Amid tables of chicken wings, pakora and potato salad, students
questioned and educated each other in an attempt to raise the voter
registration rate among South Asian students, who community leaders
say participate in elections in lower numbers than any other
minority group.

LSA junior Ramya Raghavan, chair of the College Democrats, was
one of several student political leaders who participated in an
Indian Ameican Student Association mixer last night in the Michigan
Union to raise awareness among South Asians about the importance of
this year’s election.

She said voter registration is important because South Asians
have traditionally been overlooked by politicians.

“(We’ve been ignored) because South Asian students
seem somewhat apathetic to issues. I’ve been talking to
people here and they are particularly affected by education,
immigration and civil liberties,” Raghavan said.

She added that she feels the votes of South Asians have been
taken for granted by certain political parties, especially since in
the past many South Asians could not vote becaue they lacked
citizenship.

The event brought together representatives from student
political groups such as the College Democrats, College
Republicans, as well as representatives from LSA Student
Government.

Organizers of the event stressed the importance that first-time
voters register in Ann Arbor instead of trying to obtain an
absentee ballot, which students cannot send in when voting for the
first time under many state laws.

The roughly 100 students, a majority of whom were South Asian,
were then urged to question the student political leaders for the
rest of the evening.

Jaya Soni, a member of South Asian American Voting Youth, echoed
Raghavan by saying that this generation of South Asians is
influential because in many cases it is the first generation with
the right to vote. SAAVY is an organization that concentrates on
registering South Asian American youths to vote.

“A lot of our parents couldn’t vote. We’re
among the first generation to take the gift of voting,” Soni
said.

LSA sophomore Gopal Pai said he attended the event because he
feels that South Asian students need to increase their political
involvement.

“The South Asian students make up a significant percentage
of the student body, yet are not adequately represented in student
government organizations,” Pai said.

But South Asians for Kerry member Devesh Tiwari said the
challenges facing South Asians are no different than the challenges
facing other American voters.

Tiwari said Americans in general perceive the political system
to be too corrupt to warrant their participation, or they feel
their vote will not make a difference.

“I want to get the message out that they can make a
difference and through the political process get a man in office
who exemplifies South Asian values.”

Janu Lakshmanan, co-chair of the mixer, emphasized that IASA
went out of its way to provide a comfortable and informal setting
for South Asian students to talk about politics with politically
active students on campus.

“(We were going for) a standing reception where people
were free to mingle, discuss and not feel pressured to vote for a
certain candidate. They were free to talk about issues that they
wanted to address,” Lakshmanan said. “And even though
IASA is a nonpartisan organization, we have representatives from
different parties in order to provide information.”

The Michigan Student Assembly’s Voice Your Vote Commission
and Students for Nader also participated in the event.

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