Keynote Speaker: Aru Shiney-Ajay
Strategic Director – Sunrise Movement
Aru grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, off the banks of the Mississippi River, and spent summers visiting my family’s home in Kerala, India. Here, she learned to love her home and first saw the effects of climate change. She joined the Sunrise Movement as a volunteer when she was 19, and has now been on staff for four years. In her free time, she loves playing with her dog Gem, wandering around on long walks, reading books, and swinging on my neighborhood swing set.
Vasundhara Rangaswamy is a family medicine physician in training and a rural health fellow in India. She has a background as a clinical laboratory scientist, in medical microbiology, infectious diseases, and global health. She has received medical and lab education from Gujarat, India, Stanford Hosp. and clinics, California and Univ. of Alabama USA, and parts of S. America, Africa, and SE Asia. Throughout her career, Vasundhara has also been deeply involved with AID. She is connected in different capacities, with multiple rural health care organizations in different states of India like Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, etc. She has supported global projects on lab capacity building, clinical and laboratory protocol development, low-cost technology design, and community awareness. Concurrent with her rural health fellowship and fam med training program, she has been working with various NGOs on the preparation of COVID-19 for low-resource settings, improving COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and uptake (see BBC article), provision of healthcare provider and community health worker training, procurement of PPE for Indian health workers and facilitated transport operations during the migrant laborer crisis as well. Dr. Vasu is a former AID bay area volunteer and is currently in India. She was deeply involved in training community health workers during the second and third waves and has worked with other AID volunteers and partners in the process. During 2020-2021, she was also a rural health Travel Fellow through Tribal Health Initiative, Sittlingi.
Aravinda Pillalamarri is devoted to the cause of social justice. Raising awareness on fair trade and sustainable livelihoods, she works with tailors designing and marketing khadi (handspun) garments with a view to sustaining traditional living in modern times. Recognizing the role of natural birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, sleep sharing, natural hygiene, and free learning in promoting maternal and child health and empowerment, she works with parents and teachers in better understand the value of these practices, how they are already in use, and how they are threatened and resources required to sustain them. In this context, she also envisions programs that help people take control of their learning, food security, and health, such as village libraries, kitchen gardens, whole foods, and accountability in government services to mothers and children. She also serves on AID Publications Team, working to ensure that people who are marginalized by poverty, oppression, or disasters appear as central and active driving forces for change rather than as victims or targets. Through this AID newsletters, calendars and occasional publications help urban middle-class people to understand the perspectives and analyses voiced by the people central to the processes of social change, who are too often marginalized from prevailing development planning owing to poverty and oppression. You can find her articles on AID’s publications page and for one here Believe in your dreams, in yourself!! Her articles have also appeared in Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, India Together, The Alternative, Manushi, Himal South Asia, Teacher Plus, Z Magazine, and other publications. Aravinda’s role in AID has changed from Jeevansaathi to Development Coordinator.
Rachna Dhingra is known for her work in Bhopal with survivors from the world’s worst industrial disaster – the gas leak from Union Carbide’s plant that has killed 20,000 people since 1984. A compassionate, determined and resourceful leader, Rachna moved to Bhopal from Ann Arbor in January 2003. Since then, she has immersed herself in the work of obtaining compensation to survivors, initiating efforts for clean drinking water, generating employment, and mobilizing local and global communities.
Rachna joined the AID Ann Arbor chapter in 1999 when she was an undergraduate studying business administration. Always interested in developmental issues, she found a perfect outlet in AID. Her no-nonsense talk and her limitless energy became legendary. She developed an interest in activist and women’s issues, keenly following the struggles in the Narmada valley and in Bhopal. In Ann Arbor, she and other AID volunteers set up the Bhopal Action Network to echo the concerns not only of the Bhopal survivors, but also those of survivors from chemical disasters all over the world. This network has been a continuous thorn in the side of Dow Chemical, located a short distance away from the university in Midland, Michigan. After graduation, Rachna joined Accenture where her first client, ironically, was Dow Chemical! After just a few months in this job, she followed her passion and quit to join the people’s struggle in Bhopal.
While a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Ravi Kuchimanchi founded the Association for India’s Development (AID) in 1991 with the vision “problems are interconnected, so must be the solution.” AID has matured into a volunteer movement for sustainable, holistic development with 30 chapters in the USA, and AID-Australia, AID-UK, and AID-India. It brings highly skilled professionals such as the Non-Resident Indian community, to partner with the poor, and underprivileged so that there is a deeper understanding of causes beyond the mere symptoms of poverty. Ravi was recognized by the American Physical Society (APS) with the Andrei Sakharov Prize in 2018 for “outstanding leadership and/or achievements of scientists in upholding human rights.”
Somnath is a Development Coordinator with the Association for India’s Development (AID) with a twin focus on strengthening organizational processes within AID and connecting, working with, and learning from marginalized communities in India. Prior to this role, he was an active volunteer for AID for more than 10 years. He was instrumental in starting the involvement of AID in the Sundarbans in sustainable organic agriculture in 2009. Today, due to these efforts, over 30,000 Sundarbans farmers sell >10,000 kgs of organic produce per month in Kolkata thereby increasing their income by 25%. Somnath also helped organize a community-driven watershed development program in 4 districts of Jharkhand. Since this program began in 2018, groundwater levels have risen significantly, resulting in markedly improved agricultural yields for the communities in the region. Coordinating with AID partners in Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and West Bengal, Somnath has also been leading AID’s efforts in helping forest-dwelling communities obtain rights to the land they have been inhabiting for centuries along with the rights to protect and conserve forests. Since the initiation of this work in 2014, several communities have obtained land titles and seen improvement in livelihood by adopting practices like cluster farming.
