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Saturday, December 17, 2005

I don’t want India and Indian Americans to say that I am an India baiter and basher. I want to be a friend of India: Dan Burton

An exclusive interview with
Devasish Ray.
Bureau Chief TV Asia.
Washington DC.

December 16, 2005

Congressman Dan Burton (R-Indiana) has over the past decades been the harshest critic of India. Today, the Congressman has had a change of heart. In my interview with the Congressman, the first ever given to a South Asian channel, he made it clear and again to drive home the point that he advocated a long and lasting peace treaty between India and Pakistan. He expressed his fear about annihilation of mankind if the nuclear powers in the sub continent went to war. Today, Dan Burton wants to be a friend of India. Though some skeptics feel that a Leopard cannot change its stripes Burton insists that he is a changed man today. Here are some excerpts.

DR: Specifics on your recent trip to India…

DB: If I may just interrupt you Devasish. There have been some differences between my views and the human rights violations in India with the Indian military in the years past. I had a great trip to India and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a great man and I liked what he said. I also met the Defense minister and I liked what he had to say too. I have great affection for India and I think we are going to have a great working relationship in the future. So, I would like to tell people that though I had been a critic of some of the policies in the past, I am looking forward to a great relationship with India in the future.

DR: I am glad that you put it on record. Now that you are looking for a change of image where India is concerned, how are your constituents reacting?

DB: I have always done very well in my elections. I try to do what I think is right and try and explain it to my constituents. The reason …… what looks to be an apparent change towards India is really not a change? I have always liked India. I didn’t like some of the policies of the Indian government. Having said that and after having talked to the prime minister, I really believe that we have a chance, India and Pakistan have a chance to work out some thorny issues like the border dispute and that there could be a long period of peace and prosperity for both nations. I would like to work with both sides and so would President Bush and the Speaker of the House to see that the relationship with India and Pakistan get better and better so at the end of it all they live like brothers and sisters. And also the relationship between the US, India and Pakistan get better.

DR: That is a fair comment. Now let me read out a quote from Congressional record E-1140 that you made. “The Indian government is one of the world’s worst human rights abuser, having killed 200,000 Christians in Nagaland, 250,000 Sikhs in Punjab and 53,000 Muslims,” unquote. Where do you get all this information?

DB: Obviously I said those things, but I do not want to dwell on the past. I understand that there were attacks from separatist groups who believed that UN resolutions in the late 40’s should have been realized, whether there should have been a plebiscite. I understand that we are beyond that now. The issue who will control Kashmir has past its time. Now, we have to figure out a peaceful solution. One of the things I know is that President Musharraf has talked to Prime Minister Singh, is the possibility of withdrawing troops and keeping them on the outskirts of cities in Kashmir so that if required the military could quickly move in if things got out of hand. Another thing could be withdrawing troops from the border as it costs both India and Pakistan a lot of money. A phased withdrawal by both sides could be a start. Finally I know that this has been discussed, a semi autonomy of sorts in the Kashmir area with super governmental entity over the top of it from all parties. I am not talking only of Indian occupied Kashmir but Pakistan occupied Kashmir as well. Let the people have a voice..

DR: Well! There is an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir. The people have spoken, so what are you trying to say.. That we should ignore the electorate and their voice?

DB: No! I am not saying that. What I am saying is that we need a long-term lasting peace in the whole region. I cannot, nor would I try to dictate to President Musharraf or Prime Minister Singh, but as one who has been interested in this region for a long time, I think because Prime Minister Singh is a man of great leadership and because both leaders have talked and have actually taken steps to start the peace process, this is a great opportunity to cut the Gordian knot and solve the problem for long term security. It will also help both countries economically. The whole world worries, as both nations are nuclear powers.

DR: Don’t you feel that India’s nuclear arsenal is safer, because it is a democratic country, than in the hands of a dictatorship?

DB: You know Robert Kennedy once said that we couldn’t look at the world the way we want it to be but we have to look at it the way it is. We have a government in Pakistan that is working with us in the war against terrorism. They are talking peace and I believe President Musharraf wants democracy and I have talked to him about that. Prime Minister Singh has the largest democracy in the world. Having said that, one thing I have learned in my 23 years in the foreign affairs committee that every place in the world ought to be made over like the US. That not possible! So my friend, we want to work with them so that they do not blow up the world. I said this to the press in India when I got off the plane they all expected to see my horns. I told them that I had got rid of them and I want to be a friend of India and see that the peace process works. I don’t want India and Indian Americans to say that I am an India baiter and basher. I want to be a friend of India.

DR: Another quote…..

DB: (Interrupting me) Devasish, when I look at you I get the feeling that you are not sure that I am telling the truth.

DR: Well Congressman! That time will tell, but I do believe you at this moment. I am glad that you are talking about peace initiatives, but here is another quote. “ India also blames Pakistan for the attack on its Parliament. Even though India has a record of committing acts of terrorism in the guise on its minorities.” Unquote. Congressman India has a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister and an Italian born who chairs the ruling party. Do you still believe India commits atrocities on its minorities?

DB: I think in the Kashmiri area, there still are problems and I think that both leaders by talking can minimize that problem. The people in Pakistan know that there are possibly some terrorist camps inside their borders. President Musharraf needs to address these issues rid that area of terrorists. Ultimately it is the peace process that has to move forward. Honorable men and women who believe in the peace process can make it work. Nuclear war is something, which must never happen.

DR: I am glad that you have acknowledged that there are terrorist camps in Pakistan. Though I believe Musharraf is trying, at least he says so, to curb this menace, infiltration continues across the Line of Control. The US woke up to the horrific reality of terrorism at home after September 11. India had warned the US on several occasions that Pakistan was playing host to various terrorist outfits. India has lost over 60,000 lives because of terrorism. Don’t you feel that terrorism has to stop before a viable peace process can be initiated?

DB: The argument has been that attacks have come across the border from people who wanted independence of Kashmir in concurrence with the UN resolution. I did speak to President Musharraf and he did mention that he would tackle this issue wherever it was. We fought Japan 50 years ago and now look they are our friends…

DR: Surely we do not want another Hiroshima to shake hands.

