dyal jumped the bail and left for Switzerland and from there he went to Germany.
Soon after the formation of the Gadar party, World War I broke out in August, 1914, in which Germany fought against England. The Germans offered the Indian Nationalists (Gadarites) financial aid to buy arms and ammunitions to expel the British from India while the British Indian troops would be busy fighting war at the front. The Gadarites started an energetic campaign to mobilize the overseas Indians in Singapore, Burma, Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan and particularly Punjabis in Canada and the United States, and to inspire them to go to India to launch a revolution. They drew plans to infiltrate the Indian army and excite the soldiers to fight – not for the British but against the British Empire – and free India from the shackles of British imperialism.
The German government had great sympathy with the Gadar movement because the German government and the Gadarites had the British as their common enemy. In September 1914, Indians formed Berlin Indian Committee (also known as the Indian Revolutionary Society) members of which were Har Dyal, Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (younger brother of politician-poetess Sarojani Naidu), Maulvi Barkatullah (after his death, he was buried near Sacramento), Bhupendra Nath Datta (brother of Swami Vivekananda), Ajit Singh (uncle of Shaid-i-Azam Bhagat Singh), Champak Raman Pillai, Tarak Nath Das (a foundation is named after him in Columbia University), and Bhai Bhagwan Singh (he was the most wanted rebel by the British Government; his grandson S.P Singh lives in Atlanta). The objectives of the society were to arrange financial assistance from German government for revolutionary activities and propaganda work in different countries of the world, training of volunteer force of Indian fighters and transportation of arms and ammunitions to reach the Gadarites for a revolt against the British Government in India.
The Indian Revolutionary Society in Berlin successfully arranged substantial financial aid for the Gadarites from Germany. The German Embassy in the United States engaged a German national to liaison with the Gadar leadership in San Francisco. The society also commissioned several ships to carry arms and ammunitions and batches of about 6000 Indian revolutionaries to India.
The Gadarites also sought help from anti-British governments in other countries. In December 1915, they established a Free Hindustan government-in-exile in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Raja Mohinder Pratap as President, Maulavi Barkatullah as Prime Minister and Champakaran Pillai as Foreign Minister. The government-in-exile tried to establish diplomatic relationships with countries opposed to the British in World War l such as Turkey, Germany, Japan, and others. The Gadarites established contact with the Indian troops at Hong Kong, Singapore, and in some other countries and hoped for their participation in the uprising against the British.
Before leaving for India, the Gadarites had hoped that the embers of freedom had caught fire in India too and Indians were ready for a revolution. So when the World War l provided a golden opportunity for them to attain their goal, they hurried homeward for rebellion and overthrow of the British Government. The irony of that valiant effort was that while the Gadarites had gone to India to fight readily for the freedom of their motherland, the Indian leadership openly and willingly co-operated with the British, thereby prolonging India’s serfdom.
The traitors of the Gadar movement leaked out the secret plans to British spies. As a result, the ships carrying arms and ammunitions never reached India. Many Gadarites were taken captives upon reaching India. They were prosecuted and several were imprisoned, many for life, and some were hanged. In the United States too, several Gadarites and their German supporters, were prosecuted in the San Francisco Hindu German Conspiracy Trial (1917-18) and twenty-nine “Hindus” and Germans were convicted for varying terms of imprisonment for violating the American Neutrality Laws.
The Gadar Movement was the saga of courage, valor and determination of overseas Indians to free India from the shackles of British slavery. The Gadarites had a flame of liberty lit in their hearts, and did not hesitate to make any sacrifice for the cause of freedom, dignity and honor of their motherland.
Struggle for US Citizenship
The United States citizenship conferred many rights and privileges but only “free white men” were eligible to apply. In the United States, many anthropologists used “Caucasian” as a general term for "white” in absence of any precise definition of word “white.” Indian nationals from the north of the Indian Sub-Continent and people from some Middle East countries were also considered Caucasian. Thus, several Indians were granted US citizenship in different states. Bhagat Singh Thind who had joined US army, also applied for citizenship in the state of Washington in July 1918. He received his citizenship certificate on December 9, 1918 wearing military uniform. However, the INS did not agree with the district court granting the citizenship. Thind’s citizenship was revoked in four days, on December 13, 1918, on the grounds that he was not a “free white man.”
Thind applied for citizenship again from the neighboring state of Oregon on May 6, 1919. The same Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) official who got Thind’s citizenship revoked first time, tried to convince the judge to refuse citizenship to a “Hindoo” from India. He even brought up the issue of Thind’s involvement in the Gadar Movement, members of which campaigned for the independence of India from Britain. But Thind contested this charge and Judge Wolverton believed him. The judge observed, “He (Thind) stoutly denies that he was in any way connected with the alleged propaganda of the Gadar Press to violate the neutrality laws of this country, or that he was in sympathy with such a course. He frankly admits, nevertheless, that he is an advocate of the principle of India for the Indians, and would like to see India rid of British rule, but not that he favors an armed revolution for the accomplishment of this purpose.” The judge took all arguments as also Thind’s military record into consideration and did not agree with the INS argument. Thus, Thind received US citizenship for the second time on November 18, 1920. The INS, however, appealed to the next higher court – the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which sent the case to the US Supreme Court for ruling.
Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland delivered the unanimous opinion of the court on February 19, 1923, in which he argued that since the "common man's" definition of “white” did not correspond to "Caucasian", Indians could not be naturalized. Shockingly, the very same Judge Sutherland who had equated Whites as Caucasians in US vs. Ozawa, now pronounced that Thind though Caucasian, was not “White” and thus was ineligible for US citizenship. He apparently decided the case under pressure from the forces of prejudice, racial hatred and bigotry, not on the basis of precedent that he had established in a previous case.
The Supreme Court verdict shook the faith and trust of Indians in the American justice system. The economic impact for land and property owning Indians was devastating as they again came under the jurisdiction of the California Alien Land Law of 1913 which barred ownership of land by persons ineligible for citizenship. Some Indians had to liquidate their land holdings at dramatically lower prices. America, the dreamland, did not fulfill the dream they had envisioned.
The INS issued a notification in 1926 canceling Thind’s citizenship for a second time. The INS also initiated proceedings to rescind American citizenship of other Indians. From 1923 to 1926, the citizenship of fifty Indians was revoked. The continued shadow of insecurity and instability compelled some to go back to India. The Supreme Court decision further led to the decline in the number of Indians to 3130 by 1930.
The continuing pressure of exclusionary forces and various American labor organizations against the importation of labor from Asian countries resulted in the imposition of further restrictions. In 1917, a very restrictive and discriminatory Immigration Act was passed by the US Congress over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. The new law virtually barred all Asians from entering the US legally. It also imposed English literacy restrictions, allowing only those to immigrate who could read and write English. After the passage of the law, some Indians left the US in disgust while the new legal immigration from India was completely stopped.
US Congress Approves Citizenship for Indian Nationals
For years, Indian nationals continued to suffer many hardships, partially because they were not allowed to obtain citizenship of the United States. Punjabi Sikhs endured maximum hardships as they could not legally buy farm land, their only hope for economic emancipation. There were about 3,000 Indians who could benefit by becoming citizens of USA. But they had no legal avenue left after the historic decision of the US Supreme Court in Bhagat Singh Thind’s case. In 1943, Chinese obtained right of naturalization, so there was a possibility for a legislative solution for Indians too. But most of the Indians were skeptical as they had been knocked about so much that it was very difficult for them to believe that there was a chance of their winning. Joan M. Jensen, historian and author, described the plight of Indians as follows:
“Excluded from immigration, persecuted for their political activities, threatened with deportation, excluded from citizenship, denaturalized, excluded from land ownership, and regulated even in their choice of a mate in the States, these Indians now formed a small band of people set apart from Americans by what truly seemed to be a great white wall.”
Indian Community activists, J. J. Singh, Dr. Anup Singh, Syud Hossain, Krishanalal Shridharani, Haridas Muzumdar, Mubarak Ali Khan, Taraknath Das, and a few others relentlessly lobbied with the elected representatives of the American people for granting of civil rights to the nationals of India who were already in the US. Dalip Singh Saund helped with funds raised from the California Sikh farming community for the lobbying effort at the Capitol Hill. J. J. Singh, president of India League of America, had developed personal relationship with Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce of Connecticut. He persuaded the Republican Congresswoman Luce and Democrat Congressman Emanuel Cellar of New York to jointly introduce a bill for US citizenship for Indian nationals. The bill was backed by some major newspapers as also some prominent Americans including well known author and Noble Laureate Pearl S. Buck.
However, selling this concept to the majority of the members in the U.S. Congress was an uphill task, more so, as the passage of the bill could open the door for other Asians who were similarly deprived of citizenship rights. Indians continued running into roadblocks in finding a powerful ally to push the bill through the Halls of Congress. Fortunately in 1946, President Truman took special interest in the passage of Luce-Cellar bill which was finally approved by both Houses of Congress granting rights of citizenship to Indian nationals in the United States. It was a great triumph for the Indian community leadership when on July 2, 1946, President Truman signed the bill in the presence of Sardar J. J. Singh and Anup Singh allowing 100 Indians to become naturalized citizens annually and 100 Indians to immigrate every year. Truly, 2nd July is the Independence Day for all Indians in the United States.
Between 1948 and 1965, many Indians who had been living in America for decades acquired U.S. citizenship. Dalip Singh Saund also benefited from the new law and became naturalized citizen of the United States. He had been active in the Democratic Party and in 1956 got elected to the U.S. Congress. Saund was the first Indian in the entire western world to get elected to a major political office. In the USA, he will be remembered as the first Asian to attain that distinct honor. J. J. Singh, Dr. Anup Singh, Syud Hossain and some others who actively lobbied for equal rights for Indians never applied for US Citizenship. They went back to live in free India.
Supporting India’s Independence Movement
After the unsuccessful attempt to free India from the British, there were still many Indians in the United States, who wanted to see India liberated. However, the Indian activists in the US, abandoned the power of sword of the Gadarites and adopted the power of pen to educate the opinion makers in America and decision makers in the Halls of Congress.
One of the prominent leaders of India’s Freedom Movement, Lala Lajpat Rai, came to the US in 1914 to elicit American support for the Freedom movement. He founded the Indian Home Rule League in 1917 in New York and in 1918, started publishing Young India as his organization’s magazine. He started publishing articles in the American media, cultivated contacts with intellectuals and gained the support of wide audience of Americans sympathetic towards the cause of India’s freedom. Unfortunately, he left for India in 1920 and neither the League nor the magazine Young India survived after his departure.
Dalip Singh Saund, who had started working as a farm laborer after obtaining Ph. D. in Mathematics from University of California at Berkley, was an ardent nationalist and used the platform of his position as the national president of the student body, Hindustan Association of America, to expound on India’s right to self-government. After he moved to the Imperial Valley of California, he continued to take advantage of every opportunity to speak about India’s right for self-rule. He also started India Association of America and raised funds from the California Sikh farmers for the lobbying efforts in the United States Congress in Washington, DC for India and Indian causes.
Anup Singh obtained his Ph.D in Political Science from Harvard University. He became very active in New York based India League of America, and later moved to Washington D.C and started The National Committee for India’s Freedom. He also published a monthly magazine Voice of India to disseminate the message of India’s nationalist movement.
J. J. Singh was a member of the Indian National Congress before coming to the United States in 1926. He was an importer of Indian goods and had established himself as a successful merchant in New York. In 1940, he became president of India League of America. He started the League’s mouthpiece, India Today which was well-edited informative monthly bulletin. He also expanded its membership base to include Americans, including Nobel Prize winner author Pearl Buck who was Honorary President in 1944. For all practical purposes, J. J. Singh had become an unofficial lobbyist for India and Indians. He convinced significant sections of the American public, including members of the United States Congress, that the time had come for India to be liberated.
