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An Indian‐American’s view of Narendra Modi

An Indian‐American’s view of Narendra Modi


Rakhi Israni

San Francisco: I am what is referred to as an ABCD – American Born Confused Desi. I was born in Louisiana and grew up in Houston, Texas.

When my parents moved from India in 1967, there were very few Indians in the United States. In the first ten years, my mother, who is normally a shy person, wouldn’t hesitate to start a conversation or to invite any Indian she met home for dinner. My father used to tell us that when he left India, his plan was to save up enough money and then move us all back to India as soon as possible.

But, as always happens, years go by and life happens.

In Texas, in the 1970s, we were one of only a few Hindu, non‐white families in the neighborhood. It seems our house was frequently visited by Christian missionaries who were always trying hard to convert us. In school, though I was an American by birth, my skin color declared something different. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have an Indian accent or that I understood the
nuances of the American language, or that I knew all the latest songs from the coolest American band, I would always be an Indian in the eyes of my classmates and neighbors.

This cultural gap and the feeling of always being different causes different reactions in different kids. Some feel alone, misunderstood by their friends, embarrassed of their culture and parents. Some rebel, changing their names to more American ones (i.e. Piyush becomes Bobby, Mukesh becomes Mike, Shashi becomes Sam) or the pronunciation to a more American
pronunciation. Or maybe they just denounce their religion or heritage or attempt to distance themselves in other unhealthy ways. Or maybe some combination of the above.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing people at Madison Square Garden, New York, USA, in 2014.

And others just learn to deal with it. The success in their ability to deal with it and the level of confidence with who they are as a person is determined by two factors: 1) how proud their own parents felt about their culture and heritage and 2) the amount of support and love they get from their own community.

I was lucky in both facets. My parents have always been incredibly proud of their Indian and Hindu heritage. They made sure to take us to the mandhir regularly, teach us the lessons conveyed in the Bhagavad Gita, help us learn the bhajans, and so much more. They made sure that we understood what it meant to be a Hindu, what the customs of our Indian culture entailed. But, most importantly, they made sure that the pride we felt in our background and in our heritage would always be an asset in our
lives. They gave us guidelines set by our culture and religion as a means for creating strength in our lives. They taught us healthy pride in ourselves, and it made all the difference.

And this pride was always supported by the community in which I lived. Throughout my childhood, the Indian Hindu community of Houston was always a close‐knit positive group. We celebrated Janmashtami, Ram Navami, and Diwali as a community. There were regular youth conferences for the kids to address lingering issues and to create a sense of family. And every summer, there were a group of adults that would sacrifice their whole summers to coordinate a one‐week youth camp for the kids in the
community. My siblings and I attended the camp for almost 20 years: as campers and then as leaders of the camp ourselves, and now my own kids attend the camp. It has been a great, positive experience for us and for thousands of other kids over the years.

It was an opportunity to learn about the great leaders of India, our religious festivals, and so many other things. It cultivated a sense of pride in who we are, and made it much easier to understand and deal with the differences in cultures around us.

In the 1990s, when I had served as director of the youth camp for a few years, I got a call from a reporter than was writing a story about the youth camp. The premise of his story was that as a Hindu youth camp, the camp’s goal was to teach militancy in our youth, to foster hatred among various communities, and to create an army of kids to hurt those of other faiths.

That was my first experience with scummy reporters that push false narratives as the truth.

This has happened a few times again since then, with individuals trying to convince me and my friends that meeting to talk about the significance of Diwali or the idea of Dharma or brainstorming service projects for the community will somehow lead to riots in the streets of Houston. Till date, there have been no riots.

But the most egregious incident I have ever experienced occurred in September 2018 at the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, Illinois. It happened in one of the main plenary sessions of the conference in front of over 2500 people. The speakers for that session were some of the great religious and cultural leaders of today’s time. For almost two hours, we heard from Swami Swaroopanand from the Chinmaya Mission, Satguru Dalip Singh from the Namdari Panth, Sri Madhupandit Dasa from the Akshaya Patra Foundation, and Dr. Mohan Bhagwat from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, among many others. The message was consistent:
we should be proud of our heritage, focus on the unity of the society, and serve the community in a productive and positive manner. There was never a negative word about any other culture or religion or country.

Nevertheless, once the last speaker had spoken, a group of six or seven young adults with apparently little pride in themselves or in their culture stood up on chairs in the private meeting and began yelling about how the people on the stage and the people in the hall were all fascists. These protesters were not registered for the conference, nor did they have any legal right to be in that hall. They had illegally entered the hall using
fake passes and interrupted a peaceful gathering to lecture the people gathered there that they were fascists.

However, who are the true fascists in this scenario? The ones sitting legally in a peaceful gathering or the ones who unethically entered a hall to
attack and try to silence others who don’t agree with them?

In my high school, the Christian group met every morning before school to pray in the front lawn. The Muslim students met regularly to pray throughout the day. No one ever questioned them or insinuated that they were in some way going to create anarchy. No one protested that their act of praying in public in the front of the school was somehow showing that they were anti‐ Hindus or anti‐Sikhs or anti‐anyone. If I’m proud of my family, it doesn’t mean I hate my neighbors. If I’m proud of my sister, it is silly to assume that I hate my brother. In the same way, my pride in my heritage and culture does not naturally imply that I hate the people of any other culture or religion. I don’t.

In the few months right before the Indian elections in May 2019, prestigious papers like New York Times, the Economist, and a few others ran vicious, incredibly negative campaigns against Narendra Modi and his government using the same logic as the small‐minded people that harassed us in Houston. The idea that just because PM Narendra Modi is openly proud of being a Hindu and an Indian would make him or his government naturally anti‐any religion is even more ridiculous when it comes from such supposedly reputable papers.

The fact that such popular papers can even employ such logic is despicable and sad. The authors of these articles failed to mention that the current government has undertaken dozens of projects to uplift all Indians out of poverty and disease, regardless of religion. Programs like Swachchh Bharat – a program to eliminate open defecation ‐ have helped to save the lives of millions of poor people of all religions across the country. Campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save our daughters, Educate our daughters) have empowered and educated girls and women of all religions. The passing of the Triple Talaq Act by this current government to protect Muslim women is simply one example of the amazing work being done by this current
government to uplift all Indians, regardless of religion.

The current government has instituted programs to provide free cooking gas connections to those living below the poverty line regardless of religion or to help more than 220 million people of all religions achieve financial inclusion by setting up bank accounts.

In five years, this current government has virtually eliminated corruption
at the top level of the government. In 2014, almost 70 years since India achieved its independence, there were still over 18,000 villages across India that had no electricity. By the end of his first five‐year term, the Modi government had electrified 100% of the villages across India. With all the efforts being made to revolutionize the Indian society and uplift the common man, why does it matter what religion the Prime Minister believes in?

We must applaud the amazing work being done by the Modi Government to eradicate poverty, to help the sick, to make the world a better place rather than always looking for ways to tear down the good people doing it. Instead, seemingly prestigious papers or writers use their little bit of power to create bigotry and hatred using unethical methods.

Recently, I was asked this question about what the recent elections of Narendra Modi meant to me as a first generation Indian‐ American. It means everything. What the elders of the Houston community did for me and all the other Indian Hindu youth of Houston growing up, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done for an entire generation of Indians in India and across the world. He has created an environment in which Indian youth in every country in the world can openly be proud of who they are and from where they have come. All the false narratives and scummy reporters will never be able to undo that.


Rakhi Israni is the CEO of a California‐based educational company. She is an attorney by profession and lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She was born and raised in the United States.


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