Indiaspora Civil Rights Town Hall

June 4, 2020 Virtual

In light of the recent death of George Floyd, acts of police brutality, ensuing protests and civil unrest, Indiaspora held a Civil Rights Town Hall to discuss what this means for race relations in the U.S., how the Indian-American community can show intra-racial solidarity during this time, and how we can become agents to end systemic racism.

We heard from an array of civil rights leaders: Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Reverend Carl McCluster, founder of Faith Community Development Corporation; and DJ Patil, Head of technology at Devoted Health. We also heard from different members of our community, including Deepak Raj, Rajmohan Gandhi, Monika Kalra Varma, Shekar Narasimhan, Sridar Iyengar, Shefali Mehta, and more.

Some actionable items that were discussed include:

  • Better understanding our institutions, and making demands for transparency in our institutions
  • During conversations with friends and family, holding others accountable for their statements
  • Being intentional about the Boards of companies that leaders in our community joins, and only representing those companies who have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and underrepresented minorities
  • Building mentoring partnerships between communities
  • Civil engagement, which includes voting in the general election this November, as well as participating on the state and county levels, as decisions on issues such as pandemic responses and policing strategies are often determined at those levels


Speaker Bios and Recordings:


Vanita Gupta is an experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work. Most recently, from October 15, 2014, to January 20, 2017, she served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and Head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Appointed by President Barack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.

Listen to her remarks from the town hall here.


Reverend Carl McCluster serves in his 24th year as the Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is the Founder of Faith Community Development Corporation, the faith-based Community development Corporation chartered by Shiloh Baptist Church. Pastor McCluster served as the Chairperson of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone in Bridgeport.  He also serves as the Managing Director for F.R.E.E.D.O.M. (Faith Restoration Empowerment & Economic Development Outreach Ministries, Inc.) a National consulting firm initiated while at Shiloh, empowering faith-based Organizations, Community Economic Development Corporations and Communities. Their client portfolio includes consulting for FDIC, HUD and The Federal Home Loan Bank as well as myriad national and regional financial institutions.

Watch his video remarks here.


DJ Patil has held a variety of roles in academia, industry, and government. He is Head of Technology for Devoted Health, a healthcare company to provide more personal healthcare, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. Appointed by President Obama to be the first U.S. Chief Data Scientist, his efforts led to the establishment of nearly 40 Chief Data Officer roles across the Federal government. He also established new health care programs including the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot, new criminal justice reforms including the Data-Driven Justice and Police Data Initiatives that cover more than 94 million Americans.

Watch his video remarks here.


Question and Answer:

Q: What can the Indian community do to collectively make a difference?

A: Supporting education at any level is important. The school-to-prison pipeline is made at the 4th grade education levels. A potential initiative is a joint mentoring partnership with African American communities – there is a powerful journey and message there.

More questions to ask ourselves:

Q: How do we as a community face ourselves?

Q: How do first generation Indian immigrants and those born and raised here bridge the generational and experiential gap?

Q: Every movement has a leader that makes a difference, will there be one for ours?

Q: Is there any opportunity to use technology to make a change in police behavior?

Speaker notes:

Vanita Gupta

  • Right now we have the confluence of two pandemics 
    • Structural inequalities have a strong effect on Black and Latino communities 
  • There is a real problem around accountability – many people are asking, when will there actually be justice?
  • Acts of police violence bring up questions about how the U.S. criminal and legal system operates with racially disproportionate outcomes. 
  • People may stop protesting in the street, but the confluence of these two pandemics and the upcoming election is a turning point in many ways for the nation
    • We’ve been in this cycle before, but now there is a sense that we can’t return to normal
    • People feel that they need to be demanding more of our elected officials
  • It is so important for people to show up for one another and to build solidarity 
  • There are times where we may feel despair and pain, but despair does not save lives
    • The only thing that has led progress in this country is the result of people showing up and doing what they can to support organizations on the front lines and model the type of behavior we need in the world.

