Hindu American Foundation

The Hindu American Foundation (abbr. HAF) is an American Hindu advocacy group founded in 2003. The organisation has its roots in the Hindu nationalist organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad America and its student wing Hindu Students Council.[2][3][4][5] According to its critics, the HAF has repackaged the Hindu nationalist agenda in the language of "Hindu rights" in a way to suit mainstream American politics.[6]

Hindu American Foundation
Hindu American Foundation.org
HAF Logo 2019 color.svg
AbbreviationHAF
Formation3 September 2003; 18 years ago (2003-09-03)
FounderMihir Meghani
68-0551525[1]
Legal status501(c)(3) non-profit
PurposeHindu American advocacy
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Location
Region served
United States
Official language
American English
Executive Director
Suhag Shukla
WebsiteOfficial website

EstablishmentEdit

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.[7] 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."[8] According to Harvard professor Diana L. Eck, the foundation has emerged as "the first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity."[9] 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.[10]

However, scholars and critics have pointed out HAF's links to Hindutva organisations. Mihir Meghani had served on the governing council of Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHP America) and authored an essay on the philosophy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was published on the BJP website.[2][3][4] In the essay, Meghani had decried the alleged "pseudo-secularism" and the "denigration of treasured [Hindu] traditions" by the Indian National Congress, and the supposed demand of Hindus for "true secularism".[11] He praised the demolition of the Babri Masjid as an exhibition of "thousands of years" of bottled-up Hindu anger, and warned Muslims that they needed to join the "nationalistic spirit of Bharat".[11] Coalition Against Genocide pointed out that the formation of the Hindu American Foundation was essentially a result of Meghani's parleys on the governing council of VHP-America and an effort to rebrand the Hindutva agenda as "Hindu rights" in a language suitable to mainstream American politics.[6] Their report also points out that most of the office bearers of the Hindu American Foundation were drawn from the activists of the Hindu Students Council, the student wing of the VHP America.[5]

The HAF denies having any "affilitation or ties" to any other organisations or political parties.[12] It has filed a defamation suit against a wide range of organsations that alleged its Hindutva links.[13]

ActivismEdit

Hindu persecution in different countriesEdit

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.[2] 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.[14][15]

The organization supports strong ties between India, Israel and the US to create an axis of countries aiming to fight Islamic terrorism.[16]

Hindu rights in USAEdit

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; they 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.[14][15] 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."[16] In 2008, HAF along with a coalition of other religious groups, filed a lawsuit and blocked the issuance of Christian themed license plates in South Carolina.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

HindutvaEdit

In 2010, the Foundation launched a Take Yoga Back campaign as a reaction to the cultural appropriation 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.[9][21][22]

In September 2019, the HAF published a letter, co-signed by "a record number of 230 Indian-American organisations", 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."[23]

CasteEdit

in 2010, HAF 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 evangelical Dignity Freedom Network for arguing that Dalits are not Hindus.[24]

Hindu Nationalist tiesEdit

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.[25] He is also known to have been a member of the HSS.[26]

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." 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."[25] The essay also challenges Muslims to prove their commitment to India or else face the ire of Hindu nationalists: "The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat. It is up to the government and the Muslim leadership whether they wish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership."[27]

Academics and journalists have provided more extensive documentation of links between the Hindu American Foundation and the Sangh Parivar, including the RSS. Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative notes that "HAF board member Rishi Bhutada served as the official spokesperson of 'Howdy Modi,' the RSS backed rally for India’s BJP prime minister held in Houston, Texas on September 22, 2020."[28][29] Both the Bridge Initiative and several journalists' exposes of HAF have documented anti-Muslim statements made by HAF board members, past and present, as well as by individuals invited to speak by HAF.[28][4][30] There is also an extensive money trail that links HAF to other Sangh Parivar groups via their donors.[4]

In April 2021, after following an Al Jazeera investigation, a broad coalition of Indian American activists and United States-based civil rights organizations has called on the US Small Business Administration (SBA) to probe how Hindu right-wing groups received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds [31]

Attacks on Academic FreedomEdit

Textbook RevisionismEdit

In 2006, HAF was actively involved in the Californian Hindu textbook controversy. On 16 March 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",[32] as well as by various Hindu groups.[33] The court ruled to retain the textbooks, noting the significant expense associated with reissuing the textbooks.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36]

2020 defamation suitEdit

In May 2021, the Hindu American Foundation had filed a lawsuit against several human rights groups in the United States and Audrey Truschke alleging defamation.[37][13] A diverse group of intellectuals and academics — Akeel Bilgrami, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, Cornel West, Martha Nussbaum, Nandini Sundar, Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar, Sudipta Kaviraj, Sheldon Pollock, and Wendy Doniger among others — condemned HAF's tactics as SLAPP and a tool of pushing forward Hindutva.[37][38]