J. J. Singh, Dr. Anup Singh, Syed Hoosain, Dalip Singh Saund, Haridas T. Muzumdar, Taraknath Das, Mubarak Ali Khan, and some other community activists had tremendous enthusiasm and abundant energy and used it all for the cause of India's freedom. They used their writings, speeches and connections with elected officials and people of influence to gain sympathy, support and endorsement of the American people, majority of the United States Congress and the President of America for the independence of India. For many years, these community activists provided dedicated and committed service for the cause of India and Indians and thus played the role of Indian community emancipators in the United States.
Part 2 – Liberalization of Immigration Laws
The contemporary phase of the history of Indian migration to the United States began with the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This Act liberalized immigration and increased the per country quota to 20,000 people per year. The new law opened a floodgate of immigrants from India and brought thousands of professionals in search of educational and employment opportunities. The increased quota has resulted in the exponential growth in the number of Indian immigrants and the wave of new arrivals still continues unabated.
Up until 1965, the US immigration quota allowed only 100 Indians to migrate to the United States. In 1965, Immigration laws were liberalized, allowing immigration of up to 20,000 people from any single country. Indian immigrants, particularly Indian professionals – engineers, doctors, nurses, etc. – took full advantage of the opportunity and their population in America started increasing rapidly. According to Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population by Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung (Issued February 2006), foreign born Indians in the United States were 12,296 in 1960. With liberalization of the Immigration laws, the number of Indian immigrants quadrupled to 51.000 as per 1970 Census and increased to 206,087 in 1980. However, as per 1980 Census data, Indian Americans (including those born in the US) numbered 361,544 and this number more than doubled in 1990 Census. Indian population doubled again when the number rose from 815,447 in 1990 to 1,678,765 in 2000 and the growth rate continues unabated till this day. The Indian American population is 2.8 million as per Census 2010. If the numbers of those who are twice migrants (people of Indian origin from Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and from other islands in the Caribbean) are included, the count would exceed 3.2 million. The immigrants from India have not only been growing in numbers but they have been significantly contributing to the fabric and economic progress of the US society. They continue to attain remarkable success in various fields of endeavors and several of them occupy positions of power and influence in key American organizations, establishments, political parties and the government.
During the past 40 years, the large growth in the Indian American community has spread across many parts of the United States, in particular the New York tri-state area, Silicon Valley in Northern California, Boston and Chicago. During the first several years, immigrants from India met socially as Indians and made friendships as Indians; religion did not divide them; language was not a barrier; regionalism did not separate them. They were Indians by nationality, Indians at heart and were viewed as a single entity.
Indian Americans are perceived as a very successful immigrant community in the United States. As their numbers kept growing, political and religious leaders from India found the Indian American community offering them a red carpet welcome in the US. Indian leaders started making frequent visits to their new found “colonies” and made every effort to solicit money, knowledge and skills as well as the political clout of Indians settled in the United States. India’s political parties started their overseas units in the US. Indian National Congress has started Indian National Overseas Congress (INOS) while Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has Overseas Friends of BJP in the US. Some regional political parties also have opened their units. The leaders also brought the divisive problems of religion and regionalism to their Indian American followers and supporters. Today, the internal politics of India is echoed in the politics of the Indian community in the United States. Many Indian Americans appear to be more agitated and consumed by developments in India than the politics in their newly adopted country.
Several Indian Americans, although have become US citizens, yet take more interest in an election in India and take time off from their business or work to canvas in favor of the party or the candidates of their choice. Election in India is understandably conducted democratically but majority of the candidates contesting the election are selected without any respect for democratic principles. Indian Americans who have seen the candidate selection process in their adopted country, still go back to shout hoarse for their such candidates. Once elected, many never open their mouth in the legislature or the Parliamnet, yet they still profess to serve their constituents and the country.
Indian Americans in the beginning were busy getting established and raising their family. They were relatively content with the material success they had attained in their new country. The community was marginalized, political involvement was non-existent and political activism was negligible. In some places, Indian Americans’ lifestyle attracted racial discrimination such as the “dot-buster” issue of the early 1990s (a reference to the bindi adorned by many Indian women on their forehead). In the beginning, their higher degrees, superior qualifications and meritorious work performance did not stop the artificial barrier of the “glass ceiling" which prevented their upward mobility to managerial and executive positions. The courts did not deliver justice to them and the appeal process did not guarantee them the desired promotion.
The 1965 Immigration Act provided a “Family preference” quota under which immigrants and citizens could sponsor their close relatives. As a result, many Indians began migrating to the United States in steady stream with sponsorship from their family members. With the arrival of their relatives from 1980s onward, the demographics of Indian community began to change from professionals to semi-skilled and less qualified immigrants. The new immigrants found jobs in department stores, hotels, became taxi drivers, insurance or travel agents, or similar type of work servicing their own community. Some of the new immigrants with limited English language skills found jobs at Indian owned businesses which needed cheap labor for their restaurants, grocery, clothing or jewelry stores.
There were some people who, on their own or with the financial backing of their relatives, ventured into small businesses such as gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, motels, etc. Several became franchisees of 7-11 stores, fast food restaurants such as Sub-Way Sandwich, etc. Some business owners have successfully multiplied their operations. Sudesh Sood of Los Angeles has over 50 Jack-in-the-Box franchise restaurants while Gurbax Marwah of Los Angeles owns a dozen of Denny’s restaurants. Ramesh Goyal of Chicago owns over a dozen Dunkin Donuts stores. Uka Solanki owns many Big Saver Food stores with an annual turnover of $100 million in Southern California. In the Indian grocery business, Patel Brothers from the East Coast and Kumar Jawa from the West Coast of the USA lead the pack.
Punjabi and Gujrati ethnic groups have an overwhelming majority but Gujaratis outnumber any other single ethnic group from India and many have flourished in the hospitality business. They own over 40 per cent of the motels and mid-sized hotels all over the US. Several Gujaratis who started with low-budget motels, now own and manage multiple properties, motel franchise operations, and hotel construction firms. Some of them are the owners of leading franchises such as Radisson and Hilton. The Asian American Hotel Owners' Association (AAHOA), dominated by Gujratis, has become a powerful organization in the United States. AAHOA was founded in 1989, has over 10,000 members owning more than 22,000 hotels with total $60 billion in property values. “AAHOA is dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of its members by inspiring excellence through programs and initiatives in advocacy, industry leadership, professional development, member benefits, and community involvement.” The top twenty five Indian managed hotel companies in 2009 owned 581 hotels and motels with 78,000 guest rooms. These included well known hotel and motel franchises including Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Sheraton, Hyatt, Westin, Holiday Inn, Doubletree, Radisson, Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, Days Inn.
The age of information technology in the 1990s brought an upsurge of high-tech people from India. Some came as immigrants while others came on temporary visas which many subsequently converted into permanent visa with sponsorship from their employers. The explosive growth of Indians in the United States created many new vistas of opportunities. Some high energy, creative and entrepreneurial individuals launched their own high tech companies, particularly in the Silicon Valley. A number of them became very successful, wealthy and famous for their innovations and entrepreneurial ventures.
The 1984 army attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar spurred an exodus of young Sikhs from India, some legally, others without legal documents. Several young Sikh men, particularly from villages in Punjab, came to the USA to escape arbitrary arrests, torture and possible death. A large majority of them were unskilled and non-professionals. Those who did not have sponsors sought shelters in Gurdwaras, applied for political asylum or found other ways to obtain legal status. After overcoming the initial settlement problems in the United States, many have settled in jobs or occupations and some of them have even prospered far beyond their own expectations.
Indian immigrants -- whether they were skilled or unskilled, operated restaurants, grocery or liquor stores, 7-11 franchise or motels, came as professionals, or under family reunification preferential categories -- have all worked very hard. Over a period of time, several have worked their way up the ladder and now occupy positions of power and influence in universities, hospitals, corporations and political parties. Many business people have expanded their businesses, generated vast fortunes, contributed to the economy of their adopted land, helped in the growth of trade and industry and created economic opportunities through investment and innovation. Indian Americans make up less than one percent of the US population, but they have opened many doors of possibilities, far beyond their numbers, and have made an indelible impression on the professional and business landscape of America.
Not all Indian Americans are wealthy, professional or highly educated. Even if some migrated with high qualifications and worked as accountants, engineers and doctors in India they lacked recognition of their degrees in the new country or were required to acquire additional qualifications to work in their profession. Thus, there are thousands of Indians who make living by driving taxis or are engaged in similar activity for their livelihood, before becoming fully settled in the USA.
Taxi driving is probably the most dangerous occupation in the United States and not necessarily the first choice for making a living and raising a family. A large majority among them are Sikhs and several of them maintain their religious symbols – uncut beard and long hair on the head covered with turban. Some companies do not even hire people with turbans, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as many Americans frequently mistake them or associate them with Osama Bin Laden. The unfortunate 9-11 attack provoked a backlash that included hundred of hate crimes, particularly against the turban-wearing Sikhs, even the killing of a Sikh, Balbir Singh Sodhi of Mesa, Arizona. Although Sodhi was not a cab driver, many victims of hate crimes were in this occupation. There were many articles in the American media about the Sikhs and their faith, but all of them failed to educate those elements in the American society which perpetrated racial attacks.
The Sikh taxi drivers often hear derogatory racial remarks, suffer harassment and are targeted for racial attacks, sometimes even from their passengers. Whether the motive is bigotry, hate, or robbery, some Sikh taxi drivers have been frequent victims of hate crimes. A few have met with violent, horrific and senseless death. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials have repeatedly failed to tackle assaults on them.
Taxi drivers serve an extremely important function in the transportation business and many times are a reasonably good source of local news. They generally are also the first ones to get inquiries from passengers seeking information about restaurants and cafes. Thus, they have the potential to become among the best marketers. If their marketing capabilities are utilized, they could play a key role in promoting Indian cuisine and direct traffic to certain selective restaurants and other facilities.
With the increase in population of Indian immigrants, cultural, religious and regional organizations mushroomed at a rapid speed; some organizing themselves into national bodies. Indian professionals, particularly physicians who had problems of recognition of their professional degrees and attainments formed their own associations at local and national levels.
In large cities, regional umbrella groups such as Federation of Indian American Associations(FIA) were formed, predominantly to celebrate India Independence day, India Republic day, etc.
During the 1970s and 1980s, there were three dominant country-wide organizations, namely, National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) and Association of Indians in America(AIA), which promoted the interests and aspirations of the people of Indian origin. During the 1980s, there were immigration reform bills proposing drastic reduction in the quota for family reunification. These three national organizations went all out to fight against any reduction in the family reunification quota. They reached out to the Indian community in the US, joined hands with the other immigrant communities, collected thousands of petitions opposing the new bills, and worked with many members of the Congress sympathetic to the cause. After a long struggle, the US Congress yielded to the combined strength of the immigrant communities, accommodated the new realities and kept the family reunification numbers intact in the new bill which was enacted into law.
In 1987, the US aid package to Pakistan included supply of AWACS and other highly sophisticated arms to Pakistan. The leadership of these organizations again mobilized the community for the security of their motherland, brought busloads of Indian Americans to Washington D.C. from the neighboring states including New York & New Jersey, paraded the halls and corridors of world power centers, the US Congress and the White House. They waged an impressive and vigorous campaign of opposing the supply of highly sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan, educated the members of the US Congress about the potential dangers of such supplies, and testified before the Senate sub-committee, a rare honor. History is a witness, Pakistan did not get sophisticated military hardware.
During the US-India civil nuclear cooperation deal which involved transfer of nuclear technology and material from the United States to India, initiated during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US in July 2005 and re-affirmed during President George Bush’s visit to India in March 2006, the Indian American community played a proactive role in ensuring the passage of the bills introduced in the US Congress.
