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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 9 March 2021

Celebrations in Kamala Harris's ancestral village after Biden win

Tiny hamlet of Thulasendrapuram in southern India was gripped by excitement

Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of US vice president-elect Kamala Harris in Painganadu a neighbouring village of Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India. AP Photo
Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of US vice president-elect Kamala Harris in Painganadu a neighbouring village of Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India. AP Photo

Waking to the news of Kamala Harris’s election as the first US vice president with Indian heritage, overjoyed people in her Indian grandfather’s hometown set off firecrackers, brandished her campaign placards and offered prayers.

Groups gathered in the tiny village of Thulasendrapuram, population 350, reading newspapers and chatting about the Democrats’ victory before moving to the local temple.

A woman wrote in coloured powder outside the family home: “Congratulations Kamala Harris. Pride of our village. Vanakkam [greetings] America.”

Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of US vice president-elect Kamala Harris in Painganadu a neighbouring village of Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India. AP Photo
Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of US vice president-elect Kamala Harris in Painganadu a neighbouring village of Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India. AP Photo

Most residents of the village in India's southern Tamil Nadu state were asleep by the time Joe Biden passed 270 electoral college votes, making Ms Harris the first woman and the first person of South Asian descent to be elected vice president.

“For two or three days we kept our fingers crossed while the result was delayed,” resident Kalidas Vamdayar said.

“Now it’s a joyful moment for us. We are enjoying it. We will celebrate with firecrackers, distributing sweets to people and praying in the temple.

"We will request her to come here. She would have heard our voice and she may come.”

Tamil Nadu's Food Minister, R Kamraj, led about 100 people at the Dharma Sastha temple in a 20-minute prayer session.

An idol of the Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, was washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest.

Mr Kamraj chanted hymns after lighting oil lamps and the villagers bowed their heads in respect.

“Kamala Harris is the daughter of our village,” said Aulmozhi Sudhakar, a village councillor.

"From children to senior citizens, each one of us is awaiting the day she will take oath as the vice president of the US."

More singing, dancing and firecrackers were planned on Sunday in the village, where cutouts and posters wishing Ms Harris a “grand success” adorn many walls.

J Sudhakar, who organised prayers on US election day, said he hoped that Ms Harris would visit.

As Americans voted, nearly 50 Thulasendrapuram residents, with folded hands, lined up in the temple that reverberated with the sound of ringing bells.

A Hindu priest gave them sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Women in the village, 350 kilometres from the southern coastal city of Chennai, used bright colours to write, “We Wish Kamala Harris Wins” on the ground, next to a thumbs-up sign.

Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of Kamala Harris, the US vice president-elect in Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India, Sunday. AP Photo
Villagers burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of Kamala Harris, the US vice president-elect in Thulasendrapuram, the hometown of Harris' maternal grandfather, India, Sunday. AP Photo

The lush green village is the hometown of Ms Harris’ maternal grandfather, who moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, decades ago.

Inside the temple where people have been holding special prayers, her name was sculpted into a stone that lists public donations made to the temple in 2014, along with that of her grandfather, who gave money decades ago.

Ms Harris’s late mother was born in India and moved to the US at the age of 19 to study at the University of California.

She married a Jamaican fellow student, and they named their daughter Kamala, Sanskrit for “lotus flower”.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in a tweet described Ms Harris’s success as "path-breaking", and a matter of immense pride for her relatives and all Indian-Americans.

“I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”

There has been excitement and some concern over Mr Biden’s choice of Ms Harris as his running mate.

Mr Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist supporters were upset with Ms Harris when she expressed concern about the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, whose statehood India’s government revoked in August last year.

Ms Harris stood by Pramila Jayapal, another US congresswoman of Indian origin, when India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar last year refused to attend a meeting in the US because she was taking part last year.

Ms Jayapal had earlier moved a resolution on the Kashmir issue critical of India in the House of Representatives.

Campaigners accuse India of breaching human rights in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgent groups have been fighting for independence or merger with neighbouring Pakistan since 1989.

Updated: November 9, 2020 02:42 AM

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