Über Desi

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Fanatics and Heretics

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Ramachandra Guha performs a colonoscopy of sorts on the close-minded, anti-intellectual, cliche-riddled, demagoguery that passes for the ideology of the Hindu extremist outfit, the RSS. [Telegraph] (via @pragmatic_d on Twitter)

It’s a fascinating read with real-life accounts from former RSS-ers and includes some hilarious points, for instance, what was the RSS’s stand during the Quit India movement?

However, the portion that stood out to me most:

“Hindus have lived in India since time immemorial; Hindus are the nation because all culture, civilization and life is contributed by them alone; non-Hindus are invaders or guests and cannot be treated as equal unless they adopt Hindu traditions, culture etc…; the history of India is the history of the struggle of the Hindus for protection and preservation of their religion and culture against the onslaught of these aliens; the threat continues because the power is in the hands of those who do not believe in this nation as a Hindu Nation; those who talk of national unity as the unity of all those who live in this country are motivated by the selfish desire of cornering minority votes and are therefore traitors; the unity and consolidation of the Hindus is the dire need of the hour because the Hindu people are surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Hindus must develop the capacity for massive retaliation and offence is the best defence; lack of unity is the root cause of all the troubles of the Hindus and the Sangh is born with the divine mission to bring about that unity.”

Replace “Hindus” with “White Christians”, “India” with “USA” and “non-Hindus” with “immigrants”,”Muslims” or “any other minority group” in the above paragraph and you have the template of a conservative talk show host in the US. Fascinating, huh?

The Great TriValley University Scam : How not to come to Amreeka (Update 3)

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My sleepy town has never seen such excitement. Evidently , for the last  so many years The “Tri Valley University ” in Pleasanton  in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area has been operating as little more than a diploma mill. On January 19, ICE agents raided the home of the President of TVU Susan Xiao-Ping S. No ordinary home this. Nestled in the to-die for gated community of Ruby Hill, complete with its own designer golf course, this was a $ 1.8 million home with 5 bedrooms and four and half baths. Purchased evidently through ill gotten gains at $ 300 a credit for a course in the Tri Valley University. 95 % of the estimated 1500+ students at this University are/were Indian. Immigration got a little suspicious when when  more than half of the students reported living in one apartment at 555 El Camino Real in Sunnyvale  ( see : http://pleasanton.patch.com/articles/update-federal-complaint-calls-private-college-in-pleasanton-a-sham).  Desi papers all over this news : ( See TOI : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/US-university-shutdown-India-seeks-report-on-students/articleshow/7372311.cms; The Hindu : http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/andhra-pradesh/article1129655.ece)

First a few facts from the ground as it were. Pleasanton is a quiet suburb with a population of around 68,000. If we had an actual University that house 1,555 students we would have known about it. The very fact that no-one around here has heard of this operation shows how shady the set up is.

The website of the University is such a hack job , riddled with typos and unbelievable claims that its next to impossible to comprehend that anyone could have been fooled into thinking that this was a genuine University.

From the various news reports, its obvious that the students ( a majority if not all) knew that this was a diploma mill. I quote from “The Hindu”:

Investigations by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) found that while students were admitted to various residential and online courses of the university and on paper lived in California, in reality they “illegally” worked in various parts of the country as far as Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas. The ICE has called it as a “sham university”

The students ( all on F1 visas obtained via an I-20 from TVU) were attending 100% of their classes online. Major red flag there as anyone with an iota of common sense knows that on an F1 you are expected to attend a certain number of hours in -class.Many of them were not even physically in California but were working in other states through a rather liberal interpretation of what “CPT ” ( Certified Curricular  Practical Training )  means.

