NEW DELHI - Local residents of her ancestral village blew up firecrackers, her maternal uncle fielded endless calls from reporters in his New Delhi home, while ordinary Indians were elated that Kamala Harris, who is of part Indian origin, has beaten high odds to make history in the United States as the projected vice president.
For its part, India had a female leader more than 50 years ago, when Indira Gandhi became the country’s first female prime minister in 1966.
In Thulasendirapuram village in India's southern Tamil Nadu state, where Harris’s maternal grandfather was born, the mood was festive — women drew murals, children clutched posters of Harris and people offered thanks at the local temple for her victory, calling her “the daughter of our village.”
“Congratulations Kamala Harris, Pride of our village, Vanakkam [Greetings] America,” one woman wrote as residents celebrated and distributed sweets. In recent days, the village held special prayers for Harris as it closely tracked the election results in the U.S.
In the home of her maternal uncle in New Delhi, Gopalan Balachandran, the pride in his niece’s achievement was mixed with an equal measure of relief at the projected Democratic victory.
“I am happy for Kamala but I am happy for the rest of us,” 79-year-old Balachandran, a retired academic told VOA. “I was worried about the direction the whole international security environment was taking,” he said.
For most Indians, Harris’s path to vice president-elect as the first woman, the first Black candidate, and first Indian American epitomizes the achievements of the Indian community in the U.S.
It was a moment Balachandran had not even remotely imagined when, about six decades ago, his sister, Shyamala Gopalan, migrated from the southern Indian city of Chennai to study in the U.S., where she married a Jamaican, Harris’s father.
He says the values Harris absorbed while growing up were simple.
“Don’t judge anybody by what they eat, what their religion [is], what language they speak and anything like that. Basically, be a human being and there is nothing special about being a human being in our family,” Balachandran said.
His sister always taught her daughters to be strong, he said.
“You are what you are, don’t let others defend you, don’t take anything lying down, she used to tell them," he said.
Harris’s reference to her Indian roots during her acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination, when she mentioned the support she had received from her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for aunts, had made it to the front pages of Indian newspapers and delighted many Indians.
It was this Indian connection Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on when he congratulated Harris on Twitter.
"Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans.”
Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 7, 2020
For many Indian women, though, it was not Harris’s part-Indian origin that was highest in their mind as they hailed the election, but her achievement in breaking many barriers as a woman.
“Her win gives me a huge sigh of relief that Americans have trumped racism and sexism and it’s like amazing,” said a resident of Gurugram, a suburb of Delhi, Rashmi Kaushal. Pointing out that a country that sets the example for many in the world has chosen a woman as vice president, Kaushal added, “I think ‘Madam Vice President’ sounds really good.”
There is already a sense of excitement at the possibility that a woman with Indian roots could run for the world’s most powerful office after four years.
“Look at all the women around the world, how confident they will be, that even they have a chance somewhere in life to do something. It is not only the men,” said Neema Eidnani, a New Delhi resident.
For Eidnani, who has watched many students return from the United States disconcerted by tightening immigration policies under President Donald Trump’s administration, the election results have raised hopes of a change in direction in anti-immigrant policies.
“This gives hopes to millions of Indians who still dream about going to the U.S. and making a life there,” she said.
Harris’ uncle, meanwhile, said he has not spoken to his niece since the election results were projected.
“She will be so busy. I spoke to her two days ago on a family group call,” he said, although he is set to go to Washinton in January for her inauguration.