Life in Canada: Indian names and Identity

A quick lesson of Canadiana from an outsider who has been on the inside of the workings of a country learning its identity at the same time he learned his.

Essays are usually centered around the principle of arguing a point or side of an argument.  However, this essay derived from the perspective of the feelings of an Indo-Canadian Sikh man who has struggled with one aspect of his character: his name.

I was born Karamveer Singh Hundal, otherwise known as Bablu, and currently as Karam.  This transformation of the name has confused, angered and left me without a sense of self throughout my forty two years of existence.  I have never been Canadian enough to fit in with the Canadians, nor Indian enough to fit in with the Indians.  I am caught somewhere in the middle and my name, which is to serve as my ultimate label has provided me with nothing but confusion and derogatory name-calling over the years.

I was born in 1974 in Toronto.  Forget about the hostilities that Indians faced during these initial years of multiculturalism in a new country, as the notions of equality and freedom were relegated to the select few of the white persuasion.  There was systemic racism everywhere and it filtered down to the streets of the country.  Moreover, the Indian community at the time was very small, so I don’t recall having Indian friends until my school age years.  But, back to the name.  One day, as a baby, my beloved massi decided to squeeze my bubbly cheeks (on my face I assume) and label me Bablu.  The name stuck.  Such that my parents started to call me that for the rest of my life.  I do not ever recall them calling me Karamveer except on the first day of school when my father took me by the hand, and said “Bablu, tell people your name is Karamveer.” The irony didn’t escape me then, nor has it since.  He never actually called me Karamveer.  To this day, he still calls me Bablu, or Bobby for short.  Even though it is endearing, I am not sure how I will feel when I am a grandfather and my grandchildren refer to myself as Bablu baba.

My cheeks are no longer bubbly, but instead covered by a scruffy beard and worn by the wrinkles of time.  Yet I am still referred to as Bablu by my family.  Or is it Bubbloo?  How do you even spell such a ridiculous and juvenile name?  I AM FORTY TWO!  How am I still being referred to by a name given to a baby?

Fast-forward to the 1980’s when I first started to attend school.  My teachers had never met a Karamveer in their white lives of John’s and Joe’s.  By then, since I had only heard my name spoken once, thought with the infinite wisdom of a six-year old and the phonetic lessons I had learned thus far, thought my name was pronounced Kare-am-veer.  How was I to know.  I went on like this until 1993.  A decade of humiliating name-calling and taunting from white kids who did not understand that the name means “working son.”  For about two years of this I was called Can-a-beer or Carebear by my so-called friends.  So much for the radical multiculturalism of Canada.  We mustn’t forget that Canada too has a racist past as much as that of any other nation including the neighbours to the south, the United States.  Even though I too was born and raised in this country, I didn’t even feel like a citizen.  It all stemmed from the fact that I was name-less.  I had no identity.  There were few Indians to identify with, and the so-called open-minded Canadians, couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to pronounce a proud and sophisticated name.

1993 – My first year at university. Here I met several Indians who taught me the correct pronunciation of my name. Karamveer.  Here I was born.  I finally felt accepted.  I had peers who not only respected me but cared for my well-being.  The drinking, drugs and sex-capades notwithstanding, they cared.  For a few years I felt like I belonged.  But that was only tranistory as my ultimate acceptance came from the one source I will always feel like I belong to.

1994 – I met a woman. Her name is Sukhvir, but her nickname is Lado. Not quite ladoo, and not quite pado as I jokingly call her.  We fell in love.  Unbeknownst to me, she started to shorten my name to my beloved Karam.  Before long, I started to introduce myself as this.  I even changed my name at work to reflect this newfound identity.  I have found my true friend and a place where I truly belong.  I cannot picture my life without her and our three beautiful daughters.  I have found a home with her in a country that finally takes the time to learn our true names.  It only took thirty years, but the country that boasts of its multiculturalism has finally learned its lesson of acceptance.

– Guest post by Karamveer “Bablu” Hundal from Canada

Medical Education for Non Resident Indians (NRI)

Education in India, especially specialized degree level programs are quite popular among NRIs. In many cases, education in India, especially for specialized programs in Medicine and Engineering is much less expensive as compared to similar programs in western universities.

Parents working abroad who can afford good-quality education find it affordable to send their kids to India. While NRI parents desire quality education for their wards, the demand far exceeds supply. Colleges in India have limited seats for NRIs that are reserved after exhausting requirements from local candidates and those coming from other “reserved” quotas in India.

