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Hindu American Foundation

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is a Hindu American advocacy group founded on September 3, 2003 and headquartered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. HAF is involved in the areas of human rights, civil rights and education among others.

Hindu American Foundation
HAF Logo 2019 color.svg
MottoPromoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive.
FormationSeptember 3, 2003; 16 years ago (2003-09-03)
68-0551525[1]
Legal status501(c)(3) non-profit
PurposeHindu American advocacy
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Location
  • 910 17th St NW #316A
Region served
United States
Executive Director
Suhag Shukla
Websitewww.hafsite.org

AboutEdit

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was founded in September 2003 by Mihir Meghani, an emergency care physician, Aseem Shukla, an associate professor in urologic surgery, Suhag Shukla, an attorney, Nikhil Joshi, a labor law attorney,and Adeeti Joshi, a speech therapist. [2] The organization describes itself as a human rights and advocacy group, providing "a voice for the 2 million strong Hindu American community", that aims to educate the government and the public about Hinduism and the issues concerning the Hindus globally. It emphasizes the "Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism."[3] According to Harvard professor Diana L. Eck, the foundation has emerged as "the first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity."[4] Scholar Vinay Lal has noted that the organization draws on the claims of Hinduism being unique in its tolerance and religious pluralism as well as the enormous goodwill created by Gandhi in the West.[5]

ActivismEdit

During 2004-05, the organization held events to educate legislators about issues of concern to Hindu Americans. These included the abuse of Hindus in the Muslim majority regions of South Asia, including Kashmir, Bangladesh and Pakistan.[6] During the visit of Pervez Musharraf to the US in 2006, the organization issued a press release holding the Musharraf regime complicit in the "forced religious conversions, temple destructions and intimidation of Hindus" in Pakistan.[7][8]

In 2004, HAF challenged the public display of the Ten Commandments in Texas, where it appeared as amici curiae (friend of the Court) in Van Orden v. Perry in the United States Supreme Court. It argued that the display represented an "inherent government preference" for Judeo-Christian religions over others and the state must be reminded of its obligation to maintain religious neutrality.[7][8] In 2005, HAF, along with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Association on American Indian Affairs and the Interfaith Alliance, was involved in the Simpson v. Chesterfield County case regarding legislative prayer.[9] In 2008, HAF along with a coalition of other religious groups, filed suit and blocked the issuance of Christian themed license plates in South Carolina.[10]

The organization supports strong ties between India, Israel and the US to create an axis of countries aiming to fight Islamic terrorism. In 2005, it joined the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to jointly sponsor a program at Stanford University on "countering biases against Hindus and Jews on the College campus."[11]

In 2010, the Foundation launched a Take Yoga Back campaign as a reaction to the cultural appropriation[12] and secularization of yoga. It contended that Raja Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism and cannot not be practiced independently, inviting criticism from Deepak Chopra and Meera Nanda.[4][13][14]

In 2013, HAF joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim organizations urging the Justice Department investigate the New York City Police Department for discriminatory surveillance of American Muslims.[15] The organization also joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in expressing concern over the existence of and hunger strikes by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and the torture of suspected Muslim terrorists.[16] In 2014, HAF held joint protests for the genocide of Yazidis under the Islamic State in Iraq.[17] In 2015, as a part of the Hate Crimes Coalition, HAF participated in the drafting and submission of the edits to an FBI manual to specifically track hate crimes against Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.[18]

In 2016, HAF along with Indiaspora and other organizations successfully convinced the United States Postal Service to issue a stamp commemorating the Hindu festival of Diwali.[19]

In 2018, the organization launched the Shakti Initiative, a website highlighting Hindu teachings about and by women, the contributions of Hindu women throughout history, and how Hindu women can address critical contemporary issues.[20]