Some Congressmen, such as Gary Ackerman, Frank Pallone, Joe Wilson and Joe Crowley – former co-chairs of India Caucus – openly supported the deal while many prominent lawmakers such as Democrat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus in the U.S. Senate, Republican Congressman Ed Royce, former co-chair of the India Caucus and dozens of members of India Caucus on both the House and the Senate side, who never missed fundraising opportunities within the community, conspicuously stayed silent on the issue.
Nevertheless, the bills in both the House and the Senate were passed by a large majority of the lawmakers including those who initially were fence-sitters. The Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 required India to comply with the provisions of the Act including obtaining the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approval for which India separated its civil and military nuclear facilities and placed civil nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards. IAEA was established in 1957 as an autonomous organization under the United Nations (UN) to serve as the “foremost intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.” India signed an agreement with the board of governors of the IAEA for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities and received approval on Aug 1, 2008.
The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is the exclusive nuclear club that controls global atomic trade. The United States proposed waiver of rules to allow nuclear material and technology transfers to India. Some members of the NSG like Norway, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands were not in favor of the waiver. But after protracted negotiations and the US pressure, NSG gave unprecedented exemption to India which had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The landmark waiver ended years of isolation enforced in the wake of the 1974 Pokharan nuclear tests.
After waiver by the NSG on September 6, 2008, India could purchase nuclear fuel and technology from several countries except the USA. A bill was introduced in the US Congress in September 2008 to authorize American companies to participate in the nuclear trade with India. The US India Business Council (USIBC), a trade group with more than 300 US companies which have major investments in India, worked actively with pro-India members of the US Congress and Indian American community activists to ensure the passage of the bill. The US Congress approved the landmark civilian nuclear agreement allowing India to purchase nuclear fuel and technology from the United States. On October 8, 2008, President, George W. Bush, signed the legislation into law, now called the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act.
India needs an estimated $100 billion of equipment and other material to build several nuclear plants to fuel its future energy needs. It signed agreements with Russia and France as accident liability is underwritten by their governments. US companies, however, needed nuclear reprocessing pact with India to reprocess nuclear fuel from reactors sold by US companies and limit on their liability in the case of industrial accidents. After long and protracted negotiations, India' s ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns signed the 'Arrangements and Procedures' document on July 30, 2010. The agreement allows Indian reprocessing of US-originated nuclear material under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Under existing Indian law, foreign suppliers may face unlimited liability. Thus, US firms have been waiting for Indian Parliament to pass legislation that limits their liability. Unless India passes a law to limit suppiers’ liability, US suppliers are not participating in India's nuclear energy market. India is determined to expand its nuclear energy capacity and has allocated several sites for building new nuclear plants. Former Foreign Secretary of India, M. K. Rasgotra, in his article, REACH OUT TO THE US THROUGH OBAMA, published on October 12, 2010, said, “Our liability legislation virtually excludes private American suppliers from competing in the Indian nuclear energy market. What a reward for a country without whose initiative and generosity, India would have remained a nuclear pariah!”
Besides NFIA, IAFPE and AIA, other organizations including the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Indian American Friendship Council, the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) and some others as also some leading Indian American activists, Swadesh Chatterjee, Ramesh Kapur, Inder Singh, Krishna Srinivasa, Sant Chatwal, Sanjay Puri, Rajen Anand, Piyush Agarwal and several others continued massive campaign for three years to educate, convince and influence the law makers for the passage of the two bills (2006 and 2008) for the unprecedented landmark deal.
Another Indian American organization, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) which has acquired a high profile, was founded in 1984 with a goal to fight restrictions against recognition of Foreign Medical graduates. It is an umbrella organization for more than 130 member associations nationwide and serves the interests of over 42,000 Indian American physicians. Majority of these physicians got their medical education in India but in the US, they achieved skills excellence before they were allowed to deliver patient services. Whether they worked in research or were involved in patient care services, they provided quality service, earned respect of their patients and consequently gained economic success.
AAPI, since its formation, has steadily expanded its role and responsibilities. According to former AAPI President, Hemant Patel, “We are making a difference in improving the quality of medical education and patient care by working closely with public bodies and governments of both USA and India.” AAPI has also established high level partnership with the government and policymakers in India.
In 1987, an Indian community activist, Dr. Joy Cherian was chosen for presidential appointment as US Commissioner of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It was the first high ranking appointment of an Asian by the president of the United States. Dr. Cherian’s appointment to sub-cabinet level position by President Ronald Reagan received swift approval from the Senate. The Asian media extolled it as a major milestone and Indian Americans were elated that their community received such high recognition. The successive administrations made several high ranking appointments of Indian Americans including those of Dr. Rajen Anand as Executive Director of Center for Nutrition Policy, Bobby Jindal as Assistant Secretary of Health, Gopal Khanna and Karan Bhatia. There are many more who have been appointed to various committees/councils at city, county and state levels in various parts of the United States.
Indian Americans do not form a significant “voting bloc” but do want political empowerment which would not come by seeking appointments only. They began organizing fund raising events for political candidates at city, county, state and federal levels. However, their campaign contributions initially translated into limited political clout but of late, Indian Americans are becoming a political force to reckon with. Some ambitious Indian Americans proactively engaged themselves in the political process of their adopted country. They had no constituency in any part of the United States where only Indians could elect one of their own. But they had a role model in Dalip Singh Saund who in 1956 was elected to the U.S. Congress from a congressional district with a negligible number of Indian American votes. Saund was a trailblazer and many tried to follow his pioneering trail and some succeeded at city, county and state level. In 2004, Oxford-educated Bobby Jindal who was born of immigrant parents in the USA, was elected United States Congressman from Louisiana. Just 3 years later in 2007, Jindal at 36, was elected as Governor of Louisiana and became the first Indian-American chief executive of a state in the United States, a major milestone accomplishment. In 2010, Nikki Randhawa Haley, a Punjabi Business woman who has been in South Carolina State Assembly since 2004, was elected as Governor of South Carolina State, first female governor of the state – an accomplishment of epic proportion.
Since the late 1980s, Indian Americans have started taking a more active role in both Democrat and Republican political parties. They also ventured to learn the rules of political empowerment and their political activism has shown results in several Indian Americans getting elected as legislators at the state level. Swati Dandkar became State Senator in 2008 in Iowa after holding state Assembly seat for three terms. Kumar Barve is the majority leader in the State of Maryland and Aruna Miller and Sam Arora were elected as members of the Maryland State Assembly in 2010. Upendra Chivukula has been Assemblyman in New Jersey since 2002 and Jay Goyal at the young age of 26 was elected in 2006 as state legislator in Ohio. Raj Goyle has been a State Assemblyman in Kansas since 2006. Kesha Ram, a young woman of Punjabi descent, was elected in 2008 as member of Vermont House of Representatives. Dr. Janak Joshi (Colorado) and Dr. Prasad Srinivasan (Connecticut) were elected in 2010. Satveer Choudhary lost his Senate seat in 2010 after serving the state for sixteen years. He was first elected as Minnesota Assemblyman in 2006 and as State Senator in 2000.
David Dhillon, a third generation Indian American, was mayor of El Centro from 1985 to 2001. Dhillon’s grandfather came from India and settled in El Centro, Imperial Valley in California where many Indians during the earlier part of the last century had settled. Dalip Singh Saund had spent most of his life in the Imperial Valley which was part of his congressional district. Harry Sidhu was elected as Council member in 2004 and became Mayor Pro-tem in 2009 of Anaheim City, home for Disneyland. Dr. Prakash Narayan has been elected in 2010 for second time as Councilman for city of Cypress. Harvinder Anand got elected 2nd time as Mayor of Laurel Hollow, a small, affluent community in New York State in 2011 while Harvinder Bhalla was elected as Hoboken City Councilman in 2009. Gurpal Samra is the mayor of Livingston (population over 10,000), near Sacramento, California. In Yuba City where Indian Americans constitute 10% of the population, two city council members, Kash (Kashmir Singh) Gill and Tej (Tejinder Singh) Mann were elected in 2006. This was the first time since the settlement of the first batch of Sikhs in the area, in the beginning of twentieth century that two Sikhs with farming background have been elected. They are educated and have deep civic roots in the city. Kash Gill is Vice President of the local Butte Community Bank while Tej Mann is the Environment Health Director of Yuba County.
These Indian Americans have dared to turn to politics to achieve their vision and to raise the profile of their marginalized ethnic community. The voters who elected the Indian American law makers are mainstream Americans and not just Indian Americans who form a negligible percentage of the electorate. Indian Americans may not have any constituency with majority of Indian electorate but some political campaigns revolve around them for their fund raising capabilities.
Indians who came in 1960’s and 1970s are, by and large, rooted in the United States. They have worked their way up the ranks of American companies and have also moved with astonishing speed into politics. They keep increasing the number of their elected representatives at various levels when elections take place in the US. The Indian American lobby on the Capitol Hill is also increasingly becoming effective and showed measurable result at the passage of Indo-US Nuclear Deal by the US Congress.
Marriage & Family
The early Punjabi immigrants consisted of males who came as sojourners to make money and return to a life they knew, a life of familiar environment and comfort back in India. Theylived together to save money, worked in groups and moved from place to place in search of work. Many of them were young and unmarried while others had left their wives behind. Changes in the Immigrations laws enacted in 1917 made it impossible for them to go back for a visit. They also could not sponsor their spouses from India as the new law had barred legal immigration from India. Several of them married Mexican women while those with college or university education, generally married American girls despite the law in California which prohibited marriage between different races.
In the beginning, marriages between Punjabi men and Mexican women aroused concern with some leading to controversies. But over a period of time, the relationship with Hispanic women became acceptable. Many marriages were successful but several experienced conflicts regarding the raising of children, supporting issues and causes pertaining to the immigrants such as donation to temple, the Gadar Movement, and sending money back home. Some marriages ended in divorce for various reasons and in a few cases, marital conflicts ended in the murder of the spouse. Prof. Karen Leonard of U.C. Irvine has written extensively about Punjabi-Mexican families in her book “Making Ethnic Choices”.
After the passage of Luce-Cellar bill, a few Indians went back to marry while some others sponsored their wives and children whom they had left behind years ago.
After India became an independent nation in 1947, the number of students seeking admission in American universities rapidly increased. With the liberalization of immigration laws, a large influx of Indian professionals started migrating to America, only a few with their spouses. The vast majority of students and immigrants went back to marry while a few found brides in the USA. “Desi” children as they are called, born in America, have faced duality between their parents' culture and the host culture and are often torn between being Indian and being American. They tend to be more American than Indian. Their cultural references come from their surroundings rather than their lineage.
First generation Indian parents, although adopted America as their new country, yet culturally, they have been living in the “Old country”. They actively discouraged dating by their children, daughters in particular. They preferred their children to focus on studies, extra-curricular school activities and family related activities. Subsequently, the young people lacked skills in finding a mate on their own which they could have learnt through the process of dating as the mainstream Americans do. When the time came for marriage, the “Desi” children were pressured or persuaded to import spouses from India, many with disastrous results. Brides from India made sacrifices to adjust and adapt in the new family and new country while the bridegrooms from a male dominated society in India, had comparatively more challenging time in adjusting to the new relationship.
The second generation parents who have grown up in America, are not putting similar rigid restrictions on their own children for dating as were put on them. They may prefer but not require their offspring to date a person or choose a mate from the same ethnicity, religion, social background or even the country. Many young people seek admission in colleges and universities away from their home to be independent and escape the prying eyes of their parents. The culture gap between children born and raised in America and those in India is vast. Thus the preference is to find a suitable mate in the US, particularly when the community has become large, over 3 million strong. Professional match-maker organizations have also come up to fulfill the role of helping those seeking a spouse.
