Benjamin Patton | The Daily StarAshok Malhotra holds some of the book he authored at his home in Oneonta on Thursday, September 23, 2010.Benjamin Patton

A pledge to give back to the culture that he came from has resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Ashok Malhotra, the State University College at Oneonta distinguished teaching professor in philosophy said Thursday.

Malhotra is among the 237 in the running for the prestigious award, which will be announced Oct. 8, sources said.

It was presented to United States President Barack Obama in 2009, who divided the $1.4 million prize among 10 charities.

The Nobel Prize committee does not release the names of nominees, or its investigations and opinions, for 50 years, according the organizations website.

But releases from the organization that submitted his name  The International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilization  and SUNY Oneonta have confirmed the nomination.

Malhotra is a member of the society, which is committed to the notion that complex problems of civilization need diverse, multidisciplinary analyses, according to its website.

According to SUNY Oneonta, he is best known for humanitarian work in establishing five Indo-International Schools in his native country, India.

Much of the funding came from the Oneonta-based Ninash Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization he established in 1996 in honor of his late wife, Nina. She shared his interest in promoting literacy among children throughout the world, he said.

Malhotra said when he learned of the societys intention to nominate him at its annual meeting in June 2009: I was totally speechless. Then I felt very honored. It was a wonderful experience.

Malhotra said that his work to promote literacy stems from growing up in the state of Punjab as one of 11 children of illiterate parents. He was born in 1940. Thanks to the insistence of his grandfather, he got a high school education in Punjab, he said.

He moved to Rajasthan in 1956 and graduated from the University of Rajasthan in Pilani with a bachelors degree in 1961 and masters degree in 1963, putting himself through college.

While there, he was part of a group of students who helped teach literacy to community members who were not as fortunate as they were to have formal education.

He decided then he was going to help the people of India learn to read, he said.

His companion, Linda Drake, has been involved with the foundation for 14 years. She said that because Malhotra grew up in India under those circumstances: He understands what its like for these children. He knows the ticket to getting out of those circumstances is education.

Its all about helping the children, she said about the work of the foundation. If he is awarded the prize, it will help bring needed attention to the problem of illiteracy around the world, he said.

Reading the supporting material that was part of the Nobel Prize nomination submitted on his behalf, Malhotra said he may have a chance to win. This is the first time he has been nominated.

If that is the case, the prize would go to the foundation to continue its work, he said. Using just the interest, it would be possible to build three schools a year for the foreseeable future, he said,  Initially, he would continuethis work in India, but eventually, he could see building schools in countries in Africa and other countries where there is a lack of literacy.

Society President Andrew Targowski did not respond to an e-mail for comment about the nomination.

But in the letter contained in a book presented to the Nobel Prize nominating committee, society member Walter Benesch, a professor of philosophy at the University of Alaska, wrote, in recognition of the achievements of my colleague, Prof. Ashok Malhotra, in bringing schools and education to the children of the poor and illiterate classes and castes in India, I want to recommend and nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malhotra came to SUNY Oneonta in 1967 to start the colleges philosophy department with a colleague, he said. In 1979, he established the schools studyabroad program in India.

He talked about the problems of illiteracy with his wife, Nina, and eventually convinced her to come to India on the college trips, She became interested in the problem, especially for girls and minority group members, he said.

Over the years, he has led 17 groups with more than 300 students, faculty and community members to India to build the five Indo- International Schools starting in Dundlod in 1996, and then in Kuran and Mahapura.

The first two include elementary and high schools, he said. At Mahapura, it is only an elementary school, though an expansion is planned, Malhotra said.

Together the schools serve more than 1,100 children and employ more than 40 teachers.

College spokesman Hal Legg said: Ashoks passion for philanthropy is well known throughout the college community, and this nomination acknowledges his truly amazing dedication to service. The work hes done in India, building several schools there over the course of many years, has given hundreds of that countrys poorest children access to education that otherwise they probably never would have.

Ashok has changed their lives and inspired those whove traveled to India with him to support his efforts. What hes accomplished is, by any measure, remarkable.

Malhotra earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1969, following his arrival from India in 1963 as a student at the East-West Center.

It is an independent and publicly funded Hawaiibased organization that promotes understanding among the people of the U.S. and Asia.

If he wins, he wont change his routine, continuing to teach classes in philosophy, including yoga, he said.

Growing up I never thought I would be in this situation, he said. Its an amazing experience that Oneonta has contributed to.

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