Divali and election greetings

This morning I sent this message to my family members who live in California and Florida, as well as to my friends.
Dear family and friends,

Happy Divali!  I’m happy to be spending the holiday with my Michigan family this year.  I hope you are all well.
I am writing this especially to those of you who are or might be registered voters in California (or Florida).  I wanted to let you know the personal importance for me of one of the ballot measures, Proposition 8, which eliminates the right to marry for me and thousands of other Californians. (In Florida, it is Amendment 2.)
 In researching my book, Leaving India, I learned about the status of our people in South Africa in the early 1900s, and Mahatma Gandhi‘s movement on behalf of Indian rights.  One of the crystallizing moments of his time in South Africa was when the South African court decided that the marriages of Hindus, Muslims, and other peoples were not “valid” because they were not conducted in the Christian manner.  Overnight, many thousands of Hindu and Muslim marriages were deemed invalid, and thousands of wives were at risk of being deported.  
That court’s decision was based on pure prejudice.  White South Africans thought Indians were barbaric, barely people at all, and certainly not deserving of human rights.  They believed that, because we were different from them and they did not understand us very well, our traditions and feelings and choices did not “count.”  Mahatma Gandhi was a young man, but he others organized the Indians of South Africa to protest in the streets against this injustice.  And eventually, these protests were successful.  The right to be married was restored.  
This was among the beginnings of the satyagraha movement, which eventually helped lead to India’s independence.
If Gandhi and our other ancestors recognized that the right to be married was so fundamental, and that the attempt to take it away is rooted in prejudice, I hope we can also see that today.  
There are many different ways to approach the question of marriage, and everyone has his or her own beliefs about it.  It may be that we don’t understand others’ lives very well.  But I believe that you and I come from a tradition of tolerance, of accepting that each person has his or her own karma, and that even if we don’t understand, we can accept that every one of us is a spark of divine light.  So before we make a decision, perhaps we can put ourselves in another’s shoes:
– Imagine if your spouse was in the hospital and you were not allowed to visit him or her.
– Imagine if your marriage license was suddenly taken away, and your children were suddenly assigned at random to one parent, with the other parent not having any rights to visit them or even pick them up from school.
– Imagine if your family tried to buy a house together, and wasn’t allowed to because you were not considered legally a family.
– Imagine if your spouse passed away and you were denied all pension benefits, life insurance, inheritance, custody, and even the right to decide what kind of funeral and final rites would be conducted to put him or her to rest.
This is what could happen to thousands of Californians who are *already* married, if Proposition 8 passes.  In California, we are blessed to have the right to marry for all. This is guaranteed by the state Constitution.  This ballot initiative is an attempt to manipulate you, the voters, into overturning this fundamental right. From what I can tell, it is not motivated by anything but hatred and fear.  Our desi community strongly values marriage and families.  It takes a lot of hate and fear and misunderstanding to work so hard to take away family rights like the ones I mentioned above from caring, loving, committed couples and families. 
I hope you will join me in voting NO on Proposition 8 in California on November 4.  (Or Amendment 2 in Florida.)  Please feel free to forward this email to others, and to ask me more questions or talk to me about it if you wish.
Sending you love and light, and saal mubarak (happy new year) wishes,

Nine nights for the goddess

Navratri is my favorite holiday.  Here is a bit of what I wrote about it in Leaving India:

It is October and the women are dancing. All around the world we put on our long skirts and tight bodices, wrap ourselves in gauzy shawls, fasten jewels at our throats and bells around our ankles.  We dance barefoot in temples, where we have temples; or community centers, high school gymnasiums, even bare fields. The dance is what remains the same: a sacred circle.

Garbaa, the word for the Gujarati folk dance, comes form a Sanskrit root, grb, for womb. Round and round we twirl to celebrate Navratri, the lunar festival of nine nights of dancing in honor of the goddess… As the garbaa speeds up, the cut mirrors that decorate our skirts scatter the light: swirl of dancers and audience, children, men, old people, teenagers; deities perched on altars, carved or sculpted, garlanded in gold and flowers; a moonless sky full of stars.  If we could track one tiny mirror’s journey, all that it reflects and refracts, we might see the world entire.

At night we dream of circles, spinning, the earth tilting under our feet.

Last night I went to the seventh night of dancing at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple.  I went with my mother and her friend, danced up a sweat, and then took a break to walk around and hand out fliers created by Trikone urging our community to vote No on Proposition 8.
I’ve blogged earlier about my mixed feelings on the marriage issue as the hub of queer activism, but it’s also very clear that the initiative, trying to change the California Constitution in order to eliminate a civil right, is just pure hate and wedge politics.  I was also really moved when I first saw the beautiful posters, which feature my friend Inder, his partner Ken, their children Mira and Kabir, and Inder’s mother, Mrs. Gurkirpal Kaur Dhillon, speaking about the importance of protecting her family.
I started by walking around and placing a few fliers here and there on tables.  Then I went up to small clusters of people and asked if they were registered voters in California.  It was interesting that this question was a bit threatening; there were long pauses in some cases, and one woman even started to explain that she was here on a visa, etc.  I would say about two-thirds of the people I talked to said they were not voters, of whom most were probably not yet citizens.  If they said no, I said thanks and walked away.
If they said yes, I asked if they would like an educational flier about one of the propositions on the ballot.  Then I gave them fliers, thanked them, and moved on.
Overall the response seemed friendly and open. Only one woman looked at it and gave it back to me saying, “Here, you can recycle this.”  But she wasn’t scowling or anything, and smiled at me later as we were back on the dance floor.  I have friends who have done a lot of canvassing and who have a whole developed patter and way of engaging people, but I felt more comfortable letting people read the flier, which really speaks for itself, and maybe take it home and consider it.  I didn’t really want to have conversations or debates.  It also felt respectful of the fact that people were in the middle of conversations, social activities, and a prayerful environment and were kindly letting me interrupt them.
The dancing was great, really wonderful singers and musicians, and not too crowded since it was a weeknight.   I also like the short hymns we sing at the end of the night as a closing prayer.   Handing out the posters felt like a lovely offering to make — a way to share more of myself during the goddess festival.