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Crowley reassures boro Indians hit by terror

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When the destruction of the World Trade Center brought terrorism directly into the lives of New Yorkers last fall, Queens residents from India found themselves facing a struggle that was all too familiar.

Already weary of terrorism that has long plagued their homeland, two dozen leaders of the borough’s Indian community from the Jackson Heights Merchant Association met with U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) over lunch Tuesday afternoon to voice concerns that have arisen here and in India since Sept. 11.

Representing the second-largest South Asian community in the country, Crowley recently returned from a tour of India that included meetings with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Defense Secretary George Fernandes and other leaders in the world’s largest democracy.

“India knows as well as the United States it doesn’t come at an easy price,” Crowley said in praise of the country’s commitment to democracy.

Crowley shared many memorable moments from his trip to his audience’s homeland, recalling a brief but emotionally powerful visit to the Taj Mahal, as well as the delicacies he enjoyed throughout his stay.

“Quite frankly, the food was outstanding,” said Crowley, who spoke in the private dining room on the second floor of Delhi Palace on 74th Street near 37th Avenue. “There’s great food here in Jackson Heights, but the food there was outstanding.”

But before the group dove into the trays of rice and curry awaiting them at a buffet downstairs, community leaders grilled Crowley about his stance on issues surrounding the terrorism that has affected Indians overseas as well as in New York.

Crowley’s tour came at a time of severe tension between India and neighboring Pakistan, where an ongoing conflict over Kashmir — a disputed region claimed by both countries — threatens to escalate into war.

Militant extremists allegedly trained by Pakistan have terrorized India over the past decade — bombing the Bombay Stock Exchange in the early 1990s, hijacking an Indian Airlines flight two years ago and, most recently, unleashing gunfire on the Indian Parliament late last year.

Local Indian leaders told Crowley they expect the United States to press Pakistan to hand over people who had been convicted of committing terrorist acts against the state of India.

Crowley agreed, saying he expects the United States to demand that terrorists be brought to justice before Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is allowed to visit here.

“I think it’s a mistake for Musharraf to try to protect wanted, convicted criminals,” Crowley said

But local Indian leaders also spoke against what they considered to be an imbalance between the American war against the terrorists harbored by Afghanistan, who launched the Sept. 11 attack, and the nation’s less militant reaction to militants in Pakistan who have terrorized India.

“The problem is the same — terrorists,” said Vasantrai Gandhi, the president of New York Gold Co. in Jackson Heights.

Crowley said the nuclear capability of both India and Pakistan adds a different nuance to the conflict in Kashmir, because the threat of either side using the “ultimate weapon” has forced the United States to show caution.

But the Indian community in Queens has endured a two-sided bout with terrorism in their homeland and in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Some knew people who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Many others expressed concern that the American response has infringed on their own rights, preventing relatives from receiving visas to visit the country and, in the worst cases, prompting innocent immigrants to be detained for indefinite lengths of time.

Jagdish Saggar, the president of Chands Enterprises, said the celebration of his daughter’s wedding after Sept. 11 was dampened by his nephew’s inability to get a visa that would allow him to enter the United States.

“We agree illegal people should not come over here, terrorists should not come over here,” Saggar told Crowley. “But we want to enjoy some of our social functions with our people.”

The community leaders said they were pleased to receive Crowley’s attentive ear on their concerns, praising him for saying that he understands the importance of Kashmir to India.

But on some issues, such as the detainment of immigrants suspected of terrorist ties, Crowley admitted that national security would have to override other concerns, a conflict the Indian community leaders understand that they must accept.

“Unfortunately, some people will be caught up in the middle of it,” Crowley said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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