The Bridge Builder
ause when I first came to the area, even to find one Indian on
the street was a struggle.
If you met one, it would melt your
heart and you would go out of your
way to talk to them, invite them
home, etc, because it was so few
Indians at the time.
But over the years, it has grown by
leaps and bounds.
The community has benefited
with the influx of new immigrants
from India. That has also enriched
We’ve also got two governors now,
who are Indian Americans.
Also, so many are serving in the
Obama Administration and several
who served in the Clinton and Bush
Indian Americans have done a
tremendous job. I believe it is the
culture they come from — it makes
them work very hard with one goal
in mind, to succeed and achieve all
they can for their children and
grandchildren and of course, with
the highest priority being education.
There has also been with the
growth of the Indian-American population, the corresponding growth
of Indian-American organizations
over the past few decades — regional, political, cultural, etc.
You have always been adamant and strong in your drive to
make sure that the regional organizations, cultural organizations, and the other organizations do not stray from the plurality and the diversity and the secularism that is India, which
you have always argued is paramount for the Indian Diaspora.
Why have you been such an active and passionate proponent and uncompromising on this issue?
India is not one country — it is many countries.
India has got so many sub-ethnic groups and when they
migrated to the US, they wanted to maintain these ethnic
and sub-ethnic traditions, culture and even biases and prejudices.
America, on the other hand, is one homogenous country,
but it does encourage you to maintain your own identity.
You attended the 10th anniversary of AACR (American Association for Civic Responsibility) organized by Dr Joy
Cherian (founder and former president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, the first and oldest
Indian-American political organization) where Norman
Mineta, the former US Congressman and (Presidents) Bush
and Clinton appointee (Mineta, an Asian-American icon was
commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and transportation secretary in the George W Bush administration)
talked about that one thing about America is that every ethnic group can maintain their own identity — they never need
to lose that identity.
Sambhu Banik, back row center, cherishes the work he does with the differently abled.
This is one of the most beautiful things about this country,
which has got so many different regional groups, but they
bring the richness of their own culture.
By providing this variety of cultural, artistic milieu to this
(American) community, they enrich us.
Although it might look somewhat like compartmentalization or provincialization, in the long run, we are living in a
pluralistic, diverse society, and diversity is the hallmark of
Is that why you feel that it’s important that while you maintain your individuality and identity and preserve your own
culture that you may bring from your own particular region,
in the final analysis, we are all Indians, we are all South
Asians, and we shouldn’t let some of that baggage — and when
I mean baggage I mean some of the negative connotations
that one may have in terms of trying to infuse religion, or communalism, etc — enter the equation?
Is that what you’ve fought for in terms of your community
activism over the years?
Absolutely. I’ve been involved all the time with the national organizations (he was also one of the founders of the IAFPE
and the National Federation of Indian American
I’ve always believed that we must all work together — that
we are all part of the same mother — Mother India — and
although we may come from Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar
Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, or wherever, it really
We are all Indians. So, we must all
work together in a harmonious
As a matter of fact, in the last four
decades, we have come a long way.
We are much more united.
If you see any Indian candidate
running for Congress or local election, you’ll see that the Indian community is now supporting these
candidate in large numbers, irrespective of their party affiliation,
race, religion, etc.
They forget about whether they or
their parents come from Bengal,
Bihar, Orissa, or Madhya Pradesh,
South India or any part.
You served in the Reagan
Administration as a member of the
National Advisory Council on Drug
Abuse and then during the George H
W Bush Administration, you were
appointed as the executive director
of the President’s Committee on
Were these positions you cherished because they helped you give
address your passion to work
toward alleviating the lot of the disabled and those afflicted by the
scourge of drug addiction?
It was one of the highlights of my life that I was given the
opportunity by President Reagan to serve on the National
Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.
I have seen how drugs have really destroyed the fabric of
our society and our nations. It is such a big problem facing
If I could make a little dent — a little difference — I have
done my share.
On the other hand, regarding disability issues, I was one of
the few who lobbied to have the American Disabilities Act
Not only in this country, but I took this message to my
motherland and to different parts of the world.
I am very proud to say that I have helped to set up many
programs in Hyderabad.
I provide consultation to the Thakur Hari Prasad Institute
for the Mentally Handicapped on how to improve the quality of life of these people who have the same rights as we have,
the same feelings.
If my advocacy can bring some changes that is a lasting
contribution, a legacy I can leave behind.
You have been in the forefront of fighting for the rights of
women and girl children.
Recently when the brutal rapes in India became front and
COURTES Y: SAMBHU BANIK
SPONSORED B Y