We are all one people are we not? Modern humans emerged from Africa over 60,000 years ago and proceeded to invade and populate all parts of the inhabitable world. This is the first part of a series that contemplates our journey from the origins of the universe to where we are now and where we appear to be headed as a global civilization.
Dare we say we are all one? If you live in Lowell, Massachusetts you may be so inclined. Historically speaking, Lowell is a global city if you consider its evolution since the mid-nineteenth century when immigrants came in droves for the opportunity to work in the textile mills. But why do people continue to come to Lowell today long after the mills closed and left the City? Let’s begin our introspection with a meditation about the evolution of India.
From its oceanic and geologic origins as a subcontinent crashing into South Asia, India has been fraught with unrest, conflict, and turmoil. About 50 million years ago, a seismic collision of land masses caused the great Himalaya Mountains to rise up into the clouds as the subcontinent continued its northern advance. The process continues today.
About 60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens overcame Homo erectus in South Asia, in large part due to their advanced skills in making and using projectile weapons. From that time forward, the speedy, nimble, and intelligent modern humans began an invasion that ultimately led to worldwide tumult. Today we stand looking into the abyss of extinction ourselves as the global population reaches 7 billion people and natural resources continue to dwindle. Much of the damage inflicted on the Earth’s ecology and environment is irreversible.
The people of India have endured despite a continuous need to adapt to constantly changing environmental, economic, social, political, religious, and cultural conditions. Such has been the case since the migration of the Indo Aryan Vedic herders from the northern steppe lands through Hindu Kush Mountain passes. Thus begins this story of another human melting pot and its quest for existence and survival.
The Vedic people arrived with horses and chariots, initially settling in a region called the Punjab, a network of river valleys that lie along the Indus River and all its tributaries. Much of this area is now East Pakistan. The mass Vedic migration took place from 1500-600 BC before the new settlers began expanding west along the Ganges River, and south, deep into the subcontinent. The mysterious but once prosperous Harrapan people (3rd to 2nd millennium BC) were already migrating to the east as climate change decimated this once prosperous civilization of agrarians and traders.
The occupation of the Punjab was remarkable because the Vedic people maintained a spiritual philosophy that allowed them to blend with those Harrapans who stayed behind. Although the conquerors retained the rights to the spoils, they evolved via a process of adaptation, collaboration, and cooperation. As a result, a degree of harmony developed among the people. The new arrivals began to mingle, blend, and coexist with the remaining Harrapan people in spite of their vast cultural and spiritual differences.
Today, India is pushing forward as an emerging global economic power. But the 1.28 billion people who now make up the population continue to struggle with political corruption, poverty and disease, internal divisiveness, and external pressures. And the now pervasive religious and cultural differences have served up obstacles to progress.
The dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir persists to this day threatening the future survival of both nations. Commercially there are opportunities. But there’s no clear path to accommodate an autonomous existence in the “modern age of globalization.” There’s hope for the future, but some people of India have decided to seek alternative lifestyles in other lands, especially the U. S. where there appears to be more room for opportunity.
On a recent balmy Sunday afternoon, officials representing the City of Lowell, Massachusetts joined a group of about 100 Indian Americans who joined each other to raise the flag of India in front of City Hall. This annual ritual was a touching tribute to the motherland. Each year, this community commemorates August 15, 1947 as the day India gained its independence from Britain after 200 years of colonized rule. Thus, India negotiated its release from a systematic process of occupation originating in 1498 when Vasco de Gama of Portugal navigated around the southern tip of Africa to establish a maritime trade route from Western Europe to Asia.
Despite a successfully negotiated end to British colonial rule and Jawaharlal Nehru’s “progressive” approach to planning India’s future, a rising tide of unrest overcame the process of transition. After India’s independence became official, the Hindu majority and Muslim minority engaged in a massive face-off exacerbated by deadly confrontations. Mahatma Gandhi was murdered. Industrialization presented what seemed to be an insurmountable set of problems for the fledgling government to resolve. People relocated from state to state to avoid being trapped and targeted in a minority situation.
