Change in India can only come from bottom up: Fareed Zakaria

By Parveen Chopra
New York : An estimated $80,000 was raised at the first benefit dinner titled Pledge 2007 held by CRY America here where Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, said change in India can only happen with the involvement of civil society.

Zakaria was the keynote speaker and CRY America changed its name from ‘Child Relief and You’ to ‘Child Rights and You’, to reflect CRY India’s shifting focus.

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The 200-odd people who paid $175 each for the dinner ticket Wednesday included scores of Americans besides Indian Americans. A painting donated by octagenarian Indian artist Ram Kumar was auctioned for $26,000, bought by Sundaram Tagore who runs an art gallery in the city.

Meera and Vikram Gandhi, prominent New Yorkers, were co-chairs of the gala. “CRY America’s fundraising gala will now be an annual event and will grow every year,” Meera said.

Zakaria in his keynote address said, “Change in India can only come from bottom up, not top down, and that can happen by getting the civic society involved and pressing the government and amplifying the voices like that of CRY.”

Giving the example of Bill Gates who donated a huge sum for the underprivileged in Asia and Africa, he said we should all play our part to shift the global scale of iniquities.

At a press conference earlier, Shefali Sunderlal Chandel, president of CRY America, said that in just over four years of its existence, CRY America, with its corporate office in Massachusetts and 500 volunteers in 20 cities, has transformed the lives of over 80,000 children by supporting 14 NGOs in different states of India and two in US-Save the Children (Hurricane Katrina Support) and Boys and Girls Club of America.

Ingrid Srinath, CEO of CRY India, who gave a powerpoint presentation on the status of children in India, explained the change in name of CRY India last year.

“It is to reflect the change in the language of the debate from child welfare or relief to a matter of right and to focus more on advocacy and policy change at higher levels to restore basic rights to children in India by eliminating the root cause of their problems.”

It is our 40 crore (400 million) children who have the greatest stake in where India is going, she added.

CRY’s work to raise funds will continue, however. Significantly, CRY does not have its own projects but partners with other NGOs working at the grassroots level and incubates child rights organisations.

CRY was set up by Rippen Kapur in 1979, who died at the age of 40 in 1994. CRY’s budget for 2007-8 is $10 million and of CRY America $1.1 million.