BY TRONE DOWD
Guests citywide joined their colleagues in law and government at the Haveli Restaurant in Forest Hills on Wednesday night to celebrate the official kickoff of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens (SAICBA-Q).
The hour-long event acted as an inauguration ceremony for the all-star executive board. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), a former public interest lawyer and the first Asian-American to represent the State of New York in Congress, swore in the eight members.
Established in 2017, SAICBA-Q aims to unite like-minded attorneys from both Indo Caribbean countries, such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, and South Asian countries—including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Similar to many other bar associations throughout the country, SAICBA-Q helps proliferate and cultivate diversity in the field of law, offering professional development and mentorship to new attorneys with similar backgrounds, and increase the legal services that are available to neglected communities throughout the borough.
“It warms my heart to be amongst like-minded colleagues who support and encourage justice and access for all,” Meng said to the full room of lawyers, elected officials, judges and students of all backgrounds. “There are so many role models in his room today. Unlike how it often is in many of our circles, and especially in Washington, it’s nice to be in a room where you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.”
SAICBA-Q’s president, Judge Ushir Pandit-Durant, said that she was proud to be the first person to hold the position. Born in India, Pandit-Durant has had an illustrious law career, working 25 years as an assistant attorney at the Queens District Attorney’s office. In 2015, she became the first South Asian to become a civil court judge.
“The membership of an organization like this were it to exist at the time I was starting my career, we probably would have had a member of one, maybe a handful of attorneys,” she said. “But today, we are a strong, professional group of over 100 attorneys and at least two lawyers here in Queens County.”
Executive Vice President Karen Gopee said that the organization “represents the diversity of Queens.”
“I am thrilled that I am a part of this organization and working with people who believe in coming together to make a difference,” she said.
Ali Najmi, the Southeast Queens native attorney who will act as SAICBA-Q’s vice president of external affairs, said that the organization is proof of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community’s contributions to New York.
“People always tell me [the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community] is an emerging community,” Najmi said. “You know what tonight establishes? We are no longer emerging. We have emerged. And we are well on our way.”
Public Advocate Letitia James, an accomplished attorney of Trinidadian descent, sat alongside Queens City Council members Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest). James presented the SAICBA-Q board with a proclamation on behalf of the city. She commended the objective of the organization, especially as it pertains to helping and representing communities of color.
“What we need now more than ever are attorneys that are committed to justice,” James said. “We should all make sure that we administer justice with mercy and compassion—at a time when we need so much reform in our criminal justice system, when we are seeing poverty perpetuating, when we are seeing individuals who are suffering from mental illness who are overlooked. As we see more and more justice being denied, it is critically important that we have more attorneys who represent the Diaspora. We need to step up to the plate and demand justice in and out of the courtroom.”