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COMMUNITY | News in Brief:

Six Year-old Kid Performs at Carnegie Hall | Bhopal Survivors to Tour U.S., Meet Lawmakers | Basant in Sacramento | Celebrates 20 Years | Spring Fundraising | Yugadi Celebrated | Call for Ceasefire | Human Rights in Australia

Six Year-old Kid Performs at Carnegie Hall

(Above): Arun Asthagiri

Arun Asthagiri, 6, recently played violin at New York City’s Carnegie Hall as a member of an orchestra that won the hall’s highest gold rating.

“He is the youngest Indian boy to perform at Carnegie Hall!” his jubilant mother said in an email.

“This is a great achievement for Arun and his orchestra friends — after many months, years of hard work and dedication in learning an instrument,” said Nimisha.  “Arun continues to spend hours every week practicing his violin and appreciating music — one of his favorite hobbies.  He started learning the violin at the age of four upon his father's suggestion to put his love of music into playing an instrument.”

Arun performed with the South Pasadena Children’s Orchestra.

The orchestra is the result of the vision of its conductor and instructor Susan Pascale, the founder and director of the South Pasadena Strings Program,  which offers innovative music instruction to children and adults.

The South Pasadena Children's Orchestra is an elementary school orchestra. Its high quality earned it an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall April 1 and it tied for gold against high school music groups.  With an average age of nine years, they were the youngest orchestra ever to perform there.

“We're applying for a Guinness World Record,” said Nimisha.

Arun's father, Anand Asthagiri, is an assistant professor at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif.  Arun's mother, Nimisha, is a software engineer who is now a full time mom caring for Arun and his sister Anjali, 4. 


Bhopal Survivors to Tour U.S., Meet Lawmakers

Human rights activists from Bhopal, India began a two-dozen-city tour of the United States April 21 to raise awareness about the ongoing human suffering in this central Indian city.  The tour is the first of many 25th anniversary events planned to commemorate the tragedy of Dec. 3, 1984, when 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, immediately killing 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others. 

The touring team includes Rachna Dhingra, Safreen Khan, Sarita Malviya and Satinath Sarangi. 

Dhingra was just six and living in Delhi when Bhopal was hit. After moving to the U.S. and becoming active in the Association for India’s Development, she eventually moved to Bhopal to work with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.  

Khan’s mother was exposed to the gas from the Bhopal disaster in 1984.  Having nowhere else to go Safreen and her family continue to live in the area and consume poisoned water daily.  

Malviya is a resident of one of the many water-contaminated communities living around the Union Carbide factory.  She is one of the founding members of Children Against Dow Carbide, a group that meets weekly with about 60 members ages 6 to 18.   

Sarangi is a metallurgical engineer turned activist who arrived in Bhopal a day after the disaster and stayed on to become a key figure in the struggle for justice. He is a founding trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic, a nonprofit dedicated to the holistic treatment of gas-affected persons. 

During their  trip, the team will meet federal lawmakers, attend the Annual General Meeting of  Dow Chemical in Midland, Mich., and attend a host of other events.

Dow Chemical ultimately bought Union Carbide, whose plant was the source of the disaster.

More information is available at www.bhopal.net


Basant in Sacramento

Basant, or the celebration of the arrival of spring, is a Punjabi (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) tradition that now includes many other ethnicities in both Pakistan and India who are attracted to its festive nature and to the kite flying that has become an integral part of its celebration. And it is not without controversy either as the administration in the city of Lahore debates every year whether to allow kite flying or not, but one can ask: What is the Lahore skyline without kites at Basant?

That “Basant” feeling has recently made a mark in northern California, first by the efforts of the Pakistani American Cultural Center in the San Francisco Bay Area and now in the Sacramento area where it was spearheaded by the Pakistani Business Association of Northern California and the local Mehran Restaurant.

Close to 200 people braved winds in excess of 25 miles per hour and brought their children to enjoy a nice meal and light conversation along with kite flying. Our traditional paper kites did not fare well but the transfer to plastic that became necessary was much more successful in such windy conditions. But the bottom line is that young people, both boys and girls, had a challenging yet wonderful time at Stone Creek Park in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

It was a nostalgic reminder for us older folks about Pakistanis and the pursuit of fun.

