Editor’s Note: The following is a real firsthand account of unfortunate events involving someone I know, which happened in summer 2018. I have watched her grow up since she was born, and this story has filled me with anger. Even worse, she was not the only one. But her response deserves attention. She has courageously fought back against the holy priest and the management of the otherwise outwardly beautiful Mangueshi Hindu temple pictured above, visited by no less than former US Defense Secretary Ash Carter himself (!)
The story has received national media attention in India (links below).
It is high time that India sees the rise of its own powerful #MeToo movement and we are beginning to see the saplings grow as victims bravely engage the patriarchal and supposedly religious systems stacked against them. Ultimately, there is an uplifting future embodied below, if others are inspired to act.
A monumental victory was achieved yesterday, all thanks to my family for fighting tirelessly over the last month for my rights, a lot of strangers for their support, the media all over India who shone light on this issue, and the Indian legal system for ensuring that justice was served against a perpetrator who wronged me. I’m not one for sharing intimate life details with everyone on Facebook, but by my sharing this experience, I hope that others can avoid the same situation.
This past June when I was in India, my family and I made a day-trip by flight to Goa to visit our ancestral temple, as we have been doing at least once a year for as long as I can remember. Single women are not allowed in the innermost sanctum, so I have always sat and watched my parents and brother perform the rites inside. On this particular trip as I was sitting outside the sanctum, our family priest in his 50s, Dhananjay Bhave, beckoned me to the side, grabbed me, and attempted to kiss me. I turned my cheek and body away just in time to avoid him. I told my parents what had happened, and they confronted the priest who then admitted it and requested us not to escalate the matter.
Finding this to be completely repulsive and unacceptable, and yet wanting to preserve the reputation of our family temple, I sent a formal complaint to the management committee of the temple charging Bhave for his behavior, demanding he be fired, and pointing to the CCTV security footage from that area of the temple as evidence. THREE WEEKS later the committee responded saying they would not be taking any action and we were free to take up this case with the ‘relevant authorities’. During this time, we found out by chance that another 20-year old girl from Mumbai had filed a complaint against the same priest for a nearly identical incident 8 days prior to my visit, and had received the same noncommittal response from the temple management. The day after we received their response from the management, my mom filed a police report/ FIR on my behalf with the Goa Police, and a few days later the other girl also lodged another FIR.
Around this same time, the formal complaints which the both of us had written to the temple management went viral on WhatsApp to everyone in the community, and news sources picked it up. Overnight every regional news source in Goa and every national paper all over India was carrying the story. 10 days ago the matter went to court for the first time for Bhave’s bail, where his defense argued that me and the other girl must be conspiring together for publicity and to tarnish the reputation of the temple, and we had mistaken his gentlemanly affectionate behavior for something more sinister. Our public prosecutor argued that me and the other girl had never met (and have still never met) and could have no ulterior motives, and Bhave was already a HABITUAL offender and would possibly target many other girls while out on bail. Yesterday, the judge in Goa gave her verdict of DENYING Bhave’s bail. As of now, Bhave is ABSCONDING from arrest and is yet to go to jail where he now legally belongs. I don’t know where this case will go in the years to come, but for now this court ruling is a big victory for everyone who has been fighting for me and the other girl, and for all the girls who have undoubtedly faced similar experiences at his hands in silence, and the many more who would have suffered in the future if not for this ongoing case.
A few points that I want share about this entire experience for other girls who hopefully won’t, but one day may find themselves in a position similar to mine:
1. A lot of people asked why I didn’t yell or even hit him right when it happened. Or why my family didn’t file a police report in Goa the same day. In the moment, I reacted with shock because I have been raised to have utmost respect for the temple and our priests, and not question many practices associated with them. I was genuinely shocked about what was happening given that this is someone I have seen once a year while growing up. I needed time to process the incident, and my family needed time to decide on the best course of action. In hindsight while I could have reacted differently, I also believe that the actions that have taken place in the last month will have a more permanent impact on the running of the temple and putting a stop to such behavior.
