Nov 27, 2005

Indigenous languages replace Spanish in Oregon fields

Really interesting development in work with immigrant workers on the West Coast. Advocates have been dealing with the heterogeneity of our communities for a long time, unbenownst to our so-called peers in mainstream organizations and the government. We're still trying to get folks to recognize the importance of translating things into Chinese or Hindi, let alone integrating Fukienese and other dialects into their work with Chinese workers, or recognizing the need to have things translated in Punjabi or Tibetan. And these communities aren't small or simply classifiable as outliers. It's fascinating, but so challenging.

Indigenous languages replace Spanish in Oregon fields
November 26, 2005
- By GABRIELA RICO The (Salem) Statesman Journal
SALEM, Ore - Just as the Oregon Employment Department was feeling confident that it offered enough Spanish-speaking farmworker liaisons, everything changed.

In the Willamette Valley fields, a growing number of migrant workers arrive speaking Mixteco, Triqui and Zapoteco - indigenous languages from Oaxaca. [full article]

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Nov 21, 2005

Outsourcing outrage: Indian call-center workers suffer abuse

I have been thinking about this article since I received it a couple of days ago, but will have to wait until tomorrow to post... stay tuned.

Outsourcing outrage
Indian call-center workers suffer abuse
Mike McPhate

San Francisco Chronicle
November 17, 2005

Noida, India -- While irate calls are a mainstay of customer service work in any country, many Indian call-center workers say they regularly face particular abuse from Americans, whose tantrums are sometimes racist and often inspired by anger over outsourcing.

This vitriol has fueled a "searing anger" among the Indian employees, says Vinod Shetty, a Bombay lawyer who has formed a collective for call-center workers. "A lot of trauma is caused."

Debalina Das, 22, a computer help-line agent in the city of Hyderabad in south India, punched the button last winter for a call from the United States. The caller greeted her with a torrent of racial and sexual slurs, accused her of "roaming about naked without food and clothes" and asked, "What do you know about computers?"

The diatribe ended with the comment:"This company is just saving money by outsourcing to Third World countries like yours."

Such telephone tirades are fueled by outrage over outsourcing, which is expected to move 3.4 million U.S. service-sector jobs overseas by 2015, according to the consultancy Forrester. Most of the work comes to India, where young, low-cost employees now handle a range of American tasks -- they draw cartoons, interpret heart scans, adjudicate insurance claims, reserve flights and chase debtors.

Das, who quit the job after four months, said she learned to dislike Americans. "Rarely, there are people who are good," she said by e-mail, "but then others remind me that all they believe in is cursing, and they don't have respect for others." Her opinion is not uncommon among many workers in India's burgeoning call-center industry.

Relations between India and the United States have grown closer in recent years. India now sends more students to American colleges than any other country. Indians form the wealthiest and one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the United States. And in the last decade, American companies have increasingly sought Indian customers and employees.

Not everyone is happy about the growing ties between the two nations. An anti-outsourcing movement has drawn wide support as layoffs continue to mount at such U.S. companies as IBM, which is cutting 13,000 jobs in Europe and the United States and adding 14,000 in India, according to the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. In the first three months of this year, state legislators proposed 112 bills to stanch the exodus of American jobs, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.

Some opponents of outsourcing, often fired workers themselves, have rechanneled their rage at job-slashing CEOs toward India. On the Web forum Is Your Job Going Offshore? ( contributors variously describe India as depraved, as a haven for terrorists, a "giant leech" and a nation of "back-stabbing cowards."

It is this kind of commentary that has shaped a perception among India's customer-care workers that Americans are intolerant. "Everybody thinks like that," said Samik Chowdhury, assistant manager at an IBM office in northern India. "Every time, it's racism only."

This attitude is not typical of most urban Indians, who tend to admire the United States for its strength and entrepreneurial spirit. In a recent 16-country Pew poll, India had the highest percentage of citizens with a favorable opinion of the United States, 71 percent.

The less favorable view, though, is beginning to seep into Indian popular culture. The scripts for a new sitcom called "The Call Center," scheduled to air this winter on the leading channel NDTV, depict Westerners as arrogant, immoral and comically rude.
The show's villain, the Indian manager of a call center, is an India-bashing blowhard, a disposition he picked up at an Ivy League business school in the United States.

