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Preeta Bansal

Appointed as a member of the US Commission on Int'l Religious Freedom.

india Updated: May 24, 2003 20:22 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Preeta Bansal, a former solicitor general of New York state, has been appointed a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

This is the first time an Indian American will occupy such an eminent position on USCIRF, which advises the president, the secretary of state and Congress on religious freedom in other countries and how best to promote it.

Bansal, an expert on constitutional law, would be one of the six Commissioners on USCIRF, which is headed by Felice D. Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and The American Jewish Committee.

Bansal was selected from among a host of candidates by Senator Thomas Daschle, a Democrat and Senate minority leader, after prolonged discussions on the selection process, Congressional sources told IANS.

Bansal's appointment was necessitated by the resignation of one of the Commissioners, Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, a Pakistani American, whose two- year term on the Commission expired on May 14.

Tahir-Kheli has since been appointed a special assistant to the president and as Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations.

"I greatly look forward to delving into the work of the Commission," Bansal told IANS.

"Throughout my career as a constitutional lawyer, I have been committed to strengthening and helping to make real this nation's commitment to a secular democracy founded upon the rule of law and respect for religious pluralism.

"I now look forward to carrying forward this work and these broad themes into the international arena," Bansal added.

On how she will cope with the work on the panel, she said: "Religious freedom issues, especially in post-9/11 world, are among the most intriguing and challenging -- particularly as they relate to foreign policy concerns.

"In addition to offering my perspectives as a constitutional lawyer, I hope to be able to bring forth, in some small way, the spirit of (Mahatma) Gandhi and his commitment to inter-faith dialogue and peaceful resolution of deeply felt issues."

Bansal is a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College, and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was Supervising Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Bansal, currently on sabbatical teaching constitutional law as a Visiting Professor in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, said she was focusing on U.S. constitutional law, comparative constitutionalism, the federalism revival, and First Amendment issues.

Bansal was born in Roorkee, now in Uttaranchal, and came to the American Midwest with her family at the age of three.

Her father, Dr. M.K. Bansal, is a civil engineer and director of the Data Bank for the Natural Resources Commission of the State of Nebraska. Her mother, Dr. Prem Lata Bansal, is director of Regulatory Affairs in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

She has two siblings -- Dr. Ameeta Bansal Martin, a practicing paediatric cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre, and Dr. Sanjay Bansal, a laser eye surgeon who founded and owns the LaserVue Eye Centres in the Bay Area of California.

Prior to her appointment as New York Solicitor General, Preeta Bansal served in the Clinton Administration (1993-1996) as counsellor in the U.S. Justice Department and as Special Counsel in the Office of the White House Counsel. There she focused on the president's judicial nominations, coordination of the U.S.' agenda for the U.N. Conference on Women (Beijing), issues relating to youth violence and violence against women, and defence of the First Lady's Health Care Task Force.

In 1993, Bansal travelled to India at the request of the US embassy in New Delhi to speak on intellectual property law issues.

She served on an international delegation that was to travel in October 2001 to Bangladesh with former president Jimmy Carter to oversee national elections.

Bansal has been profiled in many national news and legal publications, including in the "Public Lives" column of The New York Times and in the New York Law Journal, where she has been referred to as a "legal superstar".

Bansal has received awards and recognition from several local and national legal associations and immigrant community groups.

She is a regular volunteer at community soup kitchens, has served as a life skills mentor to inner New York City children, and serves on the national boards of several non-profit organisations.

First Published: May 24, 2003 20:22 IST