2. “Is this honestly really even a big deal? These things happen all time. Why don’t you just forget about it and move on, that’ll be much easier.” This is actually what makes me the saddest, and is something I’ve heard mostly from women. The bottom line is that nobody can touch me ANYWHERE without my permission. Yes, it would have been easier for me to forget about this incident and move on, but the complacency we’ve come to have as women from facing these sorts of incidents regularly from passersby on commutes etc. is truly depressing. As a result, many women have become desensitized to being taken advantage of, and because most of the time no action is taken at all, repeat offenders continue to get away with it. In this case, Bhave’s perverted behavior stops with me, and I hope in due time, that we develop a no-tolerance policy to such behavior.
3. I have been very fortunate with a lot of factors in my favor: the good judgement to recognize that what was happening that day was in every way wrong, the education and support to take steps to stand up for myself, and that my family has taken this forward. I recognize that not everyone who experiences these things has these resources, but I HIGHLY encourage everyone to at least tell someone they trust. Information is power, and it is only because the secretary of the temple confused our two cases and accidentally told us about the other girl’s complaint that we were able to connect with her family and our case became twice as strong with our joint police reports. It was also by reading the Facebook post of another acquaintance a few years ago, that I remembered that perpetrators are discouraged from doing such acts not by harsh punishments, but by the fear of being caught. It is imperative to trust your gut about how a situation is going and call out such behavior.
4. “It’s a pure reformist attitude and these girls have links to America, and are broad-minded. They are not village girls. This is the new generation of girls” — If you can believe it, this was part of Bhave’s defense attorney’s statement AGAINST me in court. I never imagined these words would be used in a negative connotation, because honestly they sound like the biggest compliment anyone could have paid me. However, what he was implying was that we were too educated and too bold for our own good. Little did he expect that these are the very factors that have now determined that his client belongs in jail.
5. This point should not even bear mentioning, but since it has become a point of debate: A lot of people have questioned what I was wearing that day. Just to clarify, whether it was a prom dress or a saree, Hindu priests never, ever touch any part of a woman’s body. As it happens, the priest’s traditional dress is a simple silk cloth around his waist, and I was wearing a traditional salwar kameez and was covered from head to toe as I am when I visit any holy place, but as I said this detail is totally irrelevant to the case. On a similar note, many (including Bhave’s defense) questioned the caste of the other girl and whether she should have been allowed into the temple in the first place. I can’t even bear to get into how it doesn’t change the actions that the managing committee should have taken when they first received our formal complaints.
6. Lastly, although I took the first step of writing a formal complaint to the temple committee, every step taken in this process since then has been by my parents, my dad’s brothers, and the rest of my extended family in India who have been working round-the-clock to ensure justice. I have been back at med school for the last 3 weeks, and if it wasn’t for their indignation on my behalf and unconditional love, I would probably have given up a long time ago. Countless others have been instrumental in working towards this. Also, in every article about this incident, I have been referred to as a “victim” or the “U.S. based medical student”. Part of the reason I am sharing this whole experience is because I refuse to be the anonymous victim to someone else’s wrong doing. Instead, I will claim ownership over this incident, have ensured that the guilty party has been shamed and punished, and then move on with my own life.
Once again, I am writing this to raise awareness that unfortunately incidents like these are commonplace, even when you least expect it and from people you least expect it. Some people have reacted to my story with disbelief because the perpetrator was a holy priest in the most famous temple in Goa. Many people also expressed doubt that this case would go anywhere because of the power and money behind the temple (ironically donated by many families like ours over many decades). Unfortunately evil can lurk anywhere, but regardless of who it is, you ALWAYS have a voice, options and the rights to never let anyone take advantage of you.
photo credit: alchetron
All of my life, I had heard about the concept of depression from other people, but it always appeared to me as a foreign object that I would struggle to understand. People I know over the years would talk about their depressions or nervous breakdowns, or those of their own family members and friends. But I would be on the outside looking in, like watching it snow inside a snow globe but not understanding what it would be like to get 5 feet of snow dumped on top of my head and stay buried under it.