Kamayani has been delving into issues of social change and justice for the last two decades. She started her journey in the real world as a full-time worker of the Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS, Beitul district, Madhya Pradesh), National campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and was associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS).
She is a founding member of the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS), an unorganized sector workers union, operating in North Bihar. She is currently involved with the Mosamat Budhiya Jeevanshala, a residential learning centre for children from under privilidged communities. This education initiative is to strengthen what we instinctively know, as Dr. Ambedkar said, “Shikshit Ho! Sangathit ho! Sangharsh Karo! Sangharsh Karo!” The Jeevanshala is an effort of the Mosamat Budhiya Shiksha Nirman Sangathan (MBSNS).
Kiran Vissa was a key AID figure since its formative years and has worn many hats of leadership and organizational roles. After several years of volunteering, Kiran quit his job in the USA and is now based in Andhra Pradesh, devoting his full time to social issues. Kiran’s focus interests have been agriculture and farmers’ issues, consumer awareness of food, volunteer mobilization and citizen activism, and tackling organizational challenges in AID.
Kiran played an important role in setting up many early chapters of AID and continued to provide inspirational and organizational support to budding chapters and emerging leadership. He was on the board of directors and was an important part of many of AID’s initiatives. He played a key role in promoting the sangharsh aspect of AID through the Narmada struggle, the anti-communalism campaign, and other human rights campaigns.
Balmurli Natrajan is an anthropologist and scholar of caste. His book culturalization of Caste (Routledge 2012) is about how caste justifies itself in a multicultural era. Balmurli works at the intersections of the material and the symbolic, of the biocultural and political economy, and of culture, cognition, and practice. His key research and teaching foci fall into three domains: group formation & inequalities (caste, race); culture, identity, and practices (community, variation, transmission); and development (sanitation, domestic work, indebtedness, livelihoods).
He is a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Community and Social Justice at William Paterson University, New Jersey, USA.
Dr. Anurag Bhargava
Dr. Anurag Bhargava is a renowned physician and public health expert best known as the founding member and executive committee member of Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS), a low-cost, world-class health care system that he helped establish in rural Chhattisgarh.
Trained in medicine at AIIMS, New Delhi and in Epidemiology at McGill University in Canada, Dr. Bhargava has over 30 years of experience as a doctor, teacher, writer, activist and medical researcher. His research has highlighted the underlying social determinants of persistent public health problems, especially the problem of Tuberculosis, which is endemic in India. He coordinated a groundbreaking study in JSS which showed that severe undernutrition is a neglected but critical risk factor that needs to be urgently addressed to reduce deaths in TB patients. His research and continued advocacy led to the launch of a national initiative for nutrition in patients with TB in India. As an activist concerned with access to medicines for the poor, he is one of the petitioners in an ongoing PIL in the Supreme Court that led to price regulation of essential medicines in India.
Dr. Bhargava currently teaches at Yenepoya Medical College, Mangalore and at McGill University, Canada. He serves/has served on the advisory groups of WHO SEAR, WHO Geneva, National Institute of Nutrition, and the National TB Elimination programme. For his contributions to TB control in India, he received the PRJ Gangadharam Endowment Award 2021 from the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Wardha.
Karthikeyan is the convener of Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC) which aims to challenge caste, class, race, gender, and religious oppression and oppressors on ideological, political, and social fronts. As part of AKSC, he has been involved in several public campaigns such as the California textbook campaign to prevent whitewashing of caste in history textbooks, and the campaign for Prop 16 to save affirmative action in California. To garner public support for the caste discrimination case against Cisco, AKSC collected testimonies on the practice of caste in USA, amplified the case with increased media reporting, and organized a discussion series – Let’s Talk about Caste to Annihilate it to help non-South Asian public understand the perils of caste and untouchability. A Solidarity statement to end caste practices in workplaces put forth by AKSC and co-signed by 16 Indian American organizations & around 1000 individuals, was sent to 25 corporate heads including Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Karthikeyan authored a detailed narration of the case in The Caravan magazine.
Karthikeyan also mobilizes people in the bay area on various issues affecting the lives of the people in India, including the protests against NEET, CAA/ NRC, Kashmir Abrogation 370 & 35A, demonstrations condemning police brutality at the Jallikattu & Thoothukudi protests, and the campaign against the arrest of Bhima Koregaon activists. He has actively supported the Black Lives Matter movement and continues to organize local workshops against fascism and other political subjects. Karthikeyan works as a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He hails from Paramakudi, Tamil Nadu. He holds a Master of Engineering in computer science from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Co-Director of SINDHOOR & NATYAVEDA – Navarasa Dance Theater (www.navarasa.org) is a choreographer, dancer, teacher, and a martial artist (kalari ppayattu) from Triuvanathapuram, India. He is one of leading exponents of Kalari ppayattu in the world. He is a recipient of Alliance for California Traditional Arts grant (2021). He has performed all over the world including at the Bates Dance Festival, Lincoln Center, Asian American Theater Festival, USA and Edinburgh Dance Festival, Germany International Summer Theatre Festival, Hong Kong Art Festival and Khajuraho Festival.