The local newspaper ( pleasantonpatch.com) has a couple of articles on this whole mess. The comments section under those articles have exploded with mostly TVU students whining about being deported.  They are calling on everyone from ICE to the US government to save them. Surprisingly , not a single student has approached the Government of India

Read more: US university shutdown: India seeks report on students – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/US-university-shutdown-India-seeks-report-on-students/articleshow/7372311.cms#ixzz1CHSRIccZ

These are the facts.
Now for opinion and assumptions:
A majority of the students are from Andhra Pradesh.  It is alleged that TVU had a “referral “system. Which means students referring other students to TVU got a “referral fee” or “cut of the proceeds”. My conclusion is that that’s how the net spread far and wide.  One of the TVU students has been arrested by ICE.
See this : http://www.rediff.com/news/report/indian-student-arrested-in-us-sham-varsity-scam/20110125.htm
The forums are overflowing with fulminations from all sides. The students are pleading for help. They now face deportation or worse. They are getting all kinds of advice – some genuine , most spurious.  Others are cursing them out and asking them to take responsibility. Of course, this is all the ammunition that the anti -immigration lobby needs to start  making slurs against all Indians.
Do I sound unsympathetic? That’s because I am. I have plenty of friends and relatives who all struggled to get here on F1 visas. They did it the right way . They scrimped and saved and took the GRE/GMAT and applied to Universities and got transcripts and recommendation letters and stood in line to meet unsympathetic Visa officers and sweated and waited till they got their F1s. Then they arrived here and struggled with unfamiliar surroundings and reduced circumstances but worked themselves legally through college and then sweated it out again waiting for H1 sponsors. Hell, there were those who lived through the recession and were forced to leave for the des sooner than they expected to because their Visas ran out. But they did it and did it the RIGHT WAY. No shortcuts!
I know this because I also got here the hard way – the legal way. I have had to sacrifice career growth and  peace of mind , waiting for my immigration process to complete. I have had to live hundreds of miles apart from my son because I was on a work visa with a completely unyielding employer, to whom I was more or less indentured due to the immigration process and my conviction that everything needed to be done the right way. I know this.  I know that however hard I work and scrimp and save – I cannot afford to go to college here. I know that however hard I work, I will NEVER own a home in Ruby Hill. So  I have no sympathy for either Susan Su or the students – both  thought they could get away with it.
Is this “closing the door behind me ” once I  get into the room?
I don’t think so : its more of making sure that everyone trying to get in is standing in line and following the rules.
UPDATE: Looks like the students have met with the Indian Concusl. Rediff – which from the beginning has been giving this story a very sympathetic slant towards the students -in a report that refers to the students of TVU as “duped” says, 
“According to the group that came to the Consulate, a large number of students had not violated any visa or immigration rules and were unaware of the fraudulent nature of the school. Their primary concern is to complete their education for which they feel that they should be allowed to seek admission in other schools,” said Ashok Kumar Sinha, Consul (Community Affairs), Indian Consulate San Francisco.  ( link)
Sure.  The students also have a petition up on the TANA ( Telegu Association of North America ) website that reads in part:
We respectfully plead with you not to penalise us or our families and bring shame to our entire family and the village/ towns we come from, by deporting (removing) us from the US and causing us loss of name, reputation, money, resulting in devastation to us and our families and crashing all of our dreams
Too bad that the students who did this knowingly did not think about the “shame”  and ” loss of reputation” before they decided to take a risk with a diploma mill. The Consulate’s official position is that they will extend help to all students who did not deliberately break any immigration laws .
UPDATE 2: Couple of things to note in the last couple of days. The first: that the ICE employed radio tagging ( aka Electronic Monitor bracelets ) to some of the students being invesitagted for Visa fraud . And the Indian Government went ballistic : in diplomatic terms that meant that they described this action as “unacceptable”. Today’s TOI has an article ( link)  where the US Government shoots back :
The United States on Monday rejected New Delhi’s complaints about radio-tagging of some Indian students caught up in a visa and immigration scam and defended the practice saying it is “standard procedure for a variety of investigations, and does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity.”


