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Coexistence and Conflict: Hindu Muslim Relations in India

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

New York: October 29, 2002

Vishaka Desai, Sr. Vice-President & Dir. of Museum and Cultural Programs, Asia Society

Bill Ferguson, Group Marketing Executive, Citibank Asia-Pacific

Shabana Azmi, Social Activist, Film Legend and Member of India’s Parliament

Introduction by VISHAKA DESAI

Good evening and welcome to the Asia Society. My name is Vishaka Desai and I am the Senior Vice-President and Director of the Museum and Cultural Programs here at the Society, and it is a great pleasure for me to welcome all of you.

As you know tonight’s program is in fact the second lecture in a new and a very important, and I would also add timely, series called the Citigroup Series on Asian Women Leaders organized by our Asian Social Issues Program Staff. And we are thrilled that we have been able to attract such special guests to the series such as our speaker this evening, Shabana Azmi. This new series focuses on the vital role that women are playing in Asia and in Asian-America featuring leading social activists, policy-makers, business figures, artists and community leaders from Asia and the U.S. On behalf of the Asia Society I want to thank Citigroup for their very generous support of this new exciting program and for giving us the opportunity to feature prominent leaders like our speaker tonight, Shabana Azmi. I want to especially thank Victor Menezes, Chip Raymond and Bill Ferguson of Citigroup for their support of the Asia Society and our work here. Before I introduce Shabana Azmi, let me just turn to Bill Ferguson who is the Group Marketing Executive of Citibank Asia Pacific to say a few words about the program.


Introductory remarks by BILL FERGUSON of CITIGROUP

Thank you Vishaka and good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am very please to be representing Citigroup for the second event in the new speaker series of Asian Women Leaders that is being offered by the Asia Society and sponsored by Citigroup. Tonight is part of a multi-year program in the Asia Society’s tradition of promoting understanding in the U.S. of Asia, its people, it cultures, societies and the issues that are facing the region. Citigroup has a long association with the Asia Society going back to its founding, and an even longer association with Asia, where we first began business in 1902. We think it is particularly appropriate to launch this program during our centennial year. As Vishaka said the program is intended to showcase Asian women and the key role they play in politics, media, the arts and human rights. We believe the people in the U.S. need to know more about the work these women are doing…it is innovative, it is forward-looking and it is courageous. The first speaker in this new series was Dr. Sima Simar of Afghanistan, and tonight’s address will be delivered by Shabana Azmi from India, who will be introduced formally momentarily by Vishaka Desai. Citigroup is honored to be sponsoring this program that features speakers of this caliber who can raise the U.S. awareness of critical issues in the region as well as the role which women are playing in dealing with these issues. Thank you very much and I will now turn the proceedings back to Vishaka.


I know whenever you have to introduce a very distinguished speaker, especially somebody who is as well known as Shabana Azmi, often you want to say, “well, she needs no introduction.” However, I think it is very important to say a few words about her and also about the topic at hand. As you know Shabana Azmi will speak tonight on Coexistence and Conflict: Hindu Muslim Relations in India. What can you say about Shabana? Well, you can say first and foremost that she is a remarkably, an amazing woman who really brings her personal and professional commitment together in a way that is truly unusual and remarkable. She is a social activist and a leading actress of India’s fine cinema; she is a member of the upper house in the Indian Parliament, and as most of you know, of course, a world-renown actress. It is not very often that an actress or an actor would be in fact celebrated as she was recently at Lincoln Center. There was in fact a whole series in which she was celebrated as the actor as activist at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. It is the kind of honor that only a handful of people have been awarded.

I think that-to mention a word about the topic and why it is very important that we discuss this. I think that it goes without saying that one of the very special qualities of India is its kind of polyphonic, multi-various voice that we always feel one is very proud of. It’s a kind of cultural diversity at its best, when it works, that was the vision of the fathers, of the makers, of the Indian independence movement. That very idea of pluralism in recent years, in recent months, has been deeply threatened, as most of us know, and it has to do with the kind of communal violence that has been raging in India-especially the way it sparked in my home state of Gujurat, the home state of Gandhi. This is the kind of violence that in fact one had no words for because one felt “how could this happen in a country that is supposed to have the tradition of inter-connections, a kind of syncretism that one is very proud of?” Those of us who are historians, historians of culture, have thought about this as the kind of ways that Hindus and Muslims have worked together over almost one thousand years, how did this really come apart in the way that it has. These are some of the issues that Shabana will address. I think it is fair to say that what she will talk about is an informal observation because she has been working at the heart of these kinds of issues, and on how to really promote communal harmony on the subcontinent in a more interesting and unusual way. This informal conversation is really to start a dialogue with you so we will have a chance to actually have a discussion with the audience and you will have a chance to ask her questions as well. So please join me in welcoming Shabana Azmi. Thank you.