Saturday, June 23, 2018

Where Is My Mami?

This poem is based on conversations with people during my recent trip to Texas and desk review of what is going on in the US since the Zero Policy was enacted in May 2018 by President Donald Trump. There are little children in detention centers/shelters and they don't know where their parents are or when they are going to meet them. Some parents reported that the officials didn't even notify that they are being separated so they couldn't even say goodbyes to their children or couldn't prepare them for what was coming. Anyways, some children were so small that they wouldn't have understood what is being done to them.... This poem has tried to imagine one such child's feelings who is in one of these shelters and wondering where her mother is... 

Why am I here?
Where is my mami?
No one here picks me up,
For a long time I have been crying!

I am afraid,
Angry, sad and confused,
And I don't even know
That I am being tortured and abused!

The floor is cold,
And so are the adults around me,
When I have a family,
Why only strangers surround me?

They give me food,
but it doesn't taste the same,
I want my mami to feed me,
And play our little game!

I miss resting in my mami's lap,
I miss her touch and her sweet voice,
I miss the way she called me, 'mija'!
Did she leave me here by choice?

I miss playing with her in the grass,
I miss looking at the stars,
Why can't I go pass this door?
Why, why am I behind the bars? 

Does my mami know,
I am lonely here?
Does she know I am desperate for her?
Does she no more care?

I just want my mami,
Just bring her to me,
How difficult is it
To reunite a child with her mami?

I don't know my crime,
Why am I being punished?
I don't know for how long?
Help, before my hope is diminished!

Hey Carlito, do you know,
Where my is mami?
Hey Mr. Sam, do you know,
Where is my mami?

Where is my mami?
Where is my mami....?

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Justice for Asifa means Justice for India

In January this year, an eight year old girl, Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomad community, was kidnapped, raped for several days in a temple and killed by a group of Hindu men in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. Please click here for an account from a journalist who met her parents days after the horrific crime was committed. Investigators believe that the accused men committed this crime to force Asifa's community out of the area they were living in. What makes the situation even worse is that Hindu right-wing groups including government officials protested the arrest of the perpetrators (For more information, please click for an article by BBC here)

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights recognizes rape as a weapon of war (more information, please click here for an article on their website) and this crime fits this definition amidst the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Rape is a heinous crime and no form of or motivation for it is better or worse. Every single time, it is a show of power from one human being to another based on gender, age, religion, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and/or nationality. This story reveals the intersectionality of vulnerabilities Asifa represented, she was a young relatively poor girl who belonged to a minority religion. None of these attributes she could have controlled. She was also a strong girl who supported her parents by taking care of the cattle everyday and dealt with micro-aggressions of one of the perpetrators. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to go back to the forest each day to do what she was asked by her parents. However, no matter how strong an individual is, it is hard to win if the oppressors have the support of the system. 

While India has been a strong example of unity in diversity for hundreds of years, it has also witnessed violence based on gender, religion and caste over and over again. One of the worst incidents of communal riots happened under the Congress government in 1984 after the assassination of then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi (Congress party), by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Her supporters killed about 3,000 innocent Sikhs and there wasn't much done by the law enforcement to stop the dreadful atrocities. Please click here for an article from BBC regarding the tragic consequences of that massacre.

Similarly, misogyny is not new to the country. In 2012, I wrote an article on this blog about another disgraceful assault on a 23 year old woman in my hometown, Delhi and how Indian culture is partially responsible for the disrespect and crimes against women in the country. You can read that article here. Please click here for a couple of other horrendous stories by The Wire. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the problem in India, where girls are worshipped as goddesses! There are legal bodies in place like the National Commission of Women (For more information, please click here) but they are too far away from stopping crime against women especially in small towns and villages. Until a woman's vagina is connected to the honor of the clan and a woman is expected to be a sacred, sacrificing goddess who should simultaneously be ready to serve as a slave, not much will change. A change of mentality needs to take place in addition to the legal reforms for a substantial change to happen. 

What happened in Kathua reminded me of the 2002 riots in Gujarat (If you don't know or need a reminder, please click here for an article by New York Times). Mr. Narendra Modi was ruling Gujarat then and is ruling India now and his party is sharing the power in Jammu and Kashmir currently. In 2002, many women and girls were raped and killed. In total over 1,000 people were killed and 150,000 people (mostly Muslim) were displaced. This was done as a revenge of the killing of 59 Hindus by Muslims. The difference between the actions of the two religious groups was that the attack by Hindus was supported by the government structure. 