Finding a suitable mate is a major accomplishment. However, solemnizing a traditional Indian wedding is an involved process. Several rituals are performed and many functions are organized. They require substantial financial outlay depending on the social status of the parents of the bride and bridegroom. If the role of parents in finding a mate for their offspring has diminished, their role in arranging the wedding extravaganza is indispensable.
Ending a marriage to find love elsewhere is not unthinkable among the new generation of Indian Americans. In the US, half of the first marriages end in divorce; percentage for second and third are higher. So, the newly married husband and wife, have to work hard at building a successful relationship and family life. If for some reason, the marriage collapses, both go to the dating pool again. If the single woman has children, finding a suitable husband, can become a major challenge.
The American system guarantees public pension benefit for those who have paid social security taxes for a minimum period of 10 years during their working lives. However, the social security pension is not enough for a comfortable retirement living. Americans and eligible immigrants, who are not entitled to social security benefits but are over 65 and destitute, are qualified to obtain Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Eligible Americans as well as immigrants who meet residency requirements are eligible for Government provided affordable health care – medicare – after age sixty five. Eligible Indian Americans are entitled to Social Security benefits. Also, a vast majority of them, being part of a generation of savers, have prudently planned for financial security in their twilight years.
Indian parents made sacrifices to provide the best education to their children, particularly sons, hoping for a bright future for them. Many children who came as students or in search of opportunities at a younger age are generally well settled in the United States. They feel obligated to take care of their older parents in the autumn of their parents’ lives. For parents too, America is a great attraction, ostensibly to be closer to their progeny and grand children. Whether motivated by family ties or compelled by other circumstances, older parents and siblings have been sponsored to migrate. Sense of obligation takes over the problems of living in a joint family system such as parents’ uncomfortable level of dependence on the offspring or his/her financial and emotional stress to house the parents under the same roof. Nevertheless, the tradition of extended family of sharing the house by three generations, parents, offspring’s spouse and grand children, is continued.
The older parents and siblings come to the land of opportunity, yet face many challenges in adapting to the new societal framework. They leave behind their longtime surroundings and familiar social networks and they now have to find a different comfort level of dependence on their offspring. Many times, the elder parents are sponsored to help with raising their grand children. They are also given the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning and maintaining the house while both their sons/daughters and respective spouses are at work. Although the children feel that they keep their parents occupied to avoid boredom, many parents lack the physical stamina to maintain the new way of life. Many have health concerns that often go unattended. They came to join their adult children or siblings, have never been in the United States workforce and thus never had the opportunity to develop their own social network. They have little or no social life of their own, and are entirely dependent on their children for transportation even to go to the temple. They feel the loss of control and dislike being controlled in their golden years.
In India, respect for the elders is traditionally woven into Indian life’s cultural fabric. But in America, where adult children can address their own parents by first name, elders from India and particularly those who have held an office of status, feel slighted when much younger Indians do not show any deference towards them. They are anguished at the loss of traditional respect for the elderly, the values they have lived by. They end up missing their network of friends and acquaintances, and find a huge social vacuum living in the new country.Leaving their longtime old friends and lifelong home exploding with memories, they have to live in neighborhoods where there is hardly anybody from their own ethnicity with whom they can communicate. Socializing with those of the same age and culture is, at best, a weekend opportunity when visiting a temple or attending a party. Several people find it hard to cope with the loneliness, isolation and sometimes exploitation by their own children or siblings. Some parents by habit intrude in their children’s life resulting in undesirable conflicts. Several marriages have not survived the strain of joint family living. Those parents who cannot adapt to the new situation go back if they have that option, while many others suffer from frustration and depression.
Indian Americans who have lived and worked in the United States for a number of years, have adapted to the lifestyle of their adopted land, and have become, somewhat if not completely, part of the mainstream. They have developed social networks of their peers and are not dependent on others for their communication or transportation needs. No doubt, old age is a vulnerable time of life for everybody and Indian Americans, even those who are in denial of aging, will not escape the problems relating to growing old. Although people in America are living longer and healthier than ever before, sooner or later, they will become an integral part of the swelling ranks of the elderly and endure trials and tribulations of the golden years. Whether they have gone grey in the US or have come from India, they need to join groups outside their immediate family to deal with issues which people in their age group face. Seniors must also address 'End of Life' issues such as will, durable power of attorney, health proxy, etc.
Hardships and problems faced by single seniors who have lost their spouse can be different and unique. For such seniors, it may take longtime to overcome the pain and trauma of the spousal loss. They need companionship and should join a social network of their peers to overcome loneliness, isolation and depression. In many cities, temples are great gathering places for socialization. All seniors, if they have energy and time should make productive use of their professional knowledge and experience. They can become great volunteer resource to the society at large.
Culture, Religion, Meditation and Yoga
Culture is an all inclusive term. Customs, traditions, performing arts, cuisine, religion and belief systems are varied and different, yet they are integral part of composite culture of India. In almost all parts of the globe where Indians have gone and settled, they have taken Indian culture with them. Thus, there is awareness of India’s culture, be it in the form of yoga, meditation, music, fashion, or food, it is widely known and accepted.
At the beginning of twentieth century, when Indians started coming to the United States, there was a low tolerance for the Indian immigrants. The Bellingham Riots in the state of Washington on September 5, 1907 epitomized the racial prejudice of the American people against Indians at that time. However, the majority of the immigrants from India kept faithful to their religious roots, some with a keen passion and continued to practice their faith by doing meditation or holding prayers privately at their homes.
For the last several years, beliefs and practices of Indians, yoga and meditation in particular, are becoming more acceptable in America. Americans witness the increase in yoga studios, meditation centers and vegetarian restaurants, all of which have roots in India. Several New Age gurus who travel across the globe, have contributed to this popularity. In the United States, best-selling spiritual author Deepak Chopra has significantly contributed to Indian meditation philosophy going mainstream. Diwali, the Hindu “festival of lights", is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all over the world and has been gaining growing acceptance in America.
In 1893, more than a century ago, Swami Vivekananda introduced Hinduism to Americans when he came to address the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He made a lasting impact on the delegates and for the next four years, he lectured at major universities and retreats. This generated a significant interest in Vedantic philosophy. He also started the Vedantic centre in New York City. After Vivekananda left the USA, other religious leaders came to spread Hindu religion and philosophy.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was adopted at an early age by Theosophical Society president Annie Besant who took him to England to have him educated privately. Jidu Krishnamurthi wrote many books. But The Book of Life, which carried extraction from his speeches and publications, became very famous. The Krishnamurti Foundation, headquartered at Ojai near Los Angeles, California, promotes his philosophy through his books, CDs and tapes. Many more mystics and yogis from India brought ancient Indian philosophy and yoga to America and found fertile ground for spreading their message.
In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda came as India’s delegate to the International Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston. He established Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), traveled widely and lectured to large audiences in the US. In 1925, he made Los Angeles as his base of operations by establishing an international headquarter for Self-Realization Fellowship. Today, there are seven SRF centers in California where Yogananda's meditation and yoga techniques are taught on regular basis. He is the author of a widely read book 'Autobiography of a Yogi' which was written in the year 1946. The book has been translated into 18 languages and has served as a major vehicle for the introduction and promotion of meditation and yoga in the western countries.
The Chinmaya Mission was founded in India by the devotees of Swami Chinmayananda in 1953. The Mission makes available the ageless wisdom of Vedanta and provides the tools to realize that wisdom. It has 36 centers in the USA, catering to the cultural and spiritual needs of large number of followers. The Mission’s various activities and projects include Jnana Yajnas (Vedanta lecture series, seminars, workshops), Bala Vihar (Vedanta forum for children and youth), Yuva Kendra (Vedanta forum for university students and young professionals) and Spiritual Retreats and Camps.
Bhagat Singh Thind who came in 1913 as a student, started delivering lectures on Indian philosophy and metaphysics. His teaching included the philosophy of many religions and in particular that contained in Sikh Scriptures. During his lectures, discourses and classes to Christian audiences, he frequently quoted Guru Nanak, Kabir, and others. He wrote many books and had thousands of American followers but did not convert any of them to Sikhism. He died in 1967 but his son David has established a website www.Bhagatsinghthind.com to promote and propagate books and the philosophy for which Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind spent his entire life in the US.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought Transcendental Meditation (TM) to the United States in 1959, through which he claimed to provide “a way for the conscious mind.” His popularity was attributed to the Beatles who in 1968, began studying with the Maharishi at his ashram in Rishikesh in northern India. During 1960’s and 1970’s, TM became popular in reducing stress-related ailments and was “the most widely practiced self-development program in the United States.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s organization with assets of about $300 million, is based in Fairfield, Iowa, where it operates the Maharishi University of Management. Since 1990, the Maharishi had lived in Vlodrop, the Netherland, where at the age of 91, he breathed his last on February 5, 2008.
Yogi Bhajan who came to California in 1969, started teaching yoga and propagating the philosophy of Guru Nanak and a form of Sikhism among Americans. The hippie movement was at its zenith then and a large number of American young people were using illegal drugs, particularly marijuana. He founded Sikh Dharma International (SDI), a non-profit, religious organization and used it as an effective vehicle for spreading the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. He established Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles where his followers have been congregating regularly. He was an inspiring teacher and taught “Kundalini Yoga, the Yoga of Awareness.” Prior to his death in 2005, he had thousands of his followers embrace Sikhism. He was recognized with the title of “Siri Singh Sahib” by Shrimonai Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. Yogi Bhajan made a “huge difference to the profile of the Sikh community in the US. He was also recognized by the US Congress for his services to the American society.
Yogi Bhajan was also an astute businessman. He started Golden Temple natural food company making herbal teas, health and beauty products, dietary supplements, etc. Golden Temple has been providing employment opportunities for his followers. Another business venture, Akal Security is the largest provider of security personnel in the United States and has over $1 billion government contracts for providing security to airports, courts, Federal and State buildings. Yogi Bhajan moved the headquarters of Sikh Dharma from Los Angeles to Espanola Valley in New Mexico from where he, with his team of capable American Sikhs, administered his yoga, religious and business empire. After his death, his followers continue to expand the enterprises he had started.
Bhagwan Rajneesh came to the United States on a tourist visa in 1981. Later, he was known as Osho and had developed a very large following in the US. He spoke of “harmony, wholeness and love that lie at the core of all religious and spiritual traditions.” He died in January 1990 but many of his followers still meet at various centers as also in Pune, the headquarters of Osho organization.
Osho followers purchased a ranch in Oregon and named it Rajneeshpuram but ran into legal battles with their neighbors relating to land use. Rajneesh’s purchase and ownership of many Rolls Royce luxury cars was an irritation for the locals. The leadership of the followers had developed problem of their own. In 1985, Rajneesh was arrested and charged with immigration violations and forced to go back to India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a former disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, established the international Art of Living Foundation in 1981, which is claimed to be operating in 140 countries. He has been promoting the Sudarshan Kriya, a rhythmic breathing yoga exercise, which is the core component of the Art of Living courses. His self-development programs offer powerful tools to eliminate stress and foster a sense of well-being. The people enrolled for the Art of Living courses are required to sign non-disclosure agreement by which they are prohibited to disclose the details of the Sudarshan Kriya technique. He has founded several global organizations to provide humanitarian and educational services. In 1997, he founded the International Association for Human Values, that advances human values in political, economic, industrial, and social spheres.
Several faith-based movements such as, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), Chinmaya Mission, Sathya Sai Baba organization, Ramakrishna Mission, and ISKCON have also large following. Some target the Indian Diaspora while others spread their message to the general American population.
