Ashwin Ramaswami Wants To Talk About Religion More, Not Less

Featured & Cover Ashwin Ramaswami Wants To Talk About Religion More Not Less

(RNS) — Whether studying computer science at Stanford or technology law at Georgetown, working for the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency or, as now, running for Georgia’s state Senate, Ashwin Ramaswami has always made sure to prioritize four things every day: morning hatha yoga practice and three daily meditations — morning, noon and evening.

Ashwin Ramaswami’s state Senate campaign carries with it broader national themes of election protection and Hindus’ emerging presence in American politics.

The 24-year-old Hindu Indian American and Democrat is running against Republican incumbent Shawn Still for the 48th District in the Georgia Senate. While local in the sense of the issues the candidates are running on, the race has broader national themes of election protection — not least because Still, who was indicted along with former President Donald Trump on allegations of interfering in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia — and Hindus’ emergence as a presence in American politics.

“Because my opponent was one of the folks whose actions led to what happened on Jan. 6,” said Ramaswami, “there’s this broader idea that we want to protect democracy, and we need people who can speak truth to power.”

It was while he was working for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to protect elections that Ramaswami learned his own state senator had been indicted. “I was among a small team working to protect elections,” said Ramaswami. “And here was this person, representing my area, doing the opposite.”

Born to South Indian immigrants in Johns Creek, Georgia, a suburb north of Atlanta, Ramaswami grew up with the juxtaposition of computers and faith, with parents who worked in information technology and belonged to the local Hindu community. While learning to code in high school, he also taught Sunday school, and at Stanford, while earning a computer science degree, he learned Sanskrit, the language of many Hindu sacred texts. At Georgetown, he helped raise $100,000 to establish an endowment for the university’s dharmic programs.

Ramaswami’s meditation and yoga habits began in high school, when he started his practice every morning at 4 a.m. “That really changed my life,” he said. “It showed me the value of discipline, but it also gave me my own purpose in life, which was to better understand my own tradition and who I am.”

Seva, the Hindu concept of service, helped inspire him to run for office, and he thinks faith has much to add to politics, which he thinks of as a way to change hearts and minds. Religion should not be overlooked as a means to achieve that, he said, pointing to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as role models.

Interfaith dialogue and religious literacy, too, are critical for healthy communities. “Too often our communities are isolated,” said Ramaswami. “People from different countries or religions mostly keep to themselves and don’t talk to each other as much. Through interfaith work, we realize people share a lot of the same values and face the same challenges.”

One of Ramaswami’s priorities is well-being, physical, mental and spiritual. He hopes to dedicate resources for the community’s spiritual and emotional well-being and find ways for the public school system to create community.

“I think everyone, regardless of what religion they are, is always thinking about ‘what’s my purpose in life,’” said Ramaswami. “A society which doesn’t provide avenues for investigating those questions is not going to be a successful society.”

He wants to bring this missing element to politics. “When role models are openly talking about values, religion and what matters to them, that will help the next generation and everyone to make sure that they’re spiritually fulfilled as well,” he said.

Indian Americans, the largest group of South Asian Americans in the country, historically have had little representation in American politics, but their numbers are on the rise in Congress, beginning with the 2013 election of Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu House member, and on the executive level with Kamala Harris’ vice presidency and Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley’s 2024 presidential campaigns. Organizations like Indian American Impact have been established in recent years to elevate the voices of Indian Americans.

“Since Impact was founded in 2016, representation of our communities has increased from approximately 50 elected officials to more than 300 nationwide,” said an Impact spokesperson.

The increase is driven by several converging factors, according to Impact. The children of the first large wave of South Asian immigrants from the 1960s and 1970s are now awakening to their political power, reaching an age where they can leverage resources and opportunities necessary to run for office. As more and more leaders step up to run for office, they inspire others to follow suit.

“The growth of our communities as a voting bloc and their influence on American politics have also motivated many to run,” the spokesperson added, “as they’re driven by a desire to serve their community and supported by its collective strength.”

Hindus only make up about 1% of Georgia’s population, according to Pew Research Center, but 30% of the voting population of Ramaswami’s state Senate District 48 is described as Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander, half of them South Asian. Last year, Georgia’s General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Hinduphobia, and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp established Hindu Heritage Month.

District 48’s recent history reflects this increasing diversity. In 2018, Iranian American Zahra Karinshak won the seat, and in 2020, the district elected Chinese American Michelle Au. Both are Democrats. But after the 2020 redistricting cycle, District 48 was redrawn and Still was elected in 2022. Local political observers said Ramaswami nonetheless has a chance come November.

“This is potentially now a swing district,” said Georgia state Rep. Sam Park, who has endorsed Ramaswami. “Someone of Ashwin’s caliber has a fighting chance of beating this fake elector.”

Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said District 48 appeals to ethnically diverse, younger newcomers with its good schools, green space and Atlanta’s strong job market. He predicts the district will become more Democratic over the next decade due to the changing demographics.

If Ramaswami doesn’t win this year, he might have a much better chance in 2026. “He might be able to flip this district back,” said Bullock. “There’s a chance.”

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