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Youth unite at ‘NYC for Anna’

April 15
22:11 2011

Young Indians unite at Times Square for corruption free India. -Pic Srirekha

NEW YORK: When Atul Kumar, a former IIM-Ahmedabad alumni and New York professional decided to join in the India Against Corruption movement, he began by creating an email-chain among his alumni in the US.

The initial response to his calls to have a protest similar to Anna Hazare’s in New Delhi, was nothing short of cynical and negative where someone asked him if he was so passionate about India why doesn’t he go back; another asked him if he could guarantee that he had never taken or given a bribe ever in his life; yet another asked him why he wanted to wash India’s dirty linen among the public in Times Square.

But then it took just another day for the positive responses to begin pouring in and within two days, 700 people signed up to join the fight against corruption in India (spearheaded by Gandhian and septuagenarian social activist Anna Hazare) in a peaceful show of support on April 9, at Times Square in New York City.

And so, on this crisp Saturday afternoon, more than 300 young Indian Americans – among them software engineers, financial consultants, investment bankers, in their 20s and 30s and recent immigrants to the US – essentially connected by Facebook, turned up, standing out among the teaming tourists and New Yorkers at the iconic Square, stark in long white T-shirts with ‘NYC 4 Anna’ emblazoned on the front. None of them were friends or neighbors or colleagues, but they were brought together by a common cause they genuinely believed in, that is to bring about systemic change in India through the power of the youth.

Indeed, it was Facebook that aided in spreading the word about the Times Square event. But even if it may seem inspired by the recent Egyptian Tahrir Square phenomenon, for the ‘Internet Generation’ as they all themselves, it is the best means, although not the end to their cause of seeing a corruption-free India.

“This is a cause very close to my heart and I am willing to give my career for it,” said Atul Kumar as he gathered signatures from all those who turned up on a petition to be given to India’s Prime Minister asking for the speedy passing of the Lokpal Bill.

“The general feeling among our parents and grandparents in India is that India is a hopeless case and nothing can be done to better it. But we (the youth) don’t feel that way. We feel we can make a difference and bring about change in our lifetime.”

Atul Kumar’s involvement in the fight against corruption was spurred when he learnt about the involvement of Arvind Kejriwal who had earlier successfully brought about the implementation of Right to Information Act in India. “With people of integrity like Arvind Kejriwal in this movement, we are confident the anti-corruption movement too will be successful,” he said.

“Also, for the first time, hundreds of thousands of people in India have come out for something that is not connected to Bollywood or cricket or other middle class pastimes. This shows they want change.”

For Purvi Parikh, who grew up in Mumbai and has been living in New York for the last ten years, showing up at Times Square on this beautiful Spring day was no picnic.

“We are here to make a quiet statement,” she said. “There’s a lot of cynicism in India that ‘kuch badalne wala hai nahi to bolke kya fayda’ (what’s the use of raising your voice when nothing’s going to change). We have grown up with that attitude that ‘the system never changes’, the cliché being that the ‘system changes you’.

With youth participation, Parikh hopes it will be different this time. “It’s impressive that someone with Gandhian principles (Anna Hazare) took the lead and got the country around,” Parikh continued. “It kind of teaches the new generation about what he represented – that they had achieved freedom from tyranny then and that this is a new kind of freedom that we are trying to achieve now.”

“It’s difficult for today’s generation to understand non-violence in the world we live in today,” she added to good measure. “Hopefully this will get the internet generation involved in a more active way. We need younger leaders; we don’t need politicians; we need statesmen; we need better causes, and I hope this movement encourages youngsters to become part of the political system and make a difference from within.”

For Shweta Joshi, a software engineer who has lived outside India for over 20 years, it was the recent spontaneous victory celebrations among Indian Americans in her Newport, a New Jersey neighborhood that made it seem possible that Indian Americans can unite for India.

“Indian Americans living in Newport are mostly highly placed professionals and tend to keep a low profile. But when India won the cricket World Cup, they just spontaneously came out onto the streets creating a traffic jam and the police had to be called. Although this is a more serious cause, we know we can come together for India.”

Though they are so far away from India, Joshi believes that through social media, if more and more people support, the process of change (in India) will speed up.
Vikram Malhotra, an investment banker in Manhattan said that Indians in general suffered from the ‘chalta hai’ (it’s ok) attitude. “Earlier the common refrain was that ‘Ek se kya hoga’ (what can one individual change?). But now we are realizing that even one person can make a difference,” he said.

“It’s a sorry state that somebody had to take such drastic measures (fast unto death) to get attention,” said Priya Gogia, another working professional in New York. “We Indians generally come together only when good things are happening, like a cricket victory, but when there’s something bad happening, we kind of become subdued.”
Shravanth Bhagat, who works for Citigroup was more pragmatic in his approach. “I don’t say people will stop taking bribes because of some legislation. I want a system whereby if I take a bribe, I want to be punished for it.”

The geographical distance between India and the US does not matter for their efforts to have an impact on events back home in India, they all believe. Says Bhaskar Mitra: “Just because we are in NY it doesn’t mean we are not Indians. I don’t know what impact my being here will have in India, but my job is to keep engaged with any causes that relates to India.”

Explaining why a Times Square protest was significant, a former Indian army colonel now settled in Canada wrote on his Facebook posting that Indian politicians should understand that they will get the same treatment now as the dictators from Africa or Middle East get if we tell the world that they are corrupt.

Not necessarily the last word, but as Atul Kumar says with conviction, “Any change has to come from oneself, at an individual level. If the younger generation grows up with the values that being honest is as important as being rich and/or famous then I think change will come from grass root level.”

Visibly charged up, the gathered youth, many of whom plan on eventually going back to India, are determined to sustain the movement through the social media. On that day, the NYC 4 Anna team collected more than 320 signatures on a petition to be submitted to the Indian government through the Indian Consulate.

The motley group of volunteers also decided to formalize their efforts through a focus group, NY Desis, to carry on similar events and social causes in future.

Spontaneous events similar to that in Times Square were held by young Indian Americans in several cities across the US.

SRIREKHA CHAKRAVARTY
India Post News Service

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