Indian American Janani Ramachandran takes oath as Oakland City Councilmember in a sari

Ritu Jha-

Garbed in a cream color silk sari and bindi, Indian American Janani Ramachandran made a statement like no other as she was sworn in as the City Councilmember for Oakland’s District 4.

Ramachandran is the youngest person elected to Oakland’s City Council, as well as the first Indian American, first South Asian and first LGBTQ woman of color to serve on Oakland City Council.

Ramachandran is a public interest attorney dedicated to empowering communities and fighting for responsive government institutions. A graduate of Stanford University and Berkeley Law, Ramachandran has worked at various legal nonprofits and served on the board of violence prevention nonprofits across Oakland.

She is a Commissioner on the California Commission for API American Affairs, and previously served on the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission. Ramachandran is an East Bay native and a former professional musician.

Born and raised in California, Janani is the daughter of immigrants from a small South Indian village. Janani’s passion for justice began early.

At 16, Janani founded a nonprofit that built libraries in under-resourced schools in her local community. She attended Stanford University, where she studied political theory, systems of democratic governance, and economic development.

Janani later worked as a home-visiting case manager at a community health clinic, serving pregnant mothers experiencing domestic violence and housing insecurity.

Witnessing the injustices her clients faced at the hands of our inequitable legal system, she was driven to make a difference as a lawyer and attended Berkeley Law.

Janani, who knows her district and city quite well and have started working on to building a safe, vibrant Oakland, and accountable City Hall, spoke to indica over the phone after being sworn in January 9 and walking on the stage in sari, a kind of a bold step in the mainstream politics.

When asked about her decision to wear a sari at the swearing-in program, she said: “Two weeks back, when I began thinking about the program, I wrote a speech and I thought, why not celebrate my culture? Especially as the first South Asian on Oakland City Council. There are very few Indian women in politics. And I want to showcase a part of my culture because I’m bringing that to that lens, to everything that I do. I’m the daughter of immigrants from India, and that is an important part of my background.”

Sharing with joy her parents, family members, and some friends were on the podium when she was sworn in along with other elected members on January 9, Ramachandran said her mother was crying, overwhelmed with joyful emotions, while the others cheered her on. Her parents, family members, and friends had helped her in the campaign by calling on voters along with her.

And, she is already in the thick of things. “We’ve already had two council meetings and have several council meetings coming up. The main thing is thinking about making decisions on very important legislation that’s going to be in front of us in the council meetings ahead. I’m preparing for that.”

The sari that she wore at the swearing-in function was gifted to her by a friend.

“There are a lot of female politicians in India who traditionally wear simple saris without too much pattern and design, which gives a very professional Indian political woman look. I also wear a bindi because that’s traditional for me. I feel proud of wearing the bindi, so I wore that along with the saree,” said Ramachandran.

“I love the sari, though I have difficulty tying it. My mother and my aunt took a long time to tie it for me. It’s not easy to tie, but I love it and I will definitely wear it again for other functions. That photo of me taking oath in a sari made it to an international WhatsApp group on sari fashion. To my knowledge, I am the first person in the United States to be sworn in in a sari. And I’m very happy about it. But everyone was very happy that I wore the traditional sari. Even my colleagues told me that it looks so nice and it was wonderful that I got to share my culture with all the other folks there.”

She thinks Oakland is a very welcoming place. “The city has people from every nationality, religion, and race. There are issues and conflicts and things like that, but it’s a place that’s historically been welcoming to all people. And, we a very fast-growing South Asian population in Oakland, especially in my district where the numbers for Indian Americans and South Asians, in general, are very quickly rising.”

She adds, “So, I think more and more people see South Asian and South Indian people more often. It’s an important part of Oakland’s demographics as well. It’s been a welcoming place; to me, it’s what I want to do. It’s a choice. I’m proud of my culture and want people to know that.”

Related posts