Yoga, once an elusive practice, has now surged in popularity and its impact is everywhere: in movies, television, advertising, and schools. Many Americans have incorporated yoga routines as an essential part of their work out routine. America is now dotted with Yoga studios providing easy access to everyone, including business executives and Hollywood celebrities who practice this ancient Indian art form India. About sixteen (16) million people in America practice or claim familiarity with several yoga routines. Several studies have shown that Yoga reduces blood pressure, back pain, relieves stress and improves overall health and has become as mainstream of an exercise as walking. “Such benefits are why some doctors are recommending yoga to their cancer patients during and after treatment. Lorenzo Cohen Ph.D, professor and director of MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program (University of Texas), received a $4.5 million grant in April 2010 from the National Cancer Institute to conduct a Phase III clinical trial studying the effects of yoga as part of breast cancer therapy. “This clinical trial will allow us to definitively determine the benefit of incorporating yoga into a treatment plan for women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy,” says Prof Cohen.”
Several entrepreneurs are flourishing in this multi-billion dollar industry. They publish yoga magazines and yoga books, produce TV shows and make DVDs, manufacture yoga clothes, yoga artifacts, yoga furniture and furnishings, yoga foods, yoga tea, yoga energy bars, and hundreds of products and services. There are also many Yoga experts and teachers who have gained prominence in this multi-billion dollar industry.
Bikram Choudhary has earned fame and fortune by teaching yoga to Americans by opening hundreds of heated yoga studios all over the world. His style of yoga is practiced in a room that has been preheated to a temperature of 105 deg F. Bikram Yoga is the 26 postures Sequence selected and developed by Bikram Choudhury from Hatha Yoga and is taught in 500 certified yoga studios all over the world. Only the licensed and certified teacher can teach Bikram Yoga classes.
Swami Ramdev is currently the most celebrated yoga teacher and has following which runs into millions. He has revolutionalized people’s thinking about yoga exercises. In 2003, India based Aastha TV began featuring him in its morning yoga slot. Within a few years, he attained immense popularity and developed a huge following. His yog-camps are attended by a large number of people in India and abroad. His Pranayam exercises especially the Anulom Vilom includes a set of breathing exercises which are promoted to bring about balance between the body and mind. Regular practitioners claim numerous benefits.
Baba Ramdev started Patanjali Yogpeeth in 2006 for research on Yoga and Ayurveda in India. The website of Patanjali Yogpeeth claims to run 20,000 free yoga classes and 2000 chikitsalayas all over India. Sam and Sunita Poddar of Scotland who have been running the UK branch of the Patanjali Yogpeeth donated about £2 million. With the donation, a Scottish Island was acquired to serve as the Patanjali Yogpeeeth's base overseas for yoga teaching.
Since the 1970s, with the steady growth of the Indian Amercan community, the building of temples became a desirable focus of the followers of Hindu and Sikh faiths. The temples help preserve and sustain religion and culture and also provide an opportunity to practice religious rituals and to socialize with the new immigrants. Also, they are the markers of identity of the community and so, the adherents considered their responsibility to establish places of worship not only for themselves but for the future generations.
In 1976, the first Hindu temple, Sri Venkateswara Temple, was built in Pittsburgh. Since then, many magnificent temples such as Malibu Hindu Temple, Malibu, California, Shiva-Vishnu Temple, Livermore, California, Sri Venkateswara Temple of Greater Chicago, Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, Washington DC, Sri Venkateswara Temple, Bridgewater, NJ, Venkateswara Swami temple, Riverdale near Atlanta, Georgia, Ekta Mandir, Irving, Texas, Sri Lakshmi Temple - Ashland, MA, Shiva Vishnu Temple of South Florida, Quad City Hindu Temple , Rock Island, IL, Sri Prasanna Venkateswara Swami Temple, Memphis, Tennessee, Bharatiya Temple in the northern suburb of Detroit, the spectacular Sri Meenakshi Temple south of Houston, the Ganesha temple in Nashville, and a striking hexagonal Sikh temple, Palatine (Chicago) have been built. Today, virtually every city in the United States has temples and meditation centers which have helped maintain and promote Hindu religion, Indian philosophy and culture. With devotion in their hearts and donations from their wallets, the enthusiasts continue to build places of worship to meet the need of the growing population.
There are many religious festivals celebrated with great enthusiasm by different ethnic groups from India. Hindu festivals vary in names and times from region to region and have found cultural transplantation in the US. Holi or Phagwah is a popular spring festival. It commemorates the slaying of the demoness Holika by Lord Vishnu's devotee Prahlad. Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi is a special occasion to celebrate the chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister. It is celebrated mainly in northern Indian states. Rama Navami is the celebration of the birth of Rama and is a major festival in Northern India. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna are the two most revered Divine beings in Hindu culture. Navarathri means nine holy nights in the Hindu lunar calendar. It is the festival of worship and dance and is celebrated twice a year. Gujrati men and women perform garba and dandiya raas during the nine days of Navratari. The dance form has also become popular among the Gujrati youth in some American universities. Durga Puja is celebrated for ten days in the Northern and Eastern states of the country, especially in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Tripura. With time, Durga Puja has become the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali society.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is the best known of Hindu festivals in the United States. The legends connected to the festival are different for different religions. According to Ramayana, one of the most important epics of the Hindu religion, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, from his 14-year exile after killing the demon king Ravana. Thus, it symbolizes the victory of good over evil and is celebrated with great fervor by one and all. The celebration includes exchanging greetings, sharing sweets with loved ones, visiting temples, attending cultural and talent shows, musical concerts and social parties, besides lighting candles, earthen lamps and firecrackers where permissible. The annual observance demonstrates the rich history and traditions of the Hindu faith and provides an occasion for the followers to remember their many blessings and celebrate their hope for a brighter future.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali as it marks the return of the sixth Guru, Hargobind Rai to Amritsar after he was freed from the fort of Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir in October, 1619, where he was imprisoned along with 52 Hindu Kings. When the emperor decided to release the Guru, the latter managed to get all the Hindu kings freed at the same time. Guru Hargobind became known as the "Bandi Chhor" (Deliverer from prison) and the event is celebrated as the Bandi Chhor Divas. The Guru arrived at Amritsar on the Diwali day and the HarMandar (Golden Temple) was lit with hundreds of lamps to celebrate his return. Every year, the Golden Temple is illuminated and fireworks are displayed to commemorate the memory of Guru’s return.
In cities with significant Indian American population, Diwali have become very popular and attract large gatherings of young and old. The organizers arrange for many fun-filled activities such as magic and puppet shows, henna painting on palms, stalls of Indian sweets and other eatables, handicrafts and other trinkets besides showcasing the best of Indian culture. If legally allowed, the effigies of Ravna, etc. are burnt to give historical perspective to the event and customary fireworks are displayed to add splendor to the festivities and increase public participation.
New York chapter of Association of Indians in America (AIA) organizes probably the largest Diwali Mela outside India with an estimated attendance of over 100,000 people during the daylong event at the South Street Sea Port, Manhattan. Dallas Indian Cultural Society, in 2007, organized Diwali Mela celebration of epic proportion at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas. Over 50,000 people saw performance of a professional Ram Lila group, heard Bollywood singers and witnessed the burning of Ravana’s effigy. It was a mammoth event, unique with no parallel to it in the United States. The society has been organizing the Mela annually sometimes excelling their prior year performance by attracting more people and adding more attractions.
In 2003, the President of the United States agreed to the long-standing demand of the Indian community and celebrated Diwali at the White House in the presence of several invited Indian community leaders. Since then, Diwali festivities at the White House have become an annual tradition which also shows the growing clout of the Indian American community in the United States. The US Senate and the House of Representatives in October 2007 unanimously passed Resolutions 299 and 747 respectively, recognizing the “religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali.” The passage of the resolutions may be symbolic, but it is a testament to the increased awareness of the Indian community in America. In 2009, Barack Obama became the first US president to light a "diya" oil lamp in a White House ceremony for the festival of lights. In communicating his warm greetings at the occasion, he remarked that Diwali marked the return of the Lord Ram from exile when small lamps lit his way home. In Jainism, the occasion celebrates the attainment of Nirvana by Lord Mahavir while in Sikhism, Diwali is a celebration of freedom for Guru Har Gobind, the religion’s sixth guru. In 2010, the Vice President led the commemoration. In 2011, President Obama again lit the White House Diya while a Hindu priest chanted Slokas, or prayers.
For Sikhs, religious beliefs are an integral part of their lives. In the beginning, they practiced their culture, religion, and traditions privately in absence of a common place like a Gurudwara. But in 1912, they established Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society and purchased land with a small frame house in Stockton, California, which was used as a temporary Gurudwara. Three years later, they built the new Gurdwara – the first Sikh temple in the United States.The new temple was dedicated on November 21, 1915, coincidingwiththe 426th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of the Sikh faith. Many Sikhs would travel hundreds of miles on important occasions to attend the gatherings which not only served a reassuring link with their religion but also provided welcome opportunities to meet and socialize with other Punjabi immigrants.
The Stockton Temple became the center of religious life for the Sikhs and social and political life for all Indians in California, particularly for activities relating to the Gadar Movement. Many years later, in 1948, a second Gurudwara was established 500 miles away in El Centro, California. Today, Sikhs have built Gurdwaras in almost every part of the US and hold congregations on regular basis.
Baisakhi, like Diwali, is celebrated with equal fervor both as a religious function and as a harvest festival. One of the largest Baisakhi celebrations is organized at the Los Angeles convention center to accommodate over 15,000 people. The religious celebration includes Sikh devotional music and a colorful parade.
Classical Indian dance and music are taught in private schools and academies which offer training in Karnatic, Hindustani, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Dandiya Raas, Bhangra, bhajans, devotional songs & semi-classical songs and several other forms. Among the different classical dance styles, Bharatanatyam has gained the most popularity among the Indian students. Out of the folk dances, Bhangra with all its different variations has been attaining new highs as a medium of entertainment. Dandiya Raas is very popular folk dance among Gujratis and along with Garba, it is the featured dance of Navratri evenings in Western India. Raas is played with Dandiyas (pair of sticks) while Garba consists of various hand and feet movements.
Punjabis have a vibrant culture and the Bhangra, the harvest folk dance and music is integral part of celebrations – weddings, anniversaries, parties. Some night clubs in the US routinely play Bhangra music or have exclusive Bhangra music once a week. The Bhangra music has also found its way into the recording studios of some mainstream artists, such as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and others. Intercollegiate bhangra competitions where the teams compete for money and trophies, continue to give a new surge of popularity among the youth. Bhangra, although rooted in tradition, constantly evolves with several hip-hop moves with the changing times.
There are many different offshoots from traditional Bhangra. Bally Sagoo promoted an offshoot of Bhangra music and his signing up with Sony, showed Bhangra's growing mainstream presence. Daler Mehndi has made the sound of Bhangra-pop a craze among many non-Punjabis, selling many millions of albums. Popular Guyanese born Terry Gajraj has also composed many of his hits in the USA and the Caribbean with variations of Bhagra. Pepsi commercial featuring Bhangra music was a true sign of the emergence of Bhangra into popular culture.
Sarina Jain has made this folk dance into an exercise regimen. Masala Bhangra Aerobics Workout classes are taught in some fitness centers. She also has directed and produced a series of MASALA BHANGRA WORKOUT videos.
The Smithsonian institution in Washington DC is the most visited natural history museum in the world. A few Sikh Americans jointly started a very ambitious Sikh Heritage Project in 2000, to find, protect and display cultural and historical artifacts of the Sikhs at the prestigious Smithsonian institution. “Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab” was inaugurated on July 24, 2004 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The exhibition presented more than 100 pieces of Sikh artwork and artifacts, including miniature paintings, arms and armor, traditional textiles and dress, coins, musical instruments, jewelry, sacred texts, and modern works of art, highlighting the culture and history of the Sikhs. The Sikh Heritage Foundation, West Virginia, has been instrumental in the establishment of Sikh Heritage Gallery. After the end of five-year contract with Smithsonian, Sikh Heritage Gallery was moved to Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in February, 2009 for two months. The Sikh Heritage Foundation and Sikh Foundation – a Palo Alto, California based non-profit charitable organization founded in 1967 to promote the heritage and future of Sikhism – are in search of another place to house the exhibition.
