Conyers Equates the Struggle of Minorities in India to the Civil Rights Movement
October 3, 2005
The third annual convention of the Indian Muslim Council – USA, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities and promoting pluralism, was a huge success. [Press Photos | All Photos]
The theme of the event was Indian Americans: Activism for Better India and it was held in Detroit on 1st October, 2005. It was attended by hundreds of members of the Indian Diaspora as well as the representatives from the broad-based Coalition to Build a Better India (CBBI). The speakers included representatives of major world religions as well as experts on International Human Rights Law and leaders of Human Rights organizations.
Congressman John Conyers gave the keynote address and thanked IMC-USA for the Malik Al-Shabazz Award handed to him for his leadership in the field of human rights. He equated the struggle of Indian Muslims and other persecuted minorities in India to that of the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. He highlighted the difficulties faced by a struggling rights movement by reminding that many segments of the African-American community were initially afraid of standing up for their rights and had requested Dr. King not to launch his movement. He congratulated IMC-USA for showing courage and taking the leadership role in fighting religious persecution and for adopting non-violence as the way to do so just as Gandhi and King had done. The Michigan congressman, in his wide-ranging speech, also stressed the need to bridge the growing gap between the affluent and the poor in India.
Hindutva groups who subscribe to a violent ultra-nationalistic and supremacist ideology had unsuccessfully launched a campaign to dissuade the Congressman from speaking at the IMC-USA convention.
The banquet session was also addressed by Fr. Cedric Prakash and Dr. Shaik Ubaid. Fr. Prakash, who has been referred to as Desmond Tutu of India for his work to obtain justice for the victims of the state-sponsored pogrom in Gujarat, declared that his quest for justice is not for revenge, but as the beginning of reconciliation and forgiveness. He pointed out that persecution of Christians, Muslims and Dalits is still rampant in Gujarat and increasing with alarming regularity in adjacent Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Dr. Ubaid, the national President of IMC-USA, thanked Congressman Conyers for his inspirational leadership in the area of human rights and civil rights and promised that IMC-USA will continue to work towards increasing awareness about the fascist roots of Hindutva ideology. He also stressed that the involvement of different segments of Indian and US societies and support from leaders such as Congresman Conyers will be essential in foiling the plans of Hindutva groups to repeat Gujarat like pogroms in the neighboring Indian states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. He declared that IMC-USA will work towards expanding the alliance of like-minded groups to other countries where Hindutva-fascism is active.
Dr. Ubaid called the work against religious extremism as the highest form of patriotism and vowed that IMC-USA will work tirelessly to expose the infiltration of Hindutva-fascist groups in the power centers of the US. He added that IMC-USA will continue to work to bring the Indian Muslim groups together and to educate the Indian Muslims about their legal and civil rights and on ways to obtain their share of the grants and financial aid from the Indian government ministries.
The convention audience was also addressed by two lawyers who specialize in International Human Rights Law. Barrister Jaswant Kaur of the Sikh Human Rights Group, UK and James Dorsey of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, spoke about their experiences in documenting and pursuing cases of human rights violations. They advised the delegates and coalition leaders on ways of pursuing justice for the victims of pogroms in the UN and other international institutions.
The session on Human Rights was addressed by Prof. Jawahar Nesan, who had founded a fast growing Dalit movement; T. Kumar, Advocacy Director, Amnesty International, USA; and Pushpa Iyer, a Gujarati activist who had worked extensively with the victims of the 2002 Gujarat carnage. The session was also addressed by Swami Agnivesh who has worked courageously against the Hindu extremists. Acharya Shrikumar Poddar, a Hindu spiritual leader based in Michigan, pointed out that the Hindutva groups have engaged in mass violence against religious minorities and Hindutva has nothing to do with Hinduism.
The session on activism featured talks from Professor Omar Khalidi and Professor Biju Mathew. Khalidi declared, "What is good for India is good for Indian Muslims and What is good for Indian Muslims is good for India," and went on to prove this declaration.
The award winners of this year’s IMC Awards included Ruth Morris in Journalism for her coverage of the Indian Diaspora and Dr. Biju Mathew of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate for his work in exposing the flow of funds to Hindutva extremists from the Hindutva groups in the US.
The focused networking sessions on Indian Muslim NGOs, Muslim business networking and women activist networking generated a lot of interest. Munaf Zeena of the Council of Indian Muslims, UK, brought forth the experiences of the Indian-Muslim Diaspora in Britain in their struggle for political and economic empowerment in UK as well as their strategy in the struggle for Justice for the victims of the Gujarat pogrom. Dr. Lise McKean and Dr. Sania Zainuddin, along with Zeeshan Farees, used the Women’s networking event to strategize about working against the violent targeting of minority women by Hindutva groups.
Among the Michigan Community leaders who spoke at the convention were Steve Spreitzer from the Catholic community and Ghalib Begg. Ghalib Begg congratulated IMC-USA for the lead taken in the Coalition Against Genocide’s campaign in getting the US visa denied to Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Begg called it the biggest political victory for the Indian American Muslims.
The convention night concluded with a cultural program of poetry, songs and comedy skits.
The speakers and delegates were all praises for the professionalism shown by the dynamic team of IMC-Michigan under the leadership of Asim Khan. The leaders of various communities and groups also thanked IMC-USA for promoting inter-community dialogue and taking the lead in building bridges between the communities.
The Coalition to Build a Better India held its first annual meeting the day after the convention and its members discussed means of combating religious and caste-based persecution, the growing economic gulf and political corruption.
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