The Indian Consulate in San Francisco has purchased a large paper shredder, thanks to the contributions of thousands of Indian-Americans and other sympathetic citizens. It's the culmination of a nationwide fundraising effort that raised more than $20,000 and allowed the consulate to make the leap forward into the21st Century.
"We've been overwhelmed by the support," said Consul General B.S. Prakash. "It has enabled us to buy not just a shredder, but also a scanner, a copying machine and several staplers."
The fundraising effort began in early February when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the consulate had dumped visa and passport applications at a public recycling center. Some of the documents sat for more than a month in white boxes marked "visa applications," a virtual treasure trove for identity thieves.
"I'm really concerned about identity theft," said one Indian man, who recently applied for a passport renewal at the Consulate. "I would like to ask everyone in America to be on the lookout for a white, black or Hispanic man going by the name Gopalakrishnan Balasubramaniam."
But Prakash downplayed such worries. "The documents did not contain confidential information," he said. "All they had was names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, professions, employers, passport numbers and photos."
Even so, he acknowledged that the documents would have been shredded had the consulate owned a shredder. "The Vajpayee government did send us some extra money in 2002," Prakash said. "But the very next day, our typewriter broke down. And we spent the money on a new Smith-Corona. How could we survive without that machine?"
Many Indian-Americans found it shameful that the consulate did not own a single shredder, when some of them owned several. "I have three shredders at home and I shredeverything," said Raj Mittal, a businessman whose wife organized a bake sale to benefit the consulate. "I'm not paranoid, but I even shred the newspaper because it has my fingerprints. If I go to such means, it's shameful that a consulate does not."
But Prakash did not consider it shameful at all. "So what if we didn't have a shredder?" he said. "At leastwe didn't put the documents in a big drum and burn them, as we would have done in India. We care about the American environment."
John Sandhu, a car salesman who raised more than $400 through a car wash, said it hurt his pride to know that the consulate lacked a shredder. "Now that they've bought a good shredder," he said, "we have all gained a shred of dignity."
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