All that would change. November 8, 2016 started out great enough. As a New York City civil servant, I got election day off that day, just like I had every year. I woke up on that nice fall day in Brooklyn and went to vote at a school in my awesome neighborhood called Cobble Hill. There was a beautiful five year old girl waiting in line with her mother, and on my way out she asked her mom if she could get an “I voted today” sticker that she saw on people’s shirts. Just as her mom told her it had to be earned by adults who voted, I gave the little girl my own. I felt great and so did the little girl.
It was a happy moment for me, and the first of many on the day. I hung out for the rest of the day off with my good friends in the hipster enclave of Red Hook, joking, laughing, eating, drinking, walking, talking, flirting with strangers, and trying to soak in the fact that within a few hours, America would finally vote in its first female president in history.
By 11pm that night, I went into a state of physical and mental shock. I exchanged a set of WhatsApp messages with my close relative, who was sitting on a beach in India and drinking beers early in the morning, India time, seeing the same live US election results that I was. Indeed, he had predicted Trump’s victory months earlier, but I refused to entertain even a hint of that thought. “Are you doing okay?” he asked. For the first time in my life, after quick consideration I responded to him with the honesty that a close relative and friend deserved: “No,” I replied.
It sounds cheesy to say this when so many people have worse problems than me, like painful stages of cancer, dead children, blindness, or missing legs. Plus I am by no means alone in falling into a dark abyss late in 2016. But I had to admit to myself that my world had shattered. Many others probably felt as bad or worse, for example those who worked on Hillary’s election campaign and were cheated out of victory.
But I can only speak for myself. I finally learned what depression meant, the hard way, as I mourned the end of America as we knew it. It was like a family member I loved dying. My optimism, which always drove me for 36 years of life was melting away in real time. I went from an optimist to a cynic. And being unused to cynicism, I found out for the first time that it’s a very hard way to live.
I have always had jobs since my 16th birthday, and I always worked hard. But on November 9th, 2016, I could not do a single shred of work properly. I sat and largely stared at my computer screen. My body felt frozen. My mind was numb. I couldn’t focus for more than three minutes at a time. I was surrounded by colleagues who were going through the same thing, and on this particular day, it was considered acceptable and almost predictable to be useless and unproductive. After all, most of us lived and worked together in New York City. We knew the criminal scumbag con man Trump better than anyone else did. It wasn’t us who voted that charlatan and his evil family in, it was the rest of the country’s fault. Not that it made us New Yorkers feel any better.
The next few months were painful as I descended into feeling hopeless and helpless about the world, and wondering what the point of it all was if we were headed toward destroying humanity and our planet anyway at some point soon. Family members and friends were feeling many of the same cynical things and didn’t offer a way out. I burned. I started giving up on trying to be healthy, or caring about current events, or the future. Classic depression type symptoms. And I was smart enough to know it.
But then something happened. By February 2017 we began seeing the flickering glimmer of a path towards takedown and impeachment, which I am now confident is inevitable. I went through a few dark and deep spiritual experiences in this period of time. My optimism gradually and slowly re-emerged, like a glorious Phoenix from the ashes of the very fire that had burned me.
I got serious about writing fiction, something I had been talking and thinking about since I was 12 years old. I entered a fiction contest on a whim and got second place. I became active on Twitter, starting arguments and rants and making jokes, and it all felt therapeutic during a hard time. I started donating to political campaigns, and signing petitions. I regained some of the joy and fun in dating, which had been absent for several years since my divorce, a period when I viewed dating as a chore and a bore. I initiated a serious job search process, which resulted in me moving out of New York City to Wisconsin to take on a new job, career trajectory, and life in an extremely different place. I began playing the tablas again after a 20 year hiatus. I began playing the drum set again after a 20 year hiatus. And between 2017 and early 2018, I finally completed a first draft of my novel manuscript.
If I were to blame Trump for feeling depressed, it would only be fair to assign my nearly pathological quest to improve myself in isolation on an island while the world was falling apart all around me, to his specter too. I was forcibly stuffed into a dark place by a monster. I feel that I have clawed my way out of the hole. Shouldn’t the monster get at least some of the credit too?