One of the episodes recreates a real-life exchange that occurred in January between an American and an Indian agent that has become notorious among the call center crowd here. On the Philadelphia radio show "Star and Buc Wild," host Troi Terrain phoned an Indian call center pretending to order hair beads for his daughter. The call quickly turned vicious.

"Listen to me, you dirty rat eater," Terrain growled, to muffled laughter in the studio. "I'll come out there and choke the -- out of you. You're a filthy rat eater. I'm calling about my American 6-year-old white girl. How dare you outsource my call?"

Indian offices have taken measures to thwart such attacks: Agents typically adopt anglicized names, undergo "accent neutralization" and U.S. cultural training, and sometimes claim to be located in the United States. They are taught to suffer attacks politely and try to calm customers. Failing that, many offices now offer callers the option to be transferred to agents in the United States.

These humiliations, say observers, are tolerated by a labor force that savors the opportunity to join India's growing middle class. With monthly incomes of about $200, call-center employees live well in a country where many are poverty-stricken.

"They feel like it is their duty" to swallow insults, says labor researcher Babu Remesh.

Sumit Bhasin, a 25-year-old call-center worker for HCL BPO Technologies in the northern Indian city of Noida, says American customers tend to have an "egoistic, bossy kind of attitude." When he was young, he said, he used to dream of traveling to the United States, as many Indians do, but after working in call centers for several years, he is not so sure anymore.

However, he loves his job, because he makes $440 a month and gets to learn about high technology like routers, modems and concepts of networking.

But for others, the abuse is taking its toll.

A group of SBC call-center workers, also in Noida, sat recently on the clipped grass in front of the silver-glassed office building where they field Americans' Web connection problems. Callers often dismiss them the moment they detect their Indian accents, they say.

"A whole lot of the time, people are yelling," says Kapil Chawla, 23. "They just want to talk to an American."

Saurabh Jha, a 22-year-old in blue jeans, says a woman phoned from Texas recently and told him that, thanks to outsourcing, "You are getting money, food, shelter. You should be starving."

She berated him for 12 minutes before she finally allowed him to offer advice that promptly fixed her problem: to unplug her computer and plug it back in.

"I was speechless," he says. "She didn't even give me a chance."

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Nov 20, 2005

Detroit 'Sleeper Cell' Prosecutor Faces Probe

This just in... wonder if the government apologists and @$$-kissers out there, brown-nosers to the ultimate degree, selling out the community for their own short-sighted gains, know about this yet, and what they'll think. I hope this goes far, and I hope they get these guys. But then again, isn't this the government prosecuting some of its own? I love the American legal system when it actually works. Stay tuned...

Detroit 'Sleeper Cell' Prosecutor Faces Probe
Grand Jury Considering Indictment for Misconduct
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2005; A03

DETROIT -- Once trumpeted as one of the Justice Department's significant triumphs against terrorism, the case targeting the so-called "Detroit sleeper cell" began less than a week after the attack on the World Trade Center. It was only after a jury convicted two men of supporting terrorism that the flimsiness of the government's case became clear.

As hidden evidence spilled out and the Justice Department abandoned the effort, federal investigators began to wonder whether the true conspiracy in the case was perpetrated by the prosecution.


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pointed spears in circles turned inward
barbed tongues preparing for war-rise
a thousand clouds bursting
each rainbow inverted
the wretched line the floors, many deep
firesedge stretches beyond the horizon
dawn threatens us with a new day

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Why "FOB" is not "KEWL"

The word "FOB" bothers me. It's bothered me for a long time. A term of derision used against folks from the (m)otherland who came to the U.S. later than our parents, or even our friends who are 1.5th generation.

The conventional wisdom goes a little something like this: They may have come here for college, or even a little before that, but they're still relatively young. They don't seem to wear their clothes right, wearing white socks with dress shoes, jeans that are a little too tight, or acid-washed, or high-watered, or rolled up funny. They occasionally have unruly hair, too much make-up, awkward laughs. They stare, they bring their own food to events or on trips, they're unnecessarily loud, they become shy when they should speak, and are too loud when they should be quiet. They rejoice to see other Indians/Chinese/whatever when they do. They recoil when a lazy American accent rolls off your tongue (perhaps intentionally a bit lazier just to make the point, to widen the gap, to underscore the separation, to distinguish ABCD from F-O-B).

