In the late 1960s India Students Association (ISA) was the only Indian Association located at the University of Houston, that worked to preserve! Indian cultural heritage. In less than 50 years, the number increased dramatically to about 100.
In the early 1970s, when Idi Amin threw Indians out in 1972, Houston was ready to accept some of those Ugandan refugees. Also, the UN agency sought the help of ISA. As a representative of ISA, I participated in helping settle several Indian families from Uganda in apartments and even get jobs.
When millions of Bangladeshis came as refugees to India in 1971, it was ISA which took the lead to raise funds. It was the first of its kind of fund raising activity in Houston by NRIs to help India.
Who represents Indians?
Though we have more than 100 Indian associations, it is still a dilemma to whom media should contact, when a problem affects Indians. If we go by numbers, ICC would be the smallest of several well-known Indian associations, but by size, ICC will lose the contest and if we decide by the assets and ownership of the building, India House will be the clear winner. In the late 1980s, I had posed a provocative question whether there are Indians in Houston, as at that time, ICC was one of the smallest associations though it represented the interests of all Indians. The question of whether one organisation that is well organised but small in membership can represent the diverse interests.
India House, along with ICC, can represent diversity. It has already taken a step towards it by giving space to ICC, Indian American Charity Clinic and housing a library with books on India, organising classes in Hindi and Indian philosophy, etc. When it completes its second phase, India House can play an even bigger role.
In the mid-1960s, the total number of Indians in Houston was less than 500 and it was a close-knit community. But today, we have more than 120,000 Indo-Americans.
In the photo, one can see two community centres located close to another - one for India and the other for Turkey. While the latter shows the unique architecture of Turkey, India House does not. Tourism Department of India can collaborate on such a project. Such a scheme of little India can be a big attraction as it has happened with Madurodam and Taman Mini. This can help India House to convey India’s civilisational message of unity in diversity; but to achieve such a grand design we need visionary leaders and support from the entire Indian community.
The existing evidence of generosity of Indians in establishing NGOs are Pratham, Akshaya Patra, Ekal and Sankar Netralaya and also scores of temples, churches, mosques and gurudwaras.