India united in diversity

Humphrey Institute Fellows stir discussions about their native countries and their roles in the world.

Humphrey Institute Fellow Sanjay Kundu presented a native perspective of India on March 30 at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in what was the first of a series of presentations about different countries, organized by the Humphrey Fellows together with the Humphrey Institute Public Affairs Student Association, Diversity Committee and the Foreign Policy Society.

“One of the main virtues of India is that its people have managed to overcome their differences and live together by accepting and recognizing the right of others,” emphasized Kundu, who serves with the Indian federal police and has won a medal of valor during his service.

“I am very happy that we started this series of presentations with (the Public Affairs Student Association) and the Foreign Policy Society,” said Dragan Paunovic, who is the representative of the International Humphrey Fellows for 2005-2006. “We believe that this series of presentations will bring the invaluable international perspective and expertise of our Fellows to the students at Humphrey and at the ‘U.’ “

India is expected to become a developed country within 15 to 20 years, and the key factor for this has been the emphasis and spending on education and infrastructure for the past 30 years, Kundu said in his presentation. Technical education is a high priority in India, and the fast pace of economic development is proof of the positive results of this strategy. Most Indians who study in the United States now are returning, and form the driving force of Indian society.

India is the only country that has the honor of an ocean and a subcontinent being named after it, and it has nourished a culture in which colors meet to inspire artists and designers. India has many natural habitats – deserts, jungles, high mountains and peaceful coasts, a more than 6,000-year-old civilization where people from about 600 ethnic backgrounds coexist peacefully. Apart from its historical and natural diversity, India is the largest thriving democracy in the world and has its own standards of beauty, movies and music. Furthermore, the open Indian culture has influenced the West more than the West has influenced India.

“Yes, caste divisions can be considered a problem, but you should remember that it took more than 150 years after (the U.S.) adopted its Constitution to integrate all its citizens in society,” answered Kundu to a student question. Legally, all people in India have equal rights, but it will take time for deep traditions like the caste system to change. There are affirmative action programs, and state spending is distributed to various social groups according to their populations. In this way, India tries to help disadvantaged people benefit from the processes of economic development.

Kundu explained that corruption was a serious issue in his home country. As a growing democracy, some positive effects might be achieved by encouraging open markets and reducing the importance of the state. Outsourcing service delivery and implementing programs that foster an honest civil service are also options, he said

India’s growing population, which exceeds 1 billion, and environmental concerns in a developing economy also were discussed. Unlike China, India does not have a one-child policy, so its population continues to grow at a high rate, putting large pressure on resources. Similarly, India needs to deal with issues of gender bias as families abort girls because of a long-held preference for sons. Kundu claimed these factors are cause for concern in India and that the state is working toward addressing these problems. “Environmental issues are very well addressed in the 1985 Forest Act, which prohibits all non-forest-related activities in forest areas in India,” he added.

Humphrey Fellows are midcareer professionals from foreign countries with valuable experiences in various policy areas. They come to the United States for one year and attend classes at various U.S. universities and network with U.S. professionals. This year the University received 16 Humphrey Fellows from countries around the world, and they attend classes at the Humphrey Institute and Law School.

The next presentation of Humphrey Fellows will be at 1 p.m. April 20 when Florien Ukizemwabo will talk about Rwanda. Ukizemwabo is the executive secretary of the Rwandese League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, a human-rights organization at the forefront of human-rights documentation in Rwanda. Trained as a journalist, Ukizemwabo helped to launch The Verdict, a magazine reporting on the genocide trials in Rwanda. For more information, contact Genko Genov [email protected] or Mary Guerra at [email protected]

Genko Genov and Mary Guerra are University Humphrey Institute students. Please send comments to [email protected]