I've never been comfortable with the short-hand that native-borns use for non-native borns in the Asian American diaspora, especially in South Asian circles. I started thinking about it, and after going to a party last night, where a group of young desi socialites were laughing it up, I finally realized why. These folks were obviously not native-born, or at least were connected enough to a transnational life to feel more international than some of us - the untraveled, insular Americans. They were dressed well, spoke with a slight tinge of a proper British Indian training, and able to switch back and forth from English to Hindi, a kind of interplay that resonated of Bollywood more than Bombay, though for the foreign traveller like myself, I don't know if I'd know the difference.

They were laughing about uncle jokes, and the exaggerated accents and caricatures came tumbling out of the closet. I was annoyed. And I become increasingly more annoyed, until I finally talked it out that night at home. This was classism. These folks, and perhaps my peers with the privilege of decades of assimilation, were making fun of folks who hadn't "fit in" yet. They were pointing out the differences that embarrassed themselves, that made them feel better about where their lives were, and that again, created distance from themselves and who they did not want to be associated or affiliated with. The privilege oozed off of these folks, many of whom must have come from very well off families, flashing their financial status and entitlement, and I could sense a similar privilege from people who were just Americans.

It saddens me that this attitude, this writing off of a whole bunch of our people, happens on a daily basis. It worries me that any true attempt to build from the fragments and partitions that we've become, that we continue to create, will be ever more difficult in light of these perceptions. It bothers me that this is an old problem that we're dealing with still, and that there's no real relief in sight. And it angers me that if we can't get our shit together in some way in our own young community, amongst our brothers and sisters, how will we challenge our elders and teach those who come after us?

And the privilege leads to an enormous gap in understanding between these folks who are living in the clouds (and for the jet-set, those are literal clouds) and those who are stuck on the ground, dreaming, but daunted.

So don't use "FOB" near me. I may go postal like I almost did last night. It was the accents, but maybe it was also because one of them insulted Gujarati food. You just don't go there.

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Nov 14, 2005

Incidental Fundraising Doesn't Work

Pet peeve #?:

I can't stand so-called cause fundraisers that don't make any sense. For example, in the past couple of weeks, in the interest of donating money to quake victims in Pakistan, a couple of restaurants in NY and other parts of the country have donated 10% or some similar percentage of their receipts for the night to quake relief. I think that's great for the restaurant - first, they look good and are doing something within their means, and second, they get a whole crapload of willing people with guilty consciences who use this excuse to socialize as their "I gave to the cause!"

If you think about the economics of contributions, this is totally the wrong approach - and can be damaging in the long run. A good Indian dinner can cost you upwards of $40 - $50 a head. A couple who may not go out regularly could end up spending $100 on dinner in the name of the "cause." So what?

1) In their minds, they've spent $100. In real dollars, that's a $10 donation. Actually, since I believe in good tipping, you may end up paying more in a tip than what goes to the cause (because the tip is not included in the calculations of total receipts). I don't care if you're using the new math - that's still not very good.

2) Still, they will likely be disinclined to write another check soon afterwards, because they feel like they've just used $100 that they could have saved or bought gifts or whatever else with. So who loses out in this deal?

Frankly, you'd be better off writing a $50 check to a relief organization while saving the $100 for a dinner at a restaurant giving a small percentage of the total bill to the cause.

So the take-home message? Basically, writing checks directly to organizations that are doing this work is a far better way to make an impact. These "percent of receipts" events are incidental to actual relief fundraising, and should be treated as such. If you feel like eating out that day, go to one of the restaurants. But don't do it to say that you gave to the cause.

Of course, this is different from the events where you know that all profits are actually going to go to the cause. Those exist too, and will likely cost you a lot less.

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Nov 11, 2005

and just for contrast's sake... Kudos to the UK Parliament

Yesterday's news from the UK...

"LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered his first major parliamentary defeat, losing a key vote on new anti-terror laws. At least 41 members of his own party joined the opposition in Britain's lower house of parliament to reject the measure."
Proof that politicians in other parts of the world clearly have more balls than those in the United States, and that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is not as prone, at least in this case, to knee-jerk reactions, blind partisan voting patterns, and the complete lack of backbone of the so-called "opposition party" (though that's a questionable term for Democrats nowadays) as the Legislature of the United States.

The Democrats are still not comfortable with standing up and saying that the Patriot Act needed further scrutiny before passing it in the "who's more American" of the post 9/11 environment. Let's not forget that London was rocked by attacks only 4 months ago, and still, more than 40 members of the PM's party didn't go along with this legislation. Clearly a note that people don't have to make decisions of state based on fear or narrow political leanings. Hooray for the Parliament of London. And let's all hope for some degree of reflection from France about the impact of their narror imagining of what is French identity has done to radicalize the youth who don't want to live as second-class citizens anymore.

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Senate votes 49-42 to strip habeas corpus rights of detainees

What is this country coming to? The Supreme Court startled court watchers by ruling 6-3 in 2004 to allow detainees in Guantanamo, the so-called "enemy combatants" to get their day in court as a function of habeas rights afforded via the Constitution. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of my least favorite states in the Union for a whole multitude of reasons, pushed an amendment across the Senate that just passed on a slim margin. What this, in effect, does, is strip persons being held in the United States of one of the fundamental rights that our Constitution gives to all people, regardless of citizenship or other status: the right to procedural due process, as afforded by the 14th amendment. Prof. Neal Katyal, who is preparing arguments for the Hamdan case, and speaking on this topic recently, said that the use of the word "persons" in the particular clause of the 14th Amendment, instead of "citizens," was deliberate by the drafters at the time, and remains a critical link to maintain a fragile balance between the questionable selective enforcement of our own laws in the United States and the world community that continues to move forward in a more developed understanding of human rights and international law.

But even leaving all of that on the side for the moment, the real kicker for me was this:

"Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of four Republicans to vote against the measure, said the Senate was unduly rushing into a major legal shift without enough debate. "I believe the habeas corpus provision needs to be maintained," Mr. Specter said.


In addition to Mr. Specter, Republicans voting against the bill were Senators John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The five Democrats voting for the bill were Senators Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon."

Dude - it's time to cut some of these people loose. First, I hate Joe Lieberman. I've never liked him, I think that he's a disgrace as a Democrat, and he should just switch aisles officially, because his votes are so far right that he makes Specter look like a flaming liberal. Joe Lieberman should be defeated as soon as possible: if it means running a really aggressive campaign to knock him out at the primary stage, so be it. He should not remain at the table - he makes Clinton look like a revolutionary. I think that liberals should mobilize the way that the crazies did to try to knock Specter out of PA with a hard-right guy. They lost, and I'm thankful, considering, but I think that Lieberman should be shipped off as an ambassador to the moon and left on the history books as an also-ran. I hate Lieberman so much that it makes me glad that I didn't vote for Gore in 2000. I think Lieberman was the reason, actually - he's a disgrace to his forebears in the country, who built many of the progressive organizations that remain fighting for true democracy, and the many who fought for true democratic values - not pseudo-morality, war-mongering, or whatever else Joe stands for. Connecticut may still love him, but Connecticut has to wake up. Moneyed state that it is, I'd rather have a moderate Republican than a hyper-Conservative Democrat. VOTE LIEBERMAN OUT!

That goes for the other four. Why isn't the Democratic leadership reeling in these people? Why do Nebraska, North Dakota, and Louisiana get to weigh in this significantly? Yet another reason why we should have more of a proportional democracy than we do, and why people in the midwest have more relative political power than those of us on the Coasts.