DB: You are absolutely right.

DR: The position of Chairman Henry Hyde is for grabs. You are making a strong bid for that seat. Incidentally President Bush has categorically stated that India is a strategic ally of the US in so many ways. If you do become the Chairman, will your pre conceived notions about India cloud your rulings?

DB: I’ll tell you exactly how I feel right now. You can believe it or not believe it. The fact of the matter is that it is in the interests of the United States and the world’s interest to ensure that nuclear powers do not go to war against each other. We need to realize that diplomacy and working together is the only option, because in this nuclear age if a war starts mankind will be destroyed. This is not baloney it is the truth. Obviously this is an evolving feeling I have had over the years. When I was first elected to Congress I was a one-line hardliner. Over the years I have seen to many dead bodies, too much violence. The Speaker will be visiting India next month followed by the President in February and I hope the peace initiatives come up.

DR: Do you support the civilian nuclear transfer of technology to India?

DB: I talked to Prime Minister Singh about this and explained to him the concern the Congress has about this. There has to be a clear delineation between civilian and military use of this technology. I checked the record and learnt that India has never given nuclear technology to another country, and that is a huge plus for India and Prime Minister Singh assured me that this would be used for energy purposes only. I would personally support this bill. I will try and convince my colleagues in Congress to support this bill.

DR: Do you see this resolution going through before President Bush visits India in February 2006?

DB: Probably not. We are in our last week and everyone wants to be home before Christmas. We reconvene again in February. I can assure you that I will be pushing for the deal to go through. See Devasish, the horns are shrinking!

DR: Yes Congressman! Slowly! One more thing. Your visit in India was going smoothly, till you brought up Khalistan. Why did you bring this up? Do you favor a separate state? Especially after meeting the Prime Minister who is a Sikh?

DB: Let me clarify this matter. We were at the US Ambassadors house in India and someone asked me if I supported an independent state of Khalistan. I said that in the past taking into account the military action in Punjab I had advocated that. Today things are different. I will not call for a separate state anymore.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Honoring Ambassador Sen

A dinner reception was organized by the United States India Political Action Committe (USINPAC) on November 8, 2005 at the Rayburn Office building, Capitol Hill, to honor India's Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen.

Several Congressmen turned up to meet and honor Ambassador Sen for his outstanding work in bringing India and the US closer.

Devasish Ray who also is the Media Relations Director of USINPAC read out a letter from Congressman Tom Lantos.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Water: Safe End to Mehta’s “Elemental Trilogy”

Devasish Ray
Washington DC

The US première of Deepa Mehta’s long awaited film, Water screened to a packed Baird Auditorium at the Smithsonian today. The concluding chapter of Mehta’s celebrated “elemental trilogy” has again featured women. This time around it addresses the plight of widows in colonial India when the entire nation is trying to gain freedom through passive resistance led by Mahatma Gandhi.

Yet, Water steers clear from being a political film. Instead it draws a parallel and questions the veracity of the freedom struggle as compared to the totally despicable conditions of ashram life of the widows.

Water centers on a child widow Chuiya who is rudely plucked from her family and sequestered in an ashram inhabited by elderly widows. Here she meets Kalyani (played by Lisa Ray), a breathtakingly beautiful and young widow who is forced to turn sexual favors to rich landlords in return for food. The pot-smoking mistress of the ashram is ruthless and uncaring and enjoys a pretty contended life in a cocoon, she has built for herself.

Kalyani gets another chance to settle down after she meets Narayan (played by John Abraham), the son of a rich landlord and a lawyer who falls in love with her. However, a cruel twist of fate and circumstances crushes Kalyani’s hope at a second shot at marriage, after a law is passed allowing widow remarriage.

The character of Chuiya (brilliantly portrayed by child artist Sarala) who is almost mutinous echoes the frustration and total helplessness of the widows who have come to terms with their way of life. One such character is Shakuntala ( Seema Biswas gives another great performance) a thinking woman, who befriends Chuiya and is successful in helping Chuiya escape from a life of sexual perversion and dominance of the mistress of the ashram.

Water, is perhaps not Deepa Mehta’s best film. The film tries to explore liberalism versus religious traditions set in a backdrop, which confuses the audience. A portion of the film was shot in India and the rest in Sri Lanka, when fundamentalists in India went on a rampage burning Mehta’s set down. The scenes in Sri Lanka look like the backwaters of Kerala and contradict the settings of Varanasi. Mehta’ attention to detail is questionable. In a particular scene Narayan replaces a family photograph with a potrait of Gandhi. The photograph should have been of a much younger Gandhi as the film is set in the year 1938.

Lisa Ray and John Abraham are perhaps not a casting coup. Yet Water should be seen for its content, brilliant photography and a director’s effort in telling a story honestly. It would be interesting to see how the audience in India reacts to this film that is if Water gets past the censors there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bush and Katrina


I am not a Citizen of India: Umar Farooq

I am not a citizen of India: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

Devasish Ray
Washington DC
September 28, 2005

The role of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has always been the topic of disparagement. Experts charge the APHC of being a stooge of Pakistan, while others believe that this party cannot play a tangible role in solving the burning issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet the APHC continues to meet with the top brass of both the governments of Pakistan and India. Recently, the Chairman of the APHC, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq met with Pervez Musharraf in New York (They stayed in the same hotel). He also met Dr. Manmohan Singh. I caught up with him at the National Press Club in Washington DC to talk to him and clarify some issues. Here are some excerpts.

DR: You recently met with Dr. Manmohan Singh to discuss Jammu & Kashmir. In your opinion what seems to have changed since former Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for a cease-fire?

MUF: When we talk in terms of peace in Kashmir we must understand that there can be no peace in a vacuum. The Hurriyat has maintained that it is not a religious issue but a political one. We are hoping that Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri ’ s put all their efforts together to build a brighter and better future for people living in this region. We have been talking with the new government in India as well as with Pervez Musharraf. We are hopeful, yet we understand that it is a complex issue, as long as all parties are serious we can move forward.

DR: Hearing you a few moments back I was quite surprised when time and again you were talking about Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiri ‘ s. Do you not consider yourself to a citizen of democratic India?

