Peace and Justice
Ashish Sarkar's personal quest leads to an international conference.
by Jan Schlain
From the March, 2017 issue
"People will say 'Oh, my God! They're going to talk about nuclear proliferation,'" says Ashish Sarkar. "'They'll have mock sessions to resolve the Palestine and Israel problem.' None of that!" The World Peace Conference at the Michigan League on March 31 and April 1 "is not just about peace," Sarkar explains. "It's about social justice."
Sarkar was born in India in 1948. Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent movement had just won the country's independence, and his grandfather, a Gandhian, "taught me about the importance of social justice." After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering at the U-M, Sarkar rose through the ranks at Consumers Energy. But even when he was building power plants around the world, "I always had money set aside for social ventures." In Bangladesh "I put aside a million dollars to basically get a building and a hundred sewing machine stations so that women could sew and sell." While building a plant in India, "We opened a school there for disadvantaged kids."
Now retired, he started working on the conference as president of the Ann Arbor Rotary Club. He gathered about thirty-five people, mostly Rotarians, and told them, "Let's come up with a first-class program that will attract attendees." They brought more clubs on board and recruited speakers ranging from Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams to a Buddhist-Christian-Jewish-Muslim panel discussing "Faith and Peace."
"The underlying idea is to really look at the issues that hold us back--even in this country--from achieving peace in our own lives," Sarkar says. An anonymous donor is paying admission fees for 100 students, and he's especially hopeful that they will "learn all these issues and then ... go back and propagate it in their communities." Down the road, "we will recheck with them what they have done--to see if they've made an impact."
[Originally published in March, 2017.]
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