SAN FRANCISCO, California — On the eve of the nation’s first official Juneteenth, the Reverend Jesse Jackson joined Indian American community leaders here June 18 morning to advocate for more Covid relief aid to India, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.
The event was jointly organized by Indiaspora, the American Association of Multi-Ethnic Physicians, and the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, founded by Jackson.
The legendary civil rights leader, who founded the Rainbow Push Coalition, has been urging the Biden-Harris administration to send 20 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to India. Official numbers place the number of deaths from Covid in India at 388,000, but Jackson took the view of public health experts — who say official numbers represent a massive undercount — and expressed sorrow for “one million people in India” who have died from Covid. “The world does not wait: it keeps moving,” he said.
Official case numbers of Covid transmissions in India are almost 30 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. About 49 million residents of India are fully vaccinated: less than 4 percent of the population. The Delta variant, a more contagious, more lethal variant first identified in India, is now showing up as the dominant strain in much of the country.
“My grandma used to take cut up pieces of cloth which looked like rags. She would patch them together to create something beautiful. We have to do that. Unity will lead us out of this crisis,” said Jackson, 79, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but has kept up his fight for racial justice.
Later in the day, Jackson led a crowd through San Francisco’s Chinatown, to express solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander community, which has been beset with a wave of violence over the past 16 months.
Jackson said onstage that he was deeply concerned about India. He noted that the country has a stable government and that he would like to work with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Covid crisis. “But there are so many poor people,” he said, noting that low income people in India will have little access to the vaccine or therapeutics for recovery. “We need to make this right,” he said. “Humanity is measured with one yardstick.”
“We look to leadership in this country to share what we are blessed with,” said Jackson.
The Biden-Harris administration issued a fact sheet June 21, explaining its allocation of 55 million doses of the vaccine. President Joe Biden pledged at the G-7 summit earlier this month that the U.S. would buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to donate to the world over the next 18 months.
In the first round, to be delivered by the end of June, 16 million doses have been allocated for 17 countries in Asia, including India. Fourteen million doses have been earmarked for Latin America, and 10 million will go to countries in Africa.
An additional 14 million doses have been kept in reserve for “regional priority” countries, which include several Latin American and African countries, countries in Asia including Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but not India.
Jackson has been to India four times, and said he has been more inspired on each visit.
Dr. Vijay Prabhakar, national chair of the American Association of Multi-Ethnic Physicians, said Jackson has the ear of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and urged both to make 70 percent of the raw material needed to make vaccines available to India, so that the country can manufacture sufficient supplies to meet its residents’ needs. “His passion for India is incredible: he knew what to do, and got it done,” he said.
Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu is scheduled to meet with Jackson, and Prabhakar hinted that Modi too would meet with Jackson this year, though he did not say when.
Neil Khot, national chair of the Indian American Business Coalition in Schaumburg, Illinois, praised Jackson for creating an “international coalition” amid a global pandemic. “He is making sure that everyone around the world is getting the help they need, and we thank President Biden for hearing his voice.”
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said: “There is a tragedy unfolding thousands of miles away. We must support a country where thousands of people are dying every day.”
Several organizations spoke about their efforts to aid India. M.R. Rangaswami, Indian American founder of Indiaspora, said the organization — though its ‘Chalo Give’ initiative https://www.chalogive.org/ — has raised more than $3 million to aid India. Last year, the organization raised money to feed hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who left cities to return to their home villages as jobs dried up amid a national lockdown. The organization has listed several aid organizations on the chalogive.org Web site.
Dr. Anurag Mairal, professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and president of Sewa International’s Bay Area chapter, paid homage to Jackson, and said the pandemic has “widened the gap between the haves and have nots.”
Sewa International has donated about $22 million in supplies to India, said Mairal, including: 10,000 oxygen concentrators; 40,000 pulse oxymeters; 250 ventilators; 15 oxygen plants; and 5,000 home isolation kits. “We need to prevent the next wave,” he said.
Girish Muckai, president of IIT Madras’ Bay Area chapter, said his organization has raised $2 million to aid India, and has people on the ground in India to track how aid has been distributed.
Radhika Iyengar, who serves on the board of directors of The Indus Entrepreneurs, said TiE has raised $3 million in monetary aid and supplies, which it has distributed through the online portal giveindia.org.