MUF: As far as the issue of Jammu & Kashmir is concerned, the Hurriyat and the majority of our people believe that Kashmir is a disputed territory and demands a political dispensation. We have to understand that people are divided, families are divided….

DR: The question was. Do you consider yourself to be a citizen of India or not?

MUF: Well! I consider myself to be a citizen of Jammu & Kashmir.

DR: Okay. However, if this is your approach, why should the Government of India take you seriously and for that matter even Pakistan?

MUF: (irritated) Because, I think both Pakistan and India agree that there is a problem here. As we are in agreement that the problem concerns all three parties let us move forward and have an understanding where we can have a settlement on this issue.

DR: Let us be realistic here. You cannot have peace with militants resorting to violence. You cannot have peace with a heavy military presence there and the military will withdraw only if the arms are given up. You have totally failed in roping in the militants and secondly you have resisted participating in elections. How do you justify your sincerity then?

MUF: Regarding militancy, I must say that people lost faith in the Indian government and the elections were a farce.

DR: Let me stop you here and ask you, surely the militants do not represent the whole of Jammu and Kashmir”?

MUF: No! They don’t. They are only a part of the struggle. The overall struggles are in the hearts of people. We can put a stop to the roar of guns in Kashmir, but what about the roar in my heart. I agree with you that we have to put an end to violence if we need lasting peace.

DR: The elections…

MUF: The Hurriyat never believes in elections the way they are conducted in Kashmir. Let the Indian government give us a mechanism where the process is free and fair.

DR: The last election was free and fair. wasn’t it? Again, if you are asking for sops you are not going to get it outside the constitution. Why are you not participating then and asserting your right?

MUF: You cannot have a free and fair election in the presence of hundreds and thousands of troops.

DR: Wait a minute.. This time there were international observers who did say that these elections were free and fair..

MUF: There were observers but none officially. First we have to be clear as to what the objective of having elections. If the objective is running the administration, then the problem is no more. We believe that the problem is not running the administration but the future of the state.

DR: Let me ask you blunt question. You are accused of being a spokesperson of the Pakistani government. Is this true?

MUF: This is really unfortunate. The position we have taken as a Kashmiri and the son of the soil. We have seen a lot of pain and agony over many years. We are not saying to give Kashmir to Pakistan, what we want is a dialog. The most important factor is that the people of India should look at us from a humanitarian point. The people of India should understand that the sufferings of the Kashmiri people.

DR: Umar, let me leave you with a thought. While one understands the plight of the people of Kashmir, I have no hesitation in saying with great conviction that if Kashmir bleeds the rest of India bleeds too. Thank you very much for talking to me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Katrina Crisis: India Leads Subcontinent

Devasish Ray
Washington DC
September 8, 2005

Ambassador Ronen Sen today handed over a check of $ 5 million to the President and CEO of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans. The bustling headquarters of the Red Cross has recently witnessed numerous dignitaries, celebrities and ambassadors of different countries handing over checks to this organization.

Speaking to India West Marty Evans said that she was extremely touched by the generous contribution made by Ronen Sen on behalf of the Government of India. Making a direct appeal through India West Evans said, “ Though we are flooded with offers of volunteer services we can always do with more taking into consideration the scale of this disaster.”

Sen informed India West that besides the donation of the $ 5 million which was “a token of the sympathy, support and solidarity of the Government and people of India for the people affected by this terrible calamity”, two planes were standing by in India to deliver other relief materials. “We have trained and professional divers who are standing by. We also have experts in water purification waiting to fly down the moment the United States government gives clearance.”

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Bernard A. B. Goonetilleke on Tuesday, September 6th handed over a check for US $ 25,000/- to the American Red Cross in Washington D.C. This was in fulfillment of the pledge made by Sri Lanka to help meet the expenses involved in the disaster relief activities, following the devastating hurricane Katrina.
Handing over the check, Ambassador Goonetilleke remarked that the Government of Sri Lanka on behalf of its people was making this modest contribution available, to express empathy with the affected victims. He added that it was also in appreciation of the overwhelming generosity of the American people, the corporate sector and the US Government, in the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami.
Ambassador Gooonetilleke also informed the US Red Cross that members of the Sri Lanka Medical Association of North America (SLMANA) stand ready to provide medical personnel to serve the survivors of hurricane Katrina. The Ambassador said he had taken up this matter when he participated in the Annual Sessions of the SLMANA held in Chicago on 2-3 September, attended by several hundred doctors of Sri Lankan origin presently living in various parts of the US. Their services will be rendered on a voluntary basis and they were awaiting information concerning the logistical arrangements to facilitate their deployment.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Kathleen Inducts Ray for Ethnic Reach

India behind Kennedy magic- Bengali Americans back Kathleen in race for Maryland governor