Reverend Carl McCluster

  • An act of atrocity against one person is an act against all.
  • Education gap leads to an employment gap which leads to healthcare gap – and now COVID-19. 
  • Consistency of treatment of African-Americans since slavery – systemic towards people of color. 
  • “When you reject nonviolent revolution, you invite violent revolution” – JFK summarized quotation.
  • It’s crucial to start thinking globally and acting locally.
  • We need to be able to accept each other’s cultures and accept our differences.

DJ Patil

  • A particular challenge right now: what healthcare looks like with COVID-19
  • Black people are 2x more likely to die due to COVID-19 than white people.
  • Fears that COVID-19 will be an accelerant that separates society again in a fundamental way – all the social services are about to get decimated 
  • The state budgets and county budgets are gone, and how are we going to fill that gap? 
  • How do we find dialogue? A lot of these ideas are not new
  • Who controls the real response to COVID-19? It’s on the local level
  • Part of the response is showing up – we have to show up
    • We all have to use our voices, and we have to push ourselves to be better for each other
  • We have to look in the mirror and ask if we are advocates for one another. We need to start with that change ourselves, and hold ourselves accountable.

Deepak Raj, Chairman of the India Philanthropy Alliance and Pratham

  • We have strong roots in the U.S. and India, and are no strangers to the opportunities and challenges that come with living in a multicultural society.
  • Encourage people of all ethnicities and faiths to take constructive action. 

Monika Kalra Varma, Executive Director at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

  • We have to understand the institutions around us – we cannot dismantle what we don’t understand.
  • We need to sit in our anger, we can’t move past it.
  • There is a police presence in many schools and facets in our world that we don’t understand. 

Shekar Narasimhan, founder and Chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, a SuperPAC for the Asian American Pacific Islander community

  • What happened to George Floyd happens every day, somewhere in America. 
  • We are all in the same storm, but the Indian American community is not in the same boat as African American and Latino communities. 
  • The prejudice is not explainable by economics, it’s explainable by 400 years of history. 
  • Actions he will personally take:
    • 1. If I see it and I hear it, I’m going to call it out 
    • 2. We have to be intentional. Make demands for transparency and intentional correction – especially on company boards and when considering companies to invest in.

Sridar Iyengar, Founder of 360+, a youth leadership collective

  • We owe a debt to the Black community in this country. 
  • We have to look inward – we have to fight the anti-darkness within each one of us and address the bias.
  • If we can find a way to bridge the young people in all communities, we can make a better future. 

Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi: 

  • Be true to your own consciousness, be ruthlessly frank.

The following are a few articles submitted to us by our Indiaspora Friends:


  • South Asians and Black Lives by Deepa Iyer, racial justice activist and founder of SAALT


  • First person: My caste privilege in India blinded me to the reality of racism in the US by Mauktik Kulkarni, neuroscientist turned filmmaker


  • Dharma demands us to fight for racial justice Suhag Shukla, Executive Director and Co-founder, Hindu American Foundation

Indiaspora Condemns Systemic Racism

Indiaspora is a nonprofit organization of global Indian diaspora leaders from diverse backgrounds and professions that work to build stronger communities with a shared culture of strategic giving and inspiring social change. As part of the Indian diaspora, we have both benefited from the opportunities and faced the challenges that come with living in multiracial societies.

At Indiaspora, we stand strongly and squarely with the African-American community, as we strive together for a more just America. Their struggle is ours too. Indeed, aided by allies from different communities, it needs to be our national purpose.

The Indian-American diaspora is mindful of the fact that had it not been for the civil rights movement and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, many of us wouldn’t be here today. But the letter of the law does not inevitably or automatically translate into the experience of the people. We too are not immune from racial persecution, as demonstrated by well chronicled events that have occured in the distant and recent past.

So we have more work to do. More to do for George Floyd’s 6-year old daughter, Gianna, who said “daddy changed the world!” Let it truly be so, for we cannot, we must not, disappoint her or betray her conviction. She speaks for all our sons and daughters, who must never be defined by the color of their skin.

Therefore we resolve to work together, hand in hand, with the African-American and other minority communities, until we can all be assured of successfully encashing our collective promissory note, set forth in America’s constitutional declaration that we are all created equal, in the bank of justice. Let us end systemic racism.

#GeorgeFloyd #JusticeForBlackLives