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Home > News > Report

Think India, think Gandhi, says Senator

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 13, 2007 03:17 IST

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who played a hand in the first ever instance when a Hindu prayer opened the US Senate, has said "if people have any misunderstanding about Indians and Hindus, all they have to do is think of Gandhi."

Reid facilitated Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed of the Indian Association of Northern Nevada, to deliver the first-ever Hindu prayer to open the US Senate on Thursday.

Reid, taking to the Senate floor, immediately after Zed delivered the opening prayer as a guest chaplain, which was disrupted as he was about to begin by some Christian fundamentalists who were ejected soon after they screamed, 'Lord Jesus, protect us from this abomination,' said, "Here's a man (Gandhi) who changed the world, a man who believed in peace."

The Senator said that Zed had ended his prayer with the words, peace, peace, peace. "That was the prayer. If there were ever a time with this international war on terror that we're fighting now where people have to understand how important peace is, think of Gandhi, a man who gave his life for peace."

"A tiny, little man in physical stature, but a giant in morality," he said, and pointed out that "Gandhi is the man (the late civil rights leader) Martin Luther King followed."

Reid said that Rev King's "nonviolence was based on the teachings of Gandhi. We had the civil rights movement led by this man small in stature. But he was a giant of a man morally just as Gandhi was."

He said, "I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak in communication with our heavenly father regarding peace. I am grateful that he's here. I'm thankful that he was able to offer this prayer of peace in the United States Capitol."

"And I say to everyone concerned, think of Gandhi. If you have a problem in the world, think of what this great man has done to bring about peace and nonviolence to this troubled world."

Earlier, in his remarks, after introducing Zed and spelling out his credentials, Reid reminisced about his "long standing association with the Indian community."

"I went to college in Logan, Utah, Utah State University," he said, and described it as "a cold, cold place. Brigham Young, when he sent the people to colonise the West, had people come back from Cache County to tell him it couldn't be settled because it froze there every month of the year."

Reid said, "The first two years, I lived off campus. I was married and I would drive up that hill to the campus, and there walking every day were students. They were Indians. Coming to the United States to study from India. Utah State specialised in engineering and agriculture, and these young men came from India to study at Utah State University, and I would give them rides."

"I did that for two years. Put as many in the car as would fit and when it came time to graduate, one of them came to me and said, 'Would you and Mrs Reid stay over for a day, and we'd like to do a traditional Indian feast for you.'"

Reid, who's originally from a small Nevada city called Searchlight, said, "I didn't know what they were talking about. But we had that traditional Indian feast, and many of them were dressed similar to Mr Zed here, and that was an eye-opener for me. And, they had all this Indian food. I'm a guy from Searchlight who ate beans and rice, potatoes, and when we were lucky some steak my mother used to pound so it would be tender and we could eat it."

The lawmaker said Indian food to him at the time "was unusual," but spoke of how much "we enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. They gave us gifts when it was over. It was all a feast. It was traditional Indian food."

Reid said that although he could not remember all the gifts he was given that evening, "I do remember one thing they gave me. It is here in my office in the Capitol. That was many, many years ago, we've had had children since then and lots of grandchildren. But this is a little statue of Gandhi, hand carved. It is done so well. His staff, you can pull it out of his hand-- it's done really well."

"And, I've protected and saved that all these years, and it's in my office and I've always had it there," he said, and then went on to say that the reason he mentioned this was that if people had any misperceptions of Indians and Hindus, all they had to do was think of Gandhi -- a man who has changed the world.