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December 18, 2003
In the 32 years since its inception, India Abroad had not felt the need to institutionalise a community award that would honour high achievement.
Why institute an award now?
When a nine-member jury comprising community leaders of distinction -- chaired by Swati Dandekar, India Abroad Person of the Year 2002 -- convened at 11 am November 8, at the Lexington Suite of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, this was the question foremost on their minds.
Publisher Ajit Balakrishnan addressed the key question first up, when in his opening remarks to the jury, he pointed out that the community had evolved, and India Abroad had evolved with it.
The Indian-American community, Balakrishnan pointed out, had expanded in size, scope, achievement, affluence, and influence; it had achieved presence as a recognisable and respected entity within the American space. It was therefore incumbent on the community -- in the person of its leaders, and India Abroad as the newspaper that reaches the largest segment of the community -- to recognise that growth; to accord high
honour to significant achievement, and in so honouring outstanding members of the community, to create a roster of role models for the community at large to look up to, and to emulate, as its roots drive deeper into the US soil.
"We believe," Balakrishnan told the jurors, "that we do not own the newspaper; we merely hold it in trust for the community who are its true owners."
In the spirit of that trust, the publisher said, he and the editors were turning over the proceedings to the jury, as being representative of the community, to select the one Indian-American who above all others had in the year gone by done deeds and created a body of work that best advanced the cause of the community at large, and thus become most worthy of emulation.
In his opening address, Balakrishnan was content to lay down broad procedural guidelines; these, he said, were merely suggestions from the newspaper's editorial board, not hard and fast rules that the jury perforce had to follow.
Next: The jury
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi
India Abroad Person of the Year: The complete coverage