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Meet Tulsi Gabbard, real face of Hinduism in the United States Congress

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By Harshmeet Singh

A non-Indian family with 5 children named Tulsi, Aryan, Jai, Vrindavan and Bhakti is hard to find in the US. But interestingly enough, a daughter in this family is today regarded as the ‘rising star’ in the Democratic Party in US. The Hawaii Congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard, caught the imagination of the International media when she took her oath to the office over her personal copy of Bhagavad Gita. In January 2013, she became the first and the only Hindu to be elected to the US Congress. Interestingly, during her election campaign, her opponent mocked her religion saying that it “doesn’t align with the constitutional foundation of the U.S. government.” 

Contrary to the common perception, Gabbard has no connection with India, the birthplace of Hinduism. Gabbard’s father practices Catholic faith and boasts of Samoan heritage whereas her mother is a Hindu of Euro American descent. Gabbard doesn’t fit into an orthodox image of a ‘Hindu girl’. A surfing enthusiast, Gabbard joined the US army on combat duty in Iraq for a 12 month stint in 2004. She married (for the second time) on 9th April 2015 in a Vedic style wedding.

Tulsi Gabbard'd Vedic Style wedding photograph
Tulsi Gabbard’d Vedic Style wedding photograph

Gabbard has often pressed the need for good relations between India and the USA. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US, she greeted him with Hawaii’s indigenous ‘ginger flower’ garland and gifted him the same copy of her ‘Bhagavad Gita’, which she used to take her Oath.

An Iraq war veteran, Gabbard was also the youngest woman in the US history to be elected to a state legislature in 2002. Getting back at her opponent for taking a shot at her religion, she reportedly said,

“It is stunning that some people in Congress would so arrogantly thumb their nose at the Bill of Rights. When I volunteered to put my life on the line in defence of our country, no one asked me what my religion was.”

Ever since Gabbard entered the political arena, she has been seen as a role model by the American Hindus. Most Americans still picture the followers of Hinduism as gurus dressed in saffron cloak, reciting complex shlokas and searching for eternal knowledge, an image which seems far from the developed American lifestyle. Gabbard is trying hard to break this stereotype.

Gabbard’s long list of achievements seem even more awe-inspiring, considering that non-Christian politicians have always found it hard to make their way to the top in USA’s political scene. The two most well known Indian American politicians in the US, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, converted to Christianity for some reasons. Jindal has always been known to suppress his ethnic background at the political scene. Preferring to be called by his nickname ‘Bobby’, instead of his real name ‘Piyush’, Jindal reportedly said, “My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans.”

Haley, on the other hand, proudly wears her ‘Indian background’ tag. Her endeavours to forge strong relations with India aren’t a secret to anyone. This, perhaps, has made her a familiar figure among the Indian community in the US.

Although Hindus account for a population of close to 2 million in the US, their representation in the mainstream national politics is extremely meagre. Barring a few local leaders across states, not many Hindus have managed to make their mark in the mainstream US politics. Some other names that have managed to secure political posts include the US Attorney for New York’s Southern district, Preet Bharara and the US Surgeon General, Vivek Hallegere Murthy.

A possible reason for minimal political representation of the Hindus is that barring metro areas of New York and Chicago, their population is too dispersed to make their votes count. The chances of winning an office based on their votes have a minimal probability. Though ‘religion based politics’ seems like an indigenous term to India, religion isn’t completely irrelevant when it comes to US politics as well. The national presidential candidates have long faced questions (and often backlash) around their faith and worship. The number of Christians in the high offices in the US is overwhelming, if not cent per cent.

Gabbard has always been vocal about her faith and doesn’t hide her disappointment on coming across incorrect projection of Hinduism. “Hinduism is largely misunderstood today in part because of how it’s been portrayed in a negative and backwards way,” she once said. Hindus, in fact, remain an overlooked faction in the US, which is probably why her opponent’s hate speech against Hinduism in 2012 didn’t get much attention within the country.

Apart from the everyday discrimination, Hindus also have to face numerous misconceptions and ignorance among the American population. Hinduism remains an ‘unfamiliar’ entity for most Americans – an enigma which they don’t give much thought to.

Hindus in the US are confident of a proportional political representation following Gabbard’s meteoric rise and her strong allegiance towards her faith. Her concern towards a ‘misunderstood’ image of Hinduism in the US could go a long way in making the American Hindus proud and ensuring that the US emerges as a truly secular society.

 

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U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Demands Equal Pay with Men’s Team

From its earliest days, women’s soccer didn’t get much respect from sport organizers

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United States' Megan Rapinoe, center, celebrates team's victory with teammates after the Women's World Cup final soccer match between US and The Netherlands. VOA

From its earliest days, women’s soccer didn’t get much respect from sport organizers.

Take the first World Cup in 1991, which wasn’t even called the “Women’s World Cup.” Sponsored by Mars Inc., the candy empire, the event was branded the “1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup.”