Secondly, I see that the tone of the reporting on the Great Tri Valley University scam has somewhat changed.Chidanand Rajghatta hada coulmn is yesterday’s TOI that sqaurely put the blame where it belongs: with the students who tried to short cut the entire immigration process ( link)

But eager beavers looking for a short cut to emigrating to the US through a questionable academic route ignored the red flags. After US authorities busted the scam, an estimated 1500 students, some of them gullible victims, some of them scheming immigrant hopefuls, face financial loss, loss of credits, loss of time, loss of face, and in some cases, even face deportation..

I feel vindicated!

UPDATE 3 : This story gets better and better ( or weirder depending on the way you look at it ) . TVU founder Dr.Sue now blames a couple of Indian staffers for the immigration fraud. she alleges that a couple of Indian students teamed up to defraud TVU, issue false visas through a consultancy and denies that she knew anything. Sure!( sarcasm)

Please notice the English used in the defence.

In the email and an attached document running into eight pages, Su claimed the TVU had not charged money from students for visa-related documents. And only 140 students out if its nearly 5,500 students had TVU I-20.

“Please see the attached TVU defend, and spread the truth, to put an end of this ’sham’ investigation!” she said.

Read more: ‘Sham’ US university blames Indian staffer for immigration fraud – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Sham-US-university-blames-Indian-staffer-for-immigration-fraud/articleshow/7404485.cms#ixzz1CiiO7sia

 And for those of you interested, here is a very intriguing discussion thread. I will let you decide for yourself:


All Hail Haley?

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Nikki Haley - Governor elect

Finally, the elections are over. I for one am very thankful that my nightly TV watching is not interrupted by moronic ads in which politicians on both sides try to outdo each other in demonizing their opponents- complete with unflattering photos and rhetoric that comes close to slander.

Nikki Haley made history by becoming the first female Indian-American Governor in the USA. Now we will have two serving  Governors of Indian origin , as she joins Bobby Jindal ( who you can see in the flesh elsewhere on this site !).

This election was historic for desis as we had a record number of desi origin candidates in the fray

At the time of writing neither Raj Goyle of Kansas nor Manan Trivedi in California was going to make it. Raj Goyle ’s opponent had billboards up urging voters to “Vote American” in an obviously bigoted attempt at questioning Goyle’s American-ness based on his ethnicity. If nothing else: this election is good in that it reminds us how far the community has to go before we can truly be considered a viable politically influential group.

We went through this soul-searching the last time round when Bobby Jindal was elected. While I may not agree with any of his positions, it still felt good to know that someone out there was opening doors for Indian Americans. I realized I do not need to endorse a candidate in order to celebrate their success.

So , Governor -elect Haley ( who we have covered earlier here and here ) – Congratulations !

Oh and Will Folks- kindly STFU and crawl back under your rock !

Peepli Live – A few thoughts

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Lal Bahadur.  Source: Peeplilivethefilm.com

This is not intended to be a review.

*spoiler alert* Some points give away the story line of the movie.

Peepli Live is a slap fest. It’s a slap across the face, for today’s politicians, the government, it’s babus, their yojanas, and above all, the MEDIA and us, it’s viewers.

Live television has long crossed the boundaries of absurdity. An year ago, the CM of Andhra Pradesh (YS Rajashekar Reddy) passed away in a chopper crash, and the media created a mass hysteria among people and portrayed several hundred ‘shock deaths’ – death of many average souls, who died of shock when they heard the news. For a major part of the week, including the night of the disappearance of the chopper, the news channels went wild, especially the one owned by the CM’s son (and apparently the heir to the CM post in the next few years), broadcast images of people weeping inconsolably for a CM they most probably never saw in flesh and blood ever in their life. His popularity exaggerated and magnified a million fold, and gaining maximum political mileage out of a personal tragedy.