Washington, Nov. 3: The Kennedy magic and the financial and organisational support of Bengali Americans!
If Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, eldest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, is elected governor of Maryland this week, this potent electoral recipe will, in part, be responsible for her victory.
Townsend’s campaign trail in Maryland, one of the richest states in the US bordering the national capital, resonates to Bengali chatter and Bengali American businessmen have been raising funds for her campaign.
Last week, as Townsend met Indian correspondents at a College Park hotel — owned by, who else, but Mukesh Majmudar (not a spelling mistake, that’s how he writes it) — she was clearly enthused by such support. If she is elected, Diwali next year will be celebrated in the Maryland State House, the governor’s office-cum-residence in Annapolis, Townsend declared. “When I make policy, I will think of India. When I make appointments (to the administration) I will think of Indians,” she said.
Already, there are a few Bengali Americans — and others of Indian origin — in the State House, where Townsend has been Lt. Governor for eight years under another Democrat, Parris Glendening.
Pradip Ganguly, who was born in the Kalibari and later studied at the Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School in New Delhi, is already chief economist of Maryland and heads the state’s department of business and economic development. Ganguly, who came to America as a student in 1976 and stayed on here, aims to groom Indian Americans to contest for political office instead of just supporting others already running for office.
“We need to be politically active ourselves and also have candidates who will support us so that we can be politically successful,” he said. “Our community is doing well here. We are no longer just looking for jobs. We need to be at the top table, making policy.”
Asuntha M. Chiang-Smith, special assistant in the State House, is almost like Townsend’s shadow through the hectic campaign in which she is neck-and-neck against Republican Robert Ehrlich Jr.
Chiang-Smith may not sound Indian, let alone Bengali and her looks are deceptive. Actually, her mother is from Calcutta and her father from Shanghai.
She is only in her 30s, but Chiang-Smith has already put in five years on the staff of the present US secretary for transportation, Norman Minetta, when he was a Congressman and another three-and-a-half years with Maryland’s Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.
Chiang-Smith is now part of a core team in the State House, which includes a first generation Indian-American Uma Ahluwalia and has as immediate boss, the governor’s deputy chief of staff Sushant Sidh. All these Indian Americans can look forward to important appointments if Townsend wins on Tuesday.
Among the Bengali Americans providing financial muscle to Democrats in Maryland is Ashok Motayed, a civil engineering graduate from Jadavpur University who came to the US in 1971.
He eventually built up what became the largest Indian American-owned architectural engineering company in the US. Three years ago, he diversified into information technology.
Motayed’s canvas is wider than that of some Indian Americans involved in the Townsend campaign. He lends active support to a number of Democrats fighting in Maryland’s local and Congressional elections this week.
Among them is Christopher Van Hollen, Maryland’s state Senator, who is making a bid for the US House of Representatives. The Democrat’s father, Christopher Van Hollen Sr., was a US diplomat posted in Calcutta and Delhi and was ambassador to Sri Lanka.
The son went to school in Kodaikanal and Motayed predicts that whether he wins this week’s election or not Van Hollen Jr. is destined to be one of America’s top leaders in 10 to 15 years.
Reaching out to the inreasingly influential Asian American ethnic media here on behalf of Townsend during her campaign is another Bengali: Maryland journalist Devasish Ray.
An alumnus of St. Xaviers in Calcutta, Ray says the key to Townsend’s victory on Tuesday will be the turnout of minority voters, Indian Americans included. Hence her concentration on ethnic Asian media.
All in all, as her campaign which included four Asian American fundraisers draws to a close, Townsend promises that her administration will send an economic mission from Maryland to India to solidify the growing Indo-US engagement. If Townsend’s Bengali American supporters have their way, the mission will have Calcutta on its itinerary.