Under the current government, crimes  and oppression against minority groups have significantly increased in India. Please click here for an article by Human Rights Watch on how the system is being modified and utilized to commit atrocities against minorities in the 'New India'. Burning of places of worship, lynching, rapes and threats have increased like never before. In 2017, a fifteen year old Muslim boy was stabbed to death on a train as he was returning from Eid shopping (For more information, please click here for a news story from Indian Express). In 2015, a fifty year  Muslim man was killed and his son was brutally injured  because a mob decided to punish them for allegedly eating beef (for more information, please click here for an India Express article). I can go on and on with stories of recent oppression on the minorities.

Clearly, this is not the first time we have felt immense pain because of the oppression on a vulnerable person/group in India. However, Asifa's painful story takes this persecution to another level. This time, a temple is used for days to violate and kill a human being, that too a minor girl.  And when the perpetrators are arrested, politicians, police officers and others come on the road with Indian flag to protest. The Prime Minister of the country takes days before he makes a general statement about the crime. While Asifa's and her family's pain is above and beyond any religion, it is really hard to ignore and minimize the fact that a temple's perceived holiness is allowed to be exploited as a refuge for raping the young child repeatedly and the national flag is used to validate the actions by government officials! This is shameful and unacceptable!

The saving grace is that few Hindu extremists attacking  minority groups do not represent the millions of peaceful Hindus, who, as a matter of fact, are openly condemning this oppression. Majority of the people  protesting on the streets against the injustice are Hindus along with people from different religions. When such people come together, they are first Indians with humanity as their primary religion! I pray they prevail and with them India prevails!  

I pray for peace, consolation and justice for the family of Asifa. I pray their grieving process is not combined with fear. I also hope and pray that other people in their community are not afraid for their own well-being and of their children. I pray that the sanctity of the temple returns and sustains. I pray for victory for the millions of Indians who are fighting for justice in the country. I pray that the pride of the country, the Indian flag, is raised only to glorify mother India! I pray that India becomes a stronger example of unity, spirituality, harmony, and peace!

P.S. As I was about to publish this post, I read the latest update on the case: the villagers refused land for Asifa's burial and she is now buried about 8 km away from the village she last lived in (For more information, please click here for a Hindustan Times article). I pray that Asifa rests in peace, Amen.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Step Forward!

We all have experienced times in our lives when moving forward becomes a challenge. Fears, doubts, blame, shame, anger, sadness and sometimes complacency hold us back. We become stale, and even start stinking like the standing water. Just a little step forward adds life to our lives and we must not stop not matter what! It is important to visualize your dream and go for it! As Lao Tzu said, The Journey of Thousand Miles begins with One Step! 

Every morning, start afresh,
Take a deep breath, step forward!

Even when the day is heavy as rock,
Pull all your strength, step forward!

If there seems to be no path ahead,
Take the leap of faith, step forward!

Before fear consumes all the courage,
Position yourself, step forward!

When no other hand pulls you,
Hold on to hope, step forward!

In the midst of confusion 'n' chaos,
Focus on your own next step forward!

Confidence will follow surely,
With faltering feet, step forward!

The destination may be far way, 
It is closer with every step forward!

They may say you’re not part of them,
Embrace your uniqueness, step forward! 

Shame, guilt, sadness, or anger,
Girl, put on your lipstick, step forward!

Your smile might be wet in tears,
Wear it anyways, step forward!

No matter how tired you might feel,
Tap in the last bit of  energy, step forward!

When nothing seems to work,
Grab more grace from above step forward!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

On the Go!

This post is for those of us who are a bit different from the majority. For those who don't fit in the general societal frames in terms of thinking, life style, choice of life partner, way of bringing up our children, dressing style, etc... For example, those of us when walking on the street holding your spouse's hand notice people looking at you in a weird fashion, in my case because I am a brown woman married to a white man double my age. People also raise eyebrows about me being too liberal with my son. Sorry but not sorry because I don't see my son as a robot who should follow all my instructions, he needs to have space to discover this world and be a person of his own! Yes, I fear, I pray and I share my insights with him but he needs to be his own person.