And wind or no wind, at least it didn’t rain and the organizers plan to pursue this effort again with greater community support next year. [A Siliconeer report by Ras H. Siddiqui]


Celebrates 20 Years

(Above): Danille Beda (l) of Children's National Hospital Center of Washington accepting a check from Dr. Harminder K. Mangat, Chattar Singh Saini, Dr. Harminder Singh Sethi and Amrit Kaur  who represented the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation. [Dilraj Singh photo]

Rockville, Md.-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation celebrated 20 years of its inter-faith journey through involvement  in the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, according to a press release from the foundation..

Many faith leaders came to share their memories and express their thanks to the Sikh community in this partnership. Funds raised during the 300th anniversary celebrations of Sikh Scriptures last year were given to the Children's National Hospital and IFC.

The Inter Faith Conference was formed 30 years ago by Christians, Jews and Muslims. Now it has 11 world religions in its fold.  The mission of IFC is to work for social justice, to promote and nurture understanding and build bridges within faith communities.   

The program opened with a prayer by Jewish leader Simeon Kriesberg. GGSF secretary Amrit Kaur, currently president of the Inter Faith Conference, welcomed guests. She underscored the interfaith concept in the Sikh religion and mentioned how Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib is replete with hymns by divine souls of non-Sikh faith,  “No community or religion can live in isolation in this global village,” she said.. “The actions of one community impacts others so we have to strive together to achieve a stable world order and perpetuate peace.”

Rev. Clark Loberstine, executive director of Inter Faith Conference, who is responsible for widening and strengthening the scope of IFC, spoke highly of achievements and contribution of Sikhs to IFC.

Rizwan Zaka, a Muslim leader who has roots in India and Pakistan said: “We must get together as faith communities and get to know one another thru socials events and dialogues. We must bring our families and children together to learn more about one another in respect and faith. We thank Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and Sikh Community for their leadership”


Spring Fundraising

An “Arts for Literacy” spring fundraising event was hosted May 3 in Verdi Club in San Francisco to assist students in Bangladesh and India.

“It takes very little to help children learn and become more literate in some of these impoverished regions of the world,” organizers said.

Organizers added that it costs $40 for a hot lunch for a student for a whole year in Bangladesh and India, $10 takes care of a year’s school supplies for a student in India, and $20-40 to buy new desks for each student to study in India and Peru.

The event featured an art exhibit featuring work by a new artist, Vlad Margulis, and prints of a photographer, Andrew Mihal.

The evening also included a buffet dinner, cash bar, DJ music  by Adam Meadows, improv theater performance by "The Un-Scripted Theater Company," a dance performance by the Priyanjali Dance Group, a great silent auction, raffle, and more.

The event was hosted by Foundation For Freedom, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to improve literacy in impoverished communities around the world by promoting primary education for children. Currently the foundation is working to improve literacy currently in 12 schools in 4 different countries.

For more information visit the foundation’s Web site at www.foundation-for-freedom.org


Yugadi Celebrated

(Above): Kids Yugadi Sunnyvale Temple

More than  400 people including children and their parents got together in Sunnyvale Community Temple to celebrate Hindu New Year known as Yugadi.  Yugadi literally means first day of the year. There were lots of activities planned for the event. Kids recited shlokas (Sanskrit prayer songs), did suryanamaskara (sun salutations) and Yoga, and participated in games and other fun filled activities.

Ash Kalra, San Jose City Council member, was the chief guest for the event. In his speech, he mentioned that his Hindu upbringing inspires him in serving the community. Dr. Baltej Singh Mann, a visiting professor of global studies at San Jose State University, also spoke.

The celebration ended with a feast prepared entirely by volunteers. Participants were served a vegetarian meal that included roti (Indian bread), vegetable curries, rice and kheer (sweet dessert made of milk).

The festival was organized by the Hindu Swayamsewak Sang, a non-profit organization doing voluntary work for the Hindu American community. HSS has 11 chapters in the Bay Area, California.