Indian Woman Subjected to Harrowing Experience

Indian Woman Accused of Traveling With Fake Passport
NCM Civil Liberties Watch
India Post, Devasish Ray, Feb 27, 2003
In a clear incident of racial profiling, Berna Cruz, a Canadian Indian woman was subjected to a harrowing experience, when not one but five officers of the INS accused her of traveling with a fake passport at Chicago’s O’ Hare airport on January 27.
“It’s horrible. It was humiliating,” said Cruz. “What I felt was that it was total discrimination, racism.”To add insult to injury Cruz was denied consular access, a phone call and threatened with jail. A cornered Cruz, desperate and in tears pleaded with the officers that her passport was genuine and that she had two children who were waiting for her in Canada. Cruz, who works as a loan officer in a Canadian Bank said that instead of listening to her pleas the officers, proceeded to rip off the front page of her passport and stamp “expedited removal” on each blank page rendering it ineffectual. Fingerprinted, photographed and barred from re-entering the US for five years, Cruz was removed to India and not Canada. Recounting her nightmarish experience Cruz said that on arriving at the O’Hare airport from Kuwait, an INS officer told her that her photograph on the passport looked “funky.” Subsequently she was sequestered in a room where other passengers were being checked. She noticed that another woman who spoke Punjabi was being meted out similar treatment. To her horror, Cruz noticed that all people in that room were of “color.” Cruz recounted that the INS officers became abusive when she insisted that her passport was real.“It was a total abuse,” Cruz said in an interview with the Star. “I want to see them punished for this and bring some justice.”This week, Cruz sent a letter, along with a sworn affidavit, and the INS removal documents to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.The letter arrived at the Prime Minister’s office yesterday, and staff had not had a chance to look into the story. But Foreign Affairs spokesperson Reynald Doiron confirmed yesterday that staff in Dubai issued Cruz an emergency passport and assisted in getting her home, via London.“We’re going to bring her case to the attention of the State Department in Washington, request an explanation on the INS refusal to grant at least one phone call to Ms Cruz, and we’ll see what the American response is going to be,” Doiron said last night.A full report is also expected from a Canadian official in Dubai and will be incorporated into the query that will be sent to the State Department, said Doiron.A spokesperson for the INS in Chicago said she needed time to look into Cruz’s story but did say that officers have the authority to use expedited removals when passengers have no documents or are carrying documents that are suspected to be fraudulent or tampered with.“We have very high-tech technology out there to detect these kinds of tampered documents,” said Gail Montenegro. “Also, any individual who expresses an interest in speaking with their consular official, we grant that. We do it over the phone. We do it all day. We do it any time that request is made.”Montenegro said Cruz is welcome to file a complaint and that the INS takes complaints about officer conduct seriously. Cruz feels she was harassed because of the color of her skin. She says the INS officers humiliated her, and Canada, by refusing to allow her to contact Canadian authorities.Cruz was born in Trivandrum, India, and immigrated to Canada in 1994. Five years later, she became a citizen and traded in her Indian passport for a Canadian one. Her birthplace is noted in the passport, and it’s the same passport, she says, the INS officers suspected was a fake.An officer, says Cruz, suggested she had bought it in Sri Lanka and asked how much it cost her.Cruz says an officer also asked here why her surname was not “Singh” and commented that it was clever of her to use a Spanish name. Cruz, who is separated from her husband, says she told the officers that her maiden name is Fernandez. It is not uncommon for Indian-born people to have Portuguese surnames, but the officers did not seem to care, she says.“They said, ‘You better tell the truth because we know this is not a valid Canadian passport. We’ll throw you in jail,’” Cruz recalled.An officer, she says, held the passport up to a light on the ceiling, flipped through pages and said there were “chemicals” on it that indicated it was fake.What’s odd, says Cruz, is that the passport hadn’t been doubted when she was leaving Toronto, via the U.S., for India, and on previous trips to Boston, New York and Spain.Cruz says she tried to show the officers other identification she had in her purse, but they weren’t interested. “I was trying to explain to them, but they didn’t want to listen to anything, they didn’t want to see anything.”As many as five INS officers were involved in the questioning, said Cruz. “They just gave me two options: end up in jail (and wait several days to speak with Canadian officials) or take the flight. I pleaded with them to get in touch with the Canadian embassy, or if I could make a call, and they said no.”She says she was hurried on to a flight destined for India, via Kuwait. The captain of the Kuwaiti Airlines flight had been handed her altered passport by American officials and, mid-flight, asked Cruz what had happened.The INS, which Cruz felt would make it difficult for her to even re-enter India, also stamped her valid Indian visa.The pilot agreed she could not go back to India with a destroyed passport and told her he would take care of the mess once on the ground in Kuwait.“He was very, very helpful.” Cruz spent three days in Kuwait City while Canadian officials at the Dubai consulate sorted out the mess and issued an emergency passport.When Cruz didn’t arrive home and missed work, her family in India and Toronto became worried and, without knowing what had happened, a family member told her boss that she was sick.Two days later, the pilot who helped Cruz had his daughter phone Cruz’s Employer to tell them what had happened. But with two different stories, and no word from Cruz herself, her employer took her off payroll and assigned her desk to someone else.The work problems have since been sorted out, although she did not want to name the bank she works for. But, Cruz says she hasn’t found a way to deal with the range of emotions she’s now feeling.“It’s really hard. I can’t get to sleep at nights,” she said. “I can’t really do anything. It’s been a week since I really cooked for the kids.” Cruz says she wants the Prime Minister to speak out publicly about the Incident in the hope other Canadian citizens do not receive similar treatment.“It’s horrible. It was humiliating,” said Cruz. “What I felt was that it was total discrimination, racism.”
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User Comments
V Quadros
Mar 08, 2003 03:12:29
I am an Indian female and had an identical experience to Ms Cruz in 1994. I travelled to the USA, from Kuwait, and at the O'Hare Airport in Chicago was subjected to same experience. I was told my passport photo had been tampered with, my US visa and my Indian passport were fakes. When I suggested that they contact the US Embassy that issued my visa and thus verify my visa and that the Indian Consulate in Chicago could do the same for my passport, I was told that this was not the job of the immigration officals, that I had an attitude problem, and my choices were to either go to jail or to leave the country on the next flight. I was also refused the right to make any phone calls. I was made to feel like a criminal.Ms Cruz I do understand exactly what you are going through.
Cera Lawrence
Mar 03, 2003 09:11:29
We are no longer skirting the edge of a very slippery slope -- we are heading down it at near terminal velocity. This is only one relatively small though very intense example of the continued erosion of civil liberties in the US. The time for action was ten years ago and I greatly fear that at this point there may be nothing that can be done about it, certainly nothing bloodless. This will label me a terrorist. I am prepared to face that for the good of my country.
Ashok Gupta
Mar 02, 2003 14:52:26
We have heard one side of the story, however, it would have been prudent on the part of the INS officers to contact the respective consulate offices (Canadian, Mexican/ Sri Lankan and/or Indian) whatever they think was the nationality of the passenger to find out the correctness before just leaving any person homeless. Even if the passport was fake or the person concerned was considered criminal, he or she must have been directed to their home and not in between.
Nathan Bahirathan
Feb 28, 2003 14:00:04
The American education system is US-centric. That makes them, except a few, very Illiterate about the world or it's people. The average American does not know any thing otherthan USA or the Caribbean, where they go for holidays. Unless it is very necessary it is better to avoid going to USA.
Feb 28, 2003 13:56:54
It looks like the officers in charge in the states were hell bent on giving Cruz a hard time whether or not her passport was genuine or fake. I also think they took the liberty to harass her because she was travelling alone and especially being a woman I think they were just taking the upperhand with her and throwing their weight around. The people responsible for her distress should be sacked as this is delibrate harrassment. Post your comments

