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Tell us about your upbringing (family, where you grew up, etc.) and that may have played a part in the work that you do now as a Decolonial Racial Equity Educator.
While my ancestral roots are in Tamil Nadu, India, I was born and raised in Singapore before immigrating to Canada in childhood. Living in Canada, I have come to realize that Settlers here regard multiethnicity as multiculturalism. A country like Singapore however embodies true multiculturalism where, regardless of one’s race, culture or ethnolinguistic group, everyone knew each other’s cultural norms and understood these norms as fluently as we understood our respective norms. We knew how to conduct ourselves in each other’s homes and with each other’s families due to being well aware of our shared values. While Singapore isn’t without its own ethno-political tensions and race issues, I am eternally grateful to the people of Singapore for embodying the true meaning of multiculturalism and for teaching me about this in my childhood.
You’ve been an avid volunteer of different worthy causes over the years. What made you decide to choose the various causes that you choose to put your time into?
I knew from a very young age that I had a certain degree of privilege. Although I wasn’t able to name it as such in my childhood and in my teenaged years, I always felt a deep-seated desire, (perhaps a calling?), to give back to community and to show up for community wherever I could do so.
You have your own consulting practice as well. Tell us a bit about the work you do here.
I actually run a Life & Wellness Coaching practice were I also offer consultancy to organizations that are ready to do the work of decolonizing their respective policies, procedures and practices. The concept of decolonization seems to frighten a lot of people because it not only requires folks to contend with internalized racial or gender biases, it also requires folks to content with the reality that they/we are settlers on stolen land here in Colonial Canada. The work I do, whether it is with individuals or groups, revolves around approaching individual and systemic change with a decolonial lens. I work to build community amongst BI&PoC of various communities and groups, so as to approach systemic inequities from a place of solidarity and community. It is important to bear in mind that there is strength in numbers and the more united people are, the greater our chance of success for change that creates true equity for the most marginalized of us.
How do you balance your time between your full-time job and the work you do through your consulting practice?
I have an incredibly supportive family, my spouse and my parents in particular, who keep me well fed and nourished – lol ! I’m quite lucky to be surrounded by so many exceptional cooks :) I also have the privilege of accessing excellent healthcare by way of monthly therapy with a brilliant South Asian Counsellor and I am under the care of a wonderful WoC Naturopath. I have a beautiful spiritual community, a siblinghood of powerful femmes who keep my heart and spirit nourished when the Equity Building work breaks my heart. Balancing my full-time work and my Coaching Practice can be tiring and I don’t think I could do any of it without my family and without the community I have around me.
How did the opportunity come about to speak at TEDx?
I completed a program called BIWoC Revolutionaries Take the Mike with a lovely woman named Sonali Fiske. Sonali is an Educator, a Coach, a Mentor and an Activist who coaches BIWoC to take up space and assert our voices in a capacity which feels most authentic to us. While the program is geared towards getting its participants onto a TEDx stage, many participants have gone on to publish books or take up space in different ways, The program taught me how to tell my story and it taught me that our stories as people of colour, especially as femmes of colour, are needed in this world because representation matters.
Why did you choose to speak about Racial Equity in the Workplace?
I chose to speak on this because I’m exhausted by systemic racism in workplaces and I couldn’t stay silent on the matter anymore. Systemic racism in workplaces creates unsafe environments for racialized folks who are already navigating a lack of safety in other parts of their lives. I especially want non-Black and non-Indigenous folks with any amount of social privilege to know that their voices are needed in the quest for greater racial equity. As I mentioned in the talk, too much of the burden of racial equity work falls on the shoulders of Black and Indigenous folks, especially Black and Indigenous femmes. This is entirely unfair and it is a level of exhaustion that may very well be unfathomable to the rest of us. This is why the efforts made toward greater racial equity need to be multi-community based efforts.
If you were to summarize in 1-2 sentences, what are you hoping somebody gets after listening to your TEDx talk?
I think too often, we are afraid to speak truth to something because many of us who are racialized are functioning from a conditioned narrative of survival, which has taught us not to rock the boat, so to speak. I want those who have listened to the talk to know that you deserve more than survival: You deserve to live and thrive and have your truth heard because your story matters.
What role has your family, friends & general support system played in the choices that you’ve made in your life so far professionally? Have they generally agreed with the choices you’ve made?