A lot of students go abroad to study medicine. Those who have studied medicine in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are exempted from the screening test. (Representational image)Googled Image of Test takers

A few weeks ago, we featured the streamlining of the centralized Medical entrance exam “NEET 2017 for NRI, OCI, and foreign national aspirants” There is further clarification on this :

Taking the one nation, one exam to the next level, the Medical Council of India has now decided that there will be a single centralised admission process to all its colleges and for all quotas, including the management and NRI share of seats.

A landmark amendment now promises that respective state governments will conduct centralized counselling and admission to all MBBS and post graduate courses in institutes that were out of their ambit – private universities, deemed universities, minority institutes. In fact, being futuristic in approach, the act also covers institutes that may be set up by companies.

“Merit and nothing else will be the consideration,” says Arun Singhal, joint secretary of the department of health and family welfare. “This amendment covers all kinds of medical institutes and even seats under the management quota and NRI quota must be submitted to the state government for counselling and common admission,” he says.

But as soon as the MCI notification was out, lobbying from the community of deemed universities started. States are locking horns over the interpretation of the notice and governments of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana have stated that according to their understanding, “all admission” as mentioned by the MCI does not include the NRI seats.

Some other states have responded by stating that there is no NRI share in their colleges. Some other like Maharashtra have sought legal opinion from the state government to clarify their reading in the matter.”

(ref: Single window admission process for even NRI quota medical seats – TNN | Updated: Mar 22)


Other articles on the topic

Indian American Congressman urges Sessions to combat hate crimes

Indian American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi has urged US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take immediate action to stop rising hate crimes in the US.

Krishnamoorthi, in a letter, requested Sessions to use his discretion in the Justice Department to thwart the rising incidents of hate and violence in the country, American Bazaar online reported on Thursday.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi
U.S Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (source Official house.gov)

“From grave desecration at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis to a shooting at a bar in Kansas, Americans have been shaken to the core by the recent rise in hate crimes,” Krishnamoorthi said in the letter.

The Indian American community was in a state of shock after a US Navy veteran Adam Purinton shot dead Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injured Alok Madasani in an apparent hate crime on February 22.


More about the issue that is being debated from our prior blogs


Purinton reportedly got into an argument with the two and hurled racial slurs. He yelled “get out of my country” before shooting them.

Several other instances of hate crime were also witnessed in the US. Jewish Community Centres across the country have received bomb threats, and countless Muslims have been harassed and threatened, the Democrat said.

“All Americans must be able to count on the federal government to defend their fundamental rights as citizens of this great republic. If any American is harassed or threatened because of who they are, it harms everyone,” Krishnamoorthi said.

“I respectfully urge you to use the full powers of the Justice Department to investigate and combat this disturbing rise in hate crimes,” he said. “These attacks seek to undermine not just public safety, but the very nature of American exceptionalism.”

He said: “For more than two hundred years, the US has stood as a beacon of freedom from tyranny, oppression, and persecution.”

“A fundamental promise of our nation is that any American — regardless of where you come from, the color of your skin, or how you pray — can trust the federal government to preserve, protect, and defend their rights,” Krishnamoorthi added. (IANS news feed)


About Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. Official website https://krishnamoorthi.house.gov/

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi was elected in November 2016 to represent the 8th District of Illinois, which includes the west and northwest suburbs of Chicago.  Raja’s policy platform focuses on growing and strengthening the middle class by supporting small businesses, rebuilding our infrastructure, and protecting Social Security and Medicare.  Raja knows our economy works best when it works for all of us, and that’s why he’s fighting to make college more affordable, expand access to paid sick and parental leave, and guarantee equal pay for equal work.”

Check out our earlier feature “Desis in U.S Congress! Indian-American Fab Five formally enter US Congress on Tuesday”

NRI commission assists Goan families in repatriation of mortal remains of bread winners

The NRI commission recently assisted in the repatriation of mortal remains of a 68-year-old man from St Estevam who died of a heart attack in Sharjah.

When the company he was working for months before he expired, refused to repatriate his mortal remains, his friend intimated the NRI commissioner who approached the Indian high commission that completed the required formalities and bore the cost of sending his body back home.

When a generator technician Baptista D’Souza from Mapusa, working in Saudi Arabia for 35 years, expired in a traffic accident while out on duty to attend to a customer at Al Kharj, the embassy of India facilitated the transportation of his remains and collected his dues to the tune of Rs 52 lakh from his company, disbursed through the district collector, North Goa, to all his legal heirs.

