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IMC-USA meet seeks to strengthen India's secularism

June 25, 2008 00:48 IST

The Indian Muslim Council-USA, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities and promoting pluralism, had its fourth annual convention May 31 with the theme 'The Idea of India: Challenges and Prospects.' Tarun Tejpal, CEO and editor in chief of  India's Tehelka newsmagazine, was the keynote speaker.

Held at the Meadows Convention Center in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, and attended by more than 450 people, the convention, among other things, discussed ways to strengthen India's secular democracy.

Tejpal noted the issues faced by minority groups and said India is a free country and it is 'incumbent upon us to stand up for our rights and get them, and that is the beauty of the foundation principles of this country.'

He criticised the politics of differences being practiced in India that feed on dissent and suppress politics of ideas and of social change. He recommended a 'return to the idea of India, as was first enjoined and enshrined for us by the founding fathers of India.' His address was greeted by a standing ovation.

At an awards ceremony recognizing various services and contributions to society, IMC-USA honored Tejpal with its Moulana Muhammad Ali Johar Award in Journalism. Zakia Jafri, who presented the award, is the widow of Ehshan Jafri, the late member of Parliament who was murdered during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

The Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali Award in Humanitarian work went to Dr Khursheed Malik; the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award in humanitarian work to the Help Handicap Foundation. The Tipu Sultan Award for Courageously Serving India was given to Dr Angana Chatterji, activist and associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

US Representative Keith Ellison (Democrat, Minnesota), addressed the audience in a video message and described the struggle of Indian Muslims as parallel to the struggle of  groups in the United States who have fought for civil rights.

Short documentary films were screened to highlight a panel theme, 'Impunity: A Roadblock to Justice.' The documentaries included The Widow Colony on the survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; one on Dalits; another titled Encountered on Saffron Agenda? about riots against Muslims, and In The Name of God, which discussed attacks on Christians in Orissa.

The banquet session was also addressed by Nishrin Hussain, Ehsan Jafri's daughter who recounted the atrocities suffered by Muslims in the Gujarat riots, and exhorted the audience to prevent such injustice from occurring again.

A Correspondent