IAFPE Ties Community Engagement With Political Effectiveness
Indian American Forum for Political Education kicked off its 12th
Annual Internship Program on May 1, with an array of prominent leaders
who encouraged Indian Americans to take an active role in their
communities and fight for their civil liberties. The theme of the
meeting was to “Create an Engaged Community”.
State Senators, Representatives and Town Officials, student interns and
Forum members and other members of the community attended the event,
which was held at Cary Memorial Hall in historic Lexington, Mass.
Dr. Ravi Sakhuja, President-Elect of National Forum was the lead
organizer of the event. He developed the dual themes of taking
responsibility for our neighborhoods we live in; while protecting our
civil rights. Sakhuja was recently elected as Lexington Town
Meeting Member. He observed that only 1% of Indian Americans living in
Lexington were engaged with the town affairs while being 4% of
the local population. Professionally, Indian Americans have done
extremely well; 6% of US medical doctors are of Indian origin while we
are only 0.6% of the US population. Similarly 13% of US
college educators are of Indian origin. But when it comes to the
community involvement we are missing from action, Sakhuja said.
Lexington Selectman Richard Paggett, State Rep. Jay Kaufman
(D-Lexington) and former Ambassador to Belize, George Bruno encouraged
Indian Americans to engage with the mainstream society and become more
involved in American politics, starting at the local level.
“You don’t have to have lived here for generations to serve in town
meeting,” Paggett said. “We certainly need to get you more
involved at the local level. I lived in India for three years and
I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t have an opinion about everything.”
Forum is launching Health Fairs in cooperation with Indian Medical
Assoc. of New England to offer free healthcare services not only to
Indian Americans, but also to community at-large. It is also launching
free Immigration clinics in cooperation with South Asian Bar
Association and ASRA, an organization to serve victims of Domestic
Violence. These clinics will offer 15 minutes free consultation to the
underserved members of Indian American as well as broad community at
The second half of the program focused on issues of Civil Rights Infringement post 9-11.
Dilip Mathur, a life-member of Forum, moderated a town meeting-style discussion about civil rights violations and hate crimes.
Deval Patrick, former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in
President Bill Clinton’s administration, said he was worried about the
change in attitude toward civil rights after the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, and called the Patriot Act an excuse for the right-wing
agenda to infringe on personal liberties.
“People get swept up
in the aftermath of fear,” Patrick said. “We forget who we
are. People have come to these shores from all over the world.”
Patrick, who is running for governor of Massachusetts in 2006, called
civil rights “a classic struggle about access” to work, education and
Paul Watanabe, director of Asian American Studies at
University of Massachusetts-Boston, said “In trying to define
ourselves, we [mainstream society] end up excluding others,” making
reference to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Robert Leikend, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of New
England, who compared Indian Americans’ place in American society to
the past experience of Jewish Americans, said minority groups must
learn how to organize together and take action to promote their
Carol Rose, executive director of the American
Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that while the
Patriot Act is well-intentioned, it includes several “aggregious
amendments” that infringe on individuals’ civil rights. “Many of
the most aggregious parts of the Patriot Act do nothing to make us
safer at all. It’s really pretend security.”
Shah, a member of the audience who works for a publishing company in
Boston, also spoke out against the Patriot Act. Shah said he was
“falsely detained” for his physical appearance at the Democratic
National Convention in Boston last summer.
Shah said the
Secret Service was watching him as he walked around the security
perimeter of the convention, and arrested him because he was “‘acting
“What a surprise, [they arrested] men of South
Asian descent who wore beards,” Shah said. “Racial profiling is
wrong for all.”
Ravi Sakhuja praised the United States as a
land of freedom and opportunity, but said the government is infringing
on the rights of minority citizens. Government’s actions are
discouraging new immigrants from coming into US which has been the life
and breath of US growth. He reminded the audience that Indian Americans
have contributed to founding nearly one quarter of the new start-ups in
the last decade while being less than 1% of US population. In the
process we have created nearly 400,000 jobs, contributing a great deal
to country’s economic prosperity.
There is no increased security and prosperity for the majority, if you compromise a minority [group’s] security, Sakhuja said”
There are approximately 1.8 million residents of Indian origin living in US.
The function also was a fund-raiser for Forum’s flagship Internship
program’s 12th year of existence. In 2005, Forum is sponsoring over 20
students as interns in the offices of national and state politicians’
offices and campaigns as well as non-Government agencies such as ACLU,
MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugees Advocacy Coalition) and
Anti Defamation League. This year’s program has been expanded to six
locations including Boston, New York, Washington DC, Raleigh-North
Carolina, New Jersey and California. The 2005 interns are: Naseem
Bhandari (Rutgers), Ambika Chikarmane (Bryn Mawr College), Priyanka
Dayal (BU), Neelima Gonuguntla (BU), Jinanshu Jain (Northwestern),
Priti Kapoor (BU), Aliya Khalidi (Wellesly), Ashima Khanna (Emory),
Swapna Krishna (Northwestern), Kranthi Palreddy (Brandeis), Arjun
Parasher (U of Miami), Gouri Sawant (U of Florida), Harshdeep Sawhney
(Embry Riddle), Nihar Shah (Columbia), Swati Sharma (BU), Harjot Singh
(Rutgers), Shraddha Soparawala (UI-Chicago), Kevin Thakkar (UI-Urbana),
Neil Thakkar (BU), Urmen Upadhyay (Harvard and Tufts), Tanvi Zaveri
(BU) and Arya Shekhar (Brown).
This year’s interns will also
undertake community based Forum projects such as community data-base
preparation, voter registration, citizenship drives and follow-up on
Patriot’s Act as well as assist with organization of Health-Fairs and
Kranthi Palreddy and Swati Sharma
discussed their experiences as last year’s interns and introduced the
Forum’s internship program was first of its kind in US and has sponsored more than 100 interns since 1994.
The internship program is one of the Forum’s most important objectives
as it helps mold the leaders of the future, Sakhuja said.
Forum's mission is to develop Indian American leaders for public service in civil rights , politics, and the community .
|1. April 15, 2011
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