I’m almost 40 so, it’s far too late for anyone’s disapproval to mean anything to me anymore – lol ! My parents and my spouse are proud of the chances I’ve taken. My community of femme siblings has been by my side through the fear that has inevitably shown up with the chances I’ve taken. My spouse in particular has always encouraged me not to play small, and my femme siblinghood has stood by me when I’ve said what I’ve needed to say because I have done so in the pursuit of equity. Being human, I have certainly made mistakes and my community has called me out on these mistakes. To me, call-outs are call-ins and if someone didn’t love me or believe in me, they wouldn’t think I was worth being told that I’ve made a mistake. I appreciate this show of Faith more than I can say.
What is a failure (or “learning lesson”) that you’ve experienced in the last 3 years and what did you learn from it?
A very humbling learning lesson I’ve learned is that no matter how well intentioned I am or how hard I try, I may never be regarded as a safe person to all persons of various marginalized identities. However, this doesn’t mean that I should ever stop trying to be a safer person for those of marginalized identities.
What do you do outside of work for fun?
Honestly, not enough – lol ! My favourite thing to do is to have solo dates with my femme friends over coffee or dinner, ideally on a patio or somewhere by the water during the warmer months. During colder months, pizza dinners and Murder Mystery movies – I love a good “whodunit.”
In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
Oh gosh, this question makes me want to cry. I would be honoured if the people I love would remember me as someone who just tried to love others as best as she could.
Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why?
I adore Sangeetha Thanapal. She is only one of 2 Tamil femme activists from Singapore (who I know of) who has dared to be critical of the Singaporean government. To be an activist in a country like Singapore is to risk incarceration and her courage is something I can only aspire to embody one day.
If I may name 2 people from outside the Tamil diaspora, I’d like to name Angela Davis and forefather Fred Hampton. Although I don’t think Communism will save the world, I admire Angela Davis greatly for her unwavering spirit and faith in her convictions. She explains beautifully how the suffering of all oppressed peoples around the world is interconnected and why we must have both a local and a global approach to the work that we do and the decisions that we make. She is the elder I aspire to be. As for forefather Fred Hampton, I admire his resolve to unite marginalized peoples of various ethno-cultural groups in an effort to create greater social equity. I believe that this is the way forward to ensure safety for the most marginalized of us.
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What do you think you would tell 16-year Channdika looking back?
I would tell her to follow her heart and her instincts sooner rather than later because time spent on people and activities that you have no passion for is, in essence, life that you will never get back.
What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?
My favourite book of all time is Nayyirah Waheed’s Salt. I believe she wrote this book especially for Black folks but I am confident her words resonate deeply for all People of Colour, especially Femmes of Colour, who have been displaced by colonialism and who have survived the impacts of gender and racial discrimination.
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
My Gratitude Practice and my Metta Meditation Practice – these have improved my life for the better in an unimaginable way. I give thanks to Grace C. Swain, Ojibwe Business Coach for teaching me the Gratitude practice and to my beloved teacher, friend and sibling, Ekta Hattangady of Unity Mindfulness for teaching me Metta Meditation. These practices help me to bounce back from challenging experiences and remind me that all perceived set-backs deserve to be met with compassion and curiosity. Everything we experience in life is a state and we move form one state to another all the time. It is important to give thanks for the lessons learnt along the way.
If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?
Oh gosh, I would probably give it to grassroots organizations that are focused on Land Back initiatives in North America.
How would you describe the impact that the Vancouver Tamil community has had on you personally and on your career?
The sad truth is that the Vancouver Tamil community is so small that aside from the scattering of Tamil friends I have across North America, I don’t feel a sense of connection to my local Tamil community at all.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
This is a very difficult question to answer because I love it all. I could eat thosai and puttu and appam and idiyappam for DAYS. I love Murungakeerai sambar as well and any form of paruppu really. Everything tastes better with a good Katthirikkai varuval and Vazhakkai poriyal too.
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
Oh my gosh, any comedy with Vivek (God rest his soul) or Santhanam. Comedies are where it’s at for me.
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
Tamil culture to me is the gift of innate resilience. It is tied to a language that carries magic and a song in every letter, in every sound, and in every word. Where there is birdsong, there is Tamil culture. Where there is the power of a storm, there is Tamil culture. Where there is the magnanimity of a fire, there is Tamil culture. It cannot be encapsulated, it cannot be limited to just one thing or description. Tamil culture is Life: it only knows how to evolve and continue being.
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