 In today's world, more and more people are able to break the chains of social expectations and be themselves. And when being free is combined with compassion and gratitude, it is lethal for all kinds of misery! When you are free to be who you want to be, you are happier and thus are better able to share and spread happiness around! There are questions and there is also admiration! Admiration from those who too have dared to be different and also from those who live very structured and 'by the book' lives but in their hearts would love to break free! You know who you are, right? :-) Before you join the world of misfits, please know -

It takes some tears,
A lot of resilience,
A few leaps of faith,
And consistent perseverance. 

To live a life that's different,
Which doesn't fit any frame,
To figure out every morning,
The next steps of the game!

To frequently live,
Outside the norms,
To defy the standards,
And learning new forms!

When there are hardly other 
examples to follow. 
When you look for insights,
You often find them hollow.

When you're wrong,
For many,
And a sheer enigma
For Plenty!

When often your dreams,
Are questioned,
Your desires and aspirations
Are frequently sanctioned!

When you can't
belong nowhere,
And your restless soul,
doesn't settle anywhere!

When you're an Indian American,
But you also adore Pakistan,
When you admire Judaism,
And also revere Islam.

When you're a Christian,
But you see Jesus,
Way beyond Christianity,
Answering prayers of all of us! 

When all colors
Look absolutely beautiful,
You see the distinction 
But also the convergence!

There are times,
When you're tired,
Of being yourself,
And being differently wired! 

And in midst of all,
All shades of love surround you,
Love that questions, let's go
And that bounds you! 

 But again you decide to leave
Everything you know,
To the unknown,
To uncertainties you go! 

You go to explore,
To embrace humanity,
To appreciate the Creator,
In bits and in totality! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dumb People Kill in the Name of God

Most conflicts in todays world happen in the name of religion, when most religions and belief systems talk about peace and love! How does this happen? Can human brain be so dumb not to understand that the Power that created the human race cannot instigate it's suffering. It's like a mother giving birth to children and then having them kill and torture each other to prove their love for her. I believe God that various religions talk about is more intelligent, loving and merciful than an average mother across the different cultures. It is clear people don't really believe in the God they preach about if they are killing using God's name!
We, the religious people, talk about this great God. An entity who is beyond our understanding and yet we try to box God in our religious books, buildings, rituals, borders, languages and even gender! We say God created the world and us, the human race, and yet we try to recreate God according to our own definitions and explanations. We all say there is only one God but still the most knowledgeable among us spend a lot of time explaining how God in Islam is different than God in Judaism! 
C'mon, people, wake up! Pay attention to what you're saying. Please don't demean God and God's love in haste or ignorance. Don't let anyone manipulate our simple minds for their selfish and hateful agendas. They want to fight, let them fight in the name of darkness. They want to oppress, let them do it in the name of lust for power. They want to kill, let them kill in the name of control. Please don't believe they are doing for God because God doesn't need their hate to run His Kingdom. Period.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

To My Fellow Humanitarian Workers

Over fifteen years ago, I joined the humanitarian workforce to be part of the Red Cross response to an unfortunate earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat. After that I had the honor of serving in super cyclone recovery efforts in Odisha, and a school fire response in Kumbhakonam, Tamil Nadu where 94 children were burned to death among other small disaster responses in India. As a young mother at the time, this work had a huge impact on my life. It changed my ambitions, my world view and the direction of my trajectory. I was so inspired by my mentors and those who had left their families to assist people who were suffering as a result of these tragic events. Wiping tears became a much more alluring act than worshipping God or in other words helping others became an act of worship for me.

Early 2005, I was asked to get my passport so that I could be sent to serve those who had survived the South Asian 2004 Tsunami in Maldives and Sri Lanka. Since then I have been able to meet and learn from people in about 30 countries around the world. Some memories are more powerful than others. I would never forget meeting this beautiful woman and her husband, both in their 90s if I remember correctly, in Ukraine in 2015. I met them in Kharkiv, they were displaced as a result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The lady asked me if God had forgotten her, she had already lived through World War II and had experienced her father's and brother's deaths. She recalled how she had seen her brother's body scatter into pieces in an explosive right in front of her eyes. Why, she asked, she had to go through pain one more time, leaving behind everything that she and her husband had built. I had no good answer for her, except to cry with her and reassure that God had not forgotten her. Trying to help others can many times leave you feeling helpless!

