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Sri Preston Kulkarni: My story, my community pride

Sri Preston Kulkarni

Sri Preston Kulkarni

As the son of an Indian father who was born two years before independence and an American mother whose family arrived in the 13 Colonies before the American Revolution, celebrating Indian Independence Day in America has a special significance for me. In my 14-year career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, I traveled the globe and saw many forms of government, including dangerous authoritarian regimes and countries struggling with democracy. These experiences reinforced how important it is for the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest to be examples for others, and for us all to recognize the significance of living in a democratic system, compared to its alternatives.
India and America have much in common. Both won independence from the British. Both abolished titles of nobility and formed unions out of disparate states that chose their leaders democratically. But the most striking parallel is not simply that we hold popular elections—it is that our democracy and our diversity go hand-in-hand. While free and fair elections are of course critical, any true democracy must also wrestle with giving all its people a voice and preserving a common basis for our society, despite myriad differences which exist amongst its citizens.
America opens its doors to immigrants from every nation in the world. India is the only country where almost every state has its own language. Virtually every religion in the world is represented in America, with American Hindus and Muslims each numbering more than 3 million. India has the world’s second largest Muslim population and Indian Christians number more than the total population of Australia or Canada. How we deal with this diversity will demonstrate the true strength of our nations’ characters. Our greatest challenge as democratic nations is uniting people with different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs around a shared set of values which bring them together in society.
As an Indian American, I take great pride in the democratic traditions that have defined both of these countries. I also see a great responsibility for our community. If we are to honor the legacy of these two great democracies, we must also take responsibility for maintaining them. For the Indian diaspora in the United States, that means not just paying attention to politics in India, but also taking an active role in civic engagement, voting, and the political process here in the community where we live. It means ensuring that we have representation in this government which appreciates how integral we are to this society. Above all, it means we must be a beacon of democratic values, whether in India or in our American home. As we look forward to the American elections this fall, I hope our entire community recognizes the privilege of being connected to two of the world’s great democracies, and that we have the duty to fight for them.

Jai Bharat, Jai America.

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