I believe so. And I also think that other people, and the national conscience as a collective may be able to do the same, and use the sorrow and hate and rage and depression to their advantage, and our advantage. Donald Trump, his supporters, and all of the evil that they represent can be viewed as a giant stress test– on you, on me, on the country, and on the world. Assuming we survive the stress test, we will be better off. That which does not kill you will make you stronger.
I feel like I am living proof of that. Now, when the idiot tweets something, threatens somebody, lies about something, bombs somewhere, or goes golfing while the world burns, I don’t give a shit like I used to. I ignore it. He is too dumb to be worth my time. SCREW HIM. It’s up to the creaky system now. Let the old white Republican men like Comey, Mueller, Rosenstein, Flake, Corker, and McCain take out their own trash.
I’m going to be over here, working on becoming a constantly new and improving version of myself. Thank you. I mean that sincerely for helping me become a better man. I am using you like the tool that you are.
-Mahanth S. Joishy
Indian-Americans tend to be loyal to the United States. They generally work or study, raise their families, and peacefully go about their business as doctors or cab drivers or hotel owners. Some sign up to be in government (like me) or the military. They tend to be liberal, but they do float across the political spectrum. They win almost every spelling bee.
Rarely will you find an Indian-American shooting up a school, joining a gang, starting a supremacist militia, or getting recruited by ISIS or Al-Qaeda. While these things might occur, they happen at far lower rates than with other diasporas. Most people credit education and family structure for these things, like with other successful communities.
Therefore, when someone from our diaspora commits active treason against the United States, it becomes sort of a big deal because such cases are so few and far between. Dig and scrape through the archives back to 1776, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find what’s right in front of our faces today. I present to you Exhibit A, the deplorable White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, Raj Shah, a traitor not just to Indian-Americans like Bobby Jindal is, but to the United States itself.
Unsurprisingly for a Trump appointee, Raj is reckless. His DWI conviction for a booze-soaked BMW ride in New Mexico got him fired from a political job in 2010. Want to bet that the time he got caught was the only time Raj went a-boozin’ and a-drivin’? Perfect fit in this administration full of boozers, wife-beaters, racists, traitors, misogynists, money launderers, gangsters, and perverts, right?
Now we don’t use the word *traitor* lightly, and not all of those cursed souls in the White House deserve that label. Only the ones outright lying to cover up crimes against the United States, like Shah’s disgusting boss, Sarah Huckaberry Colonel Sanders whom the guy must have learned so much from. He has been fortunate to learn from the very worst. On February 8th, Shah gave her the day off and fumbled through a press conference about the administration’s extremely poor handling of wife-beater Rob Porter’s employment, and worse, personally defended Porter himself repeatedly. Shah embarrassed all Indians around the world that day. On top of it all, he was an overmatched, unprepared blathering idiot on the podium: he was not even good at being a bad human being.
But the treason against the United States has taken place in relation to Russia. Shah is knee deep in the #TrumpRussia scandal, defending his boss’s illegal activities time and again, hyping up the obstructive Devin Nunes memo, casting aspersions on the Steele dossier, and repeating wing nut nonsense about FISA warrants, all of which smells very much like obstruction of justice.
Congratulations, Raj. You are the biggest Indian-American traitor in US history. I hope you go down hard along with your false idols Colonel Huckaberry and Captain Bonespur.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
PS: Nikki Haley today saved herself from joining the Indian-American treason this week by squarely blaming Russia for the chemical terrorism in the UK. Raj, it’s not too late to get on the right side of history.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
It seems that Indian comedians are ascendant these days.
We saw that the first SNL monologue in the Trump Era was performed by Aziz Ansari, who hit a deep home run during a time of great anxiety for many around the world. His fellow Muslim Indian-American comedian, Hasan Minhaj, was on the mic at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which did not include President Trump, who is a poor sport utterly lacking a sense of humor. Trump has no self-awareness and doesn’t want to admit it, but his bumbling around the corners of our federal government is pretty easy to make fun of.
