A woman from Bhopal who, 40 years ago, set up the first school for the Indian community in Saudi Arabia, a first-generation American woman born to Gujarati immigrant parents who is assistant secretary of state in the US state department, the Indian-origin PM of Portugal, leaders of the Hindu community in the US who also helped organise PM Narendra Modi’s 2014 visit to the US are among 30 winners of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman.
The awards for outstanding diaspora citizens were announced on Monday at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. The awards were presented by President Pranab Mukherjee at the conclusion of the event.
For the first time, an Indian woman living in Saudi Arabia was awarded the Samman. Zeenat Musarrat Jafri, who along with her husband set up the first Indian school in Riyadh in 1982, was awarded for her contribution to the education of the Indian community. Originally from Bhopal, Jafri was the founding principal of the Indian International Public School in Riyadh.
“All we had in mind was community service and service to my countrymen,’’ Jafri said in a brief interview after receiving her award. “This is a very big achievement. Very exciting.”
Nisha Desai Biswal, the Indian-American who was appointed assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian Affairs in the US state department by Barack Obama, won the award for public affairs for promoting better relations between US and India. “The award recognises the importance of building bridges and creating connections in this increasingly divided world,’’ Biswal said in an acceptance speech made on behalf of all winners.
Portugal PM Antonio Da Costa, the chief guest at the event, who has roots in Margao in Goa, was also conferred the Pravasi Samman. Among other Indian-origin persons awarded for public services are Winston Chanderbhan Dookeran — a Trinidad and Tobago politician and economist, Priti Patel, a British member of parliament who is secretary of state for international development, Neena Gill, a member of the European parliament for the Labour Party, and Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, minister of finance in Mauritius.
Four Indian-origin persons in the US were awarded for community service. Dr Bharat Haridas Barai, a medical doctor, Dr Mahesh Mehta of the VHP in the US, Ramesh Shah for the RSS-affiliated Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation in the US and Dr Sampatkumar Shidramapa Shivangi of the Republican Hindu Coalition were among them. Dr Barai, Dr Mehta and Ramesh Shah were at the forefront of organising events during Modi’s visit to the US in 2014.
“We have been serving the Indian community in the US and the Indian community in tribal India on a larger scale,” said Ramesh Shah.
“In New York I was involved with PM Modi’s Madison Square Garden event. It was a grand event. We were involved in mobilising the community, organising the event and making the program a success. Dr Mahesh Mehta, Dr Bharath Barai and a lot of other community leaders were there,” he said.