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Mourning the Loss of a Dedicated Sewa Volunteer and Advocate: Milind Makwana

22 Jul 2023 12:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Milind Makwana, a real "karma yogi" and a resilient warrior. Milind suffered a massive heart attack around 11:30 pm on July 18 after attending the Cupertino, CA, meeting on the SB403 Caste Bill. Doctors' best efforts and fellow volunteers' presence could not save him.


Milind arrived in Cupertino, CA on July 18 to speak at the City Council meeting against SB403. Throughout the day, he participated in various meetings and the City council hearing, displaying the true spirit of a warrior. He fought passionately for his cause, showing us all the strength of his character and dedication. Tragically, he collapsed moments after the hearing, leaving us all in shock and disbelief.


Milind's journey began in Mumbai. He later pursued his dreams in the US, where he made significant contributions to the high-tech sector as a Technical Program Manager at a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley. Beyond his professional achievements, he was an active community member, passionate about learning and teaching Hindu precepts and principles to children. Volunteering with Sewa International for a decade, he found purpose and guidance. 


As a Sewa volunteer, Milind visited Tamil Nadu in 2015 to witness and participate in relief work as massive floods hit the state. He went to a government school in Perambur, where Sewa organized a medical camp and helped children get medical checkups. When floods ravaged Mumbai, his hometown in India, and multiple other disasters caused havoc worldwide, Sewa International stepped in to help. Milind supported these efforts by actively raising funds from friends and colleagues. He regularly volunteered at the California Bay Area Sewa chapter, actively participating in various service activities and fundraising events. He ensured he focused his energies on eradicating misery by serving selflessly as his beloved Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu scriptures teach.


Milind contributed to several Sewa projects. When a massive earthquake struck Nepal, he worked tirelessly to get people to donate to the relief efforts. Thanks to Milind's work, the Sewa team won a grant from PayPal. He also ensured Sewa participated in the PayPal Opportunity Hackathon to build a mobile app to match volunteers to service needs. During the Kerala floods, Milind worked hard to raise money. When wildfire gutted homes and forests in California, Milind was at the forefront, assembling volunteers to arrange relief activities for evacuees, firefighters, and first responders. Many Sewa volunteers remember his tireless efforts to provide food, heaters, warmers, and blankets to firefighters battling destructive wildfires in California's Paradise camp-fire and Kinkade fire incidents.


Milind had two setbacks when he was in college. In the third year of engineering college in Mumbai, his father had to deal with several customers breaching their contracts, leading to a substantial debt burden on the family. During this challenging time, he and his family had support from neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. Milind graduated from college, being the first in his community to earn an engineering degree and make his way to the United States. The aspiration was to secure a well-paying job that would help him pay off his family's debts.


In an article in American Kahani, Milind, in response to the coordinated calumny against Hindus, boldly wrote that he had never been discriminated against in India or America because of his caste: "I lived in Mumbai's infamous chawls — crowded, low-quality tenements — where we rented a small, cramped room from a relative. Our neighbors included a priest and a Vedic astrologer. While both were members of what some would deem India's "upper" or "dominant" castes, we were all in the same socio-economic boat. We didn't think of them as superior, nor did they think of us as inferior. We too lived harmoniously, helping one another when needed, lamenting the struggles of upward mobility, and celebrating festivals and special occasions together." 


Recalling his life in Mumbai, he wrote, "As someone who grew up in a so-called 'lower-caste' family in India before becoming a technology professional in Silicon Valley, I can tell you that not only are the realities of people like me far more nuanced than they are made to seem but so are our perspectives on how to best address caste-based discrimination when it occurs." 


Milind wrote in response to the numerous legislative efforts to introduce "caste" as a category of discrimination in the US. In response to the action by the City Council of Seattle, he said they wanted to ignore voices like his. He wrote, "Part of the reason is that my story does not fit neatly into the stereotypes Americans at large are inundated with. That story wants to tell a story of division and widespread oppression; a story which deliberately distorts and demonizes Hinduism's teachings and traditions and then claims that my religion is not a safe space for Dalits.


In a consequential step, the Assembly Judiciary Committee of California recently conducted a hearing for Senate Bill 403 (SB403), which ostensibly seeks to prohibit "caste discrimination. "Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the USA. Many fear that codifying caste in public policy would further fuel Hinduphobia in the USA. A few weeks before his death, Milind fervently advocated against SB403 at the Sacramento City Hall. His determination to fight for what he believed in made a lasting impact on those around him.


Milind also wrote for children. In his unique short poem book, he introduced Hindu mantras to children through the daily lives of two American-born Hindus. The book features Sanskrit and English versions of well-known and popular Hindu mantras, with meanings, rhyming words, and beautiful illustrations. Milind donated all profits from the book sales to Sewa International to support local community projects. 


His latest book, "Grit, Gratitude, and Mira," is a biography of Olympian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, "a fighter." Milind was a fighter to his last breath. He was just 44 years old and had so much more to give to the world. He was a loving father, survived by his two children, a 14-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.


In honor of his remarkable journey as a resilient social worker, community organizer, author, and speaker, the community has initiated a fundraiser Let's get inspiration from the life of this great karma yogi and make a positive difference in the community around us. 


Arun Kankani, President of Sewa International, said, "Milind's loss is a great shock to all, and a much sadder part of it is that God has taken away such a gem of a karyakarta (volunteer) so early. As we remember his life, let us also reflect on the importance of caring for our well-being. This tragic incident serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life. I urge everyone to prioritize their health. As we grieve, let us keep Milind's noble soul in our thoughts and prayers, hoping that he attains moksha." 

Sandeep Khadkekar

VP, Marketing, Sewa International USA


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