Date Submitted: Thu Oct 14, 2010


CERRITOS, CA - Jagriti marked Gandhi Jayanti and the late Lal Bahadur Shastir’s birthday on Oct 2, with a panel discussion on the plight of minorities in South Asia, particularly in Kashmir, Bangladesh and Tibet. 

The forum, hosted at JJ India Cuisine in Cerritos, was moderated by the President of Jagriti, Dr. Parvin Syal.

The panel of speakers included Dr. Ram Mohan Roy, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Relations at CSUN, Dr. Richard Benkin, an independent human rights activist from Chicago who is the Special Advisor to the Intelligence Summit on South Asian affairs, Dr. Amrit Nehru, community  activist and Senior Director of the Kashmiri Hindu Foundation and Chog Tsering, Secretary of the Tibetan Community Organization in the Southland., who has spoken widely on the plight of the Tibetan community in exile following the Sino-occupation of his homeland.

The forum was opened by Lou Trerotola, who welcomed all the guests.  Followed by a brief address by the reigning Miss India Galaxy, Diksha Vadan and Miss India America, Miss Avni Mithaiwalla.

In his introductory remarks, Syal cited the background of Jagriti. The organization was founded by Kamlesh Chauhan originally to address the issue of violence against women and Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir.  The organization later addressed issues of domestic violence against women.  With the resurgence of violent acts committed against minorities in Kashmir and Bangladesh in particular, the mission of this organization is that “No nation should be divided on the basis of race and religion.”

Dr. Roy gave a historical and political overview of minorities in South Asia.  He pointed out that the problem of minorities is, historically, nothing new.  In India, there is religious conflict which far supersedes any racial conflict.  Imperial Britain, he pointed out, had developed a policy of supporting minorities, thus eliciting the support of the Muslim aristocracy of the time.  India, with a majority Hindu population, has regional, religious and linguistic minorities; in Kashmir, however, the Hindus and Buddhists are the minorities.  While the Indian constitution guarantees the rights of individuals and protects the rights of minorities, the question remains why are the minorities of Kashmir, i.e. Hindus and Buddhists, not protected?
Dr. Benkin spoke on the plight of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh.  He pointed out that since 1971, the Hindu population in Bangladesh has steadily declined.  Anti-Hindu incidents are happening regularly, including destruction of temples, abduction of children, takeover of land, acts of rape, but the perpetrators are not being brought to justice by the Bangladesh government.  There is a ‘social cleansing’ in progress.  He proposed that the American government needs to be kept informed of the atrocities being committed there and appealed to those present to “make your vote count” and to keep steady pressure on their representatives to find ways to condemn the acts of violence against Hindus in Bangladesh.
Dr. Amrit Nehru spoke passionately about the displacement of Hindu minorities in Kashmir.  Although India is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, offering the same rights for all minority religions under the constitution, it is not so in Kashmir.  Hindus form a majority in India, but, as a minority in Kashmir, they are offered no protection of their rights by the Indian constitution.  As a result, the Kashmiri Pandits have become refugees in their own country, and the government has accepted their violent expulsion with impunity, having done nothing to reverse the “ethnic cleansing” going on there.   He said that, while paying homage to ‘Bapu’, who believed in non-violence, we must not forget the great sacrifices of other Indians, including innumerable Muslims such as Havaldar Abdul Hamid, who won the Vir Chakra in 1965 and Ashfaqualla Khan, a great revolutionary who fought against British rule, to mention but two.  He appealed to the community to reach out to the Indian government to facilitate the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley which has been their home for thousands of years.

Finally, Mr. Chog Tsering spoke of the preservation of Tibetan culture and identity.  After the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, many Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, fled to India, with some to Bhutan and Nepal.  The Chinese are systematically exterminating the Tibetan religion and culture in Tibet.  There is a mass population transfer from China; the largely nomadic population of Tibet is being forced by the Chinese government to move to the cities to compete for jobs; they are being forced to learn Chinese; the landscape of the country is being altered to become more Chinese.  The result is a cultural genocide, which “must be stopped right now”.

A question and answer session followed, prompting further discussion on the need for wider community interest and participation in causes such as these.  While no concrete solutions were proposed, it was generally recognized that there needs to be unity among different organizations in the U.S. to promote awareness and education.

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