Aug. 26, 2006 — The subject Friday night was democracy, as more than 200 community members gathered in the ballroom at Marriott Frenchman's Reef to celebrate the 60th anniversary of India's independence and the 30th anniversary of the India Association of the Virgin Islands.
Calling it the largest democracy in the world, keynote speaker Gov. Charles W. Turnbull commended India's nonviolent move into democracy and called upon the nation to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with the United States "in defense of democracy."
Neelam Deo, consul general of India to New York, said the world's two greatest democracies must also stand together on terrorism, the energy crisis and agriculture. With trade doubling between the two countries Deo said it was imperative to work together.
In her keynote address, Deo led the discussion to the second topic of the evening – education. With a very large number of her country's people still illiterate, she said her goal was to see India as a fully developed country by 2020. Deo was brought to the subject of education by the announcement made prior to her address that the association was pledging a donation of $100,000 over the next three years to Charlotte Amalie High School to be used for whatever CAHS Principal Jeanette Smith-Barry wished.
Smith-Berry said she hopes to use the money to assist students who need special help when they reach high school. She said some students come into ninth grade not functioning anywhere near grade level, adding that they are promoted because they are "old enough" and there is nothing left to do for them in middle school. She said they need special tutoring and programs, and the donation will get the ball rolling.
Deo said "education will improve the gender balance" in positions of power and "bring people of other countries together." That was something else she said India and the U.S. had in common – people from differing cultures, countries and religions living together in relative harmony.
Bringing together members of all cultures living in the Virgin Islands and to share the Indian culture with the guests was one of the stated goals of Friday's annual dinner, held to celebrate India's independence, which took place on Aug. 15, 1947.
And share they did. With a tapestry of the Taj Mahal as a backdrop, six young women from the Indian community performed three cultural dances. Divya Cugh, Meenu Sachdev and Aradhna Wadhwani danced to "Kashmire Ki Kaliyan;" Minal Sampat danced a solo presentation called "Old is Gold;" and sisters Aarti and Sonam Lalwani offered a dance duet called "East Meets West."
Another Lalwani sister, Anjali, was the mistress of ceremonies for the evening.
Again, under the heading of education, the association also presented UVI President Dr. LaVerne Ragster with a check for $6,000 to provide two full scholarships at the university.
In announcing the donation — made at the suggestion of Manhar Desai, association member and president of TOPA Insurance Services — association president Mulo Alwani said, "We hope that other organizations will follow our lead to support our schools here in the Virgin Islands."
The association, chartered in 1976 by the late David Mohanani, has approximately 68 members, according to the banquet booklet. It also says the association, which built its own cultural center in 2001, "allows the East Indian culture to be exhibited and appreciated by our children who are also Virgin Islanders, born and raised on the island of St. Thomas."
It goes on to say, "Most importantly, this association allows us to contribute to the melting pot that is our home island."
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