That is a tiny example of our mis-information age, and Peepli Live makes a satire of it. Farmer deaths is something we hear about everyday, (right after cricket, dynasty politics, Pakistan, world, Chinese made gadgets and 10 tips to improve our sex lives). The characters in the movie are in abject poverty, and their cuss words may make you laugh, or cringe, but they are pretty unfiltered.

In the first few minutes you hear a pair of newsreaders relaying the news about Shilpa Shetty, denying the rumor of an affair with Prince William. You thought that was exaggeration? Over an hour into the movie, a TV presenter is shown examining the poop of a person they are unable to get hold of, for a millionth interview.

Budhia, a simpleton who is talked into giving a statement about committing suicide, as he is about to lose his ancestral piece of land, is now on the run because the media had made a circus out of his life, and his tiny little home in an unknown rural town of Peepli. His half hearted suicide talk has become a national sensation, and everybody in an official position in the country, and the media, have a vested interest in his death.

The stress of this turn of events has given him a diarrhea, but the media won’t allow him to attend his ablutions in peace. If this doesn’t tell you something, then good. The real world media has done its job well. We have been desensitized, the level at which we can be shocked is so high up, that nothing trivial like suicides because of poverty, bother us anymore. We couldn’t do much about it anyway.

While the suspense of Budhia’s life or death is gripping the nation, Mahato is out digging a ditch to make money by selling the soil, and ironically, his weak body gives away and he dies in the very ditch he is digging. Nobody give’s a sh*t because they are busy analyzing Budhia’s sh*t.

The outcome of Budhia’s life doesn’t really matter anymore, there’s a wonderful 3 min scene about what ‘yojanas’ can help him. There’s one for widows, disabled and the destitute. But the only one Budhia qualifies for is either ‘Lal Bahadur’(a hand pump) or the 1 lakh compensation that his wife gets if he dies.
Again, a wonderful satire on how our national leaders have been idolized under different schemes (mostly for political purposes). There’s wonderful characterization of IAS level/Block development officers, who say nothing but, ‘yes sir’ to the minister. The educated secretary of Agriculture, who won’t do anything except wait for a court order, and the high rung politicians, for who, everything is just a political game. To get into power, and remain in power. Absolutely no other objective.

Peepli live is uncomfortably funny, has no songs, has exceptionally talented actors, is produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, and is a very simple and straight story that was born out of frustration with things that are wrong in India today including the media, which has long lost its original purpose of information, and fast moved into the world of entertainment. LIVE entertainment. And Peepli Live is a wonderful window that captures this in less than 2 hrs.

Obama’s 2010 immigration speech


Image from desinole on Flickr

Famous blogger, entrepreneur and technologist @anildash had this interesting factoid to share.

Fact: One of the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence was the king passed laws prohibiting the naturalization of immigrants.

A cursory glance at the text of the Declaration of Independence reveals this oft-forgotten line:

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

Translation: One of the major driving factors for Independence was the anti-immigration stance of the King of England. In the light of July 4th and Obama’s recent speech on immigration, the whole issue of immigration merits another discussion. [WSJ Transcript]

For the sake of brevity, I’m skipping past most of the rhetoric and highlighting points from Obama’s speech that are relevant to this discussion. Obama starts by admitting that the immigration system is fundamentally broken.

Immigration reform is no exception. In recent days, the issue of immigration has become once more a source of fresh contention in our country, with the passage of a controversial law in Arizona and the heated reactions we’ve seen across America. Some have rallied behind this new policy. Others have protested and launched boycotts of the state. And everywhere, people have expressed frustration with a system that seems fundamentally broken.

Obama goes on to wax eloquent on some famous immigrants and acknowledge the contributions of the millions of faceless immigrants. He makes it a point to state that immigrants come to this country not only seeking employment, but also end up creating employment for Americans.