In 2019, the HAF along with the American Civil Liberties Union and various Jewish religious and civil rights organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of a constitutional challenge to a government-sponsored 40-foot cross as a war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland in the American Legion v. American Humanist Association case.[21] HAF also joined a coalition of interfaith and civil rights groups opposing Project Blitz, a coordinated national effort to enshrine Christian nationalism in state laws in the United States, which could undermine civil rights protections and healthcare access for women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, and the nonreligious.[22][23] On May 12 2019, HAF along with the AJC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other interfaith groups held a solidarity vigil for the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka.[24]

In September 2019, the HAF published a letter, co-signed by what was described as "a record number of 230 Indian-American organisations in the US", asking congressman Ro Khanna to withdraw from the Congressional Caucus on Pakistan and criticizing him for a tweet where he had stated that "it is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians."[25]

Human RightsEdit

Since 2005, the Hindu American Foundation has published annual reports entitled Hindus in South Asia & The Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights on the status of human rights of Hindus worldwide. Past reports have covered the status of Hindus living in Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as expatriated refugees from those regions. The reports provide detailed accounts of human rights violations such as violence against women, murder, ethnic cleansing, temple destruction, socio-political ostracization, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and forced conversions perpetrated against Hindus because of their religious identity. The incidents are documented, sourced from first hand accounts, media reports, and international and regional human rights agencies.[26] The reports have received endorsements and praise from various U.S. elected officials, religious leaders, human rights groups, and academics.[27]

In 2010, the organization issued a report on the caste system, asking Hindus to acknowledge that caste is not an intrinsic part of Hinduism even though it is a feature of the Hindu society and labeling caste-based discrimination as a major human rights problem. The report declares that only Hindus, through reform movements and education, can rid Hindu society of caste-based discrimination. It also castigates organizations like Dalit Freedom Network for arguing that Dalits are not Hindus.[28] The Hindu activist scholar Rajiv Malhotra has called the report flawed and pointed out that the jatis (birth groups) that have been relabeled "castes" in modern times are an integral part of the Indian social structure and that jatis have enabled collective bargaining of rights.[29]

HAF has spoken at or hosted congressional briefings related to human rights of Hindus in South Asia in 2007,[30] human rights of Kashmiri Hindus in 2009[31]and 2011,[32] minorities in Malaysia in 2008[33] and 2011,[34] the persecution of minority women in Pakistan in 2013,[35] Pakistani Hindu refugees in India in 2013,[36] religious violence in Bangladesh in 2015,[37] and India’s diversity and democracy in 2018.[38] The organization also briefed the UK House of Lords on the human rights of Malaysian Hindus in 2008.[39]

HAF has organized film screenings and talks related to the human rights of Hindus including Refugees of Shangri-La: The Untold Story of Bhutanese Refugees,[40] The Human Boundaries,[41] A Day in the Life of a Pakistani Hindu by activists from the Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust, Thrust into Heaven,[42] and Plight of Hindus in Malaysia by Malaysian HINDRAF activist Waytha Moorthy.[43]

HAF also provides direct assistance to Hindu refugees such funds for the resettlement of Bhutanese Hindus in America,[44] medical care for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal,[45] and physical and mental care and aid for Pakistani Hindu refugees in India.[46]

EducationEdit

In 2006, HAF was actively involved in the Californian Hindu textbook controversy. On March 16, 2006, it filed a lawsuit contesting the California's Curriculum Commission's decision to reject many of the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation's suggested edits to California's textbook curriculum on Hinduism and India. The proposed changes had been publicly opposed by Indologists organized by Michael Witzel, who renounced them as "politically and religiously motivated",[47] as well as by various Hindu groups.[48] The court ruled to retain the textbooks, noting the significant expense associated with reissuing the textbooks.[49]

In 2014, the Texas State Board of Education voted to adopt new textbooks that incorporated over 100 corrections submitted by HAF working in conjunction with scholars and historians. Some of the changes in the textbooks include coverage of Hinduism and Hindus in contemporary world history and geography, greater context in the explanation of caste, and the first-ever K-12 textbook mention of Hindu saint Adi Shankara.[50]

