Amid a record driver shortage, Indian-American Sikhs are taking to trucking

NPR ran an interesting feature on truck drivers from Punjab filling the void in American trucking industry.

The trucking industry is experiencing a major shortage of drivers. But in the last two years, one demographic has been gravitating towards the industry by the thousands: Indian-American Sikhs. It’s an attractive blue-collar job because it doesn’t interfere with articles of faith, like turbans or beards.

Listen to story on NPR  https://www.marketplace.org/2019/03/07/world/indian-american-sikh-truckers/popout

Also check out “Sikh Truckers in America”

Starting at 2 am, Pandher hopes to cover the 520-mile stretch in about 9 hours with recommended breaks to reach Lincoln before noon. The long journey through the night doesn’t bother Pandher who is used to such hauls. What does bother him though is the nights and weekends that his work takes him away from his family and little children.

“As truckers, we do miss quite a bit on their (kids) growing up. And that hurts more than the hard work. But that’s the price you pay to be a trucker,” says Pandher, wistfully.

Pandher, who started as a truck driver, running an intrastate hazmat in 2003, today owns the Laramie, Wyoming, based Akal Travel Center, which has 9 trucks, 13 tanker trailers and 4 truck stops in Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. Pandher is among the thousands of Sikhs in the American trucking industry.

Nearly 71% of the freight tonnage on land moves on trucks. The American trucking industry forms the lifeline of the U.S. economy. According to the 2012 Survey of Business Owners by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 600,000 trucking companies with $300 billion in sales. The American Trucking Association estimates that 3.5 million truckers move 10.55 billion tons of freight annually.

 

 

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Indian dentist murdered in Australia, ex-boyfriend dies in subsequent road accident

A 32-year old Indian woman, who was practicing as dental surgeon in Australia, was found murdered in her car in Sydney. Her ex-boyfriend, who is the prime suspect, is said to have died in a ‘deliberate’ road accident later.

The body of Preethi Reddy was stuffed in a suitcase and was kept in the car, which was parked roadside. Preethi’s body had multiple stab injuries. The ghastly murder  is believed to have taken place on Sunday considering the details of her last contact with the family members. The victim hailed from Mahbubnagar district in Telangana. She was working as dental surgeon at Glenbrook Dental Surgery, a hospital about 70 km from Sydney. Reports say that she left home for a medical conference at St Leonards on Sunday (March 3) but failed to return home till evening. Her sister, Nithya Reddy, lodged a complaint with the Sydney police. Her family and friends also opened a Facebook page seeking help to trace her. After the cops declared tracing the mortal remains of Preethi, Nithya posted on the page, “Our dearest Preethi is no longer with us”.

Preethi, according to reports, went to a hotel where her ex-boyfriend Harshwardhan Narde was staying. CCTV footage showed her going to a nearby fast food joint on George Street around 2:15 am and then proceeded to her car. She was last seen at a line in McDonalds in the wee hours, where she bought a water bottle. The South Wales police traced her car parked in a street in Eastern Sydney.

“Preethi’s vehicle was parked on Strachan Street, Kingsford, about 9:30 pm on Tuesday. During a search of the vehicle, the police located Preethi’s body in a suitcase. Further inquiries have established that Preethi stayed at a hotel on Market Street in Sydney on Sunday with a man known to her. Strike Force Carlwood investigators have since been notified that the man died in a head-on collision on the New England Highway near Willow Tree at about 10 pm on Monday. Detectives from Oxley Police Area Command are investigating the circumstances surrounding the collision, which is believed to be a deliberate act,” a South Wales police statement said.

Harshawardhan, 34, was found lying dead after a head on collision. The police suspect it to be a case of suicide by ramming his BMW into a truck. The car later caught fire, reports further said. Narde was also a dentist. They both attended the same conference on Sunday. It is suspected that Narda might have murdered Preethi at the hotel and managed to stuff the body in a suitcase and leave it in her car seven kilometers away.

Preethi’s family moved to Australia many years ago. Her father Narasimha Reddy teaches at Western Sydney University.