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rigours of War

Rigours of war
Tougher battle
InternationalShiby Chacko, Apache pilot, recounts Afghanistan experience
By Devasish Ray/Washington
Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan. It is pitch dark. Nearly 20 aircraft are fuelled up, ready to be airborne in minutes. First Lieutenant Shiby Chacko, 26, the only Indian American pilot belonging to the AH 64 attack helicopter battalion, is apprehensive. Flying at night is the most complicated element, more so in the unpredictable Afghanistan. Chacko scrambles to his Apache helicopter ready to escort the 20 aircraft flying in formation towards Asadabad.
"Everything, including supplies, is flown by helicopters and our job was to escort them," said Chacko. He also gave a cover escort to President Hamid Karzai who visited Bagram in an open convoy.
"It was like flying blindly at 12,000 ft. The night vision goggles did not really help," said Chacko, now on leave after having spent over a year in Afghanistan. "We were flying between mountains. My job was to escort these planes north of Asadabad and return." Chacko and all the aircraft launched a massive air assault. Apparently, they had sighted a high-value target. This mission lasted for more than a month. The ground forces were dropped off and they proceeded on foot, recovering a massive cache of arms and ammunition.
Chacko always had a passion for flying and he breezed through the course at the aviation wing of the military in record time. In January last year, Chacko’s battalion was called in to Fort Hood, Texas. Soon he was flying into Afghanistan in a C17 aircraft. His cargo was an Apache helicopter. "I was nervous about flying in high altitudes with full payloads, ammunition and auxiliary fuel tanks, which make the helicopter heavier by 1,235 kg," said Chacko. "You simply cannot hover in unfriendly temperatures at 5,000 or 10,000 feet, but must throttle up engines to the maximum." He had also heard of a few Apache helicopter crashes.
He drew comfort from the awareness that he was under great leadership. "Our people had gone in advance to scout the areas in Afghanistan," he said. The basic missions of Chacko’s unit were threefold: escort, deliberate missions and quick reaction force.
Deliberate missions, "based on solid intelligence", demanded that Chacko quickly swoop down on enemy targets in his helicopter and destroy them. The quick reaction force missions were a bit more demanding. "We were on a constant alert for two weeks before it was rotated to another unit," said Chacko. "We would have to be airborne within 15 minutes from different bases and generally give air support to our ground forces that come under enemy fire." Chacko said that unless they were being shot at they were not allowed to open fire.
One of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan was the Shkin air base. "That was a volatile area and the enemy used firearms and rocket-propelled grenades," said Chacko. "We used 30mm guns, and since we could not hover we used to dive down spraying them with bullets." Chacko’s helmet was mounted with a sight system, which had a monocle, and the guns were in sync with his head movement. The cross-hairs would pinpoint enemy targets helping him to engage the enemy more accurately.
Chacko has had a close shave. Coming in to land at one of the bases in a desert area, his helicopter was hovering and this kicked up a lot of sand. "This is called a brown-out, where you cannot see anything," he said. "We already had a malfunction and we both tried to get the copter on the ground. We hit the ground with a thud and because we could not see anything, we did not realise that we were still moving. There was a ditch on the side of the runway and the right gear flipped into the ditch and then the left. I hit the brakes hard and managed to stop inches away from the fence. We killed the engines and realised how lucky we were."
The land mines in Afghanistan laid by the Russian army are an aspect of war that riles Chacko. "It pained me to see the locals, especially children, who had been blown up by these mines coming for medical treatment to our base," he said.
Chacko has flown hundreds of missions and escorting is a key aspect. "Moving around in Afghanistan is done by aircraft. The roads are just trails," he said. "Everything, including supplies, is flown by helicopters and our job was to escort them. I even escorted journalists." Chacko gave a cover escort to President Hamid Karzai who visited Bagram in an open convoy. "He wanted to make a point, but I guess he drew comfort from the fact that my Apache helicopter was giving him that security cover," said Chacko, tongue-in-cheek.
So how did he relax? "We watched many movies and socialised with the interpreters who were Indian," said Chacko. "The Taliban and local warlords did not like the merchants in Bagram selling DVDs, jewellery and rugs to us and would force them to close shop."
Today Chacko is back, a veteran. He plans to continue being a pilot and will return if called to active duty. Now in the reserves he plans to go on a well-deserved vacation to Europe.
Tougher battle
More than two years after the Taliban’s fall, about 15,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan. Their primary mission, according to Pentagon spokesman Captain David Romley, is to provide security and hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda. POST-WAR RISKS: Marines in Afghanistan's Oruzgan provinceIn carrying out the mission, 126 service members have died since the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom, which followed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As many as 77 have died in Afghanistan, and 49 in other countries, including Pakistan, as part of the campaign to hunt down members of al Qaeda. Two CIA officers have also died.
The rugged topography in Afghanistan poses different risks to the troops than those in Iraq. Five men died during a mission in November when their helicopter stalled as it climbed in mountainous terrain east of Bagram Air Base. Seven Marines were killed in March 2003 when their Hercules air tanker grazed a peak and caught fire in Pakistan. One Special Forces soldier fell 25 feet while descending by rope from a helicopter into an enemy cave complex.
"Urban terrain is about the toughest terrain to fight in," said Major Michael Stefanchik, stationed in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan doesn’t have a whole lot of urban terrain for terrorists to operate in. The firefight in Falluja [Iraq] will no doubt get more notice than the same type of engagement on a remote mountain in Afghanistan—though it is without doubt every bit as dangerous."

