Tamil Nadu Has One More Reason to Celebrate. Dr Céline Gounder is on Biden’s Coronavirus Advisory Board


Tamil Nadu Has One More Reason to Celebrate. Dr Céline Gounder is on Biden’s Coronavirus Advisory Board

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Perhaps, the US-India ties run far deeper than we thought. After Thulasendrapuram celebrated Kamala Harris’ victory as Vice President-elect, Tamil Nadu has one more reason to be overjoyed. Dr Céline Gounder, of Tamil origin, is one of the 13 doctors appointed to US President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board.

A clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, Dr Gounder is also an HIV/infectious diseases specialist and internist, epidemiologist, journalist, and filmmaker. Phew! That’s quite a profile.

Her Tamilian roots can be traced back to her father, Raj Natarajan Gounder, who hails from  Perumapalayam village near Erode district. In the late 1960s, he moved to the US and worked at the Boeing Company.

Dr Gounder also takes pride in her heritage. Sharing an article about how Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia wilfully mispronounced Kamala Harris’ name, she said, “Americans still today have difficulty pronouncing foreign-sounding names.”

In another tweet, the 43-year-old, whose mother is from France, went on to explain the Indian connect in her name.“Many ask why I use the caste name Gounder as my last name. My father immigrated to the USA in the 1960s. Americans had a hard time saying Natarajan. Gounder was easier for them to pronounce,” she wrote. Further adding that it is her “history and identity”, she said that she would not be changing her name.

Céline Gounder’s connection to India is by no means just limited to her father’s name, however. She frequented Perumapalayam before establishing The Raj Gounder Foundation in 2018. Named after her father, the foundation supports children’s education. It also helps the government-run Modakurichi Boys Higher Secondary School where her father studied.

Moreover, during the lockdown, realising that kids would miss out on nutritious food with schools shutdown, she directed the foundation to deliver grocery kits at every child’s doorstep to ensure they could access a healthy diet. “Even before the lockdown was announced in India, she made us aware about Covid-19 and sent the villagers guidelines on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of the disease,” Devaraj Nallasivam, secretary of the Raj Gounder Foundation, told The New Indian Express.

Dr Gounder’s appointment to the Covid-19 advisory board has been met with a lot of cheer back home. “Happy to hear about the appointment of a woman of Tamil origin to this crucial task force,” DMK’s leader MK Stalin tweeted in congratulations to Dr Céline.

She is not the only Indian who made it to the task force. Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general, is of Karnataka origin. After being asked to resign by the Trump administration in 2017, this marks Muthry’s return to health policy.

Congratulating both Gounder and Murthy, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami stated in a tweet, “both of them have made India proud”.

Acknowledging the well-wishes sent her way from Tamil Nadu, Dr Gounder shared screenshots of media coverage in Indian channels, simply captioning the Twitter thread as “My people in Tamil Nadu, India very proud.”

She also proudly shared the news of her relatives back in the village being interviewed about her achievements.

In 2017, Céline Gounder was named as one of the 25 Women Changing the World by People Magazine, and she continues to live up to that title.