A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mumbai and More

I was deeply touched by the emails and phone calls I received about the terror attacks in Mumbai while I was away for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Fortunately, everyone I know is alright, but I was saddened by several things, not the least of which is imagining the emotions of those who are there, like my niece who is in her first year of med school in Mumbai. I relived some terrible moments from my freshman year of college... I was in a region in India that in the 80s was a hotbed of naxalite activity, and a local police chief was murdered in broad daylight by naxalites from the People's War Group. Our college and surrounding area were under curfew and clampdown. We had students on campus who were part of this guerilla group, and I was targeted in the middle of the night to be questioned by the police - because I was friendly with everyone and had conversations with another female student in the dorm who was a naxal leader.

I joined bridge-builders, a network of leaders for the interfaith youth movement, who published some talking points to be used in response to Mumbai which I found helpful.

But I really appreciated this open letter in Outlook India, to Arundhati Roy, by an IPS Office, Abhinav Kumar, in response to Ms. Roy's essay "Terror in Mumbai" - brought to my attention by a fellow SAWnettor (South Asian Women's Network).

Ms. Roy's Essay
Mr. Kumar's Response

The words that struck a chord in me:
The creation of a hated outsider, in the case of Kashmir, the Indian; in the case of Raj Thackeray, the bhaiya of UP and Bihar; and in the case of the jihadists, anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to their virulent strain of Islam, including Muslims, is common to all these ideologies.

U of M Professor Ralph Williams said in an address at Wayne State University conference on the 2006 National Day of Prayer, that we must not view someone as the other. It's when we view someone as on another side, opposed to the side we are on, an outsider, that they then become a hated outsider...

But it's hard to let go of generations of hate and distrust. Maybe that's why I like being an American - as a country of immigrants, we have an opportunity to come with just two suitcases when we arrive at Immigration and Customs. It's a chance to bring our hopes and dreams, and leave our prejudices behind. Read more Entry>>

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pluralism is the Password for Peace

I wrote this piece for NPR's This I believe this past summer, after a significant loss in my life - someone who has been part of the second set of parents that I have been gifted with. She passed away before she had the opportunity to share all the experiences she could have had with her family. I decided that my essay had to be written to share my core beliefs, if I too got taken away from my children earlier than expected. I thought it is fitting that as I begin this blog, my first post speaks from the heart about something that embodies me.

Pluralism is the Password for Peace

Padma Kuppa, Troy, MI

July 2008

I am an interfaith activist. As a founder and board member of various social justice organizations, I organize and participate in activities where spiritual understanding and cooperation are fostered by people of all faiths.

Born in India, I arrived in New York to start kindergarten in 1970, and lived for the next 11 years in the Northeast. My parents’ eclectic approach to ritual and religion was enhanced by close friendships with people of many faiths and ethnicities.

We returned to India in 1981; I was alienated because of my parents’ acclimatization set against my inability to fit in to the culture of pre-globalized and pre-outsourced India. I explored the myriad of Hindu traditions foreign to me because of the undeveloped Indian-American diaspora in the 70s. I found truth in the Hindu philosophy my father expounded upon – a faith where all paths are accepted. Ekam Satya, Viprah Bahuda Vadanti[1]. But I felt stifled and out of place socially, and was constantly seeking something, and decided to go home to America to find myself.

Tempest-tossed[2], I returned to NY as a foreign student in 1988 for graduate school. I studied, worked, got married, got a green card and had kids over the next ten years, and slowly achieved stability – marriage and motherhood were key. On relocating to Michigan in 1999, I began to volunteer at the local Hindu temple. Major surgery eventually led me to quit my job and begin a commitment to even more community service. It bothered me when a teacher wasn’t willing to explain the difference between Indians and Native Americans, or when members of the school community were unhappy with including Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite song at the Holiday Sing-Along – especially since we live in Troy, the city with the highest Asian population in Michigan. In 2005, I was refused a part in the City of Troy’s National Day of Prayer, and realized that a Hindu voice was needed at America’s table and that interfaith interaction is important in dispelling ignorance and fear. My neighborhood, my town, my country, my world – today all seem torn apart by an adherence to the belief that one’s own interpretation of beliefs is the only way.

I believe that pluralism is the password for peace, and that it is the promise of my country and my faith. My neighbor the Methodist creates the interfaith organization’s website, my neighbor the Episcopalian coordinates an interfaith Habitat for Humanity build. I break bread with my friend the Republican Congressman to celebrate the Temple expansion, I am honored by my friend the Democratic County Commissioner with a flag flown over the Capitol. My Muslim sister enlightens me about her hijab, my Jewish brother and I walk a labyrinth together on an interfaith pilgrimage. We are each unique and yet so much more than these labels… I am eager to engage people in dialogue, sometimes getting hurt in the process, and make connections so that we do not identify someone as “the other.” I believe in a truly pluralistic[3] society.

[1] The Truth is One, the Wise call it by many names.

[2] From the poem, “The New Colossus,” describing the Statue of Liberty, by Emma Lazarus.

[3] The belief that no single explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.

Read more Entry>>

Finally, I begin...

My first blog. Don't know where this will take me, but the journey has begun. Read more Entry>>