All that the family has to submit is a legal heirship certificate and a power of attorney issued in favour of the Indian embassy abroad, U D Kamat, OSD to NRI commissioner, says. “The legal heirship certificate is issued by the district collector, which the commission then sends to the ministry of external affairs, New Delhi, to get it apostilled. The power of attorney in favour of the Indian embassy permits the embassy to appoint one of its lawyers on its panel to pursue the compensation case. This would otherwise prove very costly for the family,” says Kamat, adding that a family must approach the NRI commission or embassy within three years of the mishap occurring, beyond which it is difficult to pursue a compensation case.

It is mostly Goans working in the Gulf who approach the commission for help. Those in the USA and UK are better off and many no more hold Indian passports.

When Vito Raicar from Bicholim, working in Kuwait, expired due to natural causes, his remains were transported to Goa for cremation and the question of his outstanding dues to the legal heirs was taken up with the embassy of India in Kuwait following which a cheque amount of Rs 4 lakh was received by the North Goa collector and disbursed to his legal heirs after due verification.


You may also check out Garamchai.com reference Dying abroad: Death, dying and repatriation of mortal remains of NRI


In another case, Joao Fernandes from Salcete, who was working as a housekeeping supervisor at a resort in Saudi Arabia, was killed in a terrorist attack following which the family of the deceased received his salary dues and an amount towards the insurance claim after the embassy pursued the matter.

Read the rest on Times of India

NRI Group Offers Tips On How To Survive In America

After The Killing Of Srinivas Kuchibhotla*, NRI Group Offers Tips On How To Survive In America

The General Secretary of the Virginia-based Telangana American Telugu Association (TATA), Vikram Jangam, offers four “tips” for Indians in America. Some tips for community members and South Asian descent during these challenging times. Please be aware of your surroundings and say something if you see anything suspicious.

  • Do not get into Argument with others at public places
  • If someone is provoking, Avoid confronting and leave the place.
  • Do not communicate in Mother Tongue as it may be misconstructed.
  • Avoid Isolated places
  • Avoid staying single
  • Do not Hesitate to call 911 in emergency.

Some of this is common sense and many of us living in the US may already be aware of these tips.


Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were at a bar in Kansas on Wednesday when Adam W Purinton asked them if they were in the country illegally. After he was thrown out of the bar, Purinton returned and yelled “get out of my country”. He shot dead Kuchibhotla and wounded Madasani.

Does Indian Media feels vindicated after Trump condemns techie’s killing ?

The Indian Media sounded like it was vindicated after news of American President Donald Trump condemning the Indian Techie’s killing.

Press Trust of India, from Washington DC posted an article, which was picked up by much of the Indian media “Trump condemns Indian techie’s killing in address to Congress”

About the incident (link): Last week, two Indians were caught in the crosscurrents of racial tension in America while at  a Kansas bar-cum-grill when one American fired seven bullets at them after yelling “get out of my country”, and another tried to stop the gunman.

After the incident, the media, digirati and American policy watchers waited for an announcement by Mr. Trump. (ref: Step up and speak out: Hillary Clinton to Prez Trump on Indian techie’s killing – HT || Trump’s silence ‘disquieting’: Kansas City Star edit on Indian techie’s killing – MSN)

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke his silence on the fatal Kansas shooting by stating “America stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”  Trump added in his address to the joint session of US Congress:

“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms”

A section of the Indian media sounded vindicated by Trump’s acknowledgement:

However, some in the Media also reviewed this as a “half-hearted” acknowledgement of the hate crime. Indian Express Editorial posted :  Trump’s half-hearted mention of hate crimes in joint address hints unwillingness to take action

“His campaign was filled with inflammatory rhetoric and this administration’s policies seem no different. Hate crimes like the Kansas attacks have followed a wave of racist attacks and this wave continues unabated. White House stayed in denial and refused to link the two. Though he mustered up the courage to speak up against hate crimes and anti-semitism emerging again in the country, he didn’t promise any action against the perpetrators.”

Bottomline: this is not the last word on the topic

Return to India : Articles and blogs on returning NRIs

Indians settled overseas frequently muse about “Returning to India.” Even the Indian media frequently runs articles about NRI returnees and their saga.

Here are a couple of articles are making the rounds among digerati.


You may also be interested in GaramChai.com Return to India Section

Nupur Dave, a Technical Program Manager, Google For Work posts an interesting article on LinkedinPulse, titled “Why I Moved Back To India after 10+ Years in USA”

I am, what they call, a US Return. After more than a decade living in the United States, I moved back to India for good.

