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This man bridges gaps across continents

March 23, 2007
Swadesh Chatterjee, first recipient of the India Abroad Community Leader Award 2006, has had political activism flowing in his veins since adolescence.

Those were the years he would follow his father, Hari Sadhan Chatterjee, in the small town of Sonamukhi in the Bankura district of West Bengal, where he was born. The two would campaign for the election and re-election of the older Chatterjee, an erstwhile freedom-fighter who was the town's mayor and also the Congress party's point man.

Thus, it was only natural that this activism would start manifesting itself after this 'Midnight's Child' -- born in 1947 and named Swadesh by his father to celebrate the dawn of a new India -- immigrated to the United States in 1978. He arrived with his physician wife Manjusri at Raleigh, North Carolina. It was part of the Deep South, where right-wing conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms held forth with all the attendant anti-India positions, since he perceived India as a surrogate of the former Soviet Union.

Swadesh -- who already had two bachelors' degrees, one from the University of Calcutta in physics and another from Jadavpur University in electronic engineering -- began attending night school at North Carolina State University for his MBA while working days to take care of his family.

But the political bug soon kicked in, and he gave vent to it the only way he knew how, by founding the North Carolina Bengali Association. He was fully aware that it was political involvement that would lead to political empowerment. He found an outlet in the North Carolina chapter of the Indian-American Forum for Political Education, formed to boost the political participation of the Indian-American community and forge closer ties between the US and India.

Text: Aziz Haniffa
Photograph: Kiran Jagga

Also see: 'India is now on a different level'

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