This week, Editor-in-Chief Molly Jean Box sat down with astronomy lecturer and human rights activist Rajiv Uttamchandani to discuss his work to prevent crime against women.
What brought you to Los Angeles?
It’s a rather surprising fact, considering what I do today. I chose to migrate to Los Angeles due to my desires in my teen years to become a professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). I’ve been a lifelong fan, and desired to enroll in a training school named Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW), in fact the same training school that John Cena was in. The school was located in El Segundo, however due to my parents’ pressure for me to at least enroll in a normal college, I studied astrophysics (a strange choice I know), at Cal State Northridge, while preparing for my wrestling training program.
What made you want to teach astronomy at LMU?
Through my charity program, H.E.R., I became acquainted with Dr. Shane Martin, then Dean at the School of Education (SOE). I was impressed with their outreach and community impact programs and desired to collaborate. I in fact hosted a large weekend Conference, titled the H.E.R. Summit, at the LAX Hyatt Regency Hotel. Dr. Martin and a few faculty at the School of Education attended my event. Through this connection, I spoke at length across various classes at the SOE about human rights, social responsibility, and the importance of providing education to trafficked persons. One connection led to another, finally meeting Seaver College Dean Dr. Tina Choe, Associate Dean Dr. Nazmul Ula, and finally Chair of Physics Dr. Jonas Mureika, which led to teaching both Physics and Astronomy classes at the University.
Where and when did your work as a human rights activist begin?
I started my charity as the International STEM Society for Human Rights which has since been re-named H.E.R. (Humanity Education & Rights), in January 2015. I was extremely bothered by violence against women, especially the Delhi Bus Rape Incident which occurred on December 16 2012, and ISIS' invasion and subsequent sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in Mt. Sinjar, Iraq on August 4th 2012. This cannot be, and upon speaking with an individual whom I greatly respect and admire, I was told to "focus on the solution, not the problem."I haven't looked back since.
In your opinion, what is the greatest human rights issue facing our world today?
There are multiple - the global refugee crisis, combined with violence against women and child pornography, are the greatest and most heinous issues we as a species are currently facing. I well understand the importance of climate change, especially as a factor which exacerbates the aforementioned crises. However, the thought that hundreds of millions of children, women and men being displaced, sexually imprisoned and forced to do things we cannot even imagine quite literally as slaves, is something unacceptable. And this problem is growing, traffickers are becoming more global and powerful. We are falling behind in addressing this problem.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Well, my greatest accomplishment hasn't been secured yet. It will take time. I am barely scratching the surface as to what I desire to do with my time in this world.
If you could accomplish one thing in the next year, what would it be?
I started an international business and partnership with the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), in early 2019. This project has grown to be a multi-million dollar corporation which encompasses agricultural work, industrial development and the provision of green energy to the Kingdom and surrounding regions in the South African Region. We are at the tail end of completing the launch of our various initiatives with our global partners. We expect this to occur sometime in March or April this year. Needless to say, it will be a significant accomplishment, and one which we will certainly share through international news media channels.
Much of your work surrounds gender equality, how do you feel about the social climate regarding this topic on LMU’s campus
I feel LMU, due to its Jesuit values, as a whole is quite conscious and supportive of gender equality and other related social causes. Certainly they have been very supportive of me and my projects, allowing me to host free-of-cost several events at the University regarding gender-based violence. Furthermore, Dr. Tina Choe is an excellent example of a woman with a highly respected position at LMU. Though my focus is ultimately on addressing gender-based violence, especially human trafficking and sexual assaults, I certainly appreciate the growing prevalence of women in power across various industries.
What can students do to take action against the human rights issues that you fight for?
This is a tough question to respond to. Addressing things like human trafficking, child pornography, or the global refugee crisis are by far not easy. Such charity work must come from the heart and at great sacrifice. We cannot hope to solve these issues simply by hosting events or raising awareness. Action is necessary, and this type of action is not for everyone. I feel it is most appropriate for students to concentrate on their studies, succeed as in their respective fields or as entrepreneurs, while keeping social causes dear to them in mind. At the right time of their success, then they may devote considerable resources to fighting for important causes.
Your website states you have worked to begin programs in STEAM, can you touch on the creation of those programs and what they aim to accomplish?
During my tenure as the Director of STEAM Education Initiatives at the New York Film Academy, I started this movement in an aim to bridge the gap between STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) and the Arts. We created special classes which provided emphasis on the use of STEM in various fields in the Arts such as filmmaking and cinematography (e.g., the physics of lenses and cameras), and even Acting and Screenwriting (to be better educated in especially challenging science / science fiction topics which frequently are so poorly treated in industry films).
You started the H.E.R Clubs, can you speak on what those are and why you started them?
Our H.E.R. Clubs are a part of our larger program named the H.E.R. Academy. This is a school I started two years ago in Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees. We currently have approximately 400 youth enrolled and thus approximately this number of H.E.R. Club members. The goal is to connect multiple H.E.R. Academy locations digitally to one another, and create a movement whereby refugee youth, as members of an organization dedicated to addressing not only their own crises, but that being faced by primarily women and children around the world, contribute significantly and work with each other to develop and apply real solutions towards addressing these pressing problems.
What is your favorite fact about the universe?
There are so many. If I had to choose one, it would perhaps be the fact that we may not be living in a universe at all. This entire Creation may contain many universes, or multiverses, as we refer to it. Think about this, in our universe we estimate there may be 1-2 trillion galaxies, each containing perhaps 500 billion to a trillion stars, each star containing some dozen or so planets. This number is immense when you think of the Earth being just one of planet. And to think there are perhaps an immeasurable amount of other universes with similar or different properties. The human mind can scarcely hope to find the truth of our existence and place in the Cosmos.