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Half a Hero

Half a hero
Cover StoryuUS electionsPresident Bush’s challenge is to unite a country split down the middle on domestic and foreign policy issues
At dawn the day after, America was still divided, but with a bolder red and a bluer blue. For the record, the sun did in fact rise on the morning after the Armageddon election. It rose the same for Democrats angry and depressed, and Republicans relieved and elated, for people who voted for the first time ever or for the twelfth time, record numbers of them in any case; for citizens who waited six hours to cast ballots or who zipped in and out in two minutes, for those moved by their hatred of the war in Iraq or conservatives pushed by their aversion to gay marriage.
CELEBRATION TIME: Bush supporters in Washington (above)
In the river city of Dubuque, Iowa, deep in the political battleground of the midwest, sunrise came at precisely 6:39 a.m. By then, the wisecrackers in the John Deere Retirees Coffee Club had been awake for an hour and had settled into their seats in the back room of Breezy’s Cafe. Hours would pass before John Kerry conceded defeat, but these old guys knew the final score. "I can’t believe it," Walt Pregler, a retired toolmaker, muttered at one end of the gathering, repeating a refrain common among the nearly 55 million voters who tried but failed to bring an end to George Bush’s presidency.
Barbara Smeltzer, a Republican activist in Dubuque, had fallen asleep with a mix of joy and disbelief, believing Bush had won Ohio and the election, but not quite ready to accept it as fact until she heard him say it. By afternoon, at work at the University of Dubuque, she felt the relief. Not just that her man had won, but that it was all, finally, done. "I can’t remember any election that has been so negative," she said. "The level of hatred and acrimony was just too much. At this point, I am just really tired, and glad it’s over."
From a pricey swath of the Atlanta suburbs to a campaign-wearied ward in Columbus, Ohio, to a Republican stronghold in Issaquah, Washington, the common refrain seemed to be a yearning for softer voices and an urge towards common ground. But even as a triumphant Bush promised to "do all I can do to deserve your trust" and Kerry urged his supporters to "bridge the partisan divide", there were divisi-ons in both parties on how to proceed.
Bush had waged a dual strategy, courting Democratic-leaning groups while energising his core of conservative supporters to make a strong showing at the polls. He also succeeded in motivating his base. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 because 4 million religious conservatives did not vote. In that year, 29 per cent of voters called themselves conservative. This year, that figure was 33 per cent.
The election results seem to be a ratification of the conservative approach, which began with Ronald Reagan and dipped under the Bill Clinton administration. This should be a loud ringing wake-up call to the Democratic Party. Kerry seemed to have run away after extolling the virtues of liberalism. This led Bush to convey a solid message that the White House would be better off with him rather than a proven ‘flip-flopper’.
What has divided voters in this election are new moral issues like stem cell research and same-sex marriage. Those against gay marriage voted strongly for Bush, as did those opposed to abortion. And the electorate divided sharply over Iraq, according to an opinion poll, with the 47 per cent disapproving of the decision to go to war strongly backing Kerry. Another indication: 22 per cent of poll respondents said their most important issue was "moral values", higher than other issues like the economy, terrorism or Iraq.
Divisions in the American electorate are best expressed by the sharp divide in voting patterns by churchgoers. Two-thirds of voters who attend religious services regularly backed Bush rather than Kerry—and they make up 40 per cent of the electorate.
"The Bush administration proje-cted a sense of fear in the campaign," said Raymond Vickery, who was assistant secretary of commerce for trade development in the Clinton administration. "This was fundamental. They combined fear that terrorist attacks would be imminent if the Bush administration was not voted back to power very skilfully with hot button social issues of religious significance. This was a very powerful argument for the voters in the south and midwestern states, which led to the defeat."
Bush made similar gains among Jews—usually staunch Democrats— with a strongly pro-Israel policy that isolated Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and supported the country’s construction of a security fence to impede terrorists. "There has been under the Bush administration no serious effort to bring the disputing parties to the negotiating table. That’s been the most significant alteration in American foreign policy," said Stephen Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis Unive-rsity. Kerry also strongly supported Israel, but Jews increased their support of Bush to 24 per cent from 19 per cent in 2000.
BRAVE EFFORT: Senator John Kerry after conceding defeatOther Bush gains seemed to result less from specific policy than the tone of his presidency and subtle campaign messages. Bush cast two key issues—Afghanistan and medical liability—in terms of their effect on women. It was obstetricians and gynaecologists whom Bush said were hurt by malpractice claims, and it was Afghan women he cited as being able to vote in that country’s elections last month.
Bush narrowed the gender gap that has long bedevilled Republican presidential candidates. Security issues certainly helped Bush make gains among mothers.
"The problem is we’re not even on the same wavelength, we’re just talking past each other," said Dr Charles Haynes, a senior scholar with the First Amendment Center who has spent years travelling the country, trying to forge consensus on issues like abortion. "And it seems like our leaders have a vested interest in keeping it that way."
Fermin Ortiz, who came to Florida from Texas as part of an army of Bush poll workers, said emotions were just as high on November 3, even when it became clear that his candidate had won. Ortiz said he was "worried about our nation. There are a lot of people who do not like each other or what they believe in. And I don’t know how long that is going to take to heal. Or if it can ever heal."
So what will Bush's second term be like? While the president reached out to defeated Democrats in his brief victory remarks, his aides and supporters were equally quick to suggest that his bi-partisanship might not go far and that they expect Bush’s second term to pursue even more ambitious conservative goals than the first. "This is going to be a more creative and more controversial term than the first term," said former speaker Newt Gingrich.
In his first term, Bush pursued domestic policy goals that were already broadly popular: tax cuts, education reforms and Medicare expansion. But for his second term, the president has chosen more controversial—and politically more difficult—priorities: revamping the federal tax code and restructuring social security, the most popular government programme in history.
In foreign affairs, Bush entered the White House in 2001 with relatively modest aims, but his presidency was redefined by the terrorist attacks of September 11 that year. Officials and experts said his second term will likely be dominated by the unfinished business of the first: the guerrilla war in Iraq, confrontations with Iran and North Korea, and the continuing struggle against Islamic terrorists around the world.
All that could make Bush’s second term an exception to the normal historical pattern of recent presiden-cies—at least in the scale of its ambitions. Instead of a lame-duck second term of small ideas and small achievements, Bush has staked out a list of ambitious, difficult goals.
"People say, ‘The country’s divided; shouldn’t he be less ambitious?’" said Grover Norquist, president of Ameri-cans for Tax Reform, a major conser-vative group. "No. This is a Republican-majority country. He will govern as aggressively as in the first term.’’
The president described his second-term programme in broad-brush, detail-free terms: "We will continue our economic progress. We will reform our outdated tax code. We will strengthen the social security for the next generation. We will make public schools all they can be.... We will help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom, and then our servicemen and women will come home with the honour they have earned."
Some analysts have wondered whether Bush’s focus on the war in Iraq and the battle against terrorism will sap the energy he can devote to domestic policy initiatives. Gingrich argues that Republicans cannot afford to give short shrift to domestic issues if they hope to become an enduring majority. "We can’t hunker down and avoid domestic debates," he said.
But Republican senator Jon Kyl from Arizona warned that the presidential campaign’s focus on international issues means the election doesn’t guarantee Bush a foundation of support for his domestic agenda. "He’s got no mandate on domestic issues per se,’’ Kyl said. "Voters knew he wanted some tax reform and social security reform, but I don’t think he can contend the election was a mandate to do that.’’
The task should be made easier by the Grand Old Party’s gain of four seats in the senate, and especially the defeat of senate minority leader Tom Daschle, a powerful obstacle to Bush in the past. But others are sceptical that, after a bitter campaign, Bush will succeed in attracting significant support from Democrats. "Is it realistic to think that, after this nasty election, he’s going to get everyone in the room and say let’s hold hands and reform social security?" a Republican lobbyist asked.
In foreign policy, Bush’s first term was dominated by the war against terrorism and the president’s decision to invade Iraq. His second term agenda, one official said, could be described as "pretty much the same; only more so."
Bush appeared to be wasting no time. On the morning after a long election night, his spokesman said, the president telephoned every newly elected Republican in the senate—both to congratulate them and to let them know he would be asking for their votes.By David Maraniss/Iowa, Doyle McManus and Janet Hook/Washington and Devashish Ray/Washington
Bush’s immense energy and wild party habits earned him the nickname Bombastic Bushkin among his friends. However, in 1986, in a fit of spiritual awakening, he gave up drinking.
George W. Bush is the second president to follow in the footsteps of his father. George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President. John Quincy Adams (1825-29), the sixth president, was the son of John Adams (1797-1801), the second president.
Like first ladies, there are also first pets. George Bush's pets include a Scottish terrier named Barney, an English springer spaniel named Spot, a cat named India and a longhorn cow named Ofelia. India, nicknamed Willie, has been with the Bush family for more than a decade and Spot is the only pet to be in the White House during two administrations. Spot was born to Millie, Bush Senior's dog, when he was the president.
Bush has openly supported constitutional ban on gay marriages, restrictions on stem cell research and anti-abortion campaigns.
Bush became a wartime president when terrorists attacked the US on September 11, 2001, thereby shifting gears from tax cuts and faith-based initiatives to homeland security and war against terrorism.
Bush has led his country through two wars: In Afghanistan in October 2001 to fight the Taliban and in Iraq in 2003.