Yuba City – the Mini Punjab in USA
Yuba City, the headquarters of Sutter County, California, is about 125 miles from San Francisco. Punjabis came to Yuba City as migrant laborers in search of work over 100 years ago and faced enormous social and economic hurdles. They were peasant proprietors in India and their farming skills and willingness to work hard helped them find work. Some of them even leased or purchased their own farms and a few became successful and prosperous farmers.
From 1917 to 1946, legal immigration from India was barred and the growth of the Punjabi population in the Yuba-Sutter Area dwindled to a trickle. In 1946, Indian nationals got the right of citizenship. The law allowed 100 immigrants to come annually from India and thus slow growth of Punjabis started again. However, after the passage of 1965 Immigration Act, the Punjabi population in Yuba-Sutter Area started growing steadily and today, Punjabi community population is probably the largest over any other similar city in the United States. Punjabis now comprise over 10% of the total population of about 80,000 in Yuba-Sutter area. Several of them are engaged in agricultural or horticultural activities. In Yuba-Sutter County, Punjabi farmers grow about 95% of the peach crop, 60% of prunes and 20% almonds & walnuts.
With the sizeable increase in their population, the community has diversified from the core business of farming into various occupations, businesses and professions. Many Punjabis have become successful entrepreneurs, venturing into trucking, commercial property, and various other businesses and contribute significantly to their local economy. Several with university degrees have gone into various professions — medicine, teaching, banking, engineering, etc. A number of prosperous Punjabis in the city own palatial houses and drive expensive cars. They endured tremendous hardships and worked very hard to realize their American Dream.
Yuba City is literally a mini Punjab in the USA with three Gurdwaras and a temple. “Sat Sri Akal” is the preferred form of greeting; speaking in Punjabi is not considered “foreign” and Punjabi is officially taught in public schools. A radio program in Punjabi is regularly on the air. The Punjabi American Festival (Baisakhi) is organized every year in May by the Punjabi American Heritage Society which was founded by Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang in 1993 to help the younger generation get connected to their roots. The annual event features some internationally acclaimed artists and hundreds of local artists, including students from California schools, colleges and universities, who perform traditional Punjabi dances such as Bhangra, Giddha, Jhumar, and other ethnic dances. The ticketed event attracts over 12,000 people and is aimed at promoting a better understanding of the Punjabi community, its culture, and the many contributions they make to the region. Many business owners rent display booths to put themselves in front of the prospective customers.
Yuba City is well known for its annual Sikh parade which draws a large number of Sikhs from various parts of the United States, Canada, India, the United Kingdom and throughout the world. In 1969, the first Gurudwara in Yuba City was started on the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. Since then, on first Sunday of November, Gur Gadi Divas (Coronation Day) of Guru Granth Sahib (Sacred Sikh Scriptures) is celebrated by organizing a huge parade featuring many floats. The 28th annual parade in November 2007, attracted an estimated 80,000 people.
Two days preceding the event, the 48 hour non-stop recital of Sikh scriptures (Akhand Path) is started on Friday. After the concluding ceremony (Bhog) on Sunday, the sacred Guru Granth is ceremoniously carried onto a lavishly decorated float. As the main float leaves the Sikh Temple to lead the procession, rain of flower petals comes down from a helicopter hovering above the parade. A band of devotees continuously sweep the street in front of its path. Many Sikh groups from different parts of the United States put up their own floats which follow the lead float. Several floats have Raagi Jathas (bands of religious singers) singing hymns. All along the route, enthusiastic devotees put up stalls to serve refreshments to the bystanders and passersby. Thousands of participants join the procession, many follow the floats while several thousand stand along the route and watch.
Langar (free food) is prepared for the participants gathered for this momentous occasion. Feeding of huge number of people is a major undertaking and it is done with the help of volunteers who have the spirit of Seva uppermost in their minds. As many as 200,000 meals are served during the Guru Gadi Divas weekend. There is no parallel to the event in the United States.
Yuba City looks like a typical city in Punjab on this festive occasion. All kinds of goods imported from India are sold in the Punjab Bazaar, a temporary mini shopping mall. Thus, the annual parade provides major economic benefits to the community. The city gets its share of revenue in the form of sales and other taxes. The annual event is also a homecoming weekend for many younger Sikhs who have left Yuba City for other parts of the US.
Didar Singh Bains started the parade tradition in Yuba City. He came to the US in 1958 from Nangal in Hoshiarpur and worked as a farm laborer. He and his father bought their first farm in 1962. At one time, he was one of the biggest peach growers in California and was called “Peach King of California.” He is probably the wealthiest farmer among Indians in the United States.
There are also large Punjabi farming communities in other cities in California such as Fresno, Bakersfield, El Centro and the areas surrounding these cities. Some of the farmers have earned name, fame and fortune. A Sikh farmer from Fresno has earned the title of “Raisin King of California.” The New York Times calls Harbhajan Singh Samra “the okra king of the USA”. Samra specializes in growing Indian vegetables such as okra, mooli, tinda, bitter melon, Indian eggplant, methi, etc. near Palm Springs, Southern California.
Many Sikhs have retained the distinguishing marks of their faith. They have invariably added to the ethnic and cultural diversity of America and have become part of the unique and distinctive multicultural character of the new society. They have contributed to the development of the region’s economy at all levels and reshaped the landscape of the cities and towns where they have their homes. At the same time, they have established themselves as a vibrant part of the society that has come to depend on their contributions in the local and national economies.
Philanthropy is an act of contributing personal wealth, goods, time, and/or effort to charitable or similar causes to promote the common good. People donate for a variety of reasons – to promote a worthy or favorite cause, reduce income and estate taxes, or simply share with the society which has given them the opportunity to achieve and earn. There are several examples of Americans who have given back to community for worthy causes. Andrew Carnegie, the Ford family, the Rockefeller family, and many more who gave substantial amount and also took advantage of deductions that reduce the high tax rates on their income. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren Buffett have given several billions for charity. Bill Gates has pledged to give £30 billion while Warren Buffett has pledged to give 90% of his fortune in philanthropy. In fact, as of May 2011, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have obtained "Giving Pledges" from sixty nine American billionaires for at least half of their fortunes to philanthropy during their lifetime or after their passing.
Among Indian Americans, there are some with philanthropic instinct, magnanimous heart, passion for human care or social consciousness, who have donated generously for variety of causes. In 1912, there was Jawala Singh who had become a successful potato farmer in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Singh had started as an unskilled farm laborer in America but worked his way up to become a wealthy potato farmer within a short span of a few years. He was motivated to fund the Guru Gobind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarships, which were given to students through a competition held in India for higher studies at an American university. He also contributed towards the purchase of a hostel in Berkley, California by the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, where Indian students could stay rent-free. Singh’s scholarships helped some Indian students, including Gobind Behari Lal who came for graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1912. Gobind Behari Lal later became the science editor of San Francisco Examiner from 1925 to 1982 and in 1937 was the first Indian to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize.
After the liberalization of United States immigration laws in 1965, Indians who migrated to the USA were already educated and qualified as doctors, engineers, accountants and high-tech professionals. A majority of the students from India also adopted America as their new home after acquiring higher education from American universities. Thus, higher education and professional qualifications helped them to secure high level jobs providing a gateway to middle-class life. Many acquired experience and expertise in their chosen field over a period of time and some became successful professionals and entrepreneurs. A few of them have become prosperous and have shared their wealth by donating generously towards community causes. These affluent Indian Americans have been transforming the Indian philanthropic landscape by funding educational projects, establishing hospitals, and supporting medical research that benefit the public at large. Some have gifted part of their wealth for local causes in the United States where they have earned their riches while others reached back to their roots and gave for India-centric projects. There are some who have directed their contributions to both India and America. These donors first used their energy, abilities and time to acquire wealth and then they relinquished part of it if not all, to give back to the society that had given them. Almost all the wealthy philanthropists who have given large donations have gifted to established institutions benefitting the society at large. But, whether the beneficiary is Indian society or American, Indian American philanthropists are making a noticeable difference with their increasing level of generosity.
Silicon Valley’s Indian American venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and his wife Neeru have pledged to give half of their vast fortunes to charity either during their lifetime or after their death. As of March, 2011, Khosla's net worth was $1.4 billion, according to a calculation by Forbes. His giving can be the largest among Indian Americans todate.
Rajendra Vattikuti made his fortune resolving computer software problems connected with Y2K. His generous donation of $40 million in 2001 supports cancer research. The gift of $20 million established the Vattikuti Urology Institute (VUI) at the Henry Ford Health System. The VUI is one of the leading prostate cancer centers in the world, where “patients come for the very latest treatment techniques and the most advanced integrative medicine programs.” The other $20 million donation established Vattikuti Cancer Institute (VCI) at William Beaumont Hospitals in Detroit for breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment. Dr Kumar Bahuleyan, neurosurgeon, donated $20 million in 2007, for the development of his native village, Chemmanakary in Kerala for a hospital, health clinic and other facilities. The 81-year-old Dr Bahuleyan was born in a Dalit family, moved to the US in his youth and has been a resident of Buffalo since 1973. He set up the Bahuleyan Charitable Foundation and built a clinic in India for young children and pregnant women in 1993. The Bahuleyan Foundation has been involved in building toilets, roads and providing water supply for villages. Bahuleyan's foundation also built the Indo-American Hospital Brain and Spine Centre in 1996.
Monte Ahuja came to USA in 1969 and like most of the Indian students in the 1950s and 1960s, brought barely enough money from India to buy food for a day. Monte earned his MBA at Cleveland State University and worked at various jobs to make living. Usha came to the US to complete her PhD in mathematics. They met while in graduate school. Usha taught math at the college level for over 20 years. Monte founded Transtar Industries and built it into the most successful after-market transmission parts distributor in the world. Monte and Usha donated $30 million to University Hospital in Cleveland for the Ahuja Medical Center in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. The dedication ceremony of the first phase of the 53-acre health care campus on November 13, 2010 included ribbon cutting featuring Monte Ahuja, his wife Usha, daughters Ritu and Manisha, and son-in-law Neil Sethi. Monte and Usha Ahuja’s donation was the largest single donation in the 140-year history of that university.
Gururaj Deshpande, co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks in Boston, Massachusetts, and his wife Jaishree Deshpande, established the Deshpande Center for Technology Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering with a $20 million gift in 2002. Since inception, the Deshpande Center has been supporting a wide range of emerging technologies including biotechnology, biomedical devices, information technology, new materials and energy innovations. Since 2002, the Center has funded more than 80 projects with over $9 M in grants. As many as 18 projects have raised over $140 millions in outside financing and thirteen venture capital firms have invested in these ventures. The Deshpande Foundation established in 1996, has been partnering with institutions, nonprofits, and NGOs working in health, education, agriculture, and livelihoods in the United States and India. The Foundation has already helped over 80 NGOs in India in the areas of agriculture, microfinance, livelihood, education and health.
Dr Kiran Patel and his wife Dr Pallavi Patel gave $18.5 million in 2005 to the University of South Florida (USF) to build the Kiran C Patel Center for Global Solutions on that university campus. The large donation entitled the university to get state matching funds of $16 million totaling the donation worth $34.5-million. Patel gift, the single largest in USF history, helped the University to fund a new building and to create an endowment to build and sustain the Center. Both the Patels have contributed generously to several other philanthropic projects in Tampa, Florida, such as a performing arts conservatory and a research center at Pepin Heart Hospital. In India they have set up a rural village restoration project in Gujarat while in Zambia they have set up Patel Hospice Center in Lusaka, Zambia and a heart hospital in Dar-e-Salaam, Tanzania.