For those of us who didn’t know much about the young and talented Minhaj, this is a good introduction. Minhaj carries the event well, despite some awkward half-hearted applauses. The writing and delivery are spot on in a pressure packed environment featuring top journalists, politicians, and celebrities. In this era of American darkness, we need more brown men to step up and poke fun at our leader- and our crumbling media landscape. They are two cracking pillars of an American society in rapid decline, right before our very eyes.
This video says a lot. Watch it. Whether or not you agree with the line or tone of questioning, it’s quite telling that Sean Spicer opines on whether Indian-Americans are “allowed” in this country in response.
In the words of Sree Chauhan, a US-born education advocate in Washington D.C. who took this video of Spicer at an Apple store:
“I was not polite. But when does being impolite mean that I should be thrown out of the United States of America? The country I was born in, the country I was raised in, the country I love despite its flaws.
I have spent enough time online to encounter rabid Trump supporters. Many of these folks see my brown skin and question my citizenship. They question whether I am here legally. They tell me to leave the country. They have told me to go back to where I came from. To which my snarky reply is often, “Go back where? New York?”
“Such a great country that allows you to be here.”
It’s one thing to have a Twitter egg tell say you do not belong in America, it is quite another to have the Press Secretary of the United States of America do so. I am still astounded. And while I am fearless, I wonder how this administration will use its power to silence ordinary people like me.”
I am a real human. I live in India. I love India and Narendra Modi (NaMo) for his vision for a clean, developed and economically vibrant India. I also love beef, pork, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and rock’n’roll (in no specific order). I also follow US politics because it affects us.
MoNa will now take your questions!!! Today, we have a shy, frightened Indian IT professional working in New Jersey who is wondering whether to stay in the United States or not- the latest installation of MONA KI BAAT.
I work for Infosys in New Jersey and am making a good salary. However, since the 2016 election I have been fearful for my safety and wondering whether it’s worth being in the United States. I am going to train in Silambam and tough it out-but it depends on what happens in 2020 or up till then. Who is your ideal candidate for the 2020 US election – using the power of your 20/20 vision?
– Sleepless in Secaucus
Dear Sleepless (I know your real name is probably Srinivas Somnath Shivashankaran):
It doesn’t matter who leads us anymore other than the fact that she should be a good man. Someone who is humble enough to listen to all the people before making decisions that affect us all and someone who is smart enough to take tough decisions even if it means temporary hardships for some of us.
I like Ashton Kutcher – he’s humble, smart and has a heart. I urge Mr. Kutcher to lead us and I also urge the other constituents of civil society to let Mr. Trump lead for the next 4 years based on the mandate he has received. For people in public life – increase explosive, divisive debates instead of shying away from them. For the media – increase the quantum of news and opinions and not become guarded in the face of fake news. For the rest of us – urge ourselves to read more and listen more and not succumb to catchphrases and generalizations. Once this happens, Social Media and Big Data can help get real time, transparent views of the People’s decisions on all matters – Micro-local, local, regional and global thus making it easier for leadership to steer the ship. Mr. Kutcher is already connected with the tech elite through his various investments and hence should know how to use tech to enhance democracy.
I endorse Ashton Kutcher for President of the USA in 2020 as the leader of all the people anywhere who put Mankind before self, people who believe that We can achieve anything if we think of all of us.
It’s another matter altogether whether Mr. Kutcher is ready for public life. I hope he is.
Have you no shame, sir?
We all heard you say on the campaign trail. “I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India.” We heard you tell us that the United States and India will be “best friends.”
You’re nothing but a so-called big fan, and a so-called best friend. Sad!
I hoped that I was wrong about you when you said those things about our community. Of course, I wasn’t wrong that you just wanted to score cheap political points without the work. I take zero pleasure from that. But it’s not too late. You can still prove your commitment to our community. You can still act like a leader in a time of crisis.