Radio Interview

Monday, Dec. 27
Disaster Relief Efforts to Help Earthquake Victims in Southern Asia (Listen) A 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Southern Asia on Sunday, causing tsunamis to hit coastal areas from Indonesia to as far away as Somalia. The quake, the largest in the world in over 40 years, killed 22,000 people and counting. Guest Host Patt Morrison speaks with Mike Kiernan, spokesman for Save the Children, and Washington-based Devasish Ray, special correspondent with The India Post and foreign correspondent for The Week in India, about efforts on the ground to help victims of this disaster.

IDRF Speaks Out

IDRF Receives No Directives From RSS: Vinod Prakash

To equate transfer of funds by the India Development and Relief Fund for social development in India, to money laundering by Islamic charities for the sole purpose for terrorism is preposterous and displays the ludicrously negative attitude of a section of the media, both Indian and Western.The premise of the accusation is that Shri Vinod Prakash, Founder and President of IDRF has been secretly channeling funds to Hindu Fundamentalists in India and the monies transferred were being used by the RSS to promote communal violence in sensitive regions in India...Gujarat being the most recent. An extremely pained Prakash vented frustration to India Post saying, "I will allow my body to be cut to a million pieces, if anyone can prove that even a dollar of IDRF has been used for perpetration of violence in Gujarat. This is absolutely nonsense". Prakash wife Sarla is flabbergasted, "This has been manufactured in such a way….. it is unbelievable."Prakash went to say that the section of the media determined the accusation by researching the issue. "They claim research… They should be ashamed calling the report as competent research. They never contacted us or asked us to verify anything. They picked up information from the web site and misinterpreted it out context," said Prakash.So why has he and his organization been singled out for this "slander campaign." Prakash is quick to point out that he has been inspired by the RSS and its organizational cababilites and discipline. "I am also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Shri Aurobindo." This doesn't mean that I wear the RSS jacket nor do I endorse everything of the RSS," said Prakash. Prakash categorically stated that his identity was not synonymous with the RSS. The journalist in question who is now accusing the IDRF of duping NRIs into transferring funds to Hindu Fundamentalists had paid glowing tributes in an earlier article…."it (IDRF) has launched a fund raising drive in an attempt to continue its service to the community. A tax-exempt organization in the United States, the IDRF has been actively involved in serving the most disadvantaged, impoverished, illiterate, disabled, orphan, poor and needy people. Over the past decade, it has handed out grants worth $6,418,000. But the organization, run by volunteers, is not one to rest on its achievements." Prakash explained the genesis of the idea of IDRF was to engage in grass root work in social, educational and infrastructural development of India. "It is true that we came in contact with RSS Pracharaks and the report in that sense is correct and we were inspired by them. We are associated with the Sewa aspect of their agenda," said Prakash. "There is nothing wrong with that… they are not a criminal organization." Prakash further added that the dedication and commitment of the volunteers of the RSS is unparallel. Prakash who is 70 is quick to add that although he was a volunteer of the RSS, his only official standing was that as President of IDRF. "IDRF neither solicits nor receives directives from the RSS." On the rumor that the present Ambassador at large Bhism Agnihotri being associated with IDRF, Prakash said, "I categorically deny this rumor."Prakash who categorized his involvement with India as Emotional, Rational and Spiritual said "that if his organization was only a pro Hindu body the hundreds of students studying in the Sewa Bharati schools would be handpicked on the sole basis of their religion. "There are students of all faiths in these schools". Incidentally, the latest CBSE results achieved by the school is impressive. According to documents investigated by India Post 48 passed with first division, 15 passed with second divisions, only 2 in third division and none failed. The students who come from the poorest section of society have achieved an impossible dream, thanks to the sustained efforts of IDRF.Prakash said the accounts of the NGOs were audited by the agencies as per Indian law. "The moment we get information that a particular organization has lost its tax exemption status we will stop funding them."Prakash points out that there is a difference between Patriotism and Fundamentalism. "The IDRF had come out in full flow when there was an earthquake in Latur. We donated thousands of dollars. Did we see that the affected people were Hindus, Muslims or Christians? The Orissa Cyclone tragedy is another example of IDRF's tireless efforts to swing into action whenever the need arises. "This comes from Patriotism towards one's country."On the occasion of the marriage of Prakash's two sons, no personal gifts were received. Instead, checks were collected in the name of IDRF and the money collected was sent to benefit numerous charities in India. Many India-American families in the US have followed suit since then.Prakash says that he is "proud to be an Indian, proud to be a Hindu." The Hindu religion is not just a religion, it is a way of life," concluded Prakash.

Shame Lantos

An open letter to Congressman Tom Lantos.

As a representative of the oldest democracy in the world, as a survivor of the holocaust, I had the highset regards for you. Not anymore Sir!

You chose to call Mr. Natwar Singh, the foriegn minister of the greatest democracy in the world an "imbecile" and "dense". You chose to get personal, forgetting to check facts first.

Mr. Lantos Shame on You!!

If India engages in a dialog with Iran and supports its peaceful nuclear aspirations, who are you to question the integrity of a nation (India) who have impeccable credentials when it comes to non-proliferation. President Bush who many call a man without brains has shown tremendous foresight and has opened up as compared to a seasoned politician like you who prefers to maintain "tunnel vision."

As the President goes to bat for India, you sir, will be sidelined quickly and effectively. You will loose the support of the vastly influential and wealthy Indian American community.

Make ammends Sir, for no self respecting community will tolerate this kind of unparliamentary behavior from you.

Mr. Lantos Shane on You!!!