Call for Ceasefire

The situation in Sri Lanka has become dire, as the two-decade old war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils approaches a dangerous military endgame.  The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, designated as a terrorist organization by more than 30 countries, has been fighting for a separate Tamil homeland since 1976.  The situation turned extremely dangerous for the 50,000 to 100,000 ethnic Tamils caught between the LTTE forces earlier in April, fighting a last-ditch battle in a small area of the eastern seaboard, and the Sri Lankan army demanding an unconditional surrender from the LTTE.  The LTTE has said it will never surrender, and in that bid is holding the civilian population hostage.

More than 4,500 people have died since January 2009, and news reports trickling in from Sri Lanka indicate that the civilian population has been brutalized: one in four children under 5 were malnourished, and one in four children had limbs amputated, according to UNICEF.  The International Society of the Red Cross has termed the situation “catastrophic.” The Sri Lankan government has not paid heed to the calls from nations around the world to observe a cease-fire to enable evacuation of the civilian population.  While the government paused fighting for two days, it ignored calls for cease-fire talks demanded by the LTTE.  

The Hindu American Foundation has called for an immediate cease-fire to enable the evacuation of innocent civilians.  “The gamesmanship displayed by the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE forces should be condemned, and international pressure should be brought to bring a peaceful end to this dangerous standoff,” said Ishani Chowdhury, HAF's director of public policy.  “It's a war that has gone on for too long and such a standoff, as we are seeing now, could lead to a slaughter of innocent civilians of unprecedented proportions.”

HAF has condemned both the Sri Lankan army as well as the LTTE for the violence, for the loss and displacement of innocent civilians, and the destruction of Hindu temples and other places of worship. 


Human Rights in Australia

Hindu priest Rajan Zed, in a statement in Reno, Nev., said that Australia was one of the few Western countries that did not have a charter of rights.

Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, says that although Australia does have a National Action Plan for Human Rights, but according to a report of Australia Human Rights Commission, a statutory organization that reports to the federal Parliament, this “plan, however, does not adequately identify positive, forward-looking measures to address the human rights issues…”

Zed argues that the Australian human rights framework needs urgent reform. A recent report by AHRC highlights “a lack of constitutional protection against racial discrimination in Australia” and talks about “absence of any entrenched guarantee against racial discrimination that would override the law of the Commonwealth.”

The AHRC report further says, “There is currently no requirement that the legislative, executive or judicial arms of the Australian state take human rights into consideration in the exercise of their respective powers.”

Australia has not directly incorporated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; or the Convention on the Rights of the Child into Australian law.

Zed points out that a legislation is needed requiring human rights like racial equality be taken into consideration at various government levels. Legislative protection is required against religious discrimination/vilification. The battle against racism would need effective solutions, amends, compensation, rights recognition, public education programs, etc., at various levels.



Click here to read the Current Issue in Pdf Format

Changing the World:
Bilaal’s Voyage

Everybody can make a difference, writes Bilaal Rajan, 12, who to date has raised over $5,000,000 to support the less privileged.

Battling Toxics:
Rizwana Hasan

Syeda Rizwana Hasan’s legal battle to reduce the impact of Bangladesh’s hazardous ship breaking industry has won her the 2009 Goldman Prize for the Asia region. A Siliconeer report.

Status Quo, Jai Ho!
Media and Elections

The rampant bias in favor of the ruling Congress Party hasn’t changed at all in many decades, writes a frustrated Partha Banerjee.

EDITORIAL: Making Change
SUBCONTINENT: Red Alert: Naxal Offensive
BOOKS: South Asian Storyteller
PHILANTHROPY: Helping Bangladesh
TRAVEL: Spain: Toledo Norte
CULTURE: The Demise of Saang
SUBCONTINENT: Violence and Rape
BOLLYWOOD: Review: Aa Dekhen Zara
RECIPE: Tandoori Chicken
TAMIL CINEMA: Ananda Thandavam
COMMUNITY: News Briefs
PHILANTHROPY: Music for Kids
CULTURE: Habib Khan Live in Concert

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