An ode to Desi Ghee – Washington Post

A recent article in washingtonpost about good old desi-ghee makes for an interesting read. Awanthi Vardaraj starts off the article by describing

The very first solid food my mother fed me as a baby in our southern India household was mashed-up rice mixed with a little ghee. This set the stage for my lifelong love affair with this nutty, rich, golden clarified butter.

In recent years, ghee has become a global phenomenon, trending as a “superfood” and beloved by followers of the popular Keto diet. But its history — real and legendary — is long.

…….

Without the milk solids of butter, it can be used for frying and other high-heat cooking. Use the ghee as you would use any fat: roast vegetables with it; slather it onto meat to baste; fry eggs with it. You can even stir it into your coffee (for that trendy “bulletproof” approach) or your morning porridge (which I love to do). Refrigerate your ghee if you like, but it’s not a requirement and will keep at room temperature; it will solidify in the fridge but melt at room temperature or when heated.

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Americans are truly smitten by Ghee. A while ago, Forbes ran a feature on “A brief history of ghee in the US”

It’s typical of Franzen, one of America’s shrewdest social novelists, to slip in this reference to a food that most Americans are unaware of but which has begun to attract a strong niche following. In the US, ghee is trending. Especially among millennial foodies smitten with super-foods like quinoa and kale, fair-trade organic produce, and Bulletproof Coffee, which is coffee blended with butter (or ghee) and a spoonful of coconut oil extract. It sounds expensive and ghastly, but it’s all the rage. At the hip new Bulletproof Coffee Café in Santa Monica, California, you can add ghee to your coffee for a dollar.

Ghee has also received a big boost from the Paleo diet, the latest food fad in the house, whose startling No. 1 guideline is that “a Paleo diet should be high in fat”. It provides recipes for ghee flavoured with garlic, ginger, mint-jalapeno and rosemary-thyme. Elsewhere, Michelin-starred restaurants advertise the use of ghee in their curries, and on Twitter, celebrity chef Alton Brown instructs his million-plus followers on the deceptively simple art of making it: “Do you know how to make clarified butter? Or know what ghee is? We’re big fans of both…,” he writes, embedding a link to a recipe.

India times article on : Here’s How Desi Ghee Went From An Indian Staple To An International Superfood!  Ghee has come into the spotlight lately, with everyone from Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar to reality television star Kourtney Kardashian endorsing it as a healthy superfood. And it’s about time, considering that this Ayurvedic concoction has a ton of health benefits.

Ghee has been an Indian staple for millennia. Now the rest of the world is catching on. – Washington Post

 


 

Ghee is widely available in Indian and ethnic stores , and even online (e.g on Amazon.com)

Swaminarayan Hindu Temple vandalised in Kentucky, US

A Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky was recently vandalized, sending shock waves across the close-knit Hindu community.  According to media accounts, the incident happened sometime between Sunday and Tuesday morning when vandals broke through a window at Louisville’s Swaminarayan Temple leaving glass shattered on the floor.

The Temple was defaced with black graffiti, including xenophobic and anti-Hindu messages. Black paint was sprayed onto a poster depicting a religious figure, and the temple’s walls were covered with black crosses and phrases such as “Jesus Is The Only Lord” and “Jesus Is All Mighty.” A knife was reportedly plunged into a chair in the temple.

Utsav Pictures from the Louisville Swaminarayan temple

A message spray-painted onto a bulletin board at the temple read had the word “foreign” followed by an expletive, Fox affiliate WDRB reports. Temple spokesperson Raj Patel told the news station that this last message indicates that the vandalism was “not about just a god.”  “It’s about a race or someone’s skin color,” he added.

The vandalism was discovered by a repairman on Tuesday morning. No one was in the temple while the vandalism occurred, Patel told the Courier Journal.

Patel said his community, consisting of 60 to 100 Sunday worshippers, is deeply saddened by the incident. The community has been meeting in the building, a former church, for about five years.

“We come here to worship,” Patel said during a press conference at the temple on Wednesday. “We should not have to turn our backs to see who is behind us.”

According to Mohan, the editor of Garamchai.com,  “There are over 300 Hindu temples in cities across America. Such incidents of vandalism are really rare and shocking. In most communities, Indian Americans peacefully co-exist with other members of the community and Hindus manage worship and religious gatherings at local temples and places of worship.”

