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IAFPE Ties Community Engagement With Political Effectiveness

Press Release
05/12/2005

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”.

Eight elected 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 large.

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 equality.

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 interests.

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.”

Vijay 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 suspiciously.’”

“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 Immigration Clinics.

Kranthi Palreddy and Swati Sharma discussed their experiences as last year’s interns and introduced the 2005 intern-candidates.

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 .



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