Women From ‘South Asians for Biden’ Break Down Ways to get Involved this Election

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The following post is in collaboration with South Asians for Biden (SAB)— a national grassroots organization dedicated to engaging, educating and mobilizing the South Asian community to elect Joe Biden this November. It contains a collection of ways you can get involved in this election written by three South Asian women. 


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Vinuri Ranaweera:

As a Sri Lankan-American growing up in Staten Island, New York, I am part of a large community of Sri Lankan families who immigrated to the United States and made Staten Island their home. Staten Island is home to the largest Sri Lankan population outside of Sri Lanka. Yet, as I entered the local government and worked in political roles, I was regularly one of just a few South Asian faces. Now more than ever, I can see how representation matters, how it empowers people to participate in politics and how it increases civic engagement in communities that can make real change. We can all help determine which individuals are elected to positions of power. We can make sure those elected officials are held accountable and that they lift everyone’s voices.

Having an interest in politics at a young age, I joined the Young Democrats of Richmond County, a local Democratic club, and met people with the same goals of electing individuals who care about the issues that marginalized communities face. With the help of my peers, I was able to educate my neighbors through canvassing and phone banking. I used those skills to work for other progressive candidates running for local elected office in New York, which exposed me to the complexities of building a platform, fundraising, and voter outreach. This summer, I was introduced to South Asians for Biden, “a grassroots organization dedicated to mobilizing the South Asian community to elect Joe Biden,” and will continue to remain active this election cycle, with the focus of reaching out to folks that understand the struggles that impact the South Asian community nationwide. 

As President, former Vice President Joe Biden is committed to elevating voices from the South Asian community and has done so in an unprecedented way by naming U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. “Senator Harris shows young South Asian women like me that they can rise in politics.” Biden’s platform also fights for important issues that our communities care about, like repairing our broken healthcare system, increasing language accessibility, combating systemic racism and supporting small businesses. This agenda is critical during a time of rising disparities within marginalized communities due to COVID-19 and its mismanagement at the national level. Electing Biden is the only way to shift the spiraling tide of incompetent and dangerous leadership. To do so, we must all vote, tell our friends and families to vote and become more politically involved. This can include attending a local Democratic club meeting, volunteering on a political campaign or joining South Asians for Biden. Our voices are critical in continuing a movement that is inclusive and fights for the prosperity of all. 

Read Related: [Op-Ed: Kamala Harris’ South Asian Identity Matters now More Than Ever]

Bianca Shah:

Take a look at our country todayit’s the country that you, your parents, or your grandparents immigrated to chase a dream. But now, you realize that dream seems to be inaccessible for so many, and now you want to help improve the dream and bring about real change. If this sounds familiar, you may be like me.

I am a 20-year-old Indian-American college student from Maryland, who woke up after the 2016 election horrified and frustrated that hatred could win over hope in the country I had been taught was supposed to be for dreamers. I sought out any opportunity to get involved—from phone banking to canvassing—and eventually served as the Student Member of my County Democratic Central Committee. I found issues I was passionate about and helped organize walkouts and rallies and learned what the term “grassroots organizing” really meant. I utilized the networks I built to learn from those who I could see were working for real change in our government. I interned for Congressman Jamie Raskin in his District Office and had the opportunity to intern for the late Congressman Elijah Cummings on Capitol Hill in 2019.  Currently, I am studying public policy at the University of Michigan. 

Throughout my experiences in politics, I rarely saw other South Asians in these roles, let alone in positions of power. I longed for that community of like-minded individuals advocating for change, whether that be through party politics or issue-based organizing. That was when I stumbled upon the grassroots organization, South Asians for Biden (SAB), where I am a part of the National Outreach Team. My involvement with SAB started because I found SAB’s Facebook page, and decided to send a Facebook message to the group to ask how I could become involved with Biden’s campaign at my college. Fast forward five months, and now I am in charge of SAB’s National Youth Outreach efforts that are working to mobilize South Asian youth for Biden. 

If I were to advise young South Asians, and South Asian women in particular,  interested in enacting change, I would tell them not to be afraid to take a stance on issues they care about. Too often, we as South Asian women have our voices overlooked. Regardless of peer or cultural pressure, it is important to pursue your passions and ensure your voice is heard. 

[Read Related: Op-Ed: What Kamala Harris’ Indian Roots Signify as the First Black and Indian-American VP Pick]

Hira Shaikh:

From my perspective, getting involved in politics has always been less about showing up for a particular candidate, and more about showing up for my community. For most of our history, my fellow Pakistanis, Muslims, women of color, and immigrants have been ignored at best and vilified at worst. But in the fight to change that trend, voting, alone, is simply not enough—we need to get involved.  This is especially true during this presidential election.

The start of my involvement during this election cycle was as simple as reaching out to South Asian political leaders in my home state of New Jersey and asking how I could help. Even though I work in politics, any of you reading this could just as easily reach out to South Asian (or any) leaders in your state too. I now have a leadership role in South Asians for Biden, and I’ve since passed the baton to other young women in my community who were eager to get involved in their free time in incredible ways, regardless of their age or political experience.

South Asian communities generally tend to be very connected and we trust each other as messengers more than anyone else. This means our overall impact on campaigns can be tremendous. Just think about how an aunty would react if she were to come across an Urdu WhatsApp video about Vice President Biden’s policies and compare that reaction to her seeing a campaign advertisement on Facebook. Think about how much more likely your parents would be to answer a phone call from an Aisha or an Erum reminding them to vote, rather than a call from a volunteer that struggles to pronounce their names. These are easy ways to engage our community that you can help with, just by getting involved with an organization like South Asians for Biden or by spending even one-hour phone banking. 

It’s no secret that South Asian voters often feel disillusioned or distrustful of a political system that does not always speak to them. We must be more involved in the system, not just as voters, and not only as elected officials but in every step of the process so that campaigns will make a more concerted effort to conduct voter outreach in our communities. Especially in this election cycle, voting alone is important, but our impact will be tenfold if we use our voices too.

Vinuri RanaweeraVinuri Ranaweera is from Staten Island, New York and works at the New York City Council as Councilwoman Debi Rose’s Policy and Budget Aide. She is an active member of the Young Democrats of Richmond County, a local Democratic club, and South Asians for Biden. In 2019, she graduated from Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science.

Bianca ShahBianca Shah was born and raised in Rockville, Maryland and is currently a junior at the University of Michigan, in the Ford School of Public Policy, minoring in the Ross School of Business. Bianca currently serves on the South Asians for Biden National Outreach team, directing youth outreach. Bianca was a Maryland At-Large Delegate for Biden to the DNC, stemming from her activism in local Maryland politics.

Hira Shaikh was born in Karachi, Pakistan and grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey. She graduated from Rutgers University and is an alumnus of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. As an active member of the New Jersey political sphere, she currently works at a public affairs firm where she helps run education, issue and advocacy campaigns. She brings her passion and professional skillset to organizations like South Asians for Biden where she is leading Pakistani and Muslim voter outreach efforts.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@0mq.349.myftpupload.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@browngirlmagazine.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
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By Kiran Kaur Gill

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Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).