Cut to America, 2017. This land is your land, this land is my land…The Great City on a Hill, where people from around the world aspire to come to, work in, learn in, fall in love in, create a family in, form friendships in, and contribute to the great ideals of humanity’s leading light…
Cut to America, 2017. Two Indians, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani, were shot in cold blood at a bar in Olathe, Kansas by Adam Purinton on February 22nd. A third victim, Ian Grillot, tried to intervene and was also shot in the process. Grillot is a real American hero, standing up for the rights of his fellow men in an act of bravery worthy of America’s highest civilian or military honor. Kuchibotla is dead. Madasani and Grillot are recovering from gunshot wounds. Purinton is a racist murderer who deserves all of the pain and suffering the criminal justice system has to offer. Oh, and there’s also the ignorance thing: the two initial victims aren’t even Middle Eastern, which is what Purinton thought they were.
THIS IS UNDOUBTEDLY A HATE CRIME DIRECTLY CORRELATED TO THE IRRESPONSIBLE ANTI-IMMIGRANT, ANTI-MUSLIM, ANTI-MIDDLE EAST POLICIES AND RHETORIC COMING FROM DONALD AND HIS STAFF, like so many other incidents in our current epidemic of hate crimes going on around the country. Two Hindus and an American hero are collateral damage in a war of irresponsible rhetoric and broken toys. Our president influenced and emboldened the Navy veteran Purinton to pull the trigger with a thousand lines of bigotry.
The White House response was a whitewash, typical of the cowards in Occupy Oval Office. Minister of Information Sean Spicer bravely crouched into a defensive stance, like he does every other day of this new regime: “Obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but I’m not going to get into, like, to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd. So I’m not going to go any further than that.”
That’s all you have to say? Of all things, absurd is the word that comes to mind?
How dare you!
We could’ve been proven wrong in so many different ways, without even getting an apology. Donald had so many opportunities to earn our respect. Donald could have done a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Modi, promising that he would do everything in his power to make sure justice is done for America’s “best friend.” He could have reached out to a crying mother to express sympathy, sorrow, and an ounce of humanity- or a grieving widow who is (understandably) literally afraid to even be in the United States. He could have invited flesh-and-(literally)-blood American hero Ian Grillo to the White House, or visited him at the hospital. He could have flown to Olathe to soothe a decent midwestern community that feels violated and ashamed by this incident. He could have gone on TV to express outrage at a murder in cold blood on his watch, at a time where he decries the crime and “American carnage” all around us; and yet we hear nothing from Donald but whining about the media and lying about how many holes of golf he plays – or MAKING UP terrorism in Sweden or Bowling Green when there is a real terror attack in front of his face. He could have looked the world in the eye and told us that violence not only against Indians, or Arabs, or Hindus, or Muslims, or immigrants of any type is unacceptable; instead, not a peep or a tweet out of Donald. The silence is deafening.
We all hear Donald now.
If this is how he treats his best friends, I can’t imagine what he would do for the rest of you.
Donald, why don’t you just be honest for once, and tell us point blank that you don’t give a fuck about us? I’m speaking as an AMERICAN here, for ALL AMERICANS.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
P.S.: Former US President Barack Obama’s statement after the Wisconsin Sikh Temple Massacre of 2012, when he ordered American flags to be raised at half-staff. I will never forget what a real friend to Indians looks like.
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin. At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded. My Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation. As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.
The first Saturday Night Live episode of the Trump era aired on 1/21/17, and there couldn’t possibly be a better host for this particular episode than a Muslim-American comedian. Aziz Ansari is both that and also an Indian-American, and he delivered an excellent monologue (above) that all Americans can appreciate.
Not surprisingly, it was Trump-centric, and Aziz nailed it. “Pretty cool to know that he’s probably sitting at home watching a brown guy make fun of him though,” he said at the beginning. Aziz also gave a shout-out to the Women’s March, and described a phenomenon all of us are now witnessing, the kkk (“with a small k”) racism that’s crept up in the last few years, emboldened by Trump’s rise.
Piercing through the laugh, Aziz also voices hope. We applaud Aziz Ansari for a memorable monologue during a historic time.