When I announced I was moving back to India permanently, some of the responses I was given were
* “Are you SURE?”
*”Let’s see how long you last”.
* “I am happy to see you walk the talk”
*”OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG”
* and the insipid “Ok cool”
But why did i move back? Wasn’t it a normal, successful and happy life in the United States?
Yes, but on paper.
I had a job: I worked for Google, consistently rated #1 company to work for. I had status: active in the Indian Googler network, organizing events for thousands of Indian Googlers.

Another post by Mohan, who also contributes to GaramChai takes a more nuanced view of his experience returning to India in this blog “Return to India Musings: when a home becomes a golden egg”

The first thing that hits one after landing back from a stint abroad is the abundance of people. This mass of humanity is visible right outside the exit gates of the swanky Bangalore international airport and carries through on the ride out on the highway where the airport traffic merges with commuters and is magnified as one approaches Hebbal flyover into the city.

After making annual trips back to my hometown from my adopted homeland in America, I recently took a conscious decision to spend an extended period of time in Bangalore. My family story is not atypical of that of scores of other NRIs – aging parents unable to manage on their own due to flailing health, yearning for their offspring’s to be around. Rather than contributing to the emerging market of “old age” homes in India by coaxing my parents to spend their sunset years in one such institution, I thought spending quality time with them was more valuable. Thus my wife, son and I find ourselves back in the bedroom in a home where I spent college years.

Holy Cow: Two sides of the coin. In this case two sides of the new £5 notes with Tallow

A few months ago, Indians and South Asians in Britain,  especially vegetarian Hindus and Jains,  were irked by news that the new currency note – the £5 polymer note – introduced in England contained tallow. Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet, and is used in candles and soaps.

After the news broke out, Vegetarian Hindus and Vegans in general took offense and took up digital campaigns.  A petition demanding the replacement of the notes with a vegan alternative generated over 130,000 signatures. (change.org). The government and Bank of England began looking into the issue and acknowledged via Twitter that “There is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes” 

Image tweeted by @LabourAnimalRG

So, why is this a big deal for Hindus and Vegetarians?

The National Council of Hindu Temples, summarized the feelings of Desi community in a statement (link):

The oldest of the worlds’ great religious traditions, Hinduism is the only one that worships the Divine equally in both the masculine and feminine. Our agrarian forefathers offered the bull as a symbol of divine righteousness (the male principle), while the cow is a symbol of divine nurturing (the feminine principle). We now, centuries later, still embrace these symbols and hold them close to our hearts to remind us of the path laid out for us by these complementary forces. To handle something from a slaughtered cow would be to insult the Divine Mother, the principle of nurturing and the loving provision of nature. No aware Hindu will willingly or voluntarily do it.

All British Hindus stand at the crossroads of Shreyas and Preyas, and with every donation at a temple, or every aashirwaad given to a new married couple, or every blessing conveyed by a gift of money given to a grandchild, the choice will have to be made again and again. The next time that PM Theresa May, or other Parliamentarians, visit a Hindu temple they too will have to make this choice before contemplating making a symbolic donation, and since great importance is placed upon Indo British Trade in a post Brexit Britain, payments made in a morally, religiously and ethically tainted currency may well acquire a totally different “bhavana” sentiment.

History of Tallow and Hindus

There is a long history of Hindus and Muslims being provoked and angered by the use of animal byproducts, which the modern British leader seem to have forgotten; or wish to ignore. The key reason for “Indian Rebellion of 1857,” a.k.a the mutiny by sepoys (soldiers) of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857 was the use of Tallow and lard-greased cartridges. (link)

The British, probably assumed that the values and mores of Indians, especially those of Indian immigrants in the UK changed considerably in the decades since.

The other side of the Tallow note

The British Government and Bank of England began to downplay the issue and used digerati to communicate the fact that there was less than 0.00007g of Tallow per £5 note. In effect, all the banknotes in circulation combined would have less than 23kgs, half the tallow output of an average cow!  Some also argued that currency notes were an outdated concept in a digital age and this shouldn’t be a big deal.

Now comes the news that the Bank of England has refused to yield to pressure from protest groups about its use of animal-derived products in bank notes, saying that it will not pull any of the existing £5 notes from circulation and will print the £10 notes as planned.

“The Bank was not aware of the presence of animal-derived products when it signed the contract with its supplier for the £5 and £10 banknote polymer,” the Bank said in a statement last week.

“When the Bank discovered the presence of these products, its first step was to alert the public and subsequently has been treating the concerns raised by members of the public with the utmost seriousness,” it added.

What next?