Raj Soin, chairman of MTC Technologies in Dayton, Ohio, through his Raj and Indu Soin Family Foundation donated $20 million to establish Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University. He also supports the Soin Scholar Program which funds the MBA education at Wright State University for three graduates every year from Delhi College of Engineering, his alma mater. Raj has established a non-profit 55-bed Sukh Dev Raj Soin Hospital in rural Haryana in memory of his father. Soins also donated 188 acres for the Beavercreek Golf club. In September 2009, the Soin Foundation donated $3 million to Dayton, Ohio’s trauma and emergency center for children which was renamed, Soin Pediatric Trauma and Emergency Center. In May, 2010, Soin Foundation made substantial contributions for a 90 bed full service hospital, spread over 35-acres of land in Beavercreek, Ohio and named Indu and Raj Soin Medical Center.
Krishan Joshi, founder and chairman of UES, Inc, a high-technology research company in Dayton, Ohio, established the Krishan and Vicky Joshi Research Center in 2006 at the Wright State University College of Engineering and Computer Science with his donation of $10 million. The Research Center includes high-tech, flexible lab and meeting space, and space for new Centers of Excellence in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Vinod Gupta, founder and CEO of InfoUSA, has set up Vinod Gupta Charitable Foundation and established the Vinod Gupta School of Management and the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. He has also established Shrimati Ram Rati Gupta Women's College at his birth place Rampur, William Jefferson Clinton Science and Technology Center, and Hillary Rodham Clinton Mass Communication Center for Journalism and Media Management.
Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with over two decades of leadership and management experience in the technology industry, donated $5 million in 2008 for bioscience center to his alma mater Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay where he had received a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. His Wadhwani Foundation also established Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in 2011. Ambassador Karl F. Inderfurth, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs, became the inaugural chairman. Ambassador Inderfurth and a partner chair holder at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in New Delhi will work to promote pragmatic policies conducive to India’s economic growth and development, bringing together public and private sector representatives in both countries.
Anand Julka and his wife, Dr. Neeraj Julka donated $6 million in May 2010 for scholarships to graduates of Cleveland's high schools to pursue degrees in teaching, nursing, engineering and computer science. Julka’s gift is the largest in Cleveland State University (CSU) history. The university will name the education and human services building as Julka Hall. Julka obtained a master's degree in industrial engineering from CSU in 1974. He serves on the board of the CSU Foundation. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of Indian Institute of Technology in India. He is the president and founder of Cleveland, Ohio based information technology company Smart Solutions Inc.
Dr. Prem Sagar Reddy, a cardiologist in Victorville donated $1 million to Victor Valley Community College District Foundation to support School of Allied Health and Nursing in 2003. He has also donated about $8 million to various health care causes. Bhupesh Parikh and his wife Kumud contributed $1 million for the Bhupesh Parikh Health Sciences and Technology building at Glendale Community College, California. Dr. Ushakant Thakkar and his Indonesian wife Dr. Irma Thakkar donated $1mllion to Simi Valley (California) Hospital in August 2010, for the expansion of emergency room services. They own and operate Kidney Center of Simi Valley – a renal dialysis center – near the hospital.
Dr. Amar Bose, Bose Corporation’s Founder, Chairman and Technical Director, gave majority of the stock of Bose Corporation in the form of non-voting shares to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on April 29, 2011. MIT will receive annual cash dividends on those shares to sustain and advance MIT’s education and research mission. Bose Corporation makes high-end audio products, is a privately held company and has reported annual revenue of about $2 billion. MIT, as per terms of the gift, cannot sell its Bose shares and will not participate in the management or governance of the company.
Prabhakant Sinha, a co-founder of ZS Associates, a sales management consultancy firm based in Chicago, donated $2 million in February 2011, to his alma mater IIT-Kharagpur, giving it a bioenergy centre of excellence that opened recently. Prabhakant, a mechanical engineering student of the class of 1970 at IIT- Kharagpur, donated the sum in order to assist the institution achieve the status of a global giant in technological education. The total sum of $2 million was donated by Sinha in phases.
The primary goal of funding a chair or program at a university is to establish an endowment to create awareness and understanding of some aspect of India’s culture such as arts, music, literature, drama, philosophy, religion, languages, social and political system. The income from the donated funds is used in a variety of ways such as hosting of lectures, seminars, research conferences, publication of books, offering courses to students, encouraging study abroad and similar activities to achieve the objectives outlined by the endowment. In the past few years, the number of India related chairs or programs in the notable universities have increased several folds. Presently, such programs are in existence at Columbia, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas at Austin, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Chicago, Indiana University, State University of New York at Stony Brook and at many more universities.
In 1992, the Indian community made contributions for an India chair at University of California, Berkeley. At the same time, Prof. Thomas Kailath established Sara Kailath Chair in India Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Narpat Bhandari, a co-founder of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) in Santa Clara, California, endowed the Chandra Bhandari Chair in India Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1997. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Talat and Kamil Hasan established the Kamil and Talat Hasan Endowed Chair in Classical Indian Music with their donation at University of California, Santa Clara.
Navin Doshi donated funds to create Doshi Chair of Indian History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and an annual Bridge Builder Award of $10,000 at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. Uka Solanki heads Big Saver Foods empire, with 600 employees and 12 markets scattered throughout Los Angeles County. He established the Yadunandan Center for India Studies at California State University, Long Beach in 2005. Earlier, he had donated substantial amount for Uka Solanki Foundation Lecture – an annual lecture program – at the university. Dr. Mohinder Sambhi, Professor Emeritus at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) donated $2 million in 2007 to John Hopkins University in Washington for setting up the Centre of India Studies in memory of his wife Minno. Dr. Sambhi who was born in Ludhiana, had donated $1 million for a chair in Indian classical music in UCLA in memory of his late wife.
Drs. Amrik Singh Chattha and Jaswinder Kaur Chattha of West Virginia endowed a chair for Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in the memory of their parents. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany established the Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1998 and endowed a Chair of Opto-Electronics at the University of California in 1999. He also has established Satinder Kaur Kapany Gallery of Sikh Art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Trust has established Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
Dr. Awtar Singh established a fully funded annual fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley for a top student from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, India, for graduate studies. He also established a fully endowed fellowship with the University of Colorado at Boulder that pays $5,000 annually to a graduate or an undergraduate student with a parent or grandparent of Indian Origin. Dr. Harish Rawal Neurosurgeon Jackson, Michigan gave $1 million in Feburary, 2008 to Jackson Community College for Rawal Center for Health Professions. Dr. Rawal and his wife Sudha, also donated $50,000 to Jackson High School for a scholarship in memory of his mother who became widow when he was only nine years old. Lajpat Rai Munger of California donated land worth Rs 20 crores to the Punjab University in 2006 for setting up law and nursing institutes.
Darshan Singh Dhaliwal who operates over 1000 gas stations has donated $2.5 million to Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), $1 million for a chair at the University of Wisconsin, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), $200,000 for Modern Language Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, (Parkside, Wisconsin), $100,000 for a soccer park and the list of his beneficiaries runs long. California native Hardit Singh Aurora has gifted an endowed chair in Sikh and Punjabi studies at the History Department of the University of California in Santa Cruz in memory of his son Sarabjit Singh Aurora. Ishar Singh Bindra and family have established the Sardarni Kuljit Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, to promote the academic study of Sikh religion, culture and history. The Bindra family has also established “The Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize” for an individual or organization that promotes harmony and peaceful coexistence. In the same university, Dr. Hakam Singh of Los Angeles, a scientist and a scholar, has established the Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology (Gurmat Sangeet).
Dr. Gurmej Sandhu, chairman of Sigmatech gifted $1 million in September, 2011 to the University of Alabama in Huntsville for Baba Budha Eminent Scholar Chair in Global Understanding, with specialization in Indian studies. The Baba Budha chair is the first part of a dual-chair concept, originating at UAHuntsville. The second part is the Baba Deep Eminent Scholar chair in Global Understanding, with specialization in American Studies, to be established at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, India. Having established the Chair at UAHuntsville, Dr. Sandhu is working with the university in Amritsar, India for the establishment of the other chair.
Watumull family of Hawaii has been engaged in philanthropic activities since the 1940s. G.J. (Gobindram Jhamandas) Watumull established the Watumull Foundation in 1942 to provide technical assistance and promote achievements by Indians in various fields. In the late 1940s, the foundation began giving scholarships to Indian students who attended American universities. During the 1970s, the foundation funded wells for drinking water throughout India. The foundation also sponsored visits of Indian scholars to American universities, provided funds to universities and public libraries in the United States for the purchase of books on India. It contributes to the University of Hawai'i and the Center for South Asian Studies, and the East-West Center.
Since the early 1960s, Jhamandas (J.) Watumull, brother of G.J Watumull, gave scholarship of $300 to Indian students studying in the United States. The J. Watumull Fund supports about 100 students annually and the amount has been raised from $300 to $1000. The Fund also provides financial assistance to two hospitals near Bombay, run by the Brahma Kumaris group. J. Watumull lost his son, Rama Watumull in a plane crash in 1953. The Rama Watumull Endowment Fund, established in the early 1960s, supports Indian students and philanthropic and educational institutions in Hawai'i. It also supports the Rama Watumull Distinguished Indian Scholars Program which was initiated in 1986. Another scholarship program initiated in 1996, provides up to three $5,000 grants to students annually. J. Watumull’s son, Gulab, now administers the J. and Rama Watumull Funds.
There are many more Indian Americans who continue to give their charitable donations for poverty alleviation, healthcare, educational and other projects undertaken by non-profit organizations. According to Navneet Chugh, India “centric” charities raised $30 million in the US in 2006. Many Indian Americans are apprehensive about supporting Indian nonprofits for lack of accountability. Several people, instead of giving to an organized body, have directly donated for renovation of temples, upgrading of school buildings and construction of sports arenas in their villages and home towns. They believe that their such acts of philanthropy keep them connected with their community in their country of origin.
Numerous people put their faith in non-profit organizations or individuals and unquestioningly donate their share to find out, a few years later, that the donations were usurped for personal use. In spite of unethical behavior of some people, several Indian Americans have urge to give back to the country of their origin and can be motivated to contribute more towards the development of their villages, schools, roads and similar targeted projects if their donations are used effectively and efficiently. In 2008, Indian government established India Development Foundation (IDF) to link donors with credible organizations in India for projects of donor’s choice. The IDF is planning registration in various countries to obtain tax benefits for donors in the country of their residence.
The Indian American population has been growing steadily; actually doubling every ten years during the last thirty years. Indian American nonprofits have also been increasing in both number and organization size. Some of the leading non-profit organizations which have been regularly organizing charity events to raise funds in the United States include America India Foundation (AIF), Share and Care Foundation and Sewa International USA. Several India based organizations, such as Pratham, Ekal Vidyalaya, Akshaya Patra Foundation, Sankara Eye Foundation, Child Relief, and Asha for Education, have established their units in America and organize events to raise funds from Indian Americans.
America India Foundation, whose honorary chair is former President Bill Clinton, has raised $50 million since its inception in 2001. AIF’s initiatives center around education, livelihood, and public health projects in India – with emphasis on elementary education, women’s empowerment, and HIV/AIDS, respectively. AIF has implemented programs through over 115 Indian non-governmental organizations since its inception. AIF’s Digital Equalizer (DE) program takes digital expertise to thousands of students in under-resourced schools across India. Targeting children in grades 6 and above, AIF supports a DE school for 3 years where children learn to work with computers and use them as tools of empowerment. To date, DE has covered 24,000 teachers and 750,000 children in 2077 schools across India. In 2009, AIF renamed its Service Corps Fellowship as the William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India, in honor of former President Bill Clinton. The Fellowship sends 25 young American professionals each year to serve with Indian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for ten months.
