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Race-Relations Would Improve Through Education And Awareness

Geetha Patil

Race-Relations would improve through Education and Awareness

Gandhi-150 seminar report

The constable came. He took me by the hand and pushed me out. My luggage was also taken out. I refused to go to the other compartment and the train steamed away. I went and sat in the waiting room, keeping my hand-bag with me, and leaving the other luggage where it was. The railway authorities had taken charge of it.  – From “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” the Autobiography of Mohandas Gandhi

On the night of June 7, 1893, the young Barrister Mohandas Gandhi suffered his racial humiliation in South Africa when he was thrown out of his railway compartment because he traveled First Class.  His pleadings of his rights were ignored by the officials and he spent the night in the dark waiting room shivering through the winter night.  The event changed the direction of his life and he recognized the racial treatment of the Indians in South Africa. Thus began his nonviolent agitation to improve their rights. Eventually he brought his methods, techniques and philosophy to India leading to India’s independence in 1947.  

The connotation of race is a prejudice in human mind.  Through our built-in insecurity for survival, we wrap ourselves through our own bias in relation to our culture, thinking, food and habits.  We forget that the entire humanity is one race, locally being colored differently through sunlight and weather.  Accepting others is a spiritual value that was promoted in India through her cultural history.  The resources in the planet are not owned by individuals not do they have any boundaries.  All have equal natural right to exist in order to compete for survival through their own strength and talents.   Any segregation through color, national origin or presumed race is artificial. 

With these opening remarks by Dr Bijoy Misra, and a prayer song by Mr. Prem Nagar and Ms Geetha Patil, India Discovery Center convened is annual celebration of Gandhi’s birthday event with a panel discussion entitled “Race and Race Relations in the US – Immigrants’ Perspective.”  Dr Jorge Riveras, an immigrant from Venezuela and a professor in Framingham State University, Dr Diana Chirita, an immigrant from Rumania and a retired Professor, Dr Mawdudur Rahman, an immigrant from Bangladesh and a Professor-Emeritus from Suffolk University and Ms. Sunita Daryanani, an immigrant from China and a Homemaker joined as panelists.  Dr. C. Gopinath, an immigrant from India and a professor in Suffolk university acted as the Moderator.

Dr. Gopinath set the tone to analyze the topic with a particular slant to discrimination of immigrants based on race in society and encouraged the panelists to share the stories of their life to note incidents of differentiation and discrimination.  Dr Riveras narrated his upbringing in Venezuela and eventual meeting with Hugo Chavez, the military leader.  Dr Riveras worked in corporations travelling the world extensively for twenty years before he settled to education and switched to teaching.  He did not have any particular untoward experience personally though he noticed immigrants without education being subject to harassment causing personal indignation.    

Dr. Diana Chirita left Communist Romania for higher studies in Vienna and continued to travel west.  Though not personally the target of racial discrimination, she observed it amply in all of the countries her life journey took her to.  She believes that besides socio-economic or political components to every type of discrimination, there is also cultural imprinting that happens to most of us at an early age. This is very hard to shed, and we have to work actively on ourselves to do so. While growing up she witnessed the discrimination of the Roma people in her country of origin and pointed out that there was no understanding, let alone advocacy for them among other ethnic groups. She mentioned the lack of economic opportunity in modern day Romania as a cause of immigration to other countries in the European Union.

Dr. Mawdurur Rahman has been a student of Islamic culture and habitat for decades.  He pointed out various issues with the faith-based discrimination in the world.  Through a number of charts, he tried to establish that the color of the skin was more of a noticeable handicap in discrimination than faith alone.  He makes efforts to educate all through his Knowledge Globalization Institute based in Lexington, MA.

Ms. Sunita Daryanani was born in Shanghai, China as Chien Chien Fung.  She came to Hong Kong to escape the Chinese oppression and started working when barely sixteen years of age.  She married in a Sindhi family and got a new name and a new home.  She moved to the US in the ‘70s and has been busy in raising her children.  She did not forget to support her family back in China.  Her brothers did immigrate but learning English was hard.  Their hard work has paid off with the next generation well established in professions and business.     

The presentations were followed by an hour-long Q&A session.  The questions centered on the discrimination by the majority in different areas of the world including India, especially the plight of the Kashmiris.   A person of Australian descent narrated his experience in the US during his long stay being particularly sensitive to his inter-racial marriage.  He emphasized education as the key to address the racial stigma in the society.  A lady of African descent followed up on the theme of education in the family and at various levels to help create awareness and remove inequality. 

A parallel track of questions was on discrimination faced inside one’s own community because of ignorance or economy.  A person of Chinese descent spoke about lack of understanding of cultural values and their arbitrary interpretation.  A person of Indian descent mentioned about his discomfort about not being accepted in his home after many years of stay abroad.  While the moderator responded with the Gandhi quote “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, another person expressed scientific logic that discrimination could be built in to human development.   Another person of oriental descent seconded saying that it does matter how we apply our inner instincts. Closing the panel discussion, Mr. Gopinath pointed out the complexity of the issues being discussed. Race relations were intertwined with concerns about immigration and religious persecution and it was difficult to separate them.

The program ended with an inter-faith prayer song, much preferred by Gandhi.  The attendees were treated to tea and cookies.  Dr. Misra thanked the panelists, the moderator, the volunteers and the attendees.  The program is supported by India Discovery Center https://www.indiadiscoverycenter.org

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