‘She’s from our soil:’ Villagers, relatives on Harris making history with US election win

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People in Kamala Harris’s ancestral village Thulasenthirapuram in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu celebrate her victory on November 8, 2020. (AN photo/Chandrasekharan Vijay Kumar)
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People in Kamala Harris’s ancestral village Thulasenthirapuram in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu celebrate her victory on November 8, 2020. (AN photo/Chandrasekharan Vijay Kumar)
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Villagers set off firecrackers to celebrate the victory of US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Nov. 8, 2020. (AP)
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An Indian woman distributes sweets among villagers during celebrations for the victory of US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Painganadu, a neighboring village of Thulasendrapuram in Tamil Nadu state on Nov. 8, 2020. (AP)
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Indian village women gather celebrations for US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory on Nov. 8, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 08 November 2020

‘She’s from our soil:’ Villagers, relatives on Harris making history with US election win

  • Thulasenthirapuram, located nearly 350 km from Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai, wore a festive look on Sunday
  • Harris’s grandfather, P. V. Gopalan, was born in Thulasenthirapuram

THULASENTHIRAPURAM, Tamil Nadu: It was a moment to remember.

As Kamala Harris made history on Saturday by becoming the first woman, the first black person and the first person of South Asian descent to be chosen as US vice president, residents of Thulasenthirapuram, her ancestral village in India, embraced each other amid cheers and tears of joy.

Thulasenthirapuram, located nearly 350 km from Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai, wore a festive look on Sunday with people bursting crackers, distributing sweets and offering special prayers in the village temple. Some had even decorated the outside of their houses.

“We all know that today is a very big day for all of us,” Meenakshi Surya Prakash, an 18-year-old student and resident of the village, told Arab News.

“A woman of Indian origin has been elected as the vice president of the US. This is a proud moment for us,” she said.

Harris’s grandfather, P. V. Gopalan, was born in Thulasenthirapuram, where the family still has a temple at which villagers converge to pray.

“She is from our soil. We also expect that Kamala Harris will take every step for the betterment and welfare of Indians living in the US and India,” Prakash said.

Harris’ relatives said that they had expected her to win.

“It really feels good. I knew it would happen and I am happy about it,” Harris’ maternal aunt, Dr. Sarala Gopalan, told Arab News on Sunday.

Based in Chennai, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Gopalan said that she was “not tense” during the vote-counting process, anticipating that US President-elect Joe Biden would win.

“We knew that Joe Biden had a good lead, but we didn’t know how to trust the samples . . . that’s all,” she said.

Two days before Saturday’s announcement, Dr. Gopalan said that she had a brief chat with Harris, but the questions were not “political.”

“I just asked her if she is all right and all is well?” she said, smiling.

Harris has always been vocal about being proud of her roots and her mother’s role in that. After her mother’s death in 2009, Harris “continued to stay in touch” with her mother’s relatives in India.

“I am only worried about her welfare because her mother is not there, so I have to take care of her as a mother,” Dr. Gopalan said.

On Saturday night, Harris, in her first address to the nation, recalled her mother’s journey from India as a 19-year-old in 1959.

“I am grateful to the woman most responsible for my presence here today, my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris. When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in America where a moment like this is possible,” she said.

Harris’ Delhi-based maternal uncle, Balachandran Gopalan, said that he was “glued to his TV but never for once doubted her victory.”

“I have constantly been watching TV. I was expecting that. After hearing the CNN declare Biden as victorious my tension was gone. It’s a moment of pride,” Balachandran told Arab News.

“The day she was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate it was a big moment for us,” he added.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Harris’ victory.

“Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis (aunts), but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership,” Modi tweeted on Sunday.

For some women, Harris’ win represented “a new chapter.”

“What it also signifies is a new chapter in the long fight for global diversity,” Mallika Shakya of New Delhi-based South Asia University, told Arab News.

“Harris swept on to the screens of the media and social media around the world; it would have been difficult to tell a little brown girl that the sky is the limit. This is about the US media hegemony, but also about the everyday effect of this hegemony,” she said.

All eyes are also on Harris over her future approach to thorny issues within India, such as Kashmir.

In the past, she has spoken about human rights’ issues in the valley after the abrogation of the region’s special status in August last year.

She has also been critical of New Delhi’s alleged highhandedness against Muslims in the country.

However, experts said that Harris’ selection would not have any impact on the administration’s foreign policy choices.

“It would be folly to assume that Kamala Harris’ personal connections with India will have an impact on the administration’s policy choices,” Pranay Kotasthane of Bangalore-based think tank Takshashila Institution, told Arab News.

He cited the example of a recent survey by US academics, which showed that while a majority of Indian-Americans voted for the Democratic party, the “India-US relationship is very low on their demand list.”

“I expect policy continuity rather than any dramatic change. I don’t think those are issues which determine the overall US policy outlook toward India. They are important issues for which a resolution has to be found within India. US administration’s questions won’t resolve them.”


Japan pauses domestic travel push in two cities as COVID-19 spreads

Updated 24 November 2020

Japan pauses domestic travel push in two cities as COVID-19 spreads

  • Critics of the program had said it risked spreading the infection from major cities to the countryside

TOKYO: Japan paused its domestic “Go To Travel” promotion campaign in two cities following sharp rises in COVID-19 infections, a government minister said on Tuesday, a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plan to help prop up regional economies.
Critics of the program had said it risked spreading the infection from major cities to the countryside.
“We have agreed to temporarily exclude trips destined for the cities of Sapporo and Hokkaido from the travel campaign,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Tuesday.
“Although we have tried to balance both economic revitalization as well as virus containment, we have made this decision at the local governors’ request,” Nishimura told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Suga and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba.
Akaba said the two cities would initially be excluded until Dec. 15, during which time no new reservations could be made under the program, which offers discounts on fares and hotels.
Suga said on Saturday the government would suspend new reservations under the program for trips to hard-hit areas.
The western city of Osaka reported 171 new cases on Monday after seeing a record 286 cases the previous day, a city official said.
Sapporo in the north reported 140 daily cases on Monday, below a record 197 cases reported on Thursday last week, a city official said.
The capital of Tokyo has seen new daily infections soar past 500 and serious cases reached 51 on Tuesday, the most since a state of emergency was lifted in May.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that there was a rise in infections among older residents, including cases where people had contracted the virus while eating out and brought it home to their relatives.