The mission statement of Share & Care Foundation is to enhance the quality of lives of underprivileged women and children by supporting programs in the fields of Primary Healthcare and Education. The Foundation started in 1982 in New Jersey, raises funds in the US for a variety of projects in India. Sewa International, started in UK in 1991 and has its presence in 15 countries. Sewa International (USA) was started in 2003 and manages projects in India and the USA. SewaUSA is part of a global movement but is independent organization. Sewa International (India) is an umbrella for 45,000 projects and programs all over India, 80 types of activities and has more than 150,000 volunteers involved in running these programs and projects.
Pratham is the largest nongovernmental organization working to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of India. Pratham was established in 1994 to provide education to the children in the slums of Mumbai city. Since then, the organization has grown both in scope and geographical coverage. Pratham focuses on education, primarily in urban slums. The organization’s “Read India” program aims to reach 60 million children in India to read, write and do basic math by the end of 2009. In 2008-09, Pratham's programs reached 33 million children across 19 states. Pratham USA raised over $10 million through their many chapters in the US to support Pratham programs in India.
Ekal Vidyalaya or the One Teacher Schools have been functioning for many years in remote areas where the tribal and other deprived section live. The Ekal movement is the largest, grassroots, non-government education movement in India, operating in over 34,343 villages and educating over 962,485 children in rural India. The Ekal Movement is also involved in providing health care education, development education to make this section of the society self sufficient and empowerment education to let this deprived society know of their rights. Ekal chapters in the US have been providing financial support to the Ekal Movement by organizing fund-raising events in various cities.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation started mid-day meal program in Bangalore in June 2000 by feeding 1500 children in 5 schools. The foundation now has partnership of the Government of India, various State governments and thousands of supporters and claims their NGO-run midday meal program to be the world’s largest, feeding over 1.2 million children each day in over 6,000 schools through 18 kitchens in seven states in India. The US arm of the Foundation has many chapters and raises substantial amount of money to support the School Meals Program in India.
Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) USA supports Sankara Eye Care Institutions in India which offers 105,000 free eye surgeries annually at its hospitals, eye banks and eye care programs. SEF Raises funds to support free eye care activities in India and the construction of State-of-the-Art Eye Hospitals all across India to bring curable blindness under control. In 2008, SEF raised about $4 million for their eye-care programs in India. Asha for Education is focused on basic education of children in slums and have organized and funded 93 education projects focusing on children from the slums. The organization has over 1500 active volunteers and has collected over $18 million as of 2009. Asha has over seventy chapters globally and forty eight in the US.
There are a number of other similar but smaller outfits which are engaged in doing an equally good work serving the people.
The Indian American community is rapidly growing with many affluent individuals, influential and prominent executives and wealthy businessmen. Several of them have learned from American culture and tradition of giving to non-profits. Some prosperous Indian Americans have given millions to American institutions while many have given to causes in India. But it seems that when it comes to investing in the Indian American community, besides giving for building temples, and other religious institutions, Indian Americans have turned their backs to the needs of the Indian American community in the US. This is particularly true with the first generation of Indian immigrants who year-after-year donate to India centric causes while neglecting causes within the Indian American community. Although Indian American philanthropy will continue even after the first generation Indian immigrants, yet the focus of the next generation Indian Americans, born and raised in the US, may not be India and India-centric causes. They may direct their generosity to local, Indian American and community causes.
Monetary donations are perceived to carry more value than voluntary services although the definition of philanthropy includes contribution of personal time, talents and effort to serve the needs of the community. Volunteering or donating one’s time, talent and services without financial gain, is an integral part of American society. Many organizations depend heavily on volunteers to carry out their services or implement their projects. Whether it is American Red Cross which responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year, Habitat for Humanity which builds affordable housing for low-income families or neighborhood church, they all depend heavily on volunteers to provide the necessary manpower. The volunteers perform all types of services for their organizations such as fundraising, working in community kitchens for preparing, distributing, or serving food, upkeep and maintenance of temples, coaching, or supervising sports teams, providing professional or management assistance, etc. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63.4 million Americans or 26.8 percent of the US population, donated approximately 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service worth $169 billion for the year ended in September 2009.
Religious organizations such as temples and churches are probably the largest group among Indian American nonprofits which depend on volunteers to provide services to preserve and sustain religion and culture. Some temples and religious places have expanded their scope of services to include, besides the traditional worship, teaching of religious philosophy, culture and tradition and thus cannot function without the on-going support of dedicated and committed volunteers. The term Sewa or altruism is used for acts of helping others without any expectation of recognition or reward. Altruism is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and many others. In certain faiths, altruism is a religiously sanctioned practice and is performed with dedication and fervor.
Besides religious organizations, there are civic, cultural and public interest groups which are formed as advocacy groups to enhance the voice of their respective constituencies by holding forums, sponsoring activities, or other appropriate means. They too depend on volunteers and community activists to organize various activities. Many Indian Americans regularly contribute their time, skills and talents to serve their community organizations. Some volunteers provide their services to show gratitude while others serve with passion to make a difference. Volunteering is thus an integral part of Indian American society and it is unimaginable to think of any Indian civic body or religious institution without active volunteers.
Soon after coming to the United States in the beginning of the twentieth century, Indians encountered several challenges. Some Indians took initiative to help their community members by their voluntary efforts: mobilized volunteers for Gadar Movement, reached American opinion makers and congressmen for India’s independence prior to 1947 and struggled for US citizenship. For the last over sixty years, community activists have been fighting for issues and concerns of the Indian American community and India.
In the beginning, immigrants from India encountered hardships, hostility, discrimination, humiliation and bigotry. They attributed such treatment to their being nationals of “slave” country. In 1913, they formed Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast – a body of volunteers – under the guidance of Har Dyal, who had held a faculty position at Stanford University, with an objective to liberate India with the force of arms from British colonialism. The all-volunteers Hindustan Association, later on, became known as Gadar Party, after the name of the association publication Gadar. The influence of this body was so powerful that when called upon, over 6000 overseas Indians volunteered to return to India to fight for India’s freedom. The movement did not attain its declared objective but many volunteer members made sacrifices including going to jails, in India as also in the USA, for the cause of freedom, dignity and honor of their motherland, India.
The community activists for many years struggled to get US citizenship rights which granted several privileges. Some US courts had given citizenship to Caucasian immigrants. A few Indians, claiming to be Caucasians, applied for citizenship and were granted that privilege in different states. The Immigration Department challenged the grant of citizenship to Bhagat Singh Thind. The US Supreme Court decided that Thind and other Indians were not eligible for US citizenship. The Immigration Department revoked citizenship of Thind and other Indian nationals who had been granted US citizenship privileges. J. J. Singh, Dr. Anup Singh, Dalip Singh Saund, Syud Hossain, Krishanalal Shridharani, Haridas Muzumdar, Mubarak Ali Khan, Taraknath Das, and a few other community activists relentlessly lobbied for several years with the members of US Congress for citizenship rights. In 1946, Congress passed a bill granting right of citizenship to the nationals of India – a great triumph for the Indian community leadership. These voluntary Indian community activists provided dedicated and committed service for many years to gain civil rights for Indians in the US. The generation of Indians who have come to the United States since 1946, owe a substantial debt of gratitude to these volunteer leaders for obtaining citizenship rights and other privileges which the immigrants enjoy on arrival.
In 1965, the US Congress passed a law to liberalize immigration to the United States. The new law opened a floodgate of immigrants from India and brought thousands of professionals in search of educational and employment opportunities. With the increase in population of Indian immigrants, cultural, religious and regional organizations mushroomed at a rapid speed to serve the needs of the new immigrants. In large cities, regional umbrella groups such as Federation of Indian American Associations (FIA) were formed, predominantly to celebrate India Independence day, India Republic day, and similar other events which volunteers of these associations organize on regular basis.
During the 1980s, there were immigration reform bills proposing drastic reduction in the quota for family reunification. There were three dominant country-wide advocacy groups, namely, National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) and Association of Indians in America(AIA), which promoted the interests and aspirations of the people of Indian origin and opposed any reduction in the family reunification quota. After a long struggle, the US Congress yielded and kept the family reunification numbers intact in the new bill which was enacted into law. A few more advocacy, professional and civic organizations have also been formed by the new generation of volunteers at local, regional and national level. Besides NFIA, IAFPE and AIA, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Indian American Friendship Council, the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) and some others have been actively engaged with the issues of the community. These voluntary organizations have waged impressive and vigorous campaigns when issues concerning Indian community and India have come up. A major accomplishment by these advocacy groups was the US-India nuclear treaty that was achieved despite opposition from several US Congressmen.
Several committed and dedicated community activists such as Thomas Abraham, Inder Singh, Joy Cherian, Swadesh Chatterjee, Piyush Agrawal, Ramesh Kapur, Krishna Srinivasa, Sanjay Puri and Rajen Anand have been working persistently, either independently or through one or more national organizations for the betterment of the Indian American community. Some of them have repeatedly and consistently demonstrated extra-ordinary leadership in fighting for the issues and concerns of the Indian community and India. In the process, they carved out new paths and trails for the community, converted stumbling blocks into stepping stones and have made positive contributions for the wellbeing of the Indian American society.
In essence, philanthropy is about making a difference by voluntary contributing time, energy and money (tan, man, dhan) to causes which benefit the society.
There are over 3 million Americans of Indian origin including those who are twice migrants and their number keeps growing rapidly. The pioneering generation of Indian immigrants suffered prejudice, bigotry and humiliation when India was herself a slave nation and was haven of poverty and disease. India obtained political independence in 1947 but economic emancipation came in the 1990s. Since then, India has been steadily gaining new respect in the comity of nations. Indian Americans have been contributing their due share in India’s emergence as an economic power and have added a special glitter to the resurgence of India.
The Indian community in the United States, considered as an affluent community, has become an integral part of the American landscape. Indian Americans have higher levels of education, large majority of them are professionals, several are well-to-do businessmen, and their average income is among the highest in America. They are also involved in the political process of their new country. In short, they have become contributing constituent of the American mainstream society and contribute significantly to the economic, social and cultural prosperity of the country of their adoption – the United States of America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Copyright © Inder Singh, 2010Inder Singh regularly writes and speaks on Indian Diaspora. He is Chairman of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). He was president of GOPIO from 2004-2009, president of National Federation of Indian American Associations(NFIA) from 1988-92 and chairman from 1992-96. He was founding president of Federation of Indian Associations in Southern California. He can be reached at email@example.com
UC Berkley website – Echoes of Freedom
Revolution in India: Made in America – Emily C. Brown
Bellingham Reveille, September 5, 1907
Scared Hindus in Hurry to Go – Front page news in Bellingham Herald, September 6, 1907
From India to America; Garry Hess, p 31
IndUS Business Journal, April 2009
Indian Express, April 11, 2008
Partly based on report in New York Times, Feb 6, 2008
South Asian Times, Issue 24, October 3-9, 2009
Rediff India Abroad, August 8, 2007
India West, December 3, 2010
India Abroad, September 25, 2009
India Journal, January 14, 2011
Daily News, August 12, 2010, p-A2
India West, May 6, 2011, p-A23
GOPIO News, May 2011
India Journal, Nov 30, 2007
The Indian Express, May 22, 2009, p23
India West Sep 19, 2008, p B2
Other articles on Indian American heritage from the same author:
Bellingham Race Riots – Hindus Expelled from the City
Gadar – Overseas Indians Attempt to Free India from British Serfdom
Bhagat Singh Thind: Legacy of an Indian Pioneer
Struggle of Indians for US Citizenship
Dalip S. Saund, The First Asian in U.S. Congress
Mobilizing the Indian American Community
Philanthropy in Indian American Community
The above articles trace history of challenges in early settlement, struggle to obtain right of citizenship, influx of educated and professional immigrants after liberalization of US Immigration Laws and contributions of Indian Americans to India and the United States.