Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lecture and Scholarship Awards in San Diego

People born in India and brought up during the first half of the Twentieth century admired and adored Gandhiji for delivering the country from the shackles of British Raj to become Independent India and considered him as “Father of the Nation”. Perhaps the most important feeling among Indians at that time was that he emphasized seeking truth, compassion towards one another and follow the path of non-violence in enriching one’s life.

Many Indian students who came to the United States for higher educational opportunities brought with them their deep desire to share their knowledge of Gandhian principles with brothers and sisters of America. “The greatness of Gandhiji lies not in his philosophy but in his ability to translate his beliefs into action and to mobilize the masses likewise act on their beliefs”.

Gandhiji’s Satyagraha movement, the historical movement of civil disobedience, passive resistance and a struggle for upholding the truth, has shaped not just the history of Indian sub-continent but indeed of the world. Nelson Mandala in South Africa and Martin Luther King Jr in United States and many others around the world followed Gandhiji’s footsteps to similar results.

Founding of San Diego Indian American Society is an attempt to memorialize Mahatma Gandhi’s contribution to humankind and provide opportunity for students of San Diego County to learn about Gandhian principles, particularly non-violence, as a tool to settle social, political, religious and national conflicts.

Professor Madhavan, San Diego resident since 1968, has been discussing the possibility of establishing Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture and scholarship to benefit San Diego area high school students during the early 1980s. In one such occasion in December 1983, he was with a group of friends at a dinner party in the home of Dave Singhal. As usual, at the end of the dinner, he was outlining his idea of establishing  a small Gandhi scholarship trust fund initially with $25,000 and the difficulties he had in convincing people that such a project is feasible. Dr. Maneck Wadia challenged Madhavan that if the later can raise $23,000 he will contribute $2,000.

Next morning, Madhavan went into action and called some of his friends and encouraged them to pledge support for the project up on the understanding that they need to honor their pledge only when he succeeds in getting pledges from others to reach the goal. Arjun and Judy Waney readily agreed to support to the extent of 20 percent of the goal. Razia and Krishan Bhardwaj, Radhika and Rama Rao, Subash and Alka Sheth, Sudha and Kishore Doshi, Vijay Sharma, Ragini and Ken Narain , Nacha Madhavan and Sridevi and Jaganathan each promised at least 4% of the goal. With this encouragement, Madhavan informed the community on January 14, 1984 of founding San Diego Indian American Society (Indian American was first used in the US to refer to people of India origin) and invited them to support the organization both to honor Gandhiji and to use this opportunity to “repay” the encouragement we received from this country for our higher education. Within a very short period of time, many friends heartily supported the cause. We met in early March 1984 to discuss the project. When we  were about to leave  after the meeting we saw Harry (Vito) Singh Jr and his sister Patsy walking in and expressed regret for the late arrival. They said they have come to contribute to the project and asked how much we would need. When Madhavan said $5,000 to reach the goal Patsy wrote the check and handed over to him. This is the beginning of the long road we have travelled during the last thirty three years. Thanks to the commitment of our members and passion for the cause, as of December 2016, Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship Trust Fund stood at $638,000, more than 25 times the original effort and almost an equal amount was distributed as scholarships.

First scholarship selection committee of members drawn from different from walks of life was chaired by Captain John Carr, Commanding Officer of US Naval Hospital and it met in naval hospital premises. 10 outstanding high school seniors were chosen to receive Mahatma Gandhi Scholar award. After John was transferred Dr. P.K. Patel assumed the chairmanship of the committee in 1985. He was followed by Dr. Inamati in 1989, Dr. Madhavan in 1994, Dr. Purna Patnaik in 1996, Dr. Mohan Trivedi in 2004 and Dr. Ramesh Rao in 2006. Scores of academicians, local government leaders, physicians and other professionals served as members of these committees over the last 33 years. Thanks to all of them to make our dream come true.

Each applicant for the scholarship writes an essay on non-violence related topic. This is supplemented by GPA, SAT score, teachers’ recommendation, extent of community activities, personal essay and relative income of the student family. Each school recommends two (sometimes three) outstanding students irrespective of national origin for the award.  In recent years, the scholarship committee chose 15 to 20 outstanding high school seniors to be recognized as Mahatma Gandhi scholars and they were honored with cash awards up to $2,000 and US Congressional certificates in Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture and awards ceremony addressed by a distinguished person. To date, about 500 people have been so honored.

