Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My final speech in the ASUC Senate

I haven't quite been keeping up to date with the blog. But, I'm done with school for the summer, and will be better about updating more often. I'll begin by providing below the speech I closed off my term as an ASUC Senator with. The speech is important to me because the Senate has been a life-changing activity that has made me believe stronger in some of my ideologies, and question many others.

The ASUC Senate is split into the two major parties, with some independents. You run for the position the year before, with your party and its executive cabinet candidates (President, Executive VP, Academic Affairs VP, and External Affairs VP). I ran with the party "Student Action" (see:, a party committed to student initiatives and real results
for all students at all times. This past year, students voted for an interesting breakdown for the Senate - 8 Student Action senators, 8 of the opposing party, and 4 independents (making a total of 20). This meant an unbelievable deadlock in terms of votes - the 4 independents split up evenly: 2 for the opposition, and 2 for Student Action. (The 2 opposition "independents", as we soon learned, we actually members of the opposite party - 1 was almost slated to run with them, and the other was going to run for Executive Vice President with that party this year).

Anyhow, because of the breakdown of the Senate, we as senators, had to learn an incredible amount of deal-making and bargaining. It took us a long time - meetings often lasted from 7pm to 7 or 8am, because votes would be in absolute deadlock. Both parties were unwilling to budge on their ideals and insults and demeaning words were thrown around constantly.

The experience was rough, but it was still one in which I truly got the opportunity to develop myself - many times I used to leave Senate meetings upset at the illogical and victim-playing nature of the opposing party (which was a "progressive" party based on pockets of ethnic communities. When I voted down a bill that was financially irresponsible, I was called a racist and a sexist. My groups were attacked, I was insulted, and at times, I was scared for my life. Because I spoke up for my beliefs, interest groups would post videos and blogs about me as a person and a Senator; my identity as a Kashmiri Hindu was used to paint me as an "extremist"; and some even tried stalking me by getting my parents' home address.

But through the experience, I gained a few valuable things:

1). Developing my principles and ideologies.....and sticking with them in times of deep moral question.
2). Loyalty to the people of my party and my groups. If it wasn't for this, I would have no reason to pull through the long hours and hurtful words.
3). Conflict-resolution - Although I ended up being a controversial senator for my frank speeches and bold moves, I learned the value of listening to the other side and coming to a compromise (which is defined by NEITHER side being completely happy, as stated by Eddie once)
4). Being strong. Enough said. I've become invincible in my ideology and am unscathed through petty means such as insults, videos, blogs, or other propaganda used against me or my party.
5). Teamwork. I've built the best team of my life with some of the most intelligent, respectable people on Cal's campus. I'm honored to be their friend and colleague, and these are the people I hope to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Quick shoutout: Will Smelko (for his calm and shrewd intelligence; and being one of my closest friends who I will always trust), Tara Raffi (for her passion and determination), Sheila Chen (for her meticulous perfection and diplomacy), Tu Tran (for being the most genuine and sincere soul I know till date....and being a robot), Yishi Zuo (for his to-the-point, no-nonsense attitude and his ability to be liked for it) , Eddie Nahabet (for being always being a friend when I needed it), and Sarah Cho (for being an unbelievable peacemaker and sticking to her principles when it was the hardest). I'd also like to make a quick reference to my friend and colleague John Moghtader (formerly of the Squelch party), who, although enduring a controversial term, was always there for me and taught me a lot about real politics and being resilient. I've seen all 8 of these people at their strongest and their weakest moments in the senate - and my respect for their demeanor and conviction has only increased. Love you guys :)

Anyways, this year proved to be a difficult one, but one that I am proud of and will never forget. Here is my final speech to the Senate that aptly conveys my sentiments:

Nothing short of a sermon can recapitulate the series of events that took place this year in the ASUC Senate. But amidst the petty bickering, party politics, and misplaced blame, there are a lot of lessons to be learned, that I hope the future senators here will take note of.

This year, I (along with other senators here) have been called elitist, over-privileged, racist, amongst other things. We’ve all felt upset, insulted, and demeaned at various times. Over-privileged? My parents left their homes in India and came to this country in ABJECT poverty; they worked, they studied, and they succeeded.

I’m privileged, yes, I’m lucky that my family got the opportunity here in America that they would have never had back in their home. I’m privileged to be happy and be getting a world class education here at Berkeley, just like everyone in the room. Instead of focusing on what holds us back, I wish we would look forward and thank everything that got us here, to where we are and where we will be.

Racist? Just because I ran with a certain party or cut funding for a financially irresponsible group, I am not a racist; actually, I am offended at how loosely that word has been thrown around this year. Actually, I’m much more conscious about that issue than many people may imagine.

As many of you know (and some of you have tried to use against me personally), I am a Kashmiri Hindu, a displaced minority in India.

In 1989, Kashmiri Hindus (who were a minority in the region) were forced to leave their home f thousands of years because of their religion – militants from across the border and within Kashmir sent notices to every Kashmiri Hindu family telling them to leave or be killed. Thousands were murdered in cold blood, also called a “soft ethnic cleansing”, there are now .09% Hindus left in their homeland, all the others were killed, fled, or now live in refugee camps across India. omen were raped, men were taken hostage to be tortured and made an example of, and families left their ancestral homes with nothing in their hands – 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus were killed or exiled that year.

As a minority myself, of a population that was ethnically cleansed out of their homes in Kashmir because they were Hindu – who now are .09% of Kashmir and have fled their homes to either out of India or to refugee camps – trust me, I know.

I will most probably, in my lifetime, not be able to see the place where ancestors lived. My ethnic history is so much deeper than many people assume and my OUR identity should not be tossed around, as it has, for political reasons by some people in this room. That’s wrong, mean, and insulting to my and our communities.

So, to the senators, to the people listening, but most importantly, to the future ASUC members, please remember to learn from our mistakes. Next year will be an opportunity for you to grow immensely and please use it to that effect. Do what you’re here to do- serve your communities, but most importantly, the entire cal campus. Sometimes, while we fought our partisan battles, we forgot to realize how inspirational, revolutionary, and unique each of the 20 of us in this room are. So next year, future Senators, appreciate the person sitting next to you, but also the person sitting across from you. Remember how hard all of you worked to get here and what that means in the grander scheme of Berkeley and life. Think before you speak; be thoughtful, be strong; but be wise and patient. Remember your first job is to help the campus, and what can be better to do that together, in unity. Thank you all for a great year.

Some pictures from the year:
The eight of us

Yishi, Sarah, Eddie, Sheila, and I with the Chancellor
With Tara
With Will

John, Tara, Will, and I with the Chancellor at his banquet
Celebrating at tabulations, when our party won the executive seats (Will won ASUC President)

The Student Action Senators before a Senate meeting in the Senate Chambers


Ashveer said...

Good work.

Meghana said...

hahaha. thanks ashu

NhuNhu said...

:) you make me smile, meghs!

Anonymous said...


This a fantastic post. It has been great growing up with you and seeing you mature from the age of 11 to the age of 21! But what exactly does the ASUC Senate do? It sounds really intense haha. I can't imagine staying up till 7 am for anything.


Meghana said...

Nhu Nhu I hope you know we all have high expectations for you next year!

And Amit, I know it's been a crazy ride. The ASUC Senate is probably the closest I have gotten (and will get)to real politics. Its Berkeley's own mini-legislature. And as for staying up till 7am....I won't be seeing any of that anymore...but you will, i-banker!