But enough of my hating - I don't know enough about the folks on the other side of the aisle, save for Specter, but I think that if you're from one of those states, you should give their office a call to find out why they voted it down... and if it's not because they think it should be harsher (you know - "I won't approve of this amendment unless they pledge to kill all them foreigners!"), but because they, like Specter, believe that a fundamental function of our justice system is being gutted by legislative fanatics and isolationists who can't understand that this ridiculous idea of closing off the system of justice to non-citizens held as "enemy combatants" will haunt our soldiers in the future, as it did during WWII, when American pilots carpetbombing Japan were captured by the Japanese military, claimed that they had rights as per the Geneva convention and even Japanese military commissions, denied those rights as "enemy combatants" and executed. We don't live in a world where these things don't happen, and I can't believe that people can be so shortsighted as not to see the ramifications of these regressive policies to strip away the rights of suspects. For more on that historical tip, check out this great article by Jess Brevin of the Wall Street Journal.

Frankly, I don't have faith that many of these folks who are in captivity are more than tertiary or even secondary sources, if anything at all, but with all the time that's passed, the snippets of information that indicates that conditions are less than humane, and the expectation that something should come from all of the heat that the administration has taken for keeping folks there for so long without access to justice or the means to prove that they are not complicit in this amorphous "war against terror," I think that the heat is on for the Administration to make something appear out of it all. If they don't have anything that they can show for this situation in Guantanamo, they're heading down a very difficult path, and histrionics of Rush "Club Gitmo" Limbaugh and Michelle "can't-sing-enough-songs-for-the-white-man" Malkin notwithstanding, they may start getting desperate to show that they aren't the bad guys in all of this, and that they "have the bad guys locked up."

Maybe I have more faith in the American public than to believe that they will just sit there and not care that their government has perpetrated fraud and lies in their name, and in the name of the country that they seem to value so much. But Americans are so insular. So closed off and clueless about the world. So smug about "America," even in their true ignorance about the nation itself. But perhaps I just mean middle-America, wherever that is. Maybe I just mean white America, whatever that is. Maybe I just mean anyone but me, though as an American, I'm also pretty limited in my scope sometimes. But at least I can admit that, enit? And somewhere in that, perhaps, lies the hope that others can break out of the coma that the nation wrapped itself into after the assassinations of the 60s and move on with the world. The world is growing up... shouldn't we too?

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Nov 7, 2005

Christmas Stamp deemed offensive by "HHR"

Okay, so what the hell is this, you may ask? It's a stamp in the UK, that the organization Hindu Human Rights (what that is, I'm not clear) is protesting. From their press release:

We at Hindu Human Rights would like to express our growing concern at the reaction of the Royal Mail to protests by Hindu groups here in the UK. For those that are not aware of the situation, the Royal Mail has issued Christmas stamps depicting an offensive painting of Hindus worshipping Jesus. So far the Royal Mail has shown a dismissive and apathetic attitude towards the concerns expressed by the Hindu community and it is for this reason that we have chosen to voice our opinion on this matter.

For the rest of this, go here.

Hindu Human Rights seems like a small fringe group from the UK. Check out the choice quote:

"To our knowledge the Royal Mail has not consulted with any mainstream Hindu organisation or group before deciding to use Hindu imagery for their Christmas stamps. It is precisely because of this ignorant behaviour, which we have found to be quite prevalent, that we find ourselves in this situation.

For many this may seem like a trivial and harmless matter but we ask people to look into the wider context of this issue. There is a deep irony in that, because while the Royal Mail is issuing stamps depicting Hindus with tilaks (head markings) worshipping the Jesus, Hindus in Christian-dominated North-eastern India are banned from even walking down the street with those tilaks and face attacks from Christian Extremists if they even dare to openly perform any Hindu worship."

I don't know if they are legit, and of course, there are human rights violations taking place against Hindus, but I tend to be more skeptical about motives sometimes. Maybe I should check that. Regardless, this is an interesting story.

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Nov 6, 2005

France, and other conflicts

The news today is fairly grim. If it's not another crazy freak storm or other natural disaster, it's the tremendous conflict around the world, much of which seems to be focused on the Muslim world. Paris is burning, as are many towns throughout France, and the youth are still on the move. I don't know enough about France, but I do know that the immigrant population has been left to the most squalid corners of the cities and landscape, and the residual unrest in this post-colonial century that has torn the free states of Africa and Asia apart seems to be coming upstream to affect the migrant populations that settled in France and England. Is it unexpected? Is it hard to believe that the unrest and anger is coming from the sectors of the communities that have been least fortunate economically, and most abused by the local and national police? I think it's not a coincidence, and I think that the case can be made about a parallel with the African American community in the United States at the end of the sixties. Hope died somewhere along the way, and despair and anger lead to violence.