During this time I met thousands of humanitarian workers, each one of them was inspiring. I learned so much from them, fell in love with all and got married to one, Joseph Prewitt Diaz! Some can share a similar story like mine but most have a much more powerful account about how they joined and continue in this line of work. The smiles of my colleagues from Haiti continue to amaze as they struggle to make a difference in a place that is probably one of the most complex humanitarian context created by various factors such as internal politics, corruption, natural disasters and the role of the international community. Even though, as a humanitarian worker you feel disappointed on how slow the progress is or how hard it is to bring a change in the thinking of the community members, they taught me to never lose hope in the midst of hopelessness!

However, what inspired me to write this post was not the beauty and learning of from this work but the ugly side of it all. When we, the humanitarian workers, forget the mission and bring our own agendas in the mix, it becomes a bigger tragedy than the tragedy we are responding to! The personalities clash, the blame game begins, and strategizing for control takes over the efforts of healing wounds. We forget even little children sold lemonades to collect this money to give us to serve others. We just cannot afford to break their trust in us and our ability to alleviate suffering. Most recently I have been involved in the three hurricane responses (Harvey, Irma and Maria). The humanitarian in me is gasping because of the politics involved in the efforts! There were times when I had to deprioritize strategy and support for the hurricane survivors to deal with those who were confused between serving others and self service! It is not worth our time! There's nothing more disappointing to see hardworking focused humanitarian workers in the front lines feeling defeated because of the politics and lack of sensitivity of their bosses! People must chose their priority, those who want to do to politics should go into politics, those who want to primarily make money should join for profit work.The day humanitarian work is purely focused on helping others to respond to, recover from and prepare for adverse events, it will become much more cost efficient and effective.

When we come back in the new year, let's come to serve others not our egos! Big thanks to my exemplary colleagues who continue to serve without any personal or political agendas no matter what and showing us that it is possible to serve others selflessly! I urge us, my fellow humanitarian workers, to take a step back this holiday season to introspect and renew the commitment. Of course, we all have different ways of introspecting and mine begins with a conversation with God that I would like to share with you all -
Lord, give me grace,
Please help me,
To truly think of others,
And not make it about me!

Lord, you know,
I want to serve selflessly,
But often I forget,
And make it all about me!

Lord, help me to let go,
To serve freely,
When others stumble,
It's not about me!

Lord, let me look at you,
And rise above the triviality,
Focus on the greater good,
And serve the needy in reality!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

One God of All!

The more you study various religious books, you find more commonality in the various teachings than differences. I actually wrote an article about commonalities between Islamic, Christian and Hindu scriptures that was later published in a US Institute for Peace' book. Yes, there are differences among religions but not so big that they would compel people to kill thousands on the other side! And yet those who want power at any cost have been able to convince their simple followers to fervently hate others in the name of God. I want to emphasize though this post is not only about those who might be associated with Islam but also those who are associated with Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. If God really created all, then why would He ask us to kill each other or torture each other's children that too to please Him? Does He really need humans to defend His honor and existence? Wars and conflicts in the name of God are the most ridiculous examples of human manipulation! 

You are white as snow,
Yet more colorful than a peacock,
Fluid as a river,
And solid like a rock!

You're so much more
Than the Sunday Church,
The morning Azaan,
And any religious splurge!

You are beyond any definition,
And all human understanding,
You cannot be bound in a book,
Doctrine or a building!

They call you merciful,
Yet wage wars in your name!
They say you sacrificed your life,
And ownership on power they claim!

How do you feel,
When your name is exploited
When your love is divided,
Do you feel disappointed?

If you created all of us,
How do you pick favorites?
By our religious brands
Or by faith and good acts?

Don't you think
Dividing your love,
For our greed for power,
Is simply ridiculous?

May you turn,
Our jealousy and hatred,
Into love and tolerance, 
For all as they were created! 

Where Is My Mami?

This poem is based on conversations with people during my recent trip to Texas and desk review of what is going on in the US since the Zer...