Elected officials, federal agents, judges and community leaders honored veteran Washington, DC-based journalist Aziz Haniffa at what was like an extended Indian-American diaspora family get-together, virtually.
Aziz, who traces his roots to Sri Lanka, was felicitated for his 35 years of work at India Abroad, the weekly newspaper that was the window to the Indian-American World that shut down this year.
The virtual event was held August 18, hosted by Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami in partnership with the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA). SAJA co-founder and US media personality Sree Sreenivasan and Indiaspora executive director Sanjeev Joshipura were the emcees.
Founded in 2012, Indiaspora is a nonprofit organization established to transform the success of the Indian diaspora into meaningful impact worldwide.
Rangaswami, a long-time friend of Aziz, called it a lifetime achievement award of sorts. He said it was the first award ever given out by Indiaspora.
He recalled how Aziz and Sree would hand out the annual India Abroad Person of the Year Awards in New York to the Indian-American community’s outstanding achievers.
Indian Ambassador Tanranjit Singh Sandhu congratulated Aziz.
Most of the participants were the immigrants or children of Indian immigrants. They all grew up watching their parents reading India Abroad, always visible in their living room.
Participants called Aziz’s work a lifesaver, some called him a jewel, others called him a tough guy with kindness, and some called him an inspiration.
Aziz joined India Abroad as a reporter when it was run by Gopal Raju, the founder of the newspaper. Later the publication was sold to Rediff.com in 2001, which in 2016 sold it to 8K Miles which shut the publication on its 50th anniversary.
Aziz was executive editor of the newspaper for a long time.
At present he is writing a book that would encompass his 35 years of coverage of the Indian-American community and US-India relations.
When Sree asked which was his most favorite interview, Aziz said he had done quite a few!
Aziz recalled traveling with President Bill Clinton in March 2000 to South Asia — Bangladesh, India and then flying to Islamabad. He said he could spend quality time with Clinton and was amazed by the President’s awareness about geopolitics in general and India in particular.
“I think that was the most transformational visit [for US-India ties],” Aziz said. He called his days with India Abroad “an amazing time”
Richard Verma, former ambassador to India, called Aziz a “selfless champion of the underdog.”
“Aziz thrives on telling the stories of other people, not himself — and that makes him so incredible and always behind the scenes. He was there day after day, writing human stories that had never been told.”
Congressman Ami Bera said every time he met Aziz “his first question was how was your mom and dad doing. Which shows what your values are.”
Congressman Ro Khanna said Aziz’s journalism “helped me become a much better public servant and public leader. He has insight about not just the South Asian community but also American politics…a great journalist.”
Judge Sri Srinivasan said Aziz’s work brought pride to the entire community.
Nisha Biswal, president of U.S.-India Business Council, said: “When India Abroad started featuring me… my parents accepted that though I am not a doctor I have achieved something.”
From FCC commissioner Ajit Pai to economist Sonal Shah to Ohio Representative Neeraj Antani to Kumar Bharve, the first Indian-American member of the Maryland House of Delegates, everyone showered encomiums on Aziz. As a trailblazer.
Ashley J. Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called Aziz a “bridge builder.”
Former State Department official said Aziz “always seemed to know.”
Rajwat Singh, senior advocate, National Sikh campaign, thanked Aziz for Supporting the community.
Shankar Narasimhan, chairman, AAPI Victory Fund, called Aziz a friend of the community.
Varun Nikore, president, AAPI Victory Fund, said: “I think there is no one like him out there.”
Also present were LGBTQ couple Parag Mehta and Vaibhav Jain, who said Aziz’s reportage not just brought visibility to their lives but helped their community to come together.
“You saved our lives and thank you for normalizing our lives,” the couple said.
Deepa Iyer of SAALT called Aziz a teacher who through his writing would describe how power works in Washington, DC, “and people could learn about the way decisions are made about our community.”
Vinita Gupta, United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said sais she grew up seeing India Abroad at home and it featured “so many stories about us [the Indian-American community] and spoke truth to power and people.”
Former Indian Ambassador TP Sreenivasan shared how Aziz’s coverage would be so correct and also a nightmare because he could detect deficiencies and failures and report equally effectively.
Dr Vivek Murthy, who was the first Indian-American Surgeon General of the United States, shared how he first met Aziz on his way to t Atlanta to attend a South Asian students’ conference.
“I was in a bus when a kind stranger with a warm smile and sat next to him and in next half an hour felt me right at home,” Dr Murthy recalled. “Our community is so lucky and to have Aziz.”