Just a few weeks ago, we had an event of small business owners at the White House. And one business owner was a woman named Prachee Devadas who came to this country, became a citizen, and opened up a successful technology services company. When she started, she had just one employee. Today, she employs more than a hundred people. This past April, we held a naturalization ceremony at the White House for members of our armed forces. Even though they were not yet citizens, they had enlisted. One of them was a woman named Perla Ramos — born and raised in Mexico, came to the United States shortly after 9/11, and she eventually joined the Navy. And she said, “I take pride in our flag and the history that forged this great nation and the history we write day by day.”

Immigrants through the generations had to deal with varying degrees of persecution. I’m offended that Obama left out Joel Stein’s dotbuster high school buddies from Edison, NJ.

the ink on our Constitution was barely dry when, amidst conflict, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which placed harsh restrictions of those suspected of having fo reign allegiances. A century ago, immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, other European countries were routinely subjected to rank discrimination and ugly stereotypes. Chinese immigrants were held in detention and deported from Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. They didn’t even get to come in.

Illegal immigrants has always been contentious and Obama acknowledges their presence, the challenges they face and the issues their presence poses to the system.

The result is an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Many settle in low-wage sectors of the economy; they work hard, they save, they stay out of trouble. But because they live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses who pay them less than the minimum wage or violate worker safety rules -– thereby putting companies who follow those rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime, at an unfair [dis]advantage. Crimes go unreported as victims and witnesses fear coming forward. And this makes it harder for the police to catch violent criminals and keep neighborhoods safe. And billions in tax revenue are lost each year because many undocumented workers are paid under the table.

While most politicians including Presidents before Obama have acknowledged illegals and suggested ways of dealing with this issue, Obama is one of the few and perhaps the first to acknowledge the impact of illegal immigrants on legal migration, which is one of my primary interests in this speech.

More fundamentally, the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are going through the process of immigrating legally. Indeed, after years of patchwork fixes and ill-conceived revisions, the legal immigration system is as broken as the borders. Backlogs and bureaucracy means the process can take years. While an applicant waits for approval, he or she is often forbidden from visiting the United States –- which means even husbands and wives may be forced to spend many years apart. High fees and the need for lawyers may exclude worthy applicants. And while we provide students from around the world visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities, our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or power a new industry right here in the United States. Instead of training entrepreneurs to create jobs on our shores, we train our competition.

Clearly, one doesn’t need to look any further than the F1 (student visas) and H1B (high tech workers visa) systems which personify all of the issues stated above. Beginning with visa interviews in their native countries, students seeking F1 visas are required to deal with all kinds of bureaucratic minefields, regardless of their academic achievements. Following graduation, from accredited US universities, the same students are required to find a job in 12 months (29 months in some cases) on an OPT, failing which these students trained to become productive members of the American workforce, are forced to return home. This was in good economic times, so needless to say that the number of highly skilled foreign students leaving US shores to return home has increased exponentially during this economic downturn.

Even if they manage to procure that elusive H1B visa, these high-tech workers become tied to a certain organization. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the power to make and break a person’s life and career can certainly be misused, and is misused in a lot of cases. Even with the right organizations, the H1B worker has to wait nearly a decade to attain permanent residency, until which point they are unable to leave their current employers or start their own businesses. After a decade, if and when a highly skilled legal immigrant manages to procure this evasive permanent residency, they are still second class citizens who lack the right to vote or any such liberties afforded to citizens. Lawyer fees and bureaucratic processes further complicate the naturalization process.

While we all agree that the immigration system is broken, the disagreement seems to be on the steps that need to be taken to fix this. While Obama’s speech acknowledges the problem and offers some solutions, the latter half of the immigration speech skims issues facing skilled immigration and focuses more on the illegal immigration aspect. While tackling illegal immigration is important, keeping highly skilled legal immigrants in this country, stemming reverse brain drain, should also be made a priority. Vivek Wadhwa (@vwadhwa) had an excellent op-ed on this very issue last year.

What are your thoughts on the immigration issue? Use the comments section below and keep it clean.

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