Once immigrants began arriving in Lowell in the 1970s, few returned to India except to visit family and friends. Weddings are a popular reason for a return visit. According to Lowell residents Simi Hussain and Praven Patel, there are “between four and five thousand” descendents of India now living in Lowell, a community approaching three generations deep. At the flag raising ceremony, several women and men bounced babies in their arms while socializing with friends and other attendees. Children shared in the exuberance of the celebration; some moved freely about, some clung to their parents or stayed close-by.
Pravin Patel said that he arrived in America in 1971 among ninety-eight students and two doctors. He acknowledged that many people in India are stricken by extreme poverty. There’s still a high death rate among children under the age of five. Adversarial views woven into the fabric of the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian populations continue to fuel unrest. Much like the polarization of the U.S. government and elsewhere, political convergence is difficult to achieve.
Even though Lowell is considered home to immigrants from India, this newly adapting community is by no means homogenous. The divisions of the homeland have carried forward, but there have been local attempts to build consensus and a stable political structure.
Simi Hussain’s father-in-law Syed M. Hussain ran unsuccessfully for Lowell City Council in 2009, but he managed to secure a respectable 1,700 votes. When asked why Hussain or others in the community have not run in recent races, Simi relayed a general feeling that the seasoned politicians of Lowell are performing well. Hussain singled out City Councilors Rita Mercier and Bill Samaras as being especially helpful to immigrants in Lowell. But support of the status quo seems to ignore the obvious changing demographics towards a more diverse Lowell of the future.
Simi said that Syed M., a U. S. citizen, is currently visiting in India where he’s politically active as a freedom fighter. He sympathizes with the Telanga Rashtra Samithy (TRS) political party which was spawned by the Telanga Agitation movement in South India in 2001. After 9/11, he formed a coalition called No Place for Hate in Lowell, a movement that led to a proposal to the Lowell City Council. Syed M. is expected to return to Lowell by the end of September.
The current president of India is Shri Pranab Mukherjee of the National Congress Party. Elected in 2012, President Mukherjee has achieved a degree of consensus, improved the international image of India, and garnered the respect of other political parties. Syed M. Hussain met with Deputy Chief Minister of Telangana last week.
Another attendee of the flag raising, Dr. Syed Jaffer Hasan, acknowledged Lowell’s rich heritage. He praised local immigrants from Cambodia as role models with impressive accomplishments. They’ve managed to build a local political infrastructure and Buddhist temples. They’ve also started many businesses, especially in the Lower Highlands and Acre sections of Lowell.
Indian immigrants in Lowell have followed the lead of the enterprising Southeast Asians by opening six or 8 grocery stores in a City proud of its rich tradition of immigrants becoming merchants. This trend harkens back to the nineteenth century, when Greek and Irish immigrants established businesses along the outer Market and Merrimack Street areas in the Acre section of the City.
But according to Hasan, American citizenship is a “gift” that can lead to opportunities, especially when one acquires a first class education. “All my nephews and nieces came and are now doctors, lawyers, and IT professionals.” He gestured to the children moving about at the flag raising ceremony. Many attend Lowell schools today with plans for higher education. After all, the success (and perhaps the survival) of modern humans hinges on freedom, which can only be achieved through education and economic development. But the freedom that emerges from the sustenance of education often dies when mired in a plethora of ignorance.
This article is part of a series about immigrants who have come to Lowell. Anyone who wishes to tell their story or express their views is welcome to contact me by email at email@example.com.
Note: Click on any photo for larger size
Tignor, Adelman, Brown, Elman, Liu, Pittman, Shaw. “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” Volumes 1 & 2, Fourth Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London
Trujillo, Alan P. Thurman, Harold V. “Essentials of Oceanography,” Eleventh Edition, Pearson, 2014
“About Telangana Rashtra Samithi,” http://www.elections.in/political-parties-in-india/telangana-rashtra-samithi.html
Address by the President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion of call on by heads of State/Government participating in 2nd Summit of forum for India-Pacific Island countries (FIPIC), http://presidentofindia.nic.in/speeches-detail.htm?423