“They weren’t paid. They got $10 per diem a day. They were wearing hand-me-down uniforms. They weren’t staying in the best hotel rooms,” says Eileen Narcotta-Welp, an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “They were literally eating Snickers and Pepsi to kind of fuel them through the 1991 game.”

The U.S. women won that tournament.

US, Women, Soccer
FILE — Brandi Chastain celebrates her game-winning shootout kick for the U.S. team against China during the Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., July 10, 1999. VOA

Today, female soccer players get paid, but not enough, according to a lawsuit the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) filed against U.S. Soccer, their employer, alleging, “institutionalized gender discrimination.”

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), also commonly referred to as U.S. Soccer, is the official governing body of the sport of soccer in the United States.

The lawsuit alleges that female players each earn a maximum of $99,000 for a season, while the men make an average of $263,320.

In the 28 years since that first World Cup win, the U.S. women’s team has been wildly successful, taking home four Women’s World Cups in all, including the 2019 title captured on Sunday in a 2-0 victory over The Netherlands, four Olympic gold medals, and eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.

 

The U.S. men haven’t fared as well, failing even to qualify for the most recent men’s World Cup in 2018. In fact, throughout the tournament’s 89-year history, the U.S. men have never earned a World Cup.

And yet, despite a lackluster record, the U.S. men are paid significantly more than the women.

For example, there was a $730,000 gender pay gap in 2019 U.S. World Cup bonuses, according to The Guardian.

The world champion women’s team members — who were honored Wednesday in a ticker-tape parade in New York City — will earn a maximum of $260,869 each after winning the World Cup and going on a victory tour. But if the U.S. men had accomplished the same feat, each of them would have earned more than $1.1 million.

 

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FILE — In this Oct. 10, 2017, photo, U.S. player Christian Pulisic, (10) is comforted by assistant coach Dave Sarachan after losing 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Couva, Trinidad. VOA

Each member of the U.S. women’s national team earned $90,000 in bonuses for reaching the quarterfinals. But if they’d been eligible for the same bonuses as the U.S. men, they’d have raked in $550,000.

Total prize money for all teams involved in the 2018 men’s World Cup added up to $400 million, while the women’s prize money total for 2019 is $30 million.

In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, U.S. Soccer argued that the difference in pay between the men and women players is “based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.”

The compensation issue was on the minds of fans in the crowd at Wednesday’s parade salute to the women’s championship team.

 

“They’re doing the same hustle,” says Jaida Brown, a spectator. “They’re out there in the media and they’re inspiring people, and that’s what I feel like it’s all about, so they definitely should get equal pay as a man.”

“The whole team has been very powerful, and it’s just really empowered me,” says Yvonne Duck, another who turned out for the parade. “As a woman, I really feel strongly that they should be paid equally. It’s so unfair.”

David Gibbs attended the parade with his two daughters, including a 9-year-old who plays soccer. He coaches her team, in addition to coaching in the recreational soccer league he plays in.

“The whole issue of them getting equal pay is something that they do in the workplace,” Gibbs says. “Why not in the sports arena, as well?”

 

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United States’ Megan Rapinoe scores the opening goal from a penalty shot during the Women’s World Cup final soccer match on July 7, 2019. VOA

Since winning the World Cup in 2015, the U.S. women’s soccer games have earned more revenue than the men, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that the women generated $50.8 million in revenue between 2016 and 2018, while the men brought in $49.9 million.

The women’s earning power also extends to merchandise. Nike says the U.S. women’s soccer jersey is the top-selling soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever to be sold on Nike.com in one season.

Not only are the women paid less, but U.S. Soccer has used their success to try to jump-start interest in men’s soccer. In 1999, in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, U.S. Soccer scheduled men’s games right before the women’s matches in hopes of drawing more attention to the men.

“They did this kind of combination package to get people to watch the men’s game because they knew that people were going to come and watch the women,” says Narcotta-Welp. “I think that the USSF has consistently used the women as a way to propel the men’s team into visibility — financial visibility, spectatorship visibility,” she says.

But no matter how well the U.S. women perform for the masculine-oriented FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, it’s all still about the men’s game. According to Narcotta-Welp, FIFA won’t take U.S. Soccer seriously until it fields a formidable men’s team that can compete on the international stage.

“You don’t see FIFA pressuring other federations to invest more in the women’s soccer game,” she says. “They probably look at the United States and say, ‘Well, you’re riding high. You’re tough. You don’t need to do as much because your women’s game is already there.’”

After the U.S. women secured their second consecutive World Cup victory in Lyon, France, last Sunday, fans in the grandstands chanted, “Equal pay, equal pay.”

The U.S. women’s team filed their lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March, but agreed to focus on the World Cup first and then begin mediation on the issue of equal pay after the conclusion of the tournament.

For Narcotta-Welp, the general solution is simple, especially considering what the U.S. women’s soccer team has done for the sport.

“The women’s team in all of its iterations, literally has brought the game of soccer not only into conversations within American households, but this team is also the first to successfully market and sell soccer to a naive and seemingly indifferent American sports market,” she says. “At this moment, they are cultural icons and should be paid as such.” (VOA)