Activists were disappointed by the announcement from theBank of England. “The move has disappointed the sizable but vocal Asian minority in England “The Bank keeping tallow, or beef fat, in the new fiver sends a message to vegans, as well as Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, that our values don’t matter”  summarizes an article in Guardian

Vegan and Hindu groups have promised to keep the issue alive, so this is probably not the last word on the topic.

Other links:

 

NRIs have a hard time adopting a child. Maybe this is why

I was reminded of the excruciating process NRIs and OCIs undergo while reading a recent story “NRI woman, two others plotted to kill adopted boy”

People adopt children for different reasons. Some couples do it because they aren’t able to conceive, while others do it for altruistic reasons. Regardless of the reason, adopting a child can be one of the most selfless acts a couple can do.

Adoption of children from India by Non Resident Indians (NRI) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) can be especially hard. India has a lot of orphanages with destitute children but the legal system for adoption in India can be painfully slow, especially if the parents happen to be NRI or OCI and hold foreign passports, and intend to take the child out of India. Adoption agencies, at least the genuine ones go by the letter of the law. The excruciating wait can test the will of all but the most spirited prospective parents.

The news account of the recent incident in Times of India goes on to describe:

 

 

The murder of a 12-year-old orphan boy, Gopal Ajani, on February 8 was the result of conspiracy hatched by a London-based NRI woman and two others to adopt the child first, insure him for a huge amount and then eliminate him to claim insurance.Investigation by Keshod police revealed names of NRI woman Aarti Dhir (53) and Nitish Mund (27), both natives of Gurdaspur in Punjab, and Kanwaljit Raizada, a resident of Keshod. Nitish and Raizada were studying together in London and were sharing a room there. Aarti was their neighbour and works in a watch showroom. The trio had been hatching this conspiracy since 2015 when they met in London, said Ashok Tilva, police inspector.

“After the adoption formalities of Gopal were completed, they had taken a life insurance of Rs 1.30 crore for the boy. The insurance money was to be shared among the three in proportion to the premium they contributed. They had also paid two premiums of Rs 13 lakh each,” Tilva told TOI.

What makes humans commit such ghastly acts for money is beyond comprehension. Stories like these, when done in the backdrop of noble act of adoption is all the more heart wrenching. It makes one empathize with the bureaucracy put in place to safeguard interests of adoptees.


Other links of interest

NRI’s date with politics: Non Resident Indians participating in politics

An interesting question came up online “How can I participate in Indian politics being an NRI?” The question prompted us to research on this topic further.

Many Indian-Citizen NRIs participate indirectly in Indian politics by the use of social media. Some NRIs actively participate on overseas chapters of political organizations like Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and others.

Some NRIs are also known to travel to their Indian “home-town” to actively participate in elections and to vote.

Image result for oci indian

A times of India article features “NRI’s date with politics”

But what makes Indians living abroad to be a part of political process in India? The people of Indian heritage living across the world have a mix of characteristics: some are foreign citizens, while others are Indian citizens (NRIs). Some have nominal relationship with India, their ancestors having left Indian shores generations back, while others belong to the pool of a mobile population having active stay and ties in India. Majority of NRIs living abroad find new roots in adopted lands, raise families, work and pay taxes and enjoy the facilities and privileges as much as locals do. But there is something that makes them yearn for India! They may continue to live offshore, yet their heart lies in India. In other words, you cannot take India out of their hearts. Aligning with a charitable work is one of the common things NRIs do to give back to India. Increasingly, political participation has also become a tool for many to contribute to their motherland even while sitting afar.

Over the years, the political parties of India have also reached out to the Indians settled abroad. This has culminated in Indian parties having their foreign extensions. Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) is the most obvious case in point. Its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also has overseas presence. The global front rechristened as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS)- has presence in several countries. The HSS provides a platform for cultural nourishment to the Indians (Hindus) far away from their land and also conduct ‘sakhsas’.

The current year marks 25 years of existence of HSS in the USA. Similarly, OFBJP has chapters in more than 15 countries, with most active presence in the USA, the UK and Canada. Behind successful organisation of political rallies for BJP’s Narendra Modi were the combined efforts of the HSS and the OFBJP. The significance of overseas chapters can be gazed from the fact that BJP has in place a full time global convener whose job is to actively work on the overseas chapters. But the most amazing story of an Indian political movement galvanising the Indian diaspora across the world is exemplified by none other than the nascent political party called Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Many Indians Oversea  (OCIs) actively participate in the politics of their host nations, especially after they attain citizenship of their host countries.