Besides Mahatma Gandhi scholarship, San Diego Indian American Society also awards scholarships for students from families with no college education for four years up to maximum of $8,000 each. The students are recommended by San Diego Foundation from a large pool of high school seniors in San Diego County from families with no college education. Dr. P.K. Patel was the first chair of this committee in 2007, followed by Sabodh Garg and Hema Lall as co-chairs in 2011. Besides cash award, they also receive US Congressional certificates.

Thanks to the commitment and passion of our community members to the cause, we were able to encourage students to evaluate the usefulness of non-violence as a vehicle to deal with social, political and religious conflicts and contribute to increasing access to higher education of students from underserved groups.

Major contributors to the scholarships programs to date are: Judy and Arjun Waney, Fiona and Sanjay Jha, Kanta and P.K. Patel, Kiran and Hema Majumadar, Nacha and M.C. Madhavan, Gayatri Prahalad,Manju and Ray Patel, Aruna and Sabodh Garg, Francoise and Salim Shah, Priya and Mukesh Assomull, Hema and Bharat Lall, Ashok and Lata Israni, Harry Singh Jr, Vera and Anil Kripalani, Neema and Chandu Baxi, Rita and Rushikesh Desai, Sejal Parikh, Girija and Sudha and Srinivasa Praba and others.

Distinguished Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lecturers

Year Name of the Lecturer
1984 Dr. Jonas Salk, Inventor of Folio Vaccine and Founder of Salk Institute
1985 United States Congressman Jim Bates
1986 Dr. John Sommerville, Recipient of Gandhi Peace Award and author, No First Strike Initiative
1987 Dr. Roger Revelle, Distinguished world Re-known Scientist and Founder, Scripps
1988 Dr. M.C. Madhavan distributed the awards
1989 Dr. Herbert York, World Re-known Physicist and First Chancellor, UCSD
1990 Ambassador Abid Hussain, Indian Ambassador to the United States
1991 United States Congressman Duncan Hunter
1992 Ambassador Sushil Dubey, Consul General of India at San Francisco
1993 Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Ambassador of India to the United States
1994 Arun Gandhi, Peace Activist and Gandhi’s Grandson
1995 Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, Charge d’ Affairs, Indian Embassy
1996 Ambassador Naresh Chandra, Ambassador of India to the United States
1997 Bharat Ratna Maestro Pundit Ravi Shankar
1998 Ambassador Kishen Rana
1999 Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan, Charge d’ Affairs, Indian Embassy
2000 United States Congressman Dr. Bob Filner
2001 Mayor Dick Murphy, Mayor of San Diego
2002 Awards were distributed at San Diego City Council Meeting
2003 Dr. Inder Verma, Distinguished Scientist, Salk Institute
2004 Dr. V.R. Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institute and UCSD
2005 Padma Bushan Dr. C. K. Prahalad, Distinguished Professor of Management, University of Michigan
2006 Ambassador Nirupam Sen, India’s Representative at the United Nations
2007 Ambassador Jeffery Davidow, Distinguished career Ambassador of United States
2008 Siver Jubilee Dr. Raj Mohan Gandhi and Mr. Arun Gandhi, Grandsons of Mahatma Gandhi
2009 Ambassador Meera Shankar, Ambassador of India to the United States
2010 Padma Bushan Dr. V.S.Rama Chandran, Distinguished Neuro Scientist
2011 Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, US State Department
2012 Ambassador Nirupama Rao, Ambassador of India to the United States
2013 United States Congressman Dr. Ami Bera
2014 Dr. William Brody, Distinguished Scientist and Engineer and President, Salk Institute
2015 Dr. Pradeep Khosla, Distinguished Engineer and Chancellor of UCSD
2016 Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, US State Department
2017 Ambassador Jamal Khokkar, President, The Institute of the Americas
2018 Dr. Elizabeth Simmons, Executive Vice Chancellor, University of California, San Diego