US physician, inspired by Gandhi, is crusader for India

In the self-absorbed world of Indian American “community leaders”, it is rare to find one who does not use the community as a springboard to advance business and personal goals.

It is rarer still to find a physician who freely takes time off a busy practice to espouse the cause of India and the Indian American community.

Despite a gruelling schedule as medical director of the Methodist Hospitals in Indiana and secretary of the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, Bharat Barai has given a resource scarce for any physician in the US — time.

Barai, a specialist in oncology, internal medicine and haematology, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes, but more significant is his passionate involvement in issues, say Indian Americans.

Nor are the causes he espouses based on personal aspirations or political correctness. He has never hesitated to take on the mighty when it comes to defending India’s image or the community’s interests.

Most recently, he organised a protest against the Chicago Tribune, the third largest newspaper in the US, over the factually distorted coverage of the visit of Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

The newspaper reported that several hundred people protested outside the hotel where Advani was speaking while “dozens” attended a dinner in his honour.

Barai produced video and photographs to prove the protestors numbered about 30, while approximately 1,200 people attended the dinner.

In his response to Barai’s letter, Don Wycliff, the Tribune’s public editor, wrote: “Ideally we would have gotten a precise attendance figure for the dinner, but it was not inaccurate to say dozens.”

This caused Barai to respond: “If the reporter would have used similar currency to describe both events, it would be understandable, though amusing. The reporter could have said there was more than one person to hear Advani and there was more than one person to protest.

“Instead of quoting the 2000 census figures of the 124,000 Indian Americans in Chicago, she could have said there are dozens of Indian Americans in the area. That would be accurate too. Should I look forward to reading such Mickey Mouse arithmetic in Chicago Tribune in the future? The Chicago Tribune is a great newspaper and deserves more humility.”

The protest spearheaded by Barai led to a series of meetings with the Tribune’s senior editors, a published correction and the promise of greater interaction with the Indian American community.

“Barai was a brilliant student with a desire for volunteerism and a talent for leadership,” said fellow physician I.K. Patel, a classmate at the M.S. University in Baroda in the 1960s.

“As secretary of the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, he has ensured that Indian physicians are treated fairly,” he said.

As a fundraiser, Barai has been sought after by successive governors of Indiana and influential US Congressmen. In turn he has lobbied for their support for India’s interests — be it the country’s position on the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty or the sale of F-16 jets to Pakistan.

Sitaram Patel, former president of the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA), recalled how Barai met with owners of the Kama Sutra Club in Chicago, which featured caricatures of the Hindu gods Krishna and Rama, and persuaded them to remove the images.

Unlike other “community leaders” who are ever ready to distribute their resume and portfolio of photographs with assorted politicians, “Barai never speaks about himself and has never given his resume,” said Sitaram Patel.

He shies away from taking the stage, even at events where he has underwritten the expenses.

Temples have been among the biggest recipients of Barai’s munificence. He is among the patrons of several temples in the Chicagoland area, including the Manav Seva Mandir, for which he helped raise $3.5 million.

Some detractors see him as a “Hindu zealot” but Barai remains an unabashed defender of Hinduism.

“Just because I love my children, does not mean I am against my neighbour’s children,” Barai told IANS.

“It bothers me when people denigrate Hinduism unchallenged. Secularism is a great idea but it should be applied uniformly. If destroying mosques is bad, so is destroying temples.”

Barai said he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal of public service. “He was not the president of any party, he had no bank account, no home and no car. Yet every city in India has a street named after him. ”

Sitaram Patel said, “Barai owns a Chicago computer chip company with 180 employees. He has never laid off a single employee despite the recession in the IT sector, since that would be the betrayal of their trust in him.”

Barai’s daughter Sujata, who works for a law firm in Chicago, said, “He has a passionate commitment to ideals.”

“I came from a very poor family,” recalled Barai. “My grandmother starved herself so that she could educate my father. A lot of people help you become what you are.

“But they are not around to accept your gratitude. So I decided to do whatever I can for other people.”
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