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Farooq Kathwari’s comments at Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill Ceremony on October 16, 2005.

I would like to thank my friend, Meera Gandhi, for her kind introduction.  It is a great privilege to be here with you and I want to thank the Board of Directors of the Center for this honor.

Meera called me a few days back and, in her high energy voice, said that she would understand if I was not able to make it today and I was in Kashmir because of the great disaster that has taken place there.  In fact, she said that if she could help she would also go.  I had thought of going but decided that I can help more from here.  During the last week I have spent time in Washington and in New York discussing ways that a major appeal can be made for assistance and funds.  I also chair the board of Refugees International and about ten days back there were about 33 million refugees and displace persons in the world and last week-end, within a few minutes of the major earthquake, over 2 million people were added to the number.  The persons killed so far are estimated to be 40,000 and growing.  Our families are about 50 to 60 miles from the worst hit areas and were saved.  Winter is already there.  The area is high mountains and very difficult to reach.  I am looking forward to a major leadership role taken by the leadership in Washington as was done in the case of Tsunami and the disasters in the Gulf region. 

I would like to focus my brief comments on the role of leadership in shaping the debate.  Eleanor Roosevelt was a leader.  She established a precedent that leaders today need to follow.  She felt that the U.N. ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was her most notable achievement.  She also was clear when she stated,  ”After all, where do universal human rights begin?  In small places…..close to home.”  She also stated, “We can no longer live apart from the rest of the world.  We must also recognize the fact that peace, like freedom, is not won once and for all.  It is fought for daily, in many small acts, and it is the result of many individual efforts.”

I was born in the war torn and conflict ridden area of Kashmir.  I saw the cost of conflict when our family was separated and our father could not return to his home for 17 years.  He was less than 100 miles away!  It took the leadership of the region about 60 years to open the road between the two parts of Kashmir.

In my view it is the leadership’s responsibility to shape the debate and to work to end conflicts and not to perpetuate them.  It is also our responsibility to help them to resolve conflicts and also, in a very loud voice, hold leadership accountable when they deviate from this responsibility.  Too many leaders and countries have been caught in false pride and have forgotten that the main job of leadership is to help improve the welfare of their people, to end conflicts and create an environment where their people can live with dignity, that is the best human rights work.

I have had the opportunity in the last ten years to work with the leadership of the South Asia region to discuss ideas that would help them give up their unreasonable and inflexible positions regarding Kashmir and to focus on a dialogue process that would lead towards a peaceful, honorable, and feasible solution.  I am gratified that they are moving in the right direction.

And finally, as Eleanor Roosevelt said that human rights start close to home, I have had the privilege of leading the reinvention of a classic American brand during the last 18 years and to put into practice the concept of operating under the umbrella of justice.  The word justice is not used in the business enterprise context, yet we know that most businesses prosper when people are treated fairly and with dignity and fail when the opposite takes place.  Good governance is also good for profitability.  Ethan Allen has consistently outperformed its competitors and has been able to achieve the highest profitability in our industry.

Forty years back I arrived in New York from Kashmir and made Brooklyn my home, working during the day, going to school at night and in 20 years became the president of Ethan Allen.  This is the strength of America and the opportunities that are here.  I am very grateful for all of this and, especially for the recognition today.   

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