A few stories, on either side of heartbreak, though... I just saw this on the wire... a Jewish Defense League activist who was imprisoned recently for plots to bomb a California mosque and the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is a Lebanese American, was killed at a federal prison in Phoenix today. It's interesting to see how there are more militant Zionists out there than people think. I wonder if there was a hit on this guy, though - it was only three days after he got to the prison.

This one is much more heartbreaking though...

Palestinian Donates Organs Of Son, Shot Dead, to Israel
A 12-year-old Palestinian boy shot in the head and chest this week by Israeli soldiers died of his wounds on Saturday, Palestinian officials said. His father said his family had decided to donate the boy's organs to Israeli children who needed them. [full story]
Why does it take this kind of event for us to reflect on the human cost of these conflicts? This one just hurts.

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Nov 5, 2005

Considering Diwali

Digital Rotation:
Black Sabbath: Sabotage
The Roots: The Tipping Point

Finally consolidating all my files from 4 different computers onto the new iBook. It has been working out pretty well, though it's a damn distraction in the middle of class. But whatever - we deal as we can.

Have been watching the Diwali frenzy in the NRI community of the United States reach new heights this year, and have been wondering "why?" For example, a number of people pushed for alternate side of the street parking to be suspended in NYC for Diwali, the closest you can get to having it declared a holiday in old New York. I'm sure there's been a push every year, but why to such a frenzy this year? Maybe the RSS has decided to focus on grassroots entrenchment of Hindu-dom in the NRI community, and build from these smaller victories towards a more unified base for funding their revolution in the future. Hell, fascists around the world have learned from America's policies in the past (see influence of American genocide of Native tribes on Nazi ideology and techniques, as well as treatment of immigrants as the new model for new Europe's rising rightwing), so why not learn how the neo-conservatives took everything over in the past 25 years.

Diwali... a topic I definitely want to return to, because it has such a weird place in the Hindu diaspora's framing of who our community is. It's taken on predominance in posture over the other holidays, but even in the talking points, you hear "it's like our Christmas." Such an interesting choice, actually, as I've heard non-commercial, non-scary Christians complain that Christmas in all its retail revelry is not the holiest of Christian holidays, and I've heard the same about Diwali. It is one of many holidays (holy days). So what gives?

Not to mention the distillation of a master narrative of Diwali that is very problematic for non-Hindus. First, it's not even called "Diwali" in South India - it's Deepavali. Second, it signifies different things for different communities. Jains consider it a holy day, because it has come to represent the day when saint Mahavir reaches moksh (nirvana). While I've seen comments to this effect thrown out in the media, I've also seen the repeated misrepresentation of Jainism as a "sect" of Hinduism. Something that drives me absolutely crazy. The confusion of the people themselves notwithstanding (my cousins still don't seem to understand why this distinction is important), it's still wrong. It's like calling Christianity a "branch" of Judaism.

With proponents of a fully realized Hindu state of India ("Jai Hind!", they proclaim) eager to cobble together a portrait of a super-majority Hindu nation (while gobbling up the true heterogeneity - including more than 300 million tribals and animists), the conflation of different and distinct groups beneath a saffron flag is extremely problematic. And the increased fervor of seemingly educated NRIs in the United States to push a Diwali agenda feels misguided in the light of true civil and human rights concerns (especially as reports from Congress seem to indicate that a lot of important programs that support less affluent members of the American public, including documented immigrants, are on the chopping block).

Freedom of religion means that you can practice whatever you want in your own home without fear of persecution. But as Peter Irons, best-selling author of many interesting volumes on Constitutional law and the Supreme Court, said recently, the Puritans who first came to the US wanted that freedom because they were pretty extreme and were persecuted for being on the edge when they were in Britain.

Freedom of religion doesn't mean that we have to adopt a religious holiday as the sole representation of a cultural identity, especially one that is as polycultural as the many branches of the Indian diaspora. So if I don't immediately respond to "happy diwali!" greetings with the same gusto as the well-wisher, maybe this explains my thinking.

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