In 2015, the Virginia Board of Education approved new standards regarding the teaching of Hinduism and ancient India after working with HAF and other Hindu American parents in the state.[51][52]

In 2016, the Foundation released a report on the representation of Hinduism in classrooms and the bullying of Hindu American students. Among other findings, the report said that one in three Hindu American students had been bullied for their religious beliefs, and that one in eight students reported that their teachers made sarcastic remarks about Hinduism in front of a class.[53]

In 2016, the HAF lobbied against the replacement of the word “Indian” with “South Asian” in middle school history textbooks in California, arguing that the change was essentially an erasure of India itself. These efforts were protested by South Asian academics and activists belonging to India’s minority groups, who said that those on the side of the HAF sought to whitewash California’s history textbooks to present a nativist, blemish-free view of how the Hindu caste system was enforced in India. They also argued that the term “South Asia” correctly represents India’s collective history with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. A letter to the California State Board of Education about this issue, which garnered thousands of signatures, was spearheaded by the HAF.[54] [55]

As of 2018, HAF reported having trained over 3,000 educators to date[56] on how to teaching Hinduism in what they term an accurate and engaging manner.[57]

CriticismEdit

The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) and others have alleged that the organization has links to Hindu nationalist organizations, namely the Vishva Hindu Parishad America (VHPA) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Specifically, these critics cited that one of the organization’s founders, Mihir Meghani, also founded the University of Michigan's chapter of the Hindu Students Council (HSC), a nationwide network of student societies affiliated with the VHPA, in 1991.[58] He is also known to have been a member of the HSS.[59] CAG also alleged that he and several other members of the HAF were previously affiliated with other organizations associated with the Sangh Parivar.[note 1] CAG also alleges that while the HAF aims to expose maltreatment of Hindu minorities in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan in its annual report “Hindus in South Asia & The Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights”, it also systematically downplays the maltreatment of non-Hindu minorities in India, and further labels such concerns about Indian religious minorities as “anti-Hindu bias.”[60]

HAF has denied these allegations terming them as defamatory and blatantly false.[61] In response to the allegations, the HAF labeled the Coalition Against Genocide as an “extreme Leftist” organization with a “radical, violent and confrontational agenda built on a revolutionary, Marxist paradigm” and published a report claiming that their research revealed that CAG is an "unregistered group primarily composed of defunct or unregistered entities, many sharing the same leadership and IP addresses for their websites, whose focus is to malign Hindu advocacy groups while promoting radical revolution in India along narrow ideological grounds."[62]

Nikhil Joshi, a former board member of the foundation, stated that, "HAF has absolutely no links to any Hindu nationalist social, political or religious groups in the United States or India. HAF does not advocate for Hindutva, Maoism, Communism or any other political ideology. None of HAF’s founders or leaders is a member of any nationalist organization." [61] Nicholas O’Connell, a member of HAF's Executive Council, defended the group saying that a few of its leaders had participated in VHPA-affiliated student groups in high school and college along with “thousands of teens” in the 1970s and 1980s when the vast majority of Hindu student groups were organized by the VHPA.[63] In 2018, Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director, denounced these and similar allegations stating that, "Ascribing a sinister agenda or affiliations when Hindus enter the public square, advocate for their rights, support charitable causes in India, or host conferences to gather and celebrate among faithful, must be called out as anti-Hindu and repudiated."[64]

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) credited Meghani as the author of an essay on their website titled Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology, which claims that Hindus and Hinduism were denigrated by the Indian National Congress and that Hindus rose up to demand a "true secularism."[65] The essay drew a parallel between the Hindu experience and that of Jews, African Americans and colonized groups, and defended the demolition of the Babri Masjid, terming it as the release of "thousands of years of anger and shame."[58] In 2006, in a letter printed in India Abroad, Meghani denied authoring the essay on the BJP website, though he did author similar essay as a teenager in the early 1990s and stated that he does “not stand by what is written.” As of 2006, the BJP removed Meghani’s name from the essay upon his request, and subsequently removed the essay from the website altogether.[61]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Coalition Against Genocide (2013): "Thus Rishi Bhutada came out of the HSC at University of Pennsylvania, Sheetal Shah served as the Southeast Regional Coordinator for the HSC, Suhag Shukla was active with organizing HSC's regional conferences in the same region, Kavitha Pallod out of the VHP-A’s American Hindu Youth Camp, Padma Kuppa with the VHP-A's Hindu Temple Executive Council, and Ramesh Rao with the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a fund-raising arm of the VHP-A."

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Hindu American Foundation Guidestar Profile". Guidestar. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ Lavina Melwani (April 2009). "Meet the Young Hindu American Foundation". Hinduism Today.
  3. ^ Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 159.
  4. ^ a b "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga's Soul". New York Times. 27 November 2010.
  5. ^ Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 123.
  6. ^ Kurien, Prema A. (2007), "Who speaks for Indian Americans? Religion, ethnicity, and political formation", American Quarterly, 59 (3): 759–783, JSTOR 40068449
  7. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 1.
  8. ^ a b Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), pp. 122-123.
  9. ^ "Hindus Protest County Decision on Legislative Prayer". Hinduism Today. 23 September 2005. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  10. ^ Jon Hood (5 November 2009). "Religious License Plate Banned in South Carolina". Consumer Affairs. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  11. ^ Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 122.
  12. ^ Nadia Kadri (8 January 2016). "Cultural Appropriation of Yoga and the Search for Indian-American Yogis". India.com. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  13. ^ Sandip Roy (8 April 2015). "Taking back what's yours? Here's why Indians can't claim sole ownership over Yoga". Firstpost.
  14. ^ Nanda, Meera (12 February 2011), "Not as Old as You Think", OPEN Magazine
  15. ^ "NAACP, ACLU, Faith Groups Say NYPD Is Engaging in Religious Discrimination". ACLU. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  16. ^ "National Religious Campaign Against Torture letter to President Obama". 12 July 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  17. ^ Pawan Deshpande (9 December 2014). "How Genocide Brought Together Two Unlikely Communities: The Yazidi & the Hindus". Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  18. ^ Sunita Sohrabji (26 March 2015). "FBI Adds Hindus, Sikhs to New Hate Crime Tracking Manual". IndiaWest. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Diwali stamp to be released by the United States Postal Service on October 5". American Bazaar. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  20. ^ Surinder Jain (20 July 2018). "Shakti initiative of Hindu American Foundation". Hindu Council of Australia. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  21. ^ "ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Separation of Church and State". Common Dreams. 30 January 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  22. ^ "Statement from 43 National Organizations United in Opposition to Project Blitz and Similar Legislative Efforts" (PDF). Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  23. ^ Allen, Bob (1 February 2019). "Baptist groups join coalition opposing 'Project Blitz' playbook for pro-Christian legislation". Baptist News Global. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  24. ^ "AJC, Interfaith Partners Hold Solidarity Vigil for Sri Lanka at U.S. Capitol". PR Newswire. 12 May 2019. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  25. ^ "230 Indian-American organisations urge Congressman RO Khanna to withdraw from Pakistan Caucus". The Economic Times. 17 September 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  26. ^ "Human Rights Reports". Hindu American Foundation. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  27. ^ "Endorsements of the Hindu American Foundation's 2006 Hindu Human Rights Report". Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  28. ^ Ramesh Rao, Recasting Hinduism for the 21st Century, Guardian, 21 December 2010, retrieved 2015-10-21.
  29. ^ Rajiv Malhotra, Critique of Hindu American Foundation's Report on 'Caste' Archived 9 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Medha Journal, 10 December 2013.
  30. ^ Ishani Chowdhury (17 July 2007). "Congressional Briefing - Religious Freedom Conditions in South Asia: The Treatment of Religious Minorities". Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  31. ^ "Kashmir Briefing at Capitol Hill". Shehjar. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  32. ^ "Capitol Hill briefing focuses on Kashmiri Hindus". IndiaPost. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  33. ^ "HAF advocated for Malaysian Hindus at Congressional briefing". Malaysian Indians. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  34. ^ "Human Rights Struggles of Malaysian Hindus and Other Minorities". The Chakra. 11 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  35. ^ "Persecution of Hindu, Christian & Other Minority Women in Pakistan Highlighted at Capitol Hill". Persecution.org. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  36. ^ "HAF Invites you to a Congressional Briefing on the State of Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India". Hindu American Foundation. 23 April 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  37. ^ Rukhsana Habib (10 August 2015). "Rising Religious Extremism in Bangladesh". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  38. ^ "Hindu American Foundation Holds Briefing Highlighting India's Democracy in Diversity". IndiaWest. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  39. ^ "Briefing in UK House of Lords on M'sian Indians Plight". HINDRAF. 15 December 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  40. ^ "Film Screening -The Refugees of Shangri La: The Untold Story of Bhutanese Refugees". Hindu American Foundation (HAF). 16 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  41. ^ Kuppa, Padma (22 August 2012). "Human Boundaries, Human Rights". Patheos. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  42. ^ Deshpande, Pawan (7 December 2016). "HAF Presents A Day In The Life Of A Pakistani Hindu". Lokvani. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  43. ^ Saigal, Ranjini (3 April 2011). "Plight of Hindus in Malaysia". Lokvani. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  44. ^ "The Bhutanese American Project: Helping Rebuild Lives". Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  45. ^ "HAF Physicians Visit Refugee Camps in Nepal to Assess Needs of Bhutanese Hindus". Hindu American Foundation (HAF). 1 March 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  46. ^ "Medical Seva & Health Initiative: Serving Pakistani Hindu Refugees". Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  47. ^ Bose, Purnima (2008). "Hindutva Abroad: The California Textbook Controversy". The Global South. 2 (1).
  48. ^ New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History Hindu, Islamic, Jewish Groups Fault Portrayals of Events And Often Win Changes, The Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2006)
  49. ^ "US text row resolved by Indian - The Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  50. ^ "HAF Applauds New Depiction of Hinduism in Texas Textbooks". IndiaWest. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  51. ^ Murali Balaji (2 April 2015). "History Standard Revision in Virginia a Step Forward". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  52. ^ "HAF Lauds Significant Improvements in Virginia Curriculum Frameworks". Hinduism Now. 31 January 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  53. ^ "1 in 3 U.S. Hindu Students Bullied for Their Religious Beliefs". Campus Safety Magazine. 10 May 2018. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  54. ^ Medina, Jennifer (4 May 2016). "Debate Erupts in California Over Curriculum on India's History". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  55. ^ "Tulsi Gabbard Is A Rising Progressive Star Despite Her Support For…". Honolulu Civil Beat. 6 January 2019. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  56. ^ "HAF Celebrates 15 Years of Advocacy at Silicon Valley Gala". Siliconeer. 13 October 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  57. ^ Padma Kuppa (31 July 2016). "Being a Hindu, Being an Ambassador for Hinduism". Patheos. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  58. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), pp. 145-146.
  59. ^ Ramesh N. Rao; et al. (2003), A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) (PDF), Friends of India, Acknowledgements
  60. ^ "Hindu American Foundation exposed as foe of human rights and religious freedom - CAG". www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  61. ^ a b c "HAF Addresses Defamatory and False Statements in India Abroad Letters". Hindu American Foundation. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  62. ^ "Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) Exposed". Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  63. ^ Sheetal Shah, Coalition Against Reality: Deconstructing an Attack on the Hindu American Foundation, Belief Net, January 2014
  64. ^ Shukla, Suhag (4 September 2018). "American Hindus or Hindutva?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  65. ^ Meghani, Mihir. "Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology, BJP". Bharatiya Janata Party. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
Sources

External linksEdit