Date Submitted: Thu Oct 14, 2010
BY A STAFF REPORTER
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
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
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.