Dismantling Global Hindutva conferenceEdit

Across August and September 2021, the Hindu American Foundation (alongside other Hindu Supremacist groups) led a series of attacks against a virtual conference, titled Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives.[39] Multiple academics and activists involved in the conference reported receiving death threats and being subject to other forms of intimidation.[39][40] In response, American Historical Association condemned the attacks against academic freedom while Association for Asian Studies noted Hindutva to be a "majoritarian ideological doctrine", different from Hinduism and whose rise to prominence had accompanied "increasing attacks on numerous scholars, artists and journalists".[41][42] The conference went ahead as scheduled, with support from departments and centers at more than 50 universities.[43]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Hindu American Foundation Guidestar Profile". Guidestar. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Kurien, Prema A. (2007), "Who speaks for Indian Americans? Religion, ethnicity, and political formation", American Quarterly, 59 (3): 759–783, doi:10.1353/aq.2007.0059, JSTOR 40068449, S2CID 143780494
  3. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 145.
  4. ^ a b c d Raqib Hameed Naik; Divya Trivedi (16 July 2021). "Sangh Parivar's U.S. funds trail". Frontline.
  5. ^ a b Coalition Against Genocide (2013), Sec. 2.
  6. ^ a b Coalition Against Genocide (2013), Sec. 2: 'With the VHP-A led by first-generation immigrants who are unable to penetrate the mainstream American political framework, Meghani's creation of the HAF provided a hitherto unavailable opportunity to bridge the gap between the Hindutva agenda and mainstream American politics. By situating the HAF's work within a framework of American multiculturalism, Meghani effectively gained the ability to push the VHP-A's Hindutva agenda as an issue of "Hindu rights".'
  7. ^ Lavina Melwani (April 2009). "Meet the Young Hindu American Foundation". Hinduism Today.
  8. ^ Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 159.
  9. ^ a b "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga's Soul". The New York Times. 27 November 2010.
  10. ^ Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 123.
  11. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 146.
  12. ^ Frequently Asked Questions About HAF, Hindu American Foundation, retrieved 17 September 2021.
  13. ^ a b Mythili Sampathkumar (20 May 2021). "Hindu American Foundation files defamation suit against Hindu rights nonprofit". Religion News Service.
  14. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 1.
  15. ^ a b Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), pp. 122–123.
  16. ^ a b Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 122.
  17. ^ Jon Hood (5 November 2009). "Religious License Plate Banned in South Carolina". Consumer Affairs.
  18. ^ "NAACP, ACLU, Faith Groups Say NYPD Is Engaging in Religious Discrimination". ACLU. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  19. ^ Sunita Sohrabji (26 March 2015). "FBI Adds Hindus, Sikhs to New Hate Crime Tracking Manual". IndiaWest. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Diwali stamp to be released by the United States Postal Service on 5 October". American Bazaar. 23 August 2016.
  21. ^ Sandip Roy (8 April 2015). "Taking back what's yours? Here's why Indians can't claim sole ownership over Yoga". Firstpost.
  22. ^ Nanda, Meera (12 February 2011), "Not as Old as You Think", OPEN Magazine
  23. ^ "230 Indian-American organisations urge Congressman RO Khanna to withdraw from Pakistan Caucus". The Economic Times. 17 September 2019.
  24. ^ Ramesh Rao, Recasting Hinduism for the 21st Century, Guardian, 21 December 2010, retrieved 2015-10-21.
  25. ^ a b Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), pp. 145–146.
  26. ^ 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" section, archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2012
  27. ^ "Link to original archived essay".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ a b "Factsheet: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)". Bridge Initiative. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  29. ^ "RSS Paramilitary's US Affiliates Organizing Modi Reception in Houston". Organization for Minorities of India. 4 August 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  30. ^ Ram Vishwanathan (29 October 2020). "How the American Sangh hopes to win the 2020 US elections". The Caravan.
  31. ^ "Call for US probe into Hindu right-wing groups getting COVID fund". Al Jazeera. 8 April 2021.
  32. ^ Bose, Purnima (2008). "Hindutva Abroad: The California Textbook Controversy". The Global South. 2 (1): 11–34. doi:10.2979/GSO.2008.2.1.11. S2CID 145295643.
  33. ^ "New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History] Hindu, Islamic, Jewish Groups Fault Portrayals of Events And Often Win Changes", The Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2006, ProQuest 398911134
  34. ^ "US text row resolved by Indian". The Times of India. 9 September 2006. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012.
  35. ^ Jennifer Medina (4 May 2016). "Debate Erupts in California Over Curriculum on India's History". The New York Times.
  36. ^ "HAF Applauds New Depiction of Hinduism in Texas Textbooks". IndiaWest. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  37. ^ a b Anisha Sircar. "Explained: The Hindu American Foundation's defamation case against Hindus for Human Rights founders". Scroll.in. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  38. ^ "Over 300 Writers, Academics and Scholars Repudiate HAF's Attempt to Silence Hindus for Human Rights". Hindus for Human Rights. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  39. ^ a b "Death threats sent to participants of US conference on Hindu nationalism". the Guardian. 9 September 2021.
  40. ^ Raqib Hameed Naik (7 September 2021). "US academic conference on 'Hindutva' targeted by Hindu groups". Al Jazeera.
  41. ^ "AAS Statement on the Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference". Association for Asian Studies. 10 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  42. ^ "AHA Releases Statement on Threats to Academic Conferences (September 2021) | AHA". www.historians.org.
  43. ^ "Explained: What is 'Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference', and why has it triggered a row?". The Indian Express. 14 September 2021.

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