US Government makes changes to H1B visa applications; Advanced degree holders get top priority

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule for H1B visa applicants that will raise the probability of more US advanced degree holders filling the first wave of total available slots. This recalibration will filter out those with just bachelor’s degrees, making it harder for them to get an H1 Visa approval.

The DHS summary states:

This final rule amends Department of Homeland Security (“DHS” or “the Department”) regulations governing petitions filed on behalf of H-1B beneficiaries who may be counted toward the 65,000 visa cap established under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“H1B regular cap”) or beneficiaries with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education who are eligible for an exemption from the regular cap (“advanced degree exemption”).

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The Trump administrations’s rule goes into effect 1 April. In the current system, 65,000 visas are available in addition to 20,000 for those with advanced degrees from a U.S. institution. The annual lottery is scheduled for April generally starts with lottery for the advanced-degree holders first. The change is estimated to increase the number of advanced-degree holders selected in the lottery by 16 percent, or 5,340 workers each year, the USCIS said

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) chief L. Francis Cissna was quoted saying “these simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better”.

“The new registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas.”

There are several experts voicing concerns about this move. Cyrus D Mehta, founding partner of a New York based law firm told TOI,

“The skewing of H-1B visas towards those with master’s degrees from US institutions under the new selection methodology is in some senses counter to the H-1B law, which was to permit those with foreign degrees, and equivalent work experience, to qualify for H-1B classification. Hence, a foreign physician with a master’s degree in medicine from a foreign university who intends to provide critical medical services in a shortage area in the United States may have less chances of nabbing an H-1B visa under the new proposal.”
“Even a highly skilled IT worker with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from a reputed Indian institution such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), will have less chance of getting an H-1B in the new proposal. Both the physician and the IT worker with foreign degrees have the potential of making contributions to the US in the same way, or even greater, as one who has recently graduated with an MBA from a US.

Others like feel that the move is a step in the right direction. Mohan K, an Enterprise Architect and a technology consultant says

“Foreign students pursuing advanced degrees in American Universities are likely to benefit from this move. Graduates of such programs are more likely get their H1 Visas approved and will stay back and contribute to the US economy.

While there will be some short term confusion, the move is likely to attract more students to American Universities.

However, students planning to pursue advanced degrees and PhDs in the US, should  will have to keep in mind that a rule like this is not ‘law,’ but a policy decision by the Trump administration. As a recent WSJ article indicates, the move may be challenged in the court or rolled-back by future administrations.

About H1B: The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States under the Immigration & Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to seek temporary help from skilled foreigners who have the equivalent U.S. Bachelor’s Degree education. Link to a list of The list of Top 100 H-1B Employers in 2017

Air India To Charge 40% Less For Bringing Back Bodies From Gulf Countries

Death and dying is a topic we seldom give much thought to. And when we encounter untimely death of family or friends, we try and follow the rituals as dictated customs and mores dictated by the society. If a relative or a close one dies in a foreign country, the costs and paperwork associated with repatriation can make a terrible event even worse.

The logistics of Death gets magnified when the person in question dies in a foreign land. For instance, when a death occurs in Abu Dhabi, or the middle-east, the family might opt to have the funeral and last rites in India, their home country. This requires jumping through bureaucratic and logistical hooops to ensure the body can be transported across international boundaries. Here’s a link to an article on GaramChai.com that briefly describes the process.

Besides the logistics and paperwork required to transport bodies, families of the bereaved have to budget for the cost of embalming, storage and Air-transport of the bodies that can amount to a sizable sum of money.

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image source: India Today via google

Now comes news that the Indian national Airliner, Air India will Charge 40% Less For Bringing Back Bodies From Gulf Countries. According to a PTI news release

In order to reduce the expenses of grieving families in bringing back dead bodies from gulf nations, Air India has decided to reduce prices by 40%.

“After discussions with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, we have decided that we will be charging a ”flat rate” to bring back dead bodies from six Gulf countries…This flat rate would be 40 per cent lower than what is usually charged,” a senior Air India official said on Monday.

He added that this “flat rate